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4-Year Industrial CASE PhD Studentship in Synthetic Organic Chemistry: Metal-, Catalyst-, Light- and Electrolysis-Free Decarboxylative Radical Reactions – Towards a More Sustainable Future

School of Engineering & Physical Sciences

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Dr Ai-Lan Lee No more applications being accepted Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

This four-year Industrial CASE studentship on synthetic organic chemistry will be supervised by Dr Ai-Lan Lee in collaboration with GSK.

This PhD project builds on surprising observations in our laboratories that, contrary to the accepted convention, mild, decarboxylative C-H functionalisation of heterocycles do not require metal, photocatalyst, light, high temperatures nor electrolysis to proceed well.[1-2] A simple switch of solvent, followed by optimisation, successfully renders the C-H functionalisation of heterocycles metal-, catalyst-, light- and electrolysis-free (MCLE-free). Following these exciting preliminary results, we aim to convince the chemical community that we do not need to continue using toxic/precious/non-sustainable metals and catalysts or wasting precious energy to irradiate/heat/electrolyse these oxidative reactions just because it is the status quo. To achieve this, the aims of the project are to i) develop and showcase a myriad of useful MCLE free decarboxylative-functionalisation reactions which are sustainable, practical, cost-effective, scalable and suitable for late-stage functionalisation, ii) pursue further improvements on sustainability, and iii) showcase, using a case study, its utility for a diverse range of fields.

Lee Group website:


Informal enquiries should be directed to Dr Ai-Lan Lee: [Email Address Removed]

Formal applications should be made via Heriot-Watt University’s online application form:

When applying through the Heriot-Watt on-line system please ensure you provide the following information:
(a) in ‘Study Option’
You will need to select ‘Edinburgh’ and ‘Postgraduate Research’. ‘Programme’ presents you with a drop-down menu. Choose Chemistry PhD and select September 2020 for study option (this can be updated at a later date if required)
(b) in ‘Research Project Information’
You will be provided with a free text box for details of your research project. Enter Title and Reference number of the project for which you are applying and also enter the supervisor’s name. This information will greatly assist us in tracking your application.

Please note that once you have submitted your application, it will not be considered until you have uploaded your CV and transcripts.

Funding Notes

This is a four-year EPSRC Industrial CASE studentship in collaboration with GSK. The successful applicant will have the opportunity to spend at least 3 months on placement at GSK.

Candidates should have a strong background in Synthetic Organic Chemistry and have obtained a 1st or 2:1 MChem (Hons) or equivalent degree by August 2020.

The EPSRC Industrial CASE studentship includes a stipend (ca. £15k per annum, untaxed) and all tuition fees for four years. A 1st October 2020 start date is preferred, or soon thereafter.

There are specific eligibility requirements for this studentship, see:


[1] Sutherland, D. R.; Veguillas, M.; Oates, C. L.; Lee, A.-L. Org. Lett. 2018, 20, 6863.
[2] Westwood, M. T.; Lamb, C. J. C.; Sutherland, D. R.; Lee, A.-L. Org. Lett. 2019, 21, 7119.

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