The Chemical Sciences Research Centre

The Chemical Sciences Research Centre currently has over 25 staff members. Our research is very interdisciplinary; we collaborate with other research centres at Keele, but also with a range of national/international universities and industrial partners.

Our research is supported by a range of modern analytical facilities. Much of the research undertaken is published in various internationally-recognized journals with high impact factors.

Research within the Centre can be divided into five areas: Analytical Chemistry, Synthetic Chemistry, Materials Science, Forensic Science and Education Research. Please read further about each of these individual themes below.

Research within this group focusses on the identification and quantification of a range of different compounds. A range of techniques are available at Keele for this purpose, including gas chromatography and/or liquid chromatography coupled to a range of mass spectrometers (e.g. GC-MS, LC-MS-MS, LC-QTOF-MS, LC-MS, LC-UV, ICP-OES, ICP-MS, Orbitrap Mass spectrometry, Advion CMS with ASAP probe). We also make use of central UK and EU facilities for small-angle neutron and X-ray scattering measurements.

Potential research projects are available in the following areas:

Identification of insect-derived compounds – Dr Falko Drijfhout

Chromatography and/or mass spectrometry are crucial techniques for elucidating the structure and role of various compounds in (social) insects. Current research topics include: (1) the biosynthesis of hydrocarbons as recognition compounds in ants, (2) the use of hydrocarbons as age and species identification tools in blowflies, (3) the use of metabolites as age markers in blowflies.

For more information please visit Chemical Ecology web or contact Dr Falko Drijfhout.

Uncovering complex food fraud using non-targeted analysis – Dr Dave Thompson

The main focus of the research group is value added fraud, in this type of fraud a foodstuff is misrepresented to allow it to be sold for a higher price. Using a range of analytical techniques (including LC-MS, GC-MS and ICP-MS), a profile all of the small molecule data from a foodstuff is built up and differences between groups are identified to determine if a fraud has taken place. Current projects are investigating (1) the differentiation of animals subjected to conventional and religious slaughter methods, (2) the effect of meat aging, and (3) differentiation between organic/non-organic eggs.

For more information please contact Dr Dave Thompson.

Small-angle scattering and Soft Matter – Dr Martin Hollamby

Small-angle scattering is a powerful and versatile analysis tool that can selectively detect structures with dimensions ranging from 1 - 100 nm. This is the size region in which nanotechnology operates, and consequently SAS is regularly used to investigate structures within a range of soft (molecular assemblies, gels) and hard materials (including catalysts, building materials). Current projects aim to synthesise, prepare and characterise (in part using SAS) soft organic materials including micelles, microemulsions, gels and liquid crystals with potential applications in imaging or in organic electronics.

For more information, please contact Dr Martin Hollamby.

Development of ionophore-based sensors – Dr Aleks Radu

We are interested in development of simple, small and low cost chemical sensors for the detection of environmentally and clinically important ions. The sensors typically utilize electrochemical and optical transduction mode and the ultimate goal is the design of sensing devices that could be worn as piece of garment and be integrated with simple communication devices like mobile phones for use by non-professionals. Current projects aim to design and develop materials and methodologies for optimizing sensors for nitrogen-based nutrients in soil and slurry or toxic metals in bodily fluids.

For more information please contact Dr Aleks Radu.

All applications are made on-line; full details and application procedures can be found on the University website.

Dr Peter Matthews: Molecular Models for Inorganic Materials


The developing world has an insatiable desire for energy in terms of both production and storage, and to meet these twin challenges we rely on a fascinating array of functional materials. One strategy to improve the properties of materials is to include small amounts of other elements which act as dopants, but it can be unclear as to what is the exact structural relationship between the bulk material and the dopants that give rise to the desired properties. We seek to make molecular models of the wider materials as this allows us to determine the exact positional relationships between atoms and so we can predict how we might improve the expected functionality.

Specific projects in the group are currently focussed around looking at the structures in III-V quantum dots and developing nanomaterials for H2-storage. 

Dr Chris Hawes: Supramolecular Coordination Chemistry


Research in the Hawes group is based around synthetic and structural aspects of supramolecular coordination chemistry, and the synthesis of responsive materials, with a particular focus on Metal-Organic Frameworks (MOFs). Our goal is to synthesise and characterise new crystalline materials with functionality controlled by the design of the organic ligands. These materials have numerous uses, but our focus is on developing water-stable materials for chemical separations (separation of liquid or gaseous hydrocarbons, and CO 2 capture), and chemical sensing with fluorescent or colorimetric MOF-based sensors. This research heavily involves single-crystal X-ray diffraction to probe the fascinating structural chemistry of both discrete and polymeric coordination compounds. As well as a large synthetic chemistry component, our research involves a wide variety of physical and spectroscopic characterisation techniques. These projects are fundamentally interdisciplinary, with support from international collaborators, and geared towards new research directions both in fundamental science and applied towards pressing environmental needs.

For more information please visit the group research pages and follow us on Twitter.

Dr Mike Edwards: Molecular Synthesis and Medicinal Chemistry

Our research is targeted in the broad area of molecular synthesis and its interdisciplinary application in medicinal chemistry. We aim to develop new and efficient methods to prepare interesting molecules and apply them to interesting problems. We work with a range of collaborators inside and outside of Keele to accomplish these goals. Two currents projects of interest focus on targeted autotaxin inhibitors as a therapy for Ovarian Cancer and novel anti-malarial agents.

Ovarian tumours represent a challenging drug target due to the poor pharmacokinetic properties of drugs which target them. We are examining methods for the more effective treatment of such tumours by investigating delivery methods for inhibitors which target autotaxin, an enzyme which plays an important role in the proliferation of ovarian tumours, and have reported two distinct delivery systems that enhance the properties of autotaxin enzyme inhibitors.


The image shows the x-ray structure binding of the potent inhibitor HA155 to the enzyme target. A delivery molecule was attached at the position indicated with an arrow to improve the pharmacokinetic properties of the inhibitor.



 Malaria continues to be an endemic worldwide problem with increasing resistance of the malaria parasites to current drug therapies. This presents a need for new chemotherapies that are not only potent but rapidly kill the parasite. We have been exploring the structural activity of a number of interesting heterocycles series based on leads discovered by the Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV).

Dr Matthew O’Brien: Natural products synthesis, flow chemistry and low cost automation

Stereoselective Synthesis of Natural Products

We are interested in the diastereoselective synthesis of key motifs found in biologically active natural products. Recent work has focused on the use of epimerisable chiral centres on conformationally well-defined scaffolds such as tetrahydropyran and piperidine rings. By combining two epimerisable groups and a single configured chiral centre, we are able to achieve double diastereoselectivity and produce a single product from four possible stereoisomers (J. Org. Chem., 2017, 82, 3441)


Continuous Flow Synthesis and Low Cost Automation:

We are interested in the use of continuous flow synthesis as an enabling technology for chemical research. In particular, we have been involved in the development of reactors that facilitate efficient gas-liquid contact in flow (e.g. Teflon AF-2400 Tube-in-Tube reactors) as well as separation systems that permit inline extraction and purification of product flow streams (e.g. liquid-liquid flow contactors/separators). J. CO2 Util. 2017, 21, 580, Tetrahedron, 2018, 74, 6795


Additionally, we have also incorporated our reactors and separators into a series of low-cost automated synthesis and analysis platforms that harness emerging open-source hardware and software technologies (e.g. Python, Scipy, OpenCV, RAMPS). Tetrahedron, 2018, 74, 3152


Professor Mike Watkinson: Molecular probes


Our independent research has focussed on the design of ligands for functional complexes for many years. We have a long-standing interest in the application of biomimetic manganese complexes in oxidative catalysis for applications in both synthetic chemistry and in low temperature laundry. Here the main drive has been to develop systems capable of oxidising hydrocarbon substrates with good selectivity and in high yield using the environmentally benign oxidant hydrogen peroxide. Our man focus of activity in recent years has been on the development of small molecule fluorescent probes for the detection of ‘mobile’ zinc. This is the second most abundant d-block metal in humans and whilst much of the element is present in bound forms, there exists a pool of ‘mobile’ or ‘free’ zinc whose concentration varies enormously in cells and is known to be associated with a number of important disease states including type II diabetes mellitus and certain cancers. Owing to its d10 configuration and lack of spectroscopically useful nuclei, it is generally imaged using fluorescent probes and our efforts focus on the development of small molecule probes that use a switch off of Photo-induced Electron Transfer (PET) as a detection mechanism. We are also actively engaged with a pan-European collaborative network of scientists interested in zinc, Zinc-Net, that was established following support through TD1304 COST Action. Finally we have a long-standing collaboration with Steffi Krause from The School of Engineering and Materials Science at Queen Mary, University of London where our collaborative research focuses on two main areas: i) Biosensors and ii) Electrochemical imaging. In both cases we use synthetic chemistry to develop materials capable of delivering functional applications in real world settings.

Dr Gavin Miller: Carbohydrates


Our research program in glycoscience sits at the chemistry/biology interface. We are developing synthetic and chemoenzymatic methodologies to construct carbohydrate-tools. Some examples are illustrated above. For more information please email me or visit the group research pages and follow us on Twitter.

All applications are made on-line; full details and application procedures can be found on the University website.

The materials chemistry research is carried out in the Birchall Centre which  provides an academic environment where fundamental and applied sciences across a breadth of fields both prosper and inform one another. The research group specialises in several aspects of catalysis and materials science including (1) catalysis with porous materials, (2) characterisation of catalytic systems via in situ spectroscopic studies, and (3) the application of nanostructured materials in catalysis, separation and sensors. Keele offers a dynamic research environment and well-equipped chemical and analytical laboratories with a wide range of facilities available, including XRD, SEM-EDX, XPS, BET, TGA, Raman, FTIR, UV-Vis and fluorescence spectroscopy, 400 MHz (MAS)NMR, ICP-OES, ICP-MS, LC-MS, GC-MS, and a number of in situ cells such as DRUV-Vis, ATR-IR, DRIFTS and in situ XRD. There are also opportunities to access central facilities, such as the Diamond Synchrotron and ISIS neutron source, and to gain experience working abroad in the laboratories of our collaborators overseas.

Potential research projects are available in the following areas:

Novel materials for sensor technology – Dr Chrystelle Egger 

The use of polymers as precursors for preparing porous solids offers interesting advantages over that of inorganic species: indeed, soft amorphous matter could be preferred over crystalline oxides in order to easily accommodate a high degree of curvature; plus, the ease of processing soft matter vs. crystals is non negligible as usually milder conditions are used, with the possibility to shape the materials through moulding for instance. Moreover, such materials also have much milder working conditions allowing for novel applications at the interface with biochemistry/biology (molecular recognition) or for novel technologies (low-temperature fuel cell).

The aim here is to design and synthesize monomers and nanoporous materials with predetermined function on the basis of melamine formaldehyde (MF) chemistry.  Directed modification of the precursors and the resulting materials will yield to new products with tailored properties.

For more information, please contact Dr Chrystelle Egger.

Nanostructured Materials: Catalysis, Characterisation and Modelling – Dr Vladimir Zholobenko

The project aims to develop quantitative approaches to the characterisation of heterogeneous catalysts, such as bifunctional catalysts that contain both acid and metal sites. The research areas will include: (i) preparation of catalysts with controlled acid and metal functions and (ii) characterisation of these nanostructured materials using a range of analytical techniques. The project aims to generate new insight in structure - catalytic performance relationship and the role of active sites in catalytic reactions, hence providing a basis for the design of new heterogeneous catalysts with high activity, selectivity and stability. The projects would also be focused on the development of new approaches and methodologies for the characterisation of bifunctional catalysts. The project will give you an opportunity to achieve a professional level in the preparation and characterisation of nanostructured catalysts, their applications and industrial relevance.

For more information, please contact Dr Vladimir Zholobenko.

All applications are made on-line; full details and application procedures can be found on the University website.

PMI estimation in Forensic Entomology - Can analytical chemistry solve the problem?

When the cause of death is unknown in a criminal case, establishing the post-mortem interval (PMI) is very important. In basic terms, forensic entomology is the use of insects and their anthropod relatives that inhabit decomposing remains to aid legal investigation.

It is becoming more and more important in the last decade and is being used more frequently to determine the PMI when a medical pathologist is unable to do so (+72 hours after death).

However, the area is coming under scrutiny as determining a reliable time of death can be challenging even for the most experienced of forensic entomologists and more scientifically supported research is needed to strengthen the evidence and ensure creditability is restored.

Research in social insects has shown that hydrocarbons found on the cuticle of insects are species specific as well as caste specific and hence could be a promising tool for establishing the PMI in forensic entomology. In addition, metabolites are also potential good age indicators.

In this research project hydrocarbons/metabolites are extracted from adults, eggs and larvae and analysed using a Gas or Liquid Chromatography-Mass Spectrometer to determine if these hydrocarbons are species and or age specific.

If they yield different specific profiles for the 6 different life stages this is a much greater method of age identification than the current methods being used.

Another project related to this is the study in which we investigate the influence of legal highs on blow fly development and how this effects PM estimations. Here we observed the hydrocarbon profile of larvae fed on meat spiked with certain legal highs.

Forensic Terrestrial Geophysics 

This research group are investigating a variety of criminal and civil investigations on behalf of local, regional and national Police Forces, the NCA, DSTL, Environment Agency and International stakeholders.

For more information, please contact Dr Jamie PringleDr Ian Stimpson or Dr Kris Wisniewski

Forensic Aquatic Geophysics

This research group are investigating a variety of criminal and civil investigations on behalf of local, regional and national Police Forces, NCA, DSTL, Environment Agency and National stakeholders.

For more information, please contact Dr Jamie PringleDr Viv Heaton or Dr Charlene Greenwood

This broad theme encompasses research and scholarship in several key areas of Chemical Sciences education. The Keele Centre for Team Based Learning (TBL) implements and evaluates the TBL methodology across a range of topics from organic chemistry to spectroscopy, and assists colleagues at Keele and beyond in using the technique. The relationship between student success in assessment and feedback is explored through research into the impact of feedback cycles on developing scientific writing skills. Current research projects include an investigation into the impact of student workload on success, developing diagnostic tests to evaluate conceptual understanding, and ongoing evaluation of our innovative practical examinations. Previous projects undertaken include the evaluation of a pilot of lecture capture within Chemistry, audio and screencast feedback, expectations of students on transnational degrees, and the use of iPads in teaching Medicinal Chemistry.