University of Oxford Featured PhD Programmes
University of Oxford Featured PhD Programmes
University of East Anglia Featured PhD Programmes

Promoting ‘impossible’ reaction with force

Department of Chemistry

About the Project

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.[2-4] 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.

Our research aims at controlling reactivity under tension for applications in synthesis, materials, and biology.[2-4] We have recently shown how geometrical[2] and substituent[3] effects, as well as the use of mechanical bonds,[4-5] can give rise to unprecedented reaction pathways in molecules under tension.

In this project you will create new mechanophores and/or new modes of activation (e.g. with mechanical bonds) to promote 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 with the goal of creating functional systems for application in catalysis, self-healing, cellular force sensing, damage detection, out-of-equilibrium systems…

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 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 group visit:
Follow us on Twitter: @GuillaumeDebo
For informal inquiries please contact Dr Guillaume De Bo at (including a CV).

Funding Notes

This 4 year studentship funded by the Royal Society & The Department of Chemistry, will cover fees and stipend (£15,285 in 2020).

Open to UK students only.

We expect the programme to commence in September 2021.


(1) De Bo, G. Macromolecules 2020, 53, 7615–7617.
(2) Stevenson, R.; De Bo, G. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2017, 139, 16768–16771.
(3) Nixon, R.; De Bo, G. Nat. Chem. 2020, 12, 826–831.
(4) Zhang, M.; De Bo, G. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2020, 142, 5029–5033.
(5) Sandoval Torrientes, R.; Carr, T.; De Bo, G. Macromol. Rapid Comm. 2020. DOI: 10.1002/marc.202000447

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