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Catalytic Dehydrative Synthesis of Heterocycles

   Department of Chemistry

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  Dr James Taylor  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The University of Bath is inviting applications for the following PhD project developing new catalytic methodology for the synthesis of valuable heterocycles. The position will commence in October 2022 under the supervision of Dr James Taylor in the Department of Chemistry.

Eligible applicants will be considered for a fully-funded studentship – for more information, see the Funding Notes section below.

Overview of the Project:

This project will develop a range of efficient catalytic methods for the functionalisation of simple, readily available starting materials containing hydroxyl groups using boron-based catalysts. The new reactions will be initiated by the catalytic removal of a hydroxy group to form a reactive intermediate and release water as the only by-product.

We will focus on catalytic dehydrative reactions for the preparation of small molecule motifs that are of interest for modern pharmaceuticals. For example, 85% of biologically active entities contain at least one heterocycle, yet less than 2% of all possible ring systems have been made. We will use catalytic dehydration to explore new reactivity for the preparation of heterocyclic targets for which no general synthetic method exists to enhance accessible drug-like chemical space. We will also apply these methods to the preparation of other common heterocycles currently found in drug compounds to provide more sustainable catalytic alternatives to current synthetic methods. Another aim is to develop new catalytic reactions for the direct activation of N-OH bonds to promote rearrangement into protected amines. As over 80% of drug candidates contain amine functionality, these new reactions will provide more sustainable methods of accessing these important motifs.

The project will also gain understanding of the structure and dynamic behaviour of the boron-based catalysts in solution through mechanistic analysis, with the knowledge gained used to aid further catalyst development and support the optimisation of the new synthetic methods. Overall, the new catalytic technology developed, alongside increased fundamental understanding of the processes will provide both industry and academia with an enhanced toolbox for the sustainable synthesis of valuable organic molecules.

This PhD project will provide you with an opportunity to experience the development of new catalytic methods for applications in organic synthesis. We are interested in enthusiastic and motivated researchers to join our team, and you should have a high-class degree in chemistry with some previous experience of practical organic chemistry.

For more information, visit or contact Dr James Taylor. 

Project keywords: Catalysis; organic synthesis; heterocycles; sustainable synthesis.

Candidate Requirements:

The successful candidate should have, or be expected to gain, a high-class degree in chemistry with some previous experience of practical synthetic organic chemistry.

Non-UK applicants must meet our English language entry requirement.

Enquiries and Applications:

Informal enquiries are welcomed and should be directed to Dr James Taylor (email: [Email Address Removed]).

Formal applications should be made via the University of Bath’s online application form for a PhD in Chemistry.

More information about applying for a PhD at Bath may be found on our website.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion:

We value a diverse research environment and aim to be an inclusive university, where difference is celebrated and respected. We welcome and encourage applications from under-represented groups.

If you have circumstances that you feel we should be aware of that have affected your educational attainment, then please feel free to tell us about it in your application form. The best way to do this is a short paragraph at the end of your personal statement.

Funding Notes

Candidates applying for this project may be considered for a 3.5-year Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC DTP) studentship. Funding covers tuition fees, a stipend (£15,609 per annum, 2021/22 rate) and research/training expenses (£1,000 per annum). EPSRC DTP studentships are open to both Home and International students; however, in line with guidance from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the number of awards available to International candidates will be limited to 30% of the total.


For recent examples of our work in this area, see:
(1) S. Estopiñá-Durán, J. E. Taylor, “Brønsted Acid‐Catalysed Dehydrative Substitution Reactions of Alcohols” Chem. Eur. J. 2021, 27, 106–120.
(2) S. Estopiñá-Durán, E. B. Mclean, L. J. Donnelly, B. M. Hockin, J. E. Taylor, “Arylboronic Acid Catalyzed C-Alkylation and Allylation Reactions Using Benzylic Alcohols” Org. Lett. 2020, 22, 7547–7551.
(3) S. Estopina-Duran, L. J. Donnelly, E. B. Mclean, B. M. Hockin, A. M. Z. Slawin, J. E. Taylor, “Aryl Boronic Acid Catalysed Dehydrative Substitution of Benzylic Alcohols for C−O Bond Formation” Chem. Eur. J. 2019, 25, 3950–3956.
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