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New Strategies for Chemical Synthesis via Frustrated Molecules (GTA 20 PUL)

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Tuesday, February 04, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Like building a house from bricks and mortar, molecular synthesis is the construction of new chemical entities from other molecules. Molecular construction methods that use gases as building blocks are important: plants convert carbon dioxide gas into sugar, and when performed by us, it supplies important molecules, such as the materials in your phone and lifesaving medicines. Due to its universal applications, the discovery of greener and more sustainable molecular construction methods is essential.

However, in order to use gases in synthesis, they must first be activated. For example, in the case of activation of hydrogen gas, current methods generally exploit precious metals that are generally toxic, costly, have high environmental impact, and are poorly available.
Dr. Pulis’ research explores the fascinating and wide-ranging reactivity of main group elements, such as carbon, boron and sulfur, and applies this new knowledge to address fundamental challenges in chemical synthesis.

In line with this vision, and to avoid the use of precious metals in important chemical processes, this PhD project will explore the use of readily available, non-toxic, non-metallic carbon-based molecules (organocatalysts) to facilitate the activation of gas molecules. For example, using hydrogen-bonding – the same interaction between molecules that causes honey to be sticky – these organocatalysts will be used to form frustrated molecules, where the frustration will be channelled towards the activation of gases.

The successful candidate will synthesise new organocatalysts and explore their reactivity in a variety of reactions. You will trial effective catalysts in applications that would eliminate precious metals from key industrial processes, and in reactions that were previously thought impossible.

Therefore, this PhD project will provide a much needed, more sustainable approach to chemical synthesis with gases. It will reduce our reliance on precious metals in key industrial processes and, as in nature, will allow the waste gas carbon dioxide to become a useful building block in molecular construction.


This exciting project borders the traditional realms of organic and inorganic synthesis and therefore a successful candidate will receive high level training in a broad mix of topics and techniques. This will include knowledge of novel reactivity, such as the emerging field of frustrated molecules (frustrated Lewis pairs), and in the application of supramolecular interactions (e.g. hydrogen bonds), a topic that underpins the fundamental principles of two Nobel prizes in Chemistry.

You will gain hands-on-experience with catalysis, reaction design, air and moisture sensitive reactions, and modern analytical techniques using state-of-the-art equipment (multinuclear NMR, mass spectrometry, chromatography), in addition to acquiring skills in project management and scientific publication.

After completion of the PhD programme, you will be armed with the skills and knowledge to forge a successful career in, for example, academic or industrial research.

Academic entry requirements

UK Bachelor Degree with at least 2:1 in a relevant subject or overseas equivalent.

University of Leicester English language requirements apply (where applicable).

UK/EU applicants only.

Application Instructions

When applying, please ensure we have received all of the following required documents by Tuesday 4th February 2020 :

- Application Form
- 2 academic references
- CV
- Undergraduate transcripts

If you have completed your undergraduate degree, we will also require your undergraduate degree certificate

If you have completed a postgraduate degree, we will also require your transcripts and degree certificate

If we do not have the required documents by the closing date, your application may not be considered for the studentship.

Please refer to guidance at - https://le.ac.uk/study/research-degrees/funded-opportunities/chem-gta-2020

Funding Notes

Fully funded 4 years.

UK/EU tuition fee waiver.

Stipend at UKRI rates.


1. Frustrated Lewis Pairs I: Uncovering and Understanding; and Frustrated Lewis Pairs II: Expanding the Scope, Eds. D.W. Stephan, G. Erker, Springer, London, 2013.

2. A. P. Pulis, L. Winfrey, A. Alverez-Montoya, Uncovering the Synthetic Potential of Frustrated Lewis Pairs in Chemistry, Molecular Sciences and Chemical Engineering, 2019, Elsevier, in press.

3. For information on Dr. Pulis’ research, including an up-to-date list of publications, please visit www.pulisresearchgroup.weebly.com

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