Chemistry at Birmingham: a Response to the EPSRC Call: Core Capability for Chemistry Research

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: School of Chemistry


The overarching objective of the proposal is to enhance the research activities of the staff of the School of Chemistry (SoC) at the University of Birmingham (UoB), through the acquisition of new equipment. The items of equipment sought include a travelling-wave ion mobility mass spectrometer (IM-MS) with both matrix assisted laser desorption ionisation (MALDI) and electrospray ionisation capabilities, a multinuclear diffusion probe for 300 MHz NMR microimaging system (micro-MRI), with 1H and X-nucleus capability (i.e. 19F, 31P), and two X-ray diffraction instruments to analyse both crystalline and non-crystalline samples.
This equipment will powerfully enable a range of diverse research within the SoC, and involving many collaborations in academia and industry. The research supported falls under the SoC banner of Chemistry for Health and Sustainability, which maps onto global issues, and in turn forms crucial parts of the research agenda for EPSRC. In particular, our priorities map onto priority areas of EPSRC Research Themes including Manufacturing the Future, Energy, and Healthcare Technologies, and also the Physical Sciences Grand Challenge, Dial-a-Molecule.
The investment is underpinned by committed financial support from the UoB (£530k), and is part of an extended programme of investment in staff (10 new appointees since 2007) and infrastucture, where detailed plans are in place for a £30m refurbishment of the Haworth building - the home of Chemistry at the UoB.
Research supported by our equipment bid spans:
(i) Chemical and Biomedical Imaging, where the proposed instruments will enable pioneering research in imaging and ion chemistry, and will underpin research and training in our EPSRC doctoral training centre (DTC). The science strongly aligns with EPSRC priority areas in Healthcare Technologies, including dynamic imaging in a biomedical context, for example involving imaging drug distribution in tissues, and probing the interactions of small molecules (including novel drugs) with biomolecular receptors, like proteins or DNA. All of the equipment we are seeking to procure will have an immediate impact on our various cohorts of postgraduate students. In particular they will be available to students enrolled through the University of Birmingham chemical science based Doctoral Training Centres (PSIBS - Physical Sciences of Imaging in the Biological Systems and Hydrogen, Fuel Cells and their Applications). Both DTCs will be able to deliver even higher quality PhD Graduates to help meet the growing demand in the UK in the biotechnology and low carbon energy technologies with ths equipment investment.
(ii) Synthesis and Catalysis - where our research contributes to the EPSRC grand challenge, Dial-a-Molecule, and key activities correspond closely to priority areas earmarked by EPSRC Shaping Capability for growth in support, ranging from drug delivery to catalysis. Synthesis projects are focused on the development of new chemistry that provides access to high value intermediates for industry, for example using transition metal catalysis, organocatalysis, and cascade reactions. Supramolecular chemistry, chemical biology, medicinal chemistry, and synthesis of sensors, probes and nanoparticles, are also important areas.
(iii) Materials Chemistry and Energy - includes research in many important areas under the Energy banner, and highlighted by EPSRC Shaping Capability as growth areas, including energy storage and improving energy efficiency. Our research spans hydrogen storage, new materials for batteries, fuel cells, novel nanomaterials, nuclear and solar cell research. This work is highly interdisciplinary and collaborative, and is underpinned by the UoB DTC in hydrogen fuel cells.

Planned Impact

The potential impact of the research in Chemistry which will be enhanced by this equipment investment will be in the fields of Manufacturing the Future, Healthcare Technologies, and Energy. We will address these through our outreaching themes:
(i) Materials Chemistry and Energy - will lead to advances in fuel cells, Li-ion batteries, and hydrogen storage materials, and will make a major contribution to the supply of skilled researchers and technologists needed by the growing UK industry in low carbon technologies. These businesses are critical to the UK in meeting its obligations to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 (as required by the UK Climate Change Act of 2008).
(ii) Imaging in Chemistry and Biomedicine - underpins a range of industrial sectors including businesses which develop imaging technologies and instrumentation, and also biotechnology and pharmaceutical businesses for which imaging is key to their developments. Our contribution to the training of skilled researchers is recognised by our partnership with eighteen companies through our DTC in this area. As well as benefitting businesses, these activities offer the promise of radically improved patient care and reduced demands on the NHS budget through the development more effective diagnosis techniques.
(iii) Chemical Biology and Drug Discovery - our research in Chemical Biology, Synthesis , Catalysis and Supramolecular Chemistry will make a major contribution to the new dynamic underpinning the UK pharmaceutical and fine chemicals industries. Sustaining this important industry depends on a steady pipeline of patents for new drugs, cost effective manufacturing techniques which are resource efficient, and the availability of well qualified graduates with key skills in synthetic chemistry. Our work will contribute to all of these important challenges for these major industries. In 2011, the pharmaceutical industry alone employed over 77,000 people and had a turnover of £31.8bn.


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Griffiths R (2019) Native mass spectrometry imaging of intact proteins and protein complexes in thin tissue sections in International Journal of Mass Spectrometry

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Lopez-Clavijo A (2015) Electron capture dissociation mass spectrometry of phosphopeptides: Arginine and phosphoserine in International Journal of Mass Spectrometry