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  PhD Studentship: Supramolecular Organic Chemistry

   School of Chemistry

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

About the Project

The Pilgrim Group at the University of Nottingham is looking to recruit an enthusiastic and talented PhD candidate to join our research team. The group’s research interests span supramolecular self-assembly, metal-organic cages, interlocked molecule synthesis, and stimuli-responsive materials. Please see for more information. This 48-month studentship accompanies Ben Pilgrim’s University Research Fellowship from the Royal Society on “Catalytic Nanoboxes”.


Metal-organic cages are self-assembled, nanometre-sized structures created from the reversible dynamic coordination bonds between suitable metal ions and organic ligands. Through careful design of the correct organic ligand piece and metal ion, we can direct the size, shape, and resultant properties of the cages that are formed. These discrete structures are called cages because they typically have an interior cavity, inside of which other molecules can bind (typically through non-covalent interactions such as the hydrophobic effect, hydrogen bonding or pi-stacking). This binding can be used for sensing, extraction of a valuable component from a mixture, stabilisation of something highly reactive, or for catalysis (e.g., by mimicking an enzyme active site).

Project goals

This project will seek to design novel molecular cages as catalyst-containing nanoboxes to impart new control over catalytic reactions. These will be useful as the cages could promote enhanced control over reaction selectivity (allowing access to unusual chemo-, regio- and stereoselectivity in reaction outcomes). The cage interior is shielded from the bulk environment, and thus the binding of highly reactive or short lived species that are normally difficult to observe will allow us to elucidate more on their structure and reactivity. Cage encapsulation of catalysts could render toxic catalysts bench-safe, sensitive catalysts stable to atmospheric conditions and expensive catalysts readily re-usable. We could also employ multiple cage-encapsulated catalysts within the same reaction flask to allow complex molecules to be produced from multiple reaction steps in a single operation. New catalyst paradigms are crucial given 90% of modern products require a catalyst in their production and separating pure components from mixtures currently requires 10–15% of global energy consumption.

What would you do day to day?

We are a synthetic group, and the first part of this project is similar to other synthetic organic chemistry groups as the ligands are designed, synthesised, and characterized by the standard organic chemistry techniques (NMR spectroscopy, mass spectrometry etc.). However, once the organic molecule is made, that is where the fun begins! We then try self-assembly with different metals, see what structures form, and characterise them with a range of supramolecular methods. We will then look at what species can be bound inside, and how we can make these useful for catalysis. During your studies you will receive the training to become an excellent synthetic supramolecular chemist, gaining knowledge of organic and inorganic synthesis techniques and structural elucidation methods such as NMR spectroscopy, mass spectrometry and X-ray crystallography. Over the course of the PhD, it is envisaged you will produce work of high impact suitable for publication, and there is money allocated to present the results of this work at national/international conferences.

What is the position?

The position is a fully funded Royal Society PhD studentship for 48 months to start in October 2023. The Pilgrim Group are based in the School of Chemistry, University Park, University of Nottingham, UK. 

Entry requirements

You should have, or expect to achieve by summer 2023, a First class or good 2:1 Honours degree in Chemistry or Natural Sciences specialising in Chemistry (or equivalent). This would typically be at the master’s level (e.g., MSci, MChem, MRes).

Research experience in supramolecular chemistry, coordination chemistry, organic chemistry or related areas is beneficial (such as undergraduate lab project or summer project) but not essential.

If English is not your first language, you must provide evidence before starting the position that you meet the University minimum English language requirements (IELTS 6.0 with at least 5.5 in each element, or equivalent).

We are looking for someone who is creative, works hard, is a team player, and would enjoy being part of a dynamic and growing research group.


We encourage you to submit your application as soon as possible. There is no deadline but the position will be filled as soon as a suitable candidate is identified. 

Start Date: October 2023

Keywords: Chemistry; Supramolecular; Organic; Self-assembly; Coordination; Metal-Organic; Cages; Catalysis


Dr Ben Pilgrim is happy to discuss informally via email any questions that prospective applicants have ([Email Address Removed]).

To apply you need to send your CV (max two pages) and a cover letter to [Email Address Removed] Please make sure the names and contact details of two referees are listed on your CV.

At this stage you do not need to submit an official application to the University of Nottingham applications portal. After interview, the successful candidate will need to submit a formal application to the University.

Chemistry (6)

Funding Notes

This four-year position is funded by the Royal Society. The funding covers the payment of tuition fees at the UK/Home rate and provides a tax-free stipend. The Royal Society sets the rate of PhD student stipends. Traditionally this has been matched to the standard UKRI rate, which is £17,668 per year for 22/23 and is typically increased each year.
Non-home students are eligible to apply, but would need to have a confirmed source of funding to make up the difference between the home and international fee rate:

Where will I study?

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