Summer Projects


Eloise, Mani and Natalie

As it’s nearly time to submit final reports to funders, I thought I should write a brief update about the summer – it’s been really busy, with 3 summer students working for me on a diverse range of projects. So here’s last summer’s gang:

  • Eloise Hicketts, funded by an RSC Small Outreach Grant to develop resources and activities for Picture It… Sharing Molecules. This project is a pilot study to develop resources and activities which empower women to share scientific knowledge and activities with children. As a secondary outcome, we also seek to facilitate practitioners of the chemical sciences to engage these audiences by providing such resources and sharing our own experiences and insights.


    Eloise at Skirting Science 2016

  • Mani Latham, funded by a CCP5 Summer Bursary for Undergraduate Students and tasked with developing experiments for the teaching laboratory in the area of computational solid state modelling.
  • Tom Young, funded by a Royal Society of Chemistry Undergraduate Research Bursary to develop “Computationally-guided ligand selection in rhodium(I)-catalysed hydroformylation”. This involved investigating the mechanism of hydroformylation with a view to identifying the most promising systems and then testing these in collaboration with Prof. Paul Pringle. Due to an insatiable appetite for computational chemistry, Tom also became involved in computational projects on metalloporphyrins and zinc metalloproteins, more about those soon.


    Harry and Tom

In addition, a couple of summer students working for my colleague Neil Allan offered to help with some of the ongoing projects. Those were:

  • Harry Morgan, who decided to contribute a weekly post on Picture It… Chemistry, taking the Great British Bake Off as his inspiration. You can see his latest here.
  • Harvey Dale, who has been working with Johno Matlock in the Clayden group to shed some light on their experimental observations.


    (l-r) Harry, Tom, Harvey, Mani

Workshops with the National Federation of Women’s Institutes


Since 28th August 2014, I’ve delivered 7 workshops for different WI federations, all on the topic of “Roses”, linked to the Picture It… Chemistry blog. The first one was mentioned in the School of Chemistry News feed at the University of Bristol (link), and our blog post, which I’ll reblog separately, was also reblogged by the NFWI (link).

Trip to York and Leeds

Despite regular Skype calls, sometimes a collaboration needs a visit, and so I travelled up to York at the start of June to meet with Dr Jason Lynam and catch up about our project. With our initial publication out (see Organometallics, 2014, 33, 1751-1791), this was a great opportunity to catch up and make plans for future papers and new projects.

Before returning to Bristol, I then attended the Annual Meeting of the National Federation of Women’s Institutes. For the Picture It… Chemistry project we are developing a series of workshops for WI federations and they very kindly invited me along to the Annual Meeting to find out more about the organisation and meet some members of the Board. And yes, there was “Jerusalem“! At the moment, this is also on the WI’s Media Centre page, here.

2013 Year Review

DSC_1445-copyAlmost spring already! So I have been rubbish with keeping the blog up-to-date, and now the easiest thing seems to be to write a quick review of 2013 and move on. Actually, it seemed that way in January, I just haven’t gotten around to actually doing this until now… No more procrastinating, here is my summary of 2013 highlights:

From January-March 2013, I was involved in a project with Prof. Chris Frost and his PhD student, Will Mahy, as well as Dr Paul Murray from CatScI Ltd., looking at copper-catalysed coupling reactions that showed some interesting experimental results. This collaboration was funded as one of a number of projects aimed at strengthening the links between researchers in catalysis based in Bath, Bristol and Cardiff, and contributed an additional 0.3 FTEs of my time. It still needs a bit more work when I can find the time, but we are hoping to publish some of the results in due course.

In February, I also hosted Dr Jason Lynam, from the University of York, who visited for a couple of days to make progress on our joint publication on transition metal-stabilised vinylidenes. The paper has now (as of early March 2014) been accepted for publication, details to follow soon.

In March, a meeting with Prof. Doug Stephan from the University of Toronto led to a low-level collaboration with Shawn Postle, on of Doug’s PhD student, aimed at establishing whether DFT-calculated parameters can be used in the context of frustrated Lewis pairs. Early results look promising…

April saw the annual Bristol Synthesis Meeting, as well as a visit from Dr Lee Higham from the University of Newcastle. Lee came to give a seminar (“Surprises in Primary Phosphine Chemistry and their Applications in Catalysis and Disease Imaging” and catch up with old friends (he was a postdoc in Prof. Paul Pringle‘s lab many moons ago), but also to discuss LKB parameters for some of his primary phosphine ligands and the introduction of E(SOMO) as a measure of ligand stability to our databases.

York Minster quite early one morning in June 2013

York Minster quite early one morning in June 2013

In May and June, my colleague Dr Jenny Slaughter and I got busy in the background to prepare posts and get the Picture It… Chemistry blog ready for launch.

June also saw my return visit to Jason Lynam in York (still working on the paper…), as well as a chance to catch up with Prof. Laurel Schafer from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, interrupting her time in Oxford for a short visit to Bristol and give a seminar on “Catalytic Hydroaminoalkylation”. I first met Laurel at the GRC in Newport, RI in 2012, so this was a welcome opportunity to catch up about research and set the world to rights over dinner.

The start of July was taken up with the 20th EuCheMS Conference on Organometallic Chemistry (EuCOMC XX) in St. Andrews, a good opportunity to catch up with Dr Claire McMullin, find out about new developments in computational chemistry and organometallic catalysis, as well as plan a visit by Dr Mie Vilhelmsen to Bristol later in the year.

View of St. Andrews, taken from West Sands Beach

View of St. Andrews, taken from West Sands Beach

This was swiftly followed by the official launch of our Picture It… Chemistry blog on 10th July, attracting around 700 views on its first day and over 1,400 over the course of July. We also accompanied Jenny to Showoff Science, where she spiced up the evening with her talk about chillis.

Dr Jenny Slaughter at Science Showoff (image taken from Picture It... Chemistry Blog,

Dr Jenny Slaughter at Science Showoff (image taken from Picture It… Chemistry Blog,

August and September were relatively quiet and taken up with research, holiday and teaching preparation, as well as moving office. However, in late August the Picture It… Chemistry blog was mentioned on the Nature Chemistry Blogroll for Everyday Chemistry, leading to considerable spikes in visits to the blog at an otherwise quiet time of year.

October started with a visit from Dr Mie Vilhelmsen to the Centre for Computational Chemistry, where she gave a seminar on her work in the group of Prof. Stephen Hashmi in Heidelberg, “Cooperative Effects in Dual Gold Catalysis”, with the second slot taken up by yours truly, talking mostly about the project with Jason’s group, “(On the road to) Computational Optimisation of Organometallic Catalysts”. At the end of the month, I travelled to Texas to give a seminar at the Eastman Chemical Company in Longview, followed by 4 further research seminars at research active chemistry departments in the Dallas area (well, I was there already). The (somewhat knackering) 5 seminars in 5 days were as follows:

  • Monday, 28th October, Eastman Chemical Company, Longview, “Computational Tools for the Optimisation of Organometallic Catalysts”
  • Tuesday, 29th October, Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, “Applying Ligand Knowledge Bases to Pd-Catalysed Cross-Coupling”
  • Wednesday, 30th October, University of Texas in Dallas, “Discovery and Optimisation of Organometallic Catalysts: Maps and Mechanisms”
  • Thurday, 31st October, University of Texas in Arlington, “Computational Discovery of Stable Transition Metal Vinylidene Complexes”
  • Friday, 1st November, University of North Texas, Denton, “Computational Tools for the Optimisation of Organometallic Catalysis: P-Donor Ligands in Cross-Coupling and Hydroformylation”

The hospitality I experienced at all 5 sites was excellent and it was great to hear about so much diverse science, but also hear about research life on the other side of “the Pond”. while I’m extremely grateful to everybody who gave up their time to meet with me, I would especially like to thank my hosts, Damon Billodeaux (Eastman), Ben Janesko (TCU), Steve Nielsen and Ken Balkus (UTD), Peter Kroll and Rasika Dias (UTA) and Tom Cundari (UNT) for their hospitality.

The rest of the year was relatively quiet, so there were no more excuses but to knuckle down and write two invited reviews (both now accepted, more about this soon), as well as finish the paper with Jason and work on another paper about Claire’s work while she was a PhD student. Details to come once I have DOI numbers… Things were rounded off nicely when the Picture It… Chemistry blog got another mention from Nature Chemistry, this time showing us at No. 10 of the Top 10 Chemistry Blog Posts for a guest post on Aspirin, leading to a quadrupling of traffic on the blog. Not quite enough compensation for working most of the vacation on a book chapter with Jason and his colleague Dr John Slattery, but nearly…

I promise to try and do better with regular updates on the blog! Behind already, though…

And in the post today…

Look what just arrived in the post – the (LEGO-)game changing Female Sientist (more about that here) and the whimsical Chicken Suit Guy. I may have confessed to a colleague that I have a soft spot for the whimsy of LEGO minifigures and wanted these for my blogs, and he actually procured and sent them. How cool is that?

LEGO Minifigures: Female Scientist and Chicken Suit Guy

LEGO Minifigures: Female Scientist and Chicken Suit Guy

Office Move

All books and boxes hav been moved, but where am I going to put everything?

All books and boxes have been moved, but where am I going to put everything?

The contact directory doesn’t seem to have updated itself yet, so a quick note via the blog: I have moved from an office in the Centre for Computational Chemistry (W236) into one in the Synthetic Chemistry Building (N423), phone extension number has stayed the same.

It all fits (well, nearly, there are still thins some of the previous occupants need to collect). But the important thing is that the computer is up and running again.

It all fits (well, nearly, there are still thins some of the previous occupants need to collect). But the important thing is that the computer is up and running again.

There was a stage on Friday where I wasn’t sure all my accumulated stuff would fit in, but, as the photo shows, it all worked out in the end. And as if on cue, the hot air balloons came by to highlight the superior view.

Balloons over Cabot Tower

Balloons over Cabot Tower


Who can be uncheered with a balloon?

Who can be uncheered with a balloon?



Picture It… Chemistry makes the Blogroll in Nature Chemistry

Preparations for another series of blog photos

Preparations for another series of blog photos

Excellent news this morning! Our brand new blog, launched by yours truly and Jenny Slaughter, over at, has been mentioned on the Nature Chemistry Blogroll for Everyday Chemistry.