Enabling Technologies for Synthesis Report

Enabling Technologies for Synthesis Sandpit

Customisable Platforms for Thermo-, Electro-, Mechano- and Photo-chemistry

When: 4-5th September 2017

Where: Burleigh Court, Loughborough University


The small but highly multidisciplinary sandpit event was attended by approximately 20 delegates. With a central focus on Theme 2 from Phase 3 of the Dial-a-Molecule network, delegates’ expertise spanned synthesis, kinetics, mechanochemistry, scale-up, 3D printing, flow chemistry, and cheminformatics.

Hosting the event was Dr Steve Christie, who stressed the importance of having a multidisciplinary audience of active contributors in order for the event to be a success. He was absolutely right. Proceedings began with a series of talks covering areas of chemistry pioneering and benefitting from enabling technologies. Dr Duncan Brown (Cardiff) gave the first presentation of the day, sharing his group’s insights into mechanochemistry: solvent-free chemical synthesis employing mechanical grinding and shearing. This relatively underexplored method for chemical synthesis is one where exciting opportunities remain for understanding, on a mechanistic level, the potential for accessing new molecules complementary to those accessible by traditional wet chemistry. Professor Richard Brown (Southampton) detailed his group’s developments in electrochemistry, bringing along electrochemical flow technology ‘in the flesh’ to show delegates what had resulted from impressive multidisciplinary teamwork. Such developments are crucial in the exploration of reagentless synthesis for greener chemistry. Dr Daniele Leonori (Manchester) shared his recent adventures in the synthesis of privileged heterocycles using photoredox catalysis. This area of chemistry is one that has recently benefitted from a movement towards reactor standardisation and, as was highlighted at the meeting, remains an area of interest. Dr Stephen Hilton (UCL) then presented his group’s applications of 3D printing. Among the many benefits of the suite of 3D printing technologies available, it was stressed just how cost-effective and freeing printable technologies can be in support of chemistry research. Dr John Blacker (Leeds) spoke about the important considerations of scale-up in chemistry, highlighting the natural synergy between chemical synthesis and chemical engineering skills. In strengthening the links between bench chemistry and scale-up, Dr Blacker reported on the development of the ‘Freactor’: a modular continuous stirred tank reactor amenable to small-scale flow chemistry applications.

Propagating a useful tool from this year’s Early Career Researcher (ECR) Event, all delegates in the Enabling Technologies Sandpit gave a two-minute flash presentation of their research interests. As with the ECR event, this proved to be highly efficient and valuable way to obtain an understanding of what colleagues were working on. Ultimately, this eased the exploration of potential collaboration areas on Day Two.

Having collected ideas for multidisciplinary collaboration, Day Two was focussed on team discussions and quick proposal writing under an incentivising time constraint. This exercise delivered some of the most tangible outcomes of any conference I have ever attended. No fewer than seven proposals reached preliminary draft stage by the end of the deadline and presentation of the resulting summaries.

It is very easy to go to a conference and take nothing from it. The Enabling Technologies Sandpit was no such event. Small, informative, collaborative, and productive, the event was one to emulate in the future. As an ECR bursary holder for the event, I give my sincere thanks to Dial-a-Molecule for giving me the chance to attend this excellent event.

Dr Marc Reid

Leverhulme Fellow and GSK Early Career Academic
Dept. of Pure & Applied Chemistry, University of Strathclyde