Location, location, location: enabling research in high-tech surroundings

Location, location, location: enabling research in high-tech surroundings

  • A scientist conducts a chemical test

Catalysis plays a vital industrial and economic role in enabling us to turn relatively inexpensive materials into high value products.

As big challenges continue to emerge in health, materials, sustainability, food, environment and energy, the role of catalysts and synthesis – the ability to generate molecules in a controlled fashion – has never been more important in providing rapid, innovative and economic solutions.

Making molecules to order

With support from Dr Yusuf Hamied, Professor Matthew Gaunt in the Department of Chemistry is leading work to tackle these challenges, aiming to create molecules in the lab with the same ease as in nature.

As a synthetic chemist, what I find most interesting is how molecules can be made, and inventing new ways that don’t hinge on conventional rules to put them together. We are trying to develop a blueprint for synthesis that will rival how nature makes molecules. While nature has had millions of years to come up with this, we are trying to do it within our research career which spans on average probably 40 years, so it really is a broad challenge.

Professor Matthew Gaunt, Department of Chemistry

In September 2015, a new state-of-the-art research laboratory – the Yusuf Hamied Laboratory for Chemical Synthesis and Catalysis – made possible by the generous support of Dr Hamied, opened its doors to Professor Gaunt and his research group. Within their new high-tech surroundings, the team is continuing its ground breaking research into the invention of catalytic strategies for chemical synthesis, aiming to generate complex molecular architecture displayed in natural products and molecules of biological interest, in a single step.

Opening the door to innovations in materials and medicine

“One of our key aims is to be able to construct natural products from simple building blocks in a single step, without the need for reactivity inducing functional groups and with the ability to control the stereochemistry. In this way, we hope to be able to develop a chemo-catalytic equivalent to nature’s biosynthetic machinery that will enable us to build any molecule we want – potentially opening the door to solutions across the fields of nature, medicine and materials,” says Professor Gaunt.

Dr Hamied (Christ’s 1954 and Honorary Fellow) is the chairman of the socially conscious pharmaceutical firm Cipla and the recipient of an honorary degree from the University of Cambridge, as well as numerous other awards. He received his PhD in Chemistry in 1960 under the tutelage of Lord Todd and is a long-term supporter and advocate for chemistry at Cambridge. Professor Gaunt reflects: “Professor Lord Alexander Todd, the Nobel Prize-winning chemist and former Master of Christ’s, would have been happy that the lab is now home to cutting-edge synthetic research. Together with existing support for the Todd-Hamied Seminar Room, this gift will have a lasting impact on the Department of Chemistry.”

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