Core Capability for Chemistry Research at Oxford

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Oxford Chemistry


The development of modern chemical science is almost entirely dependent on highly sophisticated instrumentation to provide research chemists with information on molecular structures, their properties and their interactions with other chemical or physical species. Such information is critical for the design and development of new pharmaceuticals for improved health, new materials for safer and greener societies, and for myriad fine chemicals that underlie modern living. It is also essential for the invention of novel chemical processes that are required to make these. Primary amongst the instrumental methods employed by research chemists are Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectroscopy and Mass Spectrometry (MS). NMR may be considered a cousin of the more widely recognised technique of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) used clinically to investigate the structure of tissues in our bodies. Rather than detailing the structures of whole tissues, NMR provides chemists with exquisite detail on the structures of individual molecules by defining the environments of atoms within the compound and the way in which these are joined (bonded) together. Mass Spectrometry is a technique for weighing individual molecules and thereby defining the type and number elements that comprise the target molecule. Thus, through the combined application of NMR and MS techniques, researchers can reliably identify chemical structures. This knowledge, in turn, provides the foundation for understanding chemistry, chemical reactions and hence advances in numerous lines of modern chemical research. The Chemistry Department at Oxford University supports very substantial NMR and MS research facilities that provide core research infrastructure for ~ 600 chemists, and makes available a diverse range of state-of-the-art analytical methods for structure characterisation. Whilst these facilities include instruments of modern specification, installed or upgraded within the last 5 years, it also houses a significant number of instruments that are over 10 years old and lack the capabilities, efficiency and reliability of their modern counterparts so are in need of replacement (in much that same way that a car over 10 years old would not match the specifications of a modern vehicle and is likely to need replacing to achieve the best and most reliable performance). Thus, in this application we are seeking funds to replace or upgrade 3 NMR spectrometers and 3 mass spectrometers with state-of-the-art instruments so as to better support current research activities within the Chemistry Department and with the many departments or institutes with which it collaborates. This will also ensure access to reliable instruments in future years, removing our dependence on analytical instruments that are no longer fit for purpose in modern research laboratories. This new equipment will help ensure the department remains at the forefront of research and teaching in the chemical sciences by providing the critical research infrastructure this demands.

Planned Impact

Based on our recent publication track record we estimate that over the 5-year period from 2013 the specific new NMR and MS instrumentation requested will directly contribute to > 200 publications in high-quality scientific journals (for example, J. Am. Chem. Soc, Angew. Chem., Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci, Nature, Science, Chem. Commun., etc) and to a comparable number of international conference presentations. It will also contribute to the training of > 500 Chemistry graduates, > 200 D. Phil students and > 150 post-doctoral researchers. A direct consequence of installing modern instrumentation is the impact this has on research student training. We place great importance on providing high-quality training on instrument use by staff members of the SRF and it is critical to the students' future skills set that they are able to properly utilise state-of-the art equipment wherever possible and to appreciate the breadth of scientific research such instrumentation is able to support. This is relevant to supporting them in future academic research positions and also, crucially, when moving into the chemical or pharmaceutical sectors. All the proposed research instrumentation will be made available to postgraduate and post-doctoral researchers and will contribute directly to the development of their research skills. Formal training on instrument use is provided by staff of the relevant SRF and is supported by additional teaching programs, for example the graduate course "Modern NMR Spectroscopy for the Research Chemist" given by Tim Claridge and courses on using NMR data processing software.

The proposed instrument developments will enhance the collaborative research of our academic groups involving multiple chemical, pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies (see Letters of Support attached) as well as incredibly diverse academic collaborations on a global scale. Further, our instrument base is used in a limited capacity by external, often local, commercial companies (including University spin-offs) with the income generated being used toward funding essential operation costs (<5% instrument usage). For example, we have in the last year provided analytical NMR and/or MS services to Infineum, Oxford Advanced Surfaces, Oxford Nanopore Technologies, Carbohydrate Synthesis Ltd, SGS MScan, Ludger, ChiraLabs, Midatech, NHS blood service, Novel Polymer Solutions, P2i, Prosynyx, Severn Biotech, and Zyoxel Ltd. The facilities are also used by members of local Oxford University departments such as Materials, Plant Sciences, Biochemistry, Physics, Physiology, Engineering.


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Description The grant has provide an upgrade to core instrumentation in nuclear magnetic resonance and mass spectrometry in the Department of Chemistry at Oxford to underpin a wide range of research in synthetic organic and inorganic chemistry. Such analytical techniques are vital to monitor the progress in the synthesis of new molecules and identification of products.
Exploitation Route The synthetic chemistry performed using this instrumentation will be valuable for a range of applications from drug discovery to new energy materials.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Chemicals,Energy,Healthcare,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

Description Usage of equipment by industrial partners
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Chemicals,Energy,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology
Impact Types Economic