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Molecular tug-of-war: promoting reactions with force

Project Description

Any force developed at the macroscopic scale can induce dramatic changes at the molecular scale, even breaking covalent bonds.[1] Indeed, mechanical force is a formidable source of energy that, with its ability to distort, bend and stretch chemical bonds, is unique in its ability to promote reaction pathways that are otherwise inaccessible to traditional methods of activation. A precise control of this force can be achieved when the chemical entity that is the subject of the mechanical force (a “mechanophore”) is embedded within a polymeric backbone.[2-5] Pulling both ends of a macromolecule apart creates highly directional strain with its highest intensity in the middle of the chain in a way reminiscent to a tug-of-war. The activation can be performed in solution, with the help of ultrasounds, or in the solid state, by simple stretching.

In this project you will create new types of mechanophores to explore unusual reactivity patterns under tension. You will investigate their activation both in solution, using ultrasounds, and in the solid-state by mechanical stretching, and explore their properties. This project could lead to the development of self-healing materials and to the creation of chemical systems able to perform complex synthetic tasks.

You will be trained in synthetic organic, polymer, and supramolecular chemistry.

Academic background of candidates:
Applicants are expected to hold, or about to obtain, a minimum upper second class undergraduate degree (or equivalent) in Chemistry or Polymer Chemistry. An experience in synthetic organic chemistry, synthetic polymer chemistry or supramolecular chemistry is desirable.

Contact for further Information:
For more information on the gourp visit:
Follow us on Twitter: @GuillaumeDebo
For informal inquiries please contact Dr Guillaume De Bo at (with PhD studentship in the subject line; including a CV).

Funding Notes

This is a 4 year studentship funded by the Leverhulme Trust, covering fees and stipend (£15,009 in 2019-20).

Open to UK/EU students. Please note, EU applicants will need to have 3 years residency in the UK prior to applying. due to funding restrictions.

We expect the programme to start in September 2020.


[1] Li, J.; Nagamani, C.; Moore, J. S. Acc. Chem. Res. 2015, 48, 2181–2190.
[2] Stevenson, R.; De Bo, G. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2017, 139, 16768–16771.
[3] De Bo, G. Chem. Sci. 2018, 9, 15–21.
[4] Zhang, M.; De Bo, G. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2018, 140, 12724–12727.
[5] Zhang, M.; De Bo, G. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2019, 141, 15879–15883

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