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Chemistry Research

About us

The majority of chemistry research at USW is concerned with the development and application of new catalytic entities, particularly within the field of renewable energy and sustainable manufacturing processes. The ongoing development and application of novel chemical entities, which strongly impacts many areas of our everyday life, is a critical factor in the continued competitiveness of our society. 

Within this field, catalysis is uniquely placed as a multidisciplinary and enabling technology which is at the heart of strategies for reducing environmental impact, the development of novel sustainable chemistry and future energy challenges. Recent developments within the fields of heterogeneous and homogeneous catalysis, has led to new and exciting opportunities to develop these new catalytic entities to address these challenges at a regional, national and international level. 

The wider scope of chemistry research at USW encompass those areas of solid oxide fuel cells, computational chemistry, analytical chemistry, nanotechnology, pharmaceutical formulation and natural product syntheses.

Research Areas

The synthesis, characterisation and exploitation of novel dimensional silicate materials as highly selective heterogeneous catalysts in sustainable chemical technology.  

The development and characterisation of heterogeneous supported metal catalysts for the use in oxidation and reductions in the field of sustainable chemical reactions with a particular focus on the use of precious metal catalysts and investigating the effect of preparation conditions on their properties and final activity.  

Coordination chemistry, organometallic chemistry, and homogeneous catalysis including the investigation of the activation and transformation of small molecules such as hydrogen, carbon dioxide and organic molecules, with a particular focus on boron-based ligands which act cooperatively with a transition metal to cleave H2 and store hydrogen atoms. These can be reversibly transferred between boron and metal centres via a hydrogen atom shuttle mechanism. This can be utilised as a tool for the construction of new molecules. 

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Collaboration

Our multidisciplinary research involves collaboration with industry, academia and Government partners. These include:

  • Tata Steel UK on our work involving desulfurisation, separation of value components from Tars and transformations involving carbon dioxide. These are collaborative projects with USW's Sustainable Environment Research Centre (SERC) 
  • FLEXIS on our work involving developing flexible energy systems, again, in collaboration with SERC
  • Perpetuus Carbon Technologieson our work on graphene and graphitic-based materials
  • Cardiff University on our work involving hierarchical nanocomposite inorganic/organic materials
  • University of Southampton Chemical Crystallography Laboratories on our work involving X-ray crystallography

Current Projects

This research is focused on the carbon dioxide molecule and is aimed at utilising CO2 as a feedstock for the synthesis of commodity chemicals. We are looking at novel transition metal-based complexes to bind and transform the carbon dioxide molecule. This will be achieved by employing a proton shuttle type methodology in a similar fashion found in enzymes. The aim is to be able to efficiently produce chemicals such as methanol or organic carbonates at a relatively cheap cost. 

We have two projects on this theme: 

Development of Methodologies for Manufacture of Value Chemicals Derived from Carbon Dioxide. This is a £500K project funded by the Sêr Cymru – Capacity Building Acceleration Award Scheme.  


Development of Methodologies for Conversion of Carbon Dioxide into Value Commodity Chemicals via Transition Metal Mediated Proton Shuttle Mechanisms. This is a KESS II funded PhD student project (Joseph Goldsworthy) in collaboration with Tata Steel.


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Desulfurisation and transformation of sulfur containing compounds into sulfate. This is a KESS II funded PhD student project (Miriam Jackson) in collaboration with Tata Steel as industrial sponsor. Miriam’s project focuses on the challenges associated with the presence of sulfur-based compounds within coke oven gas. Coke oven gas is produced during coke making; an essential part of steel production. One of the major sulfur containing components is hydrogen sulfide. The project looks at the transformation of hydrogen sulfide into sulfates. The project also focuses on the synthesis and application of transition metal complexes for the transformation of H2S and other sulfur-based components into new compounds.  

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Upgraded value of coke oven by-products – deriving higher value chemicals from Coke Oven by-products and wastes. This is a KESS II funded PhD student project (Shannan Southwood Samuel) in collaboration with Tata Steel as industrial sponsor. Shannan’s project is tailored around extracting high value commodities components from coal tars. Coal tar contains over 400 different compounds and so the aim of this research is to identify the high value compounds and extract them from this complex matrix. The research focuses on the design and synthesis of new Task Specific Ionic Liquids (TSILs) for the purposes of extraction and separation of these value chemicals via specific solvent-solute interactions.  

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This is a KESS II funded PhD student project (Rachel McLaren) in collaboration with Perpetuus Carbon Technologies. Rachel’s project entails the synthetic modification, characterisation and application of commercially synthesised plasma exfoliated graphitic material. The project investigates covalent and non-covalent synthetic procedures to functionalise the surface of the materials, and quantify these via analytical techniques including XPS, Raman spectroscopy, BET, XRD, NMR, FT-IR, SEM, TEM and TGA. 

We are currently investigating the application of multi-layer graphitic composites within membrane synthesis. Furthermore, the project also looks at the porous structures of the materials, and how these can be altered and tailored for advanced applications. 

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We have a number of projects focused on the development of multifunctional complexes which have more than one reaction site. More specifically, these include transition metal complexes which contain ligands capable of receiving (storing) various functional groups at a site away from the metal centre. 

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As shown in Scheme 1, a system we have developed in particular depth is that in which a borane containing functional group has been tethered in close proximity to a transition metal centre via various three atom bridging groups (represented by the E▬L notation). These systems exhibit the potential for reactivity at both the boron and the transition metal centres. This offers significant advantages since it allows the metal to exhibit reactivity which would have potentially otherwise been blocked. It is hard for the metal juggling many transformations at the same time. In essence, the boron centre in this case is offering the metal “a helping hand”. With the transition metal‒borane complexes possess there is the added advantage that transformations can also occur at the boron centre itself or in combination with the transition metal centre. 

We have demonstrated this type of reactivity and shown that it can successfully be applied to the activation of element‒element bonds (Scheme 2). 


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These two transformations in combination afford powerful tools for the activation of bonds and delivery of hydrogen atoms (or potentially other groups) on to various substrates. These are being utilised within homogeneous catalytic transformations.    

We were the first to demonstrate that the bond in H2 could be cleaved in this way. This new mode of Lewis acid mediated heterolytic cleavage provides a way in which hydrogen atoms can be added to the boron centre, providing a mechanism for recharge and thus offering a new strategy for catalysis. 

PhD student, Simon Thomas is working on this research theme. Simon’s project has provided an exploration of the interplay and migration of hydrogen atoms between reactive centres within transition metal catalysts. 

Hydrogen has been regarded as one of the most important renewable energy resources. The three most dominant and commercially attractive features which make it an ideal fuel source are as follows: 

  • it has the highest energy density by weight chemically possible
  • it can be readily transformed into electricity by utilising fuel cells 
  • it produces water following conversion and so is environmentally benign. 

As such, much effort has been focused on the development of a hydrogen economy. Direct usage of hydrogen gas as the fuel source presents too many technical challenges. For this reason, derivative compounds are needed which act as hydrogen storage “fuels”. Our research is focused on the development of new hydrogen storage materials.  

This research work, funded by a Leverhulme Trust Research Project Grant, is a continuation of a long-standing collaboration between USW's Dr Andy Graham and Professor Stuart Taylor (Cardiff Catalysis Institute, Cardiff University). 


Imogolite Nanotubes - Dr Andy Graham's research

Imogolite nanotubes lengthwise view

Imogolite Nanotubes: end on view; Dr Andy Graham's research
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This project further extends this relationship to develop strategies to access a new class of hierarchical nanocomposite inorganic/organic materials derived from imogolite nanotubes, and to harness their potential as novel catalytic materials for clean chemical technology. 


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Projects include:

The shortened and efficient synthesis of analogues of the natural product lactacystin. Lactacystin 1 is an important biologically active pyrrolidinone based natural product showing potent, highly selective, and irreversible inhibition of the 20S proteasome.

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The construction of 2,5-dihydropyrroles/and derivatives via 1,3-dipolar cycloaddition reactions of azomethine ylides. The 2,5-dihydropyrrole motif is present in numerous natural alkaloids and biologically active compounds and can serve as an important building block in organic synthesis through further elaboration/functionalisation of its carbon–carbon double bond.  Using the established protocol of   our ultimate aim is to expand on 2,5-dihydropyrrole scaffold to access bioactive heterocyclic compounds. 

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We are interested in applying a range of molecular modelling methods to study a variety of gas-phase reactions and processes.

Calcium phosphate is used for biomimetic applications to prevent and treat calcium deficiencies, such as tooth decay and bone loss, and to encapsulate drugs, imaging agents and genes for intracellular delivery. This work characterises, and investigates the encapsulation efficiencies of calcium phosphate nanoparticles and is looking to address their stability and overcome the rapid aggregation of particles of such small sizes.

In this collaborative project with Tata Steel Strip Products in Port Talbot, UK, the use of solid oxide fuel cell and electrolysis technology is being investigated to recover hydrogen, electrical power and heat energy from waste methane and ammonia produced as a result of steelmaking.

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NMR Machine - Chemistry Research Facilities

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Comprising one whole floor of the purpose built George Knox laboratories on the University's Glyntaff Campus, the Chemistry/Analytical Facilities are arguably on a par with those found in industry.

The laboratories comprise

  • A dedicated Organic chemistry laboratory.A combined Inorganic/Physical chemistry laboratory.
  • Two specialised laboratories for performing nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometry and scanning electron microscopy (SEM).
  • Specialist Staff Research Laboratories


Our analytical capability / facilities include

  • Two Unicam UV/Vis spectrometers
  • Two Cecil UV/Vis spectrometers
  • Two Perkin Elmer Lambda UV/Vis spectrometers
  • Five Perkin Elmer Lambda XLS UV/Vis spectrometers
  • Four Perkin Elmer infrared RX 1 spectrometers
  • Perkin Elmer Spectrum XII infrared spectrometer fitted with ATR sampling accessory
  • Two Bruker Alpha FT-IR with Tic-Tac library 
  • Jenway Fluorimeter (Fluorescence Spectroscopy)
  • Varian ICP optical emission spectrometer
  • Agilent Inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometer (ICP 7800)
  • Bruker Avance III 400 MHz Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectrometer
  • Hewlett Packard 1100 High-Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) 
  • Two Perkin Elmer HPLC with Flexar LC platform (single beam and PDA detectors) 
  • Two Perkin Elmer Clarus 500 Gas Chromatography (GC)
  • Varian GC Mass Spectrometer (GC model 450/Mass spectrometer model 450)
  • Thermoscientific GC/MS/MS (Triple Quad Mass spectrometer, TSQ 8000)
  • Thermoscientific ISQ Single quad with direct insertion probe
  • Agilent Inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometer (ICP 7800) 
  • TESCAN TIMAx Field Emission Gun Scanning Electron Microscope for X-Ray Analysis with Inca Gunshot Residue Analysis software

Pharmaceutical Science Testing 

  • Copley Scientific Disintegrator 
  • Copley Scientific dissolution apparatus 
  • Tablet Hardness tester (manual) 
  • Tablet press 
  • ERWEKA AR 403 with cube mixer, wet granulator, and coating pan  

Other  

  • Flame photometer 
  • Joint Expert Speciation System - Chemical Environment Simulation Computer Programme 
  • Web interface package WebMO, utilising GAMESS-US and MOPAC (molecular modelling software) 

To hire our facilities please contact suzanna.k[email protected]

Members

Dr Ryszard BabeckiDr Ryszard Babecki's research interests primarily lie in the study of transition metal and lanthanide coordination complexes with beta-keto phosphoryl compounds; geopolymers and concrete self-healing; hydrogen transfer with boron hydrides; electron transfer reactions and nanoscale devices and machines.

Dr Nildo Costa, Chemistry Research

Dr Nildo Costa is a senior researcher in inorganic chemistry and carries out research in inorganic chemistry and materials focussing on hydrogen storage and catalysis. He has also interest in the synthesis of advanced functional materials for application in photonics and sensors. 

Dr Costa is Director of Studies for a KESSII sponsored PhD project in collaboration with Tata Steel UK as industrial partner. The project aims at developing catalysts for carbon dioxide transformation and utilisation as chemical feedstock leading to sustainable and environmentally friendly processes. 

Dr Costa received his PhD degree in 2006 from the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg. He carried out postdoctoral research in chemistry at the Universities of Bordeaux, Bristol, Saint Andrews and Imperial College London. 

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James Cruwys has a strong research interest in advanced analytical techniques.

Dr Natasha Galea, Chemistry Research

Dr Natasha Galea's research is concerned with computational chemistry; particularly the molecular modelling of gas-phase catalysis, and solid state materials (mainly SOFCs).

Dr Andrew Graham, Chemistry Research

Dr Andrew Graham's research interests are concerned with the synthesis, characterisation and exploitation of novel dimensional silicate materials as highly selective heterogeneous catalysts in sustainable chemical technology. In particular:

  • The design of novel tandem and sequential synthetic methodologies for the development of highly efficient chemical technology.
  • Novel strategies for the valorisation of renewable waste biomass resources.
  • Synthetic strategies to access hierarchical nanocomposite inorganic/organic materials.

His current project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, will develop new strategies for the synthesis of surface functionalised nanotubular materials. 

Dr Rehana Karim

Dr Rehana Karim's research interests  include synthesis of bioactive heterocyclic compounds and natural products.  

Her current projects include: synthesis of analogues of natural product lactacystin and synthesis of of 2,5-dihydropyrroles/and derivatives via 1,3-dipolar cycloaddition reactions of azomethine ylides. 

Dr Karim completed her PhD under the supervision of professors Russ Bowman and Steve Allin (Loughborough University) followed by postdoctoral research under the supervision of Professor John Joule (The University of Manchester).  

Dr Suzanna Kean _Suzy Kean, Chemistry Research

Dr Suzanna Kean is Head of Chemistry and Pharmaceutical Science at USW. She has extensive experience as a chemical analyst, and specialises in NMR spectroscopy. 

Dr Christian Laycock

Dr Christian Laycock is a lecturer specialising in electrochemistry and heterogeneous catalysis and a member of SERC. His research interests focus on the application of solid oxide fuel cell technology to the utilisation and disposal of renewable and industrial waste gas feedstocks. 

He has expertise in the real-time analysis of gas streams using online mass spectrometry, in particular to observe fuel processing, catalysis, and the effects of fuel variability and contaminants. He is also involved in research activities concerned with hybrid flow battery technology and their application to recovery of scrap metals. In addition, Christian has expertise in the application of alkali silicates to treat industrial waste and by-product streams.

Dr Laycock has worked on a range of WEFO-funded projects including CymruH2Wales,  SOLCER and Welsh Energy Sector Training (WEST) He is currently working on the ERDF-funded FLEXIS and RICE projects. He is the director of studies for five PhD projects, four of which are funded by the ESF KESSII scheme. 

Dr Peter Miedziak, Chemistry Research

Dr Peter Miedziak's research interests are focused on the development and characterisation of heterogeneous supported metal catalysts for the use in oxidation and reductions in the field of sustainable chemical reactions. He has a particular interest in precious metal catalysts focussing on investigating the effect of preparation conditions on the properties and activity of the final catalyst.

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Dr Zi Hong Mok
's research draws on expertise in nanoparticle formulation, where he formulated powder and colloidal calcium phosphate nanoparticles for enamel remineralisation. He is experienced in carrying out extensive characterisations on nanoparticles including particle size (DLS, NTA, SEM, TEM and AFM), zeta potential, elemental analysis (ICP-MS, ICP-OES and TXRF) and their crystallinity (FTIR, Raman and XRD). 

Currently, he is looking into synthesising biocompatible nanomaterials for various applications in biological sciences and drug delivery. 

Dr Zi Hong Mok is a member of the British Nanomedicine Society and the General Pharmaceutical Council.  He has an MPharm and PhD in Pharmaceutical Science from King’s College London. 

Dr Gareth Owen

Dr Gareth Owen is  Associate Professor in Inorganic Chemistry at the University of South Wales. 

Dr Owen has published 54 research articles during his career to date [Total number of citations: 1901; (Feb 2021, H-index: 24)] with a total research grant portfolio of £1.7 million. He currently maintains a research group of a senior researcher and five PhD students. In 2012 Dr Owen was awarded a “2012 Organometallics Fellowship’ prize by the American Chemical Society. (See editorial: Organometallics 2012, 31, 7303). ORCID: 0000-0002-8695-757X.

He received his PhD from Imperial College London and subsequently took a postdoctoral post in the research group of Professor John A. Gladysz, in Germany. During this time, Dr Owen was awarded an Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellowship. He later returned to the UK to take up a Centenary Ramsay Memorial Research Fellowship which was hosted at the University of Bristol. This was followed by a Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Research Fellowship again at Bristol. 

Dr Abigail WattsDr Abigail Watts' research interests include porous materials and their applications. She is currently working as a research fellow with Dr Andy Graham on the synthesis of nano-porous imogolite-based materials for applications in catalysis. 

Abigail previously worked as a research associate at the University of Liverpool, focussing on exploratory synthesis of novel inorganic materials (e.g., thermoelectric and superconducting) via solvothermal and solid-state methods.

Dr Watts obtained her PhD from the University of St Andrews where her research was directed towards the design and synthesis of microporous zeotypes (e.g., AlPOs, SAPOs and MAPOs). 

Dr Angelo Iannetelli graduated with first-class Honours from the BSc (Hons) Chemistry course at USW before progressing to a PhD. He is currently carrying out postdoctoral research with Professor Damian Bailey at USW.

Dr Angelo Iannetelli
 is a research fellow in inorganic chemistry, currently working in the research group of Dr Gareth Owen. His work looks at the development of new metal-ligand cooperative strategies for the activation of small molecules and their utilization in catalytic transformations. In addition to organometallic catalysis, he is also interested in the application of time resolved tandem mass spectrometry for the elucidation of reaction mechanisms. 

Dr Iannetelli completed his PhD at the University of South Wales before working as a research assistant at the University and with industry as an analytical application scientist. He returned to Dr Owen’s group in 2021 to take up his current position working on the Ser Cymru project developing new catalysts for the capture and transformation of carbon dioxide.

Dr Issam Abdalghani, Chemistry

Dr Issam Abdalghani is a synthetic chemist with expertise in organometallic chemistry, main group chemistry, homogeneous and heterogeneous catalysis including catalysts preparation, characterization, and evaluation of the catalytic activity. 

Dr Issam Abdalghani has expertise in chemical functionalization of nanomaterials for the immobilization of organometallic complexes.

He has extensive research experience in the optimization and mechanism elucidation of different transition metal and/or metal free-catalyzed reactions such as: asymmetric transfer hydrogenation (ATH), selective oxidations of olefins and alcohols, aminocarbonylation of alkynes and oligomerization of alpha-olefins for the preparation of lubricant base oils. 

Research students

Miriam is undertaking a KESSII sponsored PhD with Tata Steel UK focuses on the challenges associated with the presence of sulfur-based compounds within coke oven gas. Coke oven gas is produced during coke making; an essential part of steel production. One of the major sulfur containing components is hydrogen sulfide. The project looks at the transformation of hydrogen sulfide into sulfates, and also focuses on the synthesis and application of transition metal complexes for the transformation of H2S and other sulfur-based components into new compounds.  


Shannan’s KESSII sponsored PhD involves a collaboration with Tata Steel UK and is tailored around extracting high value commodities components from coal tars. Coal tar contains over 400 different compounds and so the aim of this research is to identify the high value compounds and extract them from this complex matrix. The research focuses on the design and synthesis of new Task Specific Ionic Liquids (TSILs) for the purposes of extraction and separation of these value chemicals via specific solvent-solute interactions. 

Rachel McClaren, PhD student Chemistry, KESS funded

Rachel is undertaking a KESSII sponsored PhD with Perpetuus on the development of new graphene based materials containing poly-yne groups for advanced applications.

The project investigates covalent and non-covalent synthetic procedures to functionalise the surface of the materials, and quantify these via analytical techniques including XPS, Raman spectroscopy, BET, XRD, NMR, FT-IR, SEM, TEM and TGA. We are currently investigating the application of multi-layer graphitic composites within membrane synthesis. Furthermore, the project also looks at the porous structures of the materials, and how these can be altered and tailored for advanced applications.

Kleitos is investigating the effect of gaseous sulphur-based impurities on the co-electrolysis of steam and carbon dioxide using solid oxide electrolysis cells.

Simon’s project explores the interplay and migration of hydrogen atoms between reactive centres within transition metal catalysts. More specifically, it looks at boron and borohydride ligands systems supported by heterocyclic and other supporting units. These supporting units contained various donor groups which tether the boron-based ligand to transition metal compounds. The research is providing a more comprehensive understanding of the migration of hydrogen within these systems. 

Joseph is undertaking a KESSII sponsored PhD with Tata Steel and is focused on the carbon dioxide molecule. The project is aimed at the utilisation of CO2 as a feedstock for the synthesis of commodity chemicals. Novel transition metal-based complexes will be synthesised to bind and transform the carbon dioxide molecule. This will be achieved by employing a proton shuttle type methodology in a similar fashion found in enzymes. The aim is to be able to efficiently produce chemicals such as methanol or organic carbonates at a relatively cheap cost. 

Research opportunities

We welcome UK and international applications from suitably qualified graduates interested in joining us for either Masters by Research or PhD research programmes. We also offer a one year taught MSc in Pharmaceutical Chemistry, which tailors students expertise to areas in the pharmaceutical industry.  Find out more on the Graduate School website or contact Dr Suzy Kean for an informal discussion. 


Contact us

Dr Suzy Kean, Academic Subject Manager for Chemistry
Email: [email protected]