The overall objective is to discover, elucidate, understand and exploit surface phenomena, especially in relation to molecular mechanisms, reactivity and heterogeneous catalysis. Projects are always driven by academic curiosity. However, the nature of our subject is such that the problems addressed quite often have direct and immediate relevance to major technological applications. As a result, we have excellent connections with a variety of UK and European industrial companies.

Previous Group Members

Over twenty former research students hold tenured academic positions around the world, including UK, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Switzerland, South Africa and USA. Seven hold chairs (Cape Town, Durham, ETH Zurich, Keele, Oxford, Queen's, Kingston, Wisconsin).

Over forty former students hold a variety of senior scientific, technical and managerial positions with major corporations, world-wide (UK, Canada, Australia, France, Netherlands, Switzerland, USA).

Former postdoctoral researchers hold professorial or senior managerial positions in UK, Australia, Austria, Canada, Japan, Netherlands, USA.

Resident visiting scientists have come from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Greece, Japan, Russia and USA.

Experimental techniques

We have recently moved into a set of very well equipped new laboratories, purpose-built to suit our wide range of experimental work. The style of working is that every student can expect to use a range of techniques - as many as the problem at hand demands. I do not train graduate students to become narrow specialists: collaboration, informal or otherwise, with engineers, organic and inorganic chemists, material scientists, chemical engineers and physicists is strongly encouraged.

The range of experimental techniques in use includes LEED, Auger spectroscopy, X-ray and ultraviolet photoelectron spectroscopy, ion scattering, HREELS (vibrational spectroscopy), kinetic studies (including isotopic tracing); X-ray absorption spectroscopy (synchrotron radiation, EXAFS, NEXAFS, photoelectron microscopy); scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) atomic force microscopy (AFM); high resolution electron microscopy; infra red spectroscopy; catalytic reactor studies under technically relevant conditions.

The synchrotron radiation work is carried out at the ELETTRA source, Trieste Italy. It includes determination of the orientation and electronic structure of adsorbed and reacting surface species as a function of reaction variables; and real time mapping of the distribution, mobility and chemical state of reactants, products and promoters.

A distinguishing aspect of our work is that most investigations are carried out using both single crystal model systems and the corresponding dispersed practical materials. And it is genuinely interdisciplinary. Measurements are made over a wide range of conditions: from ultrahigh vacuum to ~50 bar pressure and in the liquid state.

We aim to (i) elucidate the mechanisms of important heterogeneously catalysed reactions, including some novel reactions discovered by ourselves, (ii) invent new catalysts, especially those based on nanoscopically well defined materials (iii) discover, develop and exploit new areas of catalytic chemistry - especially those that conform to the principles of green chemistry and atom economy (iv) develop principles and diversify and extend applications into new areas of chemistry.

Current lines of research include

  • Chiral surfaces, molecular recognition and enantioselective catalysis
  • Bio-mimetic heterogeneous catalysis
  • Selective oxidation and selective hydrogenation of demanding and technologically important systems: alkenes, alkanes, dienes, enals
  • Alkyne coupling - new routes to the synthesis of N-heterocycles and other technically important materials
  • Synthesis, characterisation and application of well-defined nanoscopic metals, alloys and composites to catalysis and fuel cells: control of size, composition, surface structure and hence chemistry
  • Oxidative coupling of methane: a fuel-to-chemical feedstock process
  • Electrochemical promotion of catalytic reactions: controlling catalysts with wires
  • Environmental protection: NOx elimination and the design of novel robust catalytic systems
  • Scanned probe microscopy studies of catalyst genesis and evolution under reaction conditions
  • Gas sensors and sensor technology development
  • Invention, development and diversification of methods for controlling working catalysts (gas/solid and gas/liquid interfaces) by application of electric potential: scale-up, feedback control, and extension to reactions of importance in synthetic organic chemistry and the production of fine chemicals


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