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  Mechanically Interlocked Ligands for Medical Imaging

   School of Chemistry

   Applications accepted all year round  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Background – metal coordination and the mechanical bond

The efficient synthesis of catenanes (two molecular rings held together like links in a macroscopic chain) and rotaxanes (a molecular ring held on a molecular axle by bulk end groups) was first achieved using elegant coordination chemistry by Sauvage (), work which ultimately led to him receiving the 2016 Nobel Prize in Chemistry alongside Stoddart and Feringa. The products Sauvage’s synthetic approach and its many variants are necessarily ligands for transition metal ions, but this feature of mechanically interlocked molecules has not been exploited significantly despite early results suggesting that encapsulating metal ions in this way leads to enhanced kinetic stability and unusual electronic properties.

The project

The Goldup Group ( at the University of Birmingham have recently revisited the use of rotaxanes and catenanes as ligands to demonstrate that the mechanical bond can stabilise normally unstable organometallic complexes (J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2013,; Chem. Sci. 2020, and provide access to unusual coordination environments that cannot be produced in other ways (J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2018,, which can in turn lead to unusual magnetic properties (J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2021, The successful candidate will study mechanically chelating ligands for application in medical imaging (MRI and SPECT). To achieve this, they will make use of the Goldup Group’s efficient methods for the synthesis of rotaxanes and catenanes (e.g., J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2016; J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2018 and collaborate with leaders in these imaging techniques at the University of Birmingham and the University of Zurich.

Relevant reviews

The chemistry of interlocked molecules: Goldup, Chem. Commun. 2014,

The active template synthesis of interlocked molecules: Goldup, Nat. Rev. Chem. 2017,

Mechanically interlocked ligands: Chem. Commun. 2017:

Training and mentoring

The successful candidate will receive training in synthetic organic and supramolecular chemistry and other specialist areas as required by their project, either from the Goldup Group or appropriate collaborators. They will gain extensive experience of a range of analytical techniques including advanced NMR analysis, single crystal x-ray diffraction and HPLC analysis. They will be mentored by Professor Goldup to improve their scientific writing, presentation skills and ability to design and execute new scientific projects. Completing a PhD in the Goldup Group will prepare students for leadership roles in scientific research, as well as positions across the scientific sector more generally.

The Goldup Group

Research in the Goldup Group ( at the University of Birmingham focusses on the synthesis, properties and applications of mechanically interlocked molecules such as rotaxanes and catenanes. This work takes place at the interface of organic synthetic and supramolecular chemistry and requires collaborations with a range of other disciplines from materials science to chemical biology.


This studentship is fully funded for 3.5 years and includes a tax-free annual stipend (currently £18,622) and fees (currently £4,712) at the UK home rate. Please note that, due to funding restrictions, applicants not eligible for UK home fee status will only be considered in exceptional circumstances.

Application process

Interested candidates should contact Professor Goldup by email () in the first instance with a copy of their CV and a covering letter outlining their research interests. The School of Chemistry is keen to achieve a gender and diversity balance across the School and welcome applicants from all backgrounds. The School holds an Athena SWAN Bronze Award, which recognises its work in promoting women’s careers in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEM) in higher education.

Chemistry (6)

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