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RA5a: Structure,environment and staffing policy

The Vision

The clear excellence and momentum of ongoing restructuring has created a vibrant and internationally-leading School of Chemistry at Birmingham. The successes of the RAE96 period, in which, amongst other things, Stoddart and Smith were elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society, and a number of high-quality young scientists were recruited to both permanent academic positions and prestigious long-term fellowships, have been continued. The RAE2001 period, which included the election of Edwards to the Fellowship of the Royal Society, has witnessed further significant developments in research. The next phase of implementing our longer-term vision has been commenced by the establishment of major research initiatives at the interface of chemistry with the disciplines of biology and materials science. First, the move of Stoddart (B 1997) to UCLA, and Boons (B 1998) to Georgia, allowed the School to review research in organic chemistry leading to a realignment and changed emphasis. Our strategic vision was to launch an initiative with two senior appointments (Gani, Allemann), and associated junior appointments, to spearhead programmes of research bringing together key groups working in areas in which chemistry impacts upon some of the major challenges in modern biology and medicine. Secondly, a major initiative in the Chemistry of Materials, centred on a redefinition of the role of a senior researcher (Edwards), effectively straddles chemistry, materials science, physics and electrical engineering.

A further key action was to identify other areas of modern chemistry where we wished to strengthen our research portfolio. This led to 15 academic staff appointments, achieved by planned recruitment at appropriate levels, to achieve a balance of young, mid-career, and senior staff as well as a research profile having strength in both breadth and depth. Thus, in addition to making several important senior appointments (Constable, Housecroft), a policy of concurrent strategic appointments of junior staff with either excellent potential (Barlow, Cox, Cronin, Douthwaite, Reid, Snaith, Wilkie, Wright) or proven ability (Ando, Pikramenou, Sims) was implemented. The overall objective was to construct a range of experience in each of five Research Groupings to provide growth and continuity for the mid- to long-term future of the School. This strategy has resulted in a substantial lowering of the age profile of the School (average age 48.6 in 1993; 37.9 in 2000), and an increase in the number of individual research groups. As foreseen in RAE96, the number of professors in the School has risen to eight.

In addition to materials and chemical biology, the School has identified nanoscience as a key area for further development, building on the strengths and interests of existing researchers (particularly Constable, Edwards, Harris, Housecroft, Johnston, Kolasinski, Preece). It is anticipated that the post-JIF funding mechanism will be used to facilitate the interdisciplinary research infrastructure required for nanoscience and materials; cross-school facilities for chemical biology are already well established, including a recent JIF award (£5.7M) for a 900MHz biomedical NMR facility. Staff changes in physical chemistry (retirement of Smith in 2002) will allow a refocusing, through a senior appointment, into areas that complement our current research strengths.

Members of staff collaborate and interact widely with other schools, including Medicine, Biosciences, Metallurgy & Materials, Geography, Electrical Engineering and Physics. Interdisciplinary links with the environmental chemistry group centred around Harrison and Harrad continue, although this group is now no longer part of the School of Chemistry nor included in this UOA, following a reorganization of departmental structure. Furthermore, existing collaborations between the Schools of Chemistry and Physics have been enhanced and formalized through a Centre for Chemical Physics, and through significant interdisciplinary activity that has recently attracted a major Leverhulme grant to establish at Birmingham a Centre for Metal Oxide Chemistry and Physics (Edwards).

Although nine areas of research activity within the School of Chemistry were identified in RAE96, the natural synergy between many of the emerging themes of modern chemistry has led us to consolidate and describe our research activities under five principal headings, namely Chemical Biology, Molecular Synthesis and Nanoscience, Solid State Materials and Structural Chemistry, Theoretical Chemistry and Modelling, and Chemical Dynamics. Each staff member is assigned to a Research Grouping that reflects his or her primary research interest and natural synergies, although most staff members have significant presence in the activities of other Groupings. We believe that these Groupings reflect the evolving shape of modern interdisciplinary chemistry more accurately than the traditional branches of chemistry, and the organisational structure of the Research School has been readjusted accordingly. While research activities are organised into the five Groupings, the cultural disciplines of the RSC, represented by the Dalton, Faraday and Perkin Divisions, form the basis for weekly research colloquia. This also provides a forum for postgraduate and postdoctoral training, and an additional mechanism for interactions between the five Research Groupings.

Molecular Synthesis and Nanoscience (P. L. Coe, P. J. Comina, E. C. Constable, L. R. Cox, L. Cronin, R. E. Douthwaite, C. E. Housecroft, T. D. James, C. J. Jones, J. M. Percy, D. Philp, Z. Pikramenou, J. A. Preece).

The major target of this Research Grouping is the preparation of new functional molecules and materials, and the development of efficient methods for their synthesis. The participants are linked both by their common methodology and by similar infrastructure requirements, which result in a natural synergy. A number of broad areas may be identified, interlinked through the common theme of molecular function, rather than an emphasis on the development of synthetic methodology. Research efforts concentrate on interdisciplinary research at the interfaces with biology, physics and materials science, whilst maintaining a core presence in fundamental chemical synthesis.

This Grouping has been expanded through a decision to establish critical mass in inorganic supramolecular chemistry, building upon the existing expertise (CJJ). This has been achieved through two strategic chairs (ECC, CEH) and a number of mid-level and junior appointments (ZP, LC, RED), and firmly establishes a group of researchers covering all areas of supramolecular chemistry with interests ranging from self-assembly and self-replication, through molecular topology, dendrimers and molecular clusters, to quantum computing, photoconversion devices and bioinorganic chemistry. In particular, the presence of a leading group studying metal-directed self-assembly (ECC, CEH) creates a synergy with the existing expertise in nanoscience (JAP) and photochemical devices for directional energy or electron transfer (ZP).

The existing programme in nanoscience is centred on the design and synthesis of liquid crystals, self-assembled monolayers, nanoparticles and materials for nanolithography. Activity in the latter area has been recognised by the award of an EU-RTN network (JAP as coordinator), and initiation of a start-up company. Major funding has been obtained in a collaborative programme with groups in Basel and ETH for the development of two dimensional quantum computers utilising metallodendrimers as the critical components (ECC, CEH), and also for the study of a range of supramolecular systems using electron microscopy (ECC, CEH). Related studies are leading to new, high performance photovoltaic systems (ECC) that are complementary to the hydrogen storage programme in the solid state, materials and structural Grouping. Expertise in self-assembling and self-replicating systems (DP, PJC) has provided further strength to the nanoscience profile.

The use of microporous and mesoporous inorganic materials as hosts for the fabrication and self-organisation of reduced dimensionality, nanoscale electronic structures is an activity of recognised international standing (PAA, PPE, IG). A new microwave technique, developed in association with Physics and Electrical Engineering, allows for contactless electrical conductivity measurements of individual nanoparticles, leading to the first experimental observation of the size-induced metal-insulator transition in gold nanoparticles at room temperature (PAA, PPE, IG, RLJ). Recent work has also led to the growth of bare silver single crystal nanowires that are now being used as new nanoscale connects and STM probes.

The preparation and synthetic utilization of organic fluorine compounds is a traditional strength of the School that continues as a significant research direction (PLC, JMP). JMP has attained a leading position in the asymmetric synthesis of selectively fluorinated aliphatic compounds via the transformation of bulk fluorinated materials into synthetically useful building blocks. The construction of complex architectures is achieved using an extensive palette of synthetic methodology. Recent highlights include [3,3]-sigmatropic rearrangements affording fluorinated cyclic ketones, aldol methodology to yield fluorinated polyols, and a concise entry into fluorinated carbohydrate structures using ring-closing metathesis.

Some major breakthroughs have been made in the design of self-assembling and evolving self-replicating systems, and DP is now one of the leaders in this field. The design of model systems for the acceleration of Diels-Alder reactions has led to major advances in the development of efficient supramolecular catalysts. In collaborative efforts with KDMH the understanding of the recognition properties and interactions of functional groups in the solid state has been advanced significantly, opening up the way for new developments in the design and rationalization of the properties of organic molecular crystals.

The research profile in synthetic organic chemistry has been consolidated by two recent appointments with interests in stereoselective organic synthesis and the development of new enabling methodologies. Research areas include multi-role catalysts, intramolecularisation strategies, carbohydrate chemistry and biomimetic approaches to glycosylation, tricarbonyl complexes of d8 metal complexes (LRC) and applications of polymer-supported organometallic reagents (PJC).

Organic synthesis is also one of the mainstays of the Chemical Biology Grouping. Snaith requires access to a variety of unnatural amino acids, including cyclic and heterocyclic examples, to study the effect of conformational restriction on peptide-protein interactions within the immune system. A variety of novel stereoselective methodologies have been developed for the synthesis of such molecules, including free radical, ene, carbonyl ene and chiral auxiliary controlled organocopper chemistry. Gani has developed new chemistry for the synthesis of mechanism-based probes and inhibitors to study cellular phosphorylation events. Combinatorial chemistry has been pioneered in the synthesis of libraries of protein phosphatase substrates and inositol monophosphatase inhibitors, including the development of new resins and microreactors for solid phase work.

There are natural partnerships with other Research Groupings within the School, and also with the Medical School (JAP, LC), Biosciences (LC, ZP) and Physics (JAP, DP, CEH, ECC). These links are being fully exploited, as are numerous international and national collaborations. Staff appointments in this Grouping consisted of the two new chairs, one established lecturer (ZP), two new lecturers (LRC, LC), a Royal Society URF (PJC) and a University-funded RF (RED) have been appointed. An additional RS URF (TDJ) was in post for the majority of the assessment period.

The School of Chemistry is exceptionally well equipped with the support infrastructure for molecular synthesis and state-of-the-art spectroscopic and crystallographic facilities.

New programmes include the development of molecular precursors for solid state (especially microporous) materials (RED), the growth of bare, single crystal nanowires (PAA, PPE, IG) and the expansion of the existing work in the area of homogeneous and supported catalysis (PJC, RED).

Solid State, Materials and Structural Chemistry (P. A. Anderson, P. P. Edwards, I. Gameson, C. Greaves, K. D. M. Harris, J. A. Hriljac, M. J. Tremayne).

The aims of this Research Grouping are to develop a fundamental understanding of the relationships between structure and properties of solids, and to utilise this understanding in the design of new functional materials. There are two fundamental themes within this research area: (1) the synthesis and characterisation of inorganic materials (PAA, PPE, IG, CG, JAH); (2) molecular solids and the development of new methodology for their characterisation (KDMH, MJT). The multidisciplinary nature of the research has been embraced by the University, which has established a Materials Chemistry Initiative with a new chair (PPE) held jointly between the Schools of Metallurgy & Materials and Chemistry; Metallurgy & Materials has also appointed a lecturer (M. O. Jones) in this area.

The School is an internationally recognised centre for inorganic solid-state synthesis, in particular for the production of new superconducting materials, and for wide-ranging experimental and theoretical studies of the metal-insulator transition in both fluid and solid state materials. Novel superconducting oxide-fluorides containing copper have been widely acclaimed (CG, PPE). Building upon the leading synthetic strengths within the Grouping, recent research has focused on other materials, especially magnetic oxides with colossal magnetoresistance applications (CG). Low-dimensional systems are of interest, and, among other highlights, it has been shown that fluorine can be inserted into layered manganese oxides to give new types of staged oxide-fluorides, in which fluorine is located only in alternate layers within the host framework (CG). Traditional solid-state synthesis is restricted by kinetic factors and an important current initiative is the utilisation of microwave methodology for the synthesis of a range of inorganic and organic materials (PPE, IG, PAA). The Grouping is investigating the structure and properties of catalytic materials, including inorganic oxides and the encapsulation of inorganic and organometallic species within a wide variety of micro- and meso-porous frameworks (JAH). Studies focus on the synthesis and structures of new porous frameworks, and the evaluation and optimisation of catalytic performance. A major (Euro 3M) EU-funded initiative in hydrogen storage, coordinated at Birmingham in the Schools of Chemistry and Materials & Metallurgy and encompassing UK and European universities and industry, is addressing the current lack of a practical hydrogen storage system in fuel cell technology (PPE, IG, PAA). A wide range of potential hosts is being targeted, including carbon, microporous materials and metal hydride phases.

Research in molecular solid state chemistry is focused on (a) the understanding of fundamental structural, dynamic and chemical properties of molecular solids (KDMH), and (b) the development of new methodology for structure determination using powder diffraction data (KDMH, MJT, RLJ). Attention in (a) is focused on investigating the properties of inclusion compounds, incommensurate solids, hydrogen bonded systems and disordered materials, with an emphasis on understanding structural and dynamic aspects, and their rationalization in terms of intermolecular interactions. In (b), KDMH is internationally recognized for the development of new techniques for determining crystal structures from powder diffraction data and has made leading contributions in the development of direct-space search procedures in this field. Recent successes include the development and application of techniques for structure solution based on Monte Carlo sampling methods and genetic algorithms (KDMH, MJT, RLJ). In addition to advancing fundamental aspects of these methodologies, they are being applied to solve the structures of a wide variety of materials, including peptides and molecules of importance in pharmaceutical and pigment sciences. As a result of the developments within this group, crystal structures of organic molecules of moderate complexity can now be solved routinely from powder diffraction data. Future activities will be directed towards the further development and optimisation of the methods, particularly to enable structure determination of molecular crystal structures of greater complexity.

There are currently two Royal Society URFs (PAA, MJT) in the Grouping. During the assessment period, CG was promoted to a personal chair.

The Grouping has excellent facilities within the School, including X-ray diffraction (single crystal, high resolution powder and VT powder), solid-state NMR, thermal analysis, and an extensive suite of high temperature furnaces including high pressure facilities. Currently, magnetic property measurements are made in collaboration with the School of Physics, but we are commissioning a Quantum Design PPMS to allow complementary magnetic and electronic characterisation to be performed in-house. Where necessary, research is underpinned and strengthened by a wide range of international and multidisciplinary collaborations, and members of the Grouping make extensive use of national and international neutron and synchrotron facilities.

Future activities involve a structured development of the core strengths, with particular emphasis upon the development of new methods for hydrogen storage under the aegis of the materials chemistry initiative and further elaboration and exploitation of techniques for the determination of molecular crystal structures from powder diffraction data.

Chemical Biology (R. K. Allemann, J. N. Barlow, D. Gani, K. Schnackerz, J. S. Snaith, J. Wilkie)

Chemical biology strives to provide a fundamental understanding of the properties and structures of biological macromolecules, both in vitro and in vivo, and to improve the synthetic methodology for creating molecules that can be used to explore and interfere with cellular and physiological function. The post-genome and proteome era is dominated by questions relating structure and function of proteins and multi-protein assemblies. This area of research is a new interdisciplinary initiative, involving Biosciences and Medicine, as well as national and international joint programmes. In recognition of the exciting developments now occurring, it was decided to establish a focus for chemical biology within the School of Chemistry to promote world-leading research within the School at the interface between chemistry and the life and medical sciences.

The new initiative was established by a key chair appointment in chemical biology (DG) with interests in mechanistic enzymology, peptide design, cell signalling and mechanisms of eukaryotic ribosomal translation, in addition to conventional and combinatorial synthetic chemistry, pro-drug design, bioinorganic and biomolecular analytical chemistry. Further strategic appointments were made to establish groups with interests in DNA-protein studies using chemistry, biophysics and cellular biology, mechanistic enzymology, design of novel protein catalysts, enzyme dynamics, biomolecular modelling (RKA), synthetic chemistry, peptide-protein interactions in immunology and peptide design (JSS), mechanistic enzymology and protein engineering (JNB) and computational drug design (JW). Additionally, we have made a short-term appointment of a senior mechanistic enzymologist (KS) to enable new methodology in chemical biology as our research portfolio expands.

While this Research Grouping has been established for only two years, its productivity and promise for the future are highlighted by the large number of research grants funded by research councils and industry, and by the publication of a substantial number of papers during the RAE period. Several major breakthroughs have been made in established research projects such as the synthesis of stable isolated alpha-helices, solid phase synthesis of phosphate esters, phosphonates, cyclitols and carbohydrates, synthesis of neutral inositol monophosphatase inhibitors with potential applications for the treatment of manic depression, conversion of a neuronal protein into a protein capable of inducing muscular differentiation, correlation between thermodynamic and structural properties of DNA binding proteins, identification of DNA bendability as a major determinant of protein-DNA complex stability, correlation between protein rigidity and DNA binding specificity, synthesis of a stably folded artificial beta-keto acid decarboxylase, and X-ray structures of O-acetylserine sulfhydrylase and dihydropyrimidine dehydrogenase. The future portfolio of chemical biology will be expanded and the challenges posed by the biology revolution tackled at two levels: first, work to understand at the molecular level the fine-tuning of the properties of proteins through glycosylation or phosphorylation; secondly, methods will be developed for the elucidation of the function of newly identified proteins in order to design, rationally or through selection, and synthesize activators and inhibitors for every gene product in the human genome. The Grouping is pursuing a collective ‘big-science’ funding approach to provide resources for the chemical challenge in postgenomic research.

Theoretical Chemistry and Modelling (K. Ando, R. L. Johnston, P. J. Knowles, F. R. Manby).

This Research Grouping, established just before the assessment period by the appointment of PJK to a new chair, consists of three established and one early-career theoretical chemists, and is internationally recognized for research activities that span traditional sub-disciplines of chemistry. The present core activity is the development of methodology for electronic structure computation, and for investigating structure and dynamics of atomic and molecular clusters, together with applications of this methodology. Significant contributions have been made in most aspects of molecular electronic structure methodology (PJK, FRM). In particular, major success has been achieved in designing a new approach to both density-functional and correlated-wavefunction theories for which by construction the computational demands scale linearly with system size, rather than relying on numerical sparsity of matrices. In addition, progress has been made in designing improved exchange- and correlation-energy density functionals. These and other important advances in molecular electronic structure theory are now being fully exploited through the worldwide distribution from Birmingham of the Molpro software developed by PJK and H.-J. Werner; this activity also implies a strong interest in high-performance parallel computing, which is underpinned by support from the computer industry and by excellent dedicated computing facilities. New methodology for ab initio treatment of electronically excited states of molecules embedded in clusters, solvents or on surfaces has been developed, and is being applied to the spectroscopic investigation of non-covalent clusters in collaboration with K. Müller-Dethlefs (PJK). The solution of the global geometry optimisation problem, particularly in the case of atomic clusters, has been advanced through the development of genetic algorithms, leading to the identification of previously undiscovered structures, as well as providing new information on the accuracy of standard potential energy functions. Advances in understanding the size-induced metal-insulator transition in free and passivated metallic clusters have also been made (RLJ, PPE). The genetic-algorithm methodology has also been imaginatively applied to the area of structure determination from powder diffraction data (as discussed earlier), enabling the crystal structures of molecules of increasing complexity to be solved (RLJ, KDMH).

A Royal Society URF award (FRM) has strengthened the electronic structure theme, whilst a recent lectureship (KA), and the appointment of JW in the Chemical Biology Grouping, have been directed towards condensed-phase reaction dynamics, electron transfer in biomolecules, and rational drug design. KA (from University of Tsukuba) is an established and highly-regarded practitioner of condensed-phase simulation with emerging interests in biochemical electron-transfer processes. His appointment represents a strategic move to broaden the base of theoretical activities in the School, and to widen their range of applicability.

The extension of the Grouping to address new areas of application, in particular in biology, of rigorously based theories represents the main thrust of its anticipated development. The expertise in quantum chemistry and potential energy surfaces will be applied in this direction to tackle from first principles important problems for which, so far, only empirical modelling has proved possible.

Chemical Dynamics (R. A. Kennedy, K. W. Kolasinski, J. P. Reid, I. R. Sims, I. W. M. Smith, R. P. Tuckett)

This Research Grouping is unified by its interest in fundamental molecular processes in the gas phase and at interfaces, and consists of five established scientists and a recent appointee (JPR). The Grouping has been successful in achieving all targets identified in RAE96. In particular, the rates of a wide range of elementary reactive and inelastic processes have been measured at very low temperatures using the almost unique CRESU (Cinétique de Réaction en Ecoulement Supersonique Uniforme) apparatus. Examples include reactions of atomic carbon and the ethynyl (C2H) and methylidene (CH) radicals down to 15 K, providing data of vital importance for astrophysical chemistry, and the measurement of state-to-state energy transfer rates for inelastic collisions of NO down to 7 K. The impact of this research of IWMS and IRS has achieved international recognition through the award of grants totalling ca. £1M, a major EU TMR Research Training network in ‘Astrophysical Chemistry’ which the Birmingham group leads, and the recent award of one of the first three EU Descartes Prizes jointly with scientists at the University of Rennes, France (B. R. Rowe).

Novel, state-of-the-art, experiments, each involving three pulsed lasers, have been performed to investigate the dynamics of inelastic and reactive collisions. In these measurements, rate coefficients are measured, at the state-to-state level, for energy transfer and reaction from specific vibrational and rovibrational levels of a prepared species. Highlights include the measurement of vibrationally state-specific rates for the reaction of water with atomic hydrogen (IRS, IWMS), and rates of collisional energy transfer from high rotational levels of nitric oxide (IWMS). IWMS has continued to make key contributions to the understanding of atmospheric chemistry by studying low temperature reactions that destroy ozone, and by measuring the rates of fluorine and chlorine atom reactions by FTIR and IR diode laser techniques.

RPT has used tunable vacuum-UV synchrotron radiation to study unimolecular photodissociation of Rydberg states of polyatomic molecules. In collaboration with groups in Berlin, dispersed fluorescence spectra of free radicals (e.g. PF2) and molecular ions (e.g. SiF4+) have been observed. A coincidence apparatus has been developed with P. A. Hatherly (Reading University) to study fragmentation of state-selected molecular ions. One highlight is the study of non-statistical processes in the fragmentation of perfluorocarbon cations. The work has resulted in three major awards from EPSRC (ca. £600k each). In collaboration with C. A. Mayhew (School of Physics), RAK has investigated the kinetics of ion-molecule reactions in a selected ion flow tube. With RPT, the detailed mechanism of charge transfer in such ion-molecule reactions has been studied. Low-energy electron attachment kinetics, of importance in plasma technology and supported by both EPSRC and DERA (Porton Down), has also been studied in a swarm apparatus which, unusually, can operate at pressures approaching 1 bar.

The mechanism of photochemical etching and photoluminescence in porous silicon has been studied by KWK. In collaboration with R. E. Palmer (School of Physics), with major funding from EPSRC, he has also developed a high flux, tunable femtosecond laser source covering the range 6-42 eV, to study ultrafast desorption processes. JPR is studying the chemical composition and physical properties of aerosols, with applications to heterogeneous atmospheric chemistry, using laser-excited stimulated Raman scattering.

In future developments, the CRESU technique will be used to study branching ratios of multi-channel reactions, and collisional energy transfer with hydrogen, the majority interstellar species. The development of techniques for VUV spectroscopy and dynamics will continue. Proton-transfer ion-molecule reactions will be studied, with analytical and commercial applications. The formation of nanoscale silicon pillars resulting from femtosecond laser irradiation will be studied.

During the assessment period, one junior appointment (JPR) has been made to broaden the research portfolio of the Grouping, generating substantial research grant income in the field of aerosol science. Further diversification is envisaged following the retirement of IWMS in 2002.

Research Support and Development

A Research Director (PJK), with a Research Committee drawn from middle/senior researchers, is responsible for the promotion of research vitality and the exploitation of funding opportunities. The Research Committee also advises the Head of School (IWMS) and the School Management Board on new initiatives by taking a forward strategic view.

At both University and School level, initiatives have been created to promote interdisciplinary research. In addition a university fund (£0.5M per annum) has been available to pump prime multi-disciplinary projects. As well as the major initiatives previously described (in chemical biology and materials chemistry), the School has promoted significant interdisciplinary work in nanoscience (PPE, JAP), surface chemistry (KWK) and chemical physics (RAK) with the School of Physics.

Funding for research in the School is obtained from a variety of sources and the balance between external, University and School funding allows a planned approach to the development of new initiatives. The School uses internal resources to allow pilot studies in potential growth areas, and quality and vitality in research is further encouraged by basing the allocation of research studentships on strategic importance, performance of the supervisor (output quality, income generation, volume of activity, and external recognition) and the quality of training provided. All external research grant applications are subject to internal peer review to encourage cross-fertilisation of ideas and to ensure overall quality, and the wide in-house experience on research council prioritisation panels aids the effectiveness of this process. The School has maximised quality research time for research-active staff by concentrating the administrative burden into the hands of two experienced staff who are no longer active in research. Two additional members of academic staff are employed to make significant use of their time in matters related to admissions and safety.

Research awareness is facilitated through an extensive and comprehensive series of seminars (ca. 100 per annum) with international and national speakers. As well as focused specialist seminar series in the different branches of chemistry, a School Seminar programme facilitates more general lectures from high-profile researchers. Furthermore, the Centre for Chemical Physics, as its primary function, promotes an interdisciplinary seminar programme in which internationally acclaimed speakers are brought to Birmingham with support from Nicolet.

All new staff receive an extensive training programme facilitated by the University’s Staff Development Unit. Probation for three years includes active mentoring in research and teaching, and a compulsory Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education. New staff have access to preliminary funding through a Pilot Research Scheme to develop projects to a stage suitable for external funding. Continued support for staff is provided through the University’s Research Support and Business Development Office. All staff have regular development reviews with a more senior, trained colleague, and, where appropriate, with the Head of School, in order to enhance their personal development. Senior colleagues advise the Head of School on promotion issues. Research students have personalised training programmes, agreed with their supervisor and supported by a Postgraduate Tutor (RPT). Study leave is actively supported to provide opportunities for staff to gain specific experience or to enable formulation of new initiatives.

The School has a first-class spectroscopic and crystallographic facility, the operation of which is highly regarded externally. Following review and restructuring arising from an analysis subsequent to RAE96, the School established a team of dedicated highly-qualified experimental officers who manage the facility, provide expert advice and develop state-of-the-art methodology. Reflecting their considerable standing in their fields, P. R. Ashton (MS, and Director of the Facility) and N. Spencer (NMR) were promoted to new posts of Senior Experimental Officer, and additional appointments of S. J. Kitchin (Solid-state NMR) and B. Kariuki (XRD) were made. The team includes a further 3 technical officers. This expert-led support structure facilitates the interactive solution of non-routine analytical problems that arise in both internal and cross-School interdisciplinary research programmes.

The School possesses a superlative suite of analytical equipment for general support of the research staff. The analytical services currently operate seven mass spectrometers offering all of the state-of-the-art techniques (including EI, CI, GC/MS, LSIMS, MALDI-TOF, MS-MS, ESMS, APCI) necessary for cutting-edge research. The NMR spectroscopic services are equally well equipped with seven instruments (two 500 MHz, two 400 MHz and three 300 MHz), offering access to all contemporary techniques, including dedicated solid-state and LC-NMR. The crystallographic facility also offers state-of-the-art instrumentation. In addition to powder diffractometers used within the solid-state, materials and structural chemistry group, first-class single-crystal facilities (currently, a Rigaku IPDS system and a Nonius MACH3 with a rotating anode source) are in operation. A new Siemens 6000 CCD diffractometer is to be delivered in April 2001 in support of the expanded requirements for small- to mid-size molecular structures (particularly ECC, CEH). Nearly all of this equipment has been installed during the assessment period.

The School has excellent dedicated computing facilities. A 32-processor, 48 Gbyte, 48 Gflop IBM SP, as well as a 40-processor Beowulf currently being procured, together with time on national facilities, support the numerically intensive computation demands of theoretical and structural research. There are also substantial modern visualization and general IT facilities supporting all the research groups in the School.

The School possesses a large number of state-of-the-art continuous and (ns) pulsed lasers.  Both fixed-wavelength (e.g. excimers, Nd-YAG) and tunable lasers are available over the whole range of the UV through to the IR.  In the main, they are used in the Chemical Dynamics Grouping to study photochemically-induced reactions at the state-to-state level.  Several individual groups (e.g., RPT, KDMH, JAH, IG, PAA) have substantial peer-reviewed access to national and international synchrotron and neutron facilities, and very extensive use has also been made of the Laser Loan Facility at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (IWMS, IRS, KWK). Extensive use is made of the University laser ablation facility (PPE, IG).

A number of the research groups are supported by a full suite of state-of-the-art microscope resources (AFM, STM, etc.), available in house, through collaborative programmes within the University, and through the University Centre for Electron Microscopy.

Most contemporary analytical or spectroscopic methods are available either through the support infrastructure of the School (e.g., microanalysis, LC, CD/ORD) or within individual research groups (e.g., ESR). The School has modern thermal analysis (DSC and TGA) and an optical polarising microscope with heating stage. New instruments supporting determination of magnetic and electronic properties of materials, and a proton transfer reaction mass spectrometer are currently being purchased under the aegis of the JREI scheme.

Commercial Exploitation and Government Initiatives

The School understands the balance between underpinning the training and inventive needs of commerce and industry and, at the same time, maintaining the highest levels of scholastic and creative endeavour. Against this background, the School has developed its research strategy and portfolio of programmes to ensure a balance of basic and applied interdisciplinary research that act in synergy. This is reflected by the identification of materials, nanoscience and chemical biology as target areas, and in the encouragement of all staff to identify and interact with partners appropriate to the exploitation of their innovations. A significant fraction of the School’s research is financed directly by industry, with the majority of this support being for front-line research in the form of PDRAs and equipment. Significant industrial collaborations exist with established researchers in each of the five Research Groupings, and several of these provide key specific resources to industry through the provision of expertise and research training that is inaccessible to companies in-house or elsewhere.

The School is active in promoting the application of its science base, particularly in new emerging technologies. Patent applications have been filed by members of the School in the areas of new materials, nanoscience, new polymers, combinatorial chemistry, catalysis, bioactive agents, synthetic reagents and post-genomic analysis. Assignments and licence agreements are in place for some of these, as well as the software package Molpro, and one spin-out company, Bioresins Ltd., has been founded. In addition, products, services and software are provided to industry or to other HEIs either directly, or, through Birmingham Research and Development Limited, a wholly owned University subsidiary. The School has also actively pursued funds to commercialise its research through the Mercia Fund. A programme to exploit School-owned IPR in the area of post-genomic analysis and protein chemistry has now been launched, and applications for further funding are pending.


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Copyright 2002 - HEFCE, SHEFC, ELWa, DEL

Last updated 17 October 2003

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