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Flow chemistry to control molecular nanotopology

   Department of Chemistry

   Sunday, April 16, 2023  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

The assembly of complex supramolecular species using metal-ligand bonds is well established; an enormous range of structures have been discovered with applications in catalysis and beyond. However, the assembly process for these species is often low-yielding, poorly selective, and very hard to scale, limiting their application. In short, the reaction environment is instrumental in the formation of the structure, and the reaction environment is very challenging to control. We hypothesise that using flow conditions will allow us to control these processes to a much greater extent than is currently possible in batch.

Flow chemistry – where reagents are passed continuously through heated tubing – has unique advantages of reproducibility, mixing, scalability, and wider process windows compared to traditional batch processes. Adding automation, in-line measurement, and flexible reaction configurations makes flow chemistry an exciting new way to study the synthesis and self-assembly of supramolecular systems. This project will build on our recent progress in the area of flow chemistry,1-5 low-symmetry cage systems,6, 7 and macrocyclic species3, in prep to develop automated screening platforms for interlocked molecular species based on M-L coordination.

 We will run an ambitious programme to map, understand, and control the formation of M-L bonds in flow for structures of increasing complexity: simple complexes, then helices, knots, and, eventually, heteroleptic structures with multiple different metals with defined positions within the discrete structure. Critical in protein assembly and function, metals bring a new dimension of properties, catalytic activity, magnetism, optoelectronic behaviour, and, for our purposes, imposition of geometrical constraints on structure.

By using design-of-experiments approaches, inline analysis, and autonomous control of optimisation, this research will result in a flow-based platform to control molecular structures formed via metal-ligand bonds. This platform would be ‘chemistry independent’ - and could then be applied to a wide range of different challenges via internal and external collaborations.

This project will be based in the group led by Dr Anna Slater ( in close collaboration with Professor Liang Zhang (East China Normal University) and with Dr John Ward as second supervisor (, drawing on skills and equipment in all three teams, in particular Professor Zhang’s extensive experience in nanotopology.8,9 The project will also have access to unique facilities in the state-of-the-art Materials Innovation Factory (

We are looking for candidates with an enthusiasm for research, multidisciplinary collaboration and tackling challenging problems through teamwork. You do not need to have experience with flow chemistry; the successful candidate will be provided with comprehensive training. Experience in organic synthesis or supramolecular chemistry would be an advantage.

Applicants should hold, or expect to obtain, a degree (equivalent to a UK 1st or 2:1) in chemistry, materials science or a related discipline.

To apply please visit: Please include Curriculum Vitae, two reference letters, degree transcripts to date, and a cover letter (max 1 page) describing your motivation for applying and relevant experience. Please ensure you quote reference CCPR057 in your application.

Applications should be made as soon as possible but no later than 16th April 2023. If candidates are identified before this date the position may be closed earlier – please get in touch at an early stage if you are interested.

Supervisors: Dr Anna Slater (); Professor Liang Zhang (); Dr John Ward ()


Briggs and Slater et al., Chem. Commun., 2015, 51, 17390.
Thorne et al., Sci. Rep. 2019, 9, 17983.
C. D. Jones et al., JACS, 2021, 143, 19, 7553–7565.
Huang et al., JACS, 2022, 144, 14, 6532-6542
K. Ollerton, R. L. Greenaway and A. G. Slater, Frontiers in Chem., 2021, 9:774987
Slater et al., MSDE, 2018, 3, 223.
Abet and Szczypiński et al., Angew. Chem. Int. Ed., 2020, 59, 16755.
Zhang et al., JACS, 2019, 141, 9, 3952
Zhang et al., Nat. Chem., 2018, 10, 11, 1083-1088

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