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Award for Researcher Who Turns "Bargain Basement" Molecules Into Complex Chemical Structures

Originally Published 27 November 1997

Dr Mike Hannon, from the University of Warwick's Department of Chemistry, has been awarded a prize which acknowledges him as one of the UK's top young research chemists for his work using what could be described as innovative "bargain basement" chemistry to create industrially and medically useful complex molecules by methods 30,000% cheaper than conventional means.

Supramolecular chemists have been able to ape nature's methods of building large or complex chemical structures such as triangles, strings of chemical "boxes" or even a triple helix but they have only been able to do so by assembling together expensive, carefully crafted, chemical building blocks (ligands) that they were 100% sure could do the job of assembling the final complex but useful structures. These carefully designed ligands are designed to have very rigid, clearly defined, chemical structures and are also optimised to form strong bonds with the other ligands and chemical building blocks required to form the final structures. To manufacture these carefully crafted building blocks chemists must perform many time consuming multi-step syntheses that also often require very expensive starting materials.

"If one could buy imagine purchasing these building blocks from a shop it would have to be Harrods or Bloomingdales," said Dr Hannon.

Industry and medicine have been loathe to make use of such an expensive process but now Dr Hannon has modelled and proved methods that use much cheaper "bargain basement" ligands. These have much less rigidity than the "Harrods/Bloomingdales" ligands. However by using these "bargain basement" building blocks Dr Hannon has been able to create some complex structures ie; triangles, helicates (such as a triple helix), knots and grids, that could have profound industrial and chemical uses, for prices of around 30 pounds sterling a kilogram. Conventional processes can cost around 1000 pounds sterling a gramme - a saving of 30,000%.

A presentation on this work at a special event held at the House of Commons last week earned him the Westminster Prize acknowledging him as one of the UK's top young research chemists. Another University of Warwick young chemist, Dr Andrew Clark, was awarded the second prize at this event, (the Society of Chemical Industry Prize).

The award ceremony was organised by the Chemistry Research for Britain organisation which is supported by the chemical and pharmaceutical industry, learned societies, professional associations and institutions active in chemical science and technology, and also by the UK's science research councils. Two dozen MPs were in attendance at the event. The two researchers were selected from 43 finalists. Dr Clark's poster presentation was on "The development of cheap environmentally acceptable approaches towards molecules of medicinal importance using nitrogen and carbon centred free radicals".

For further details please contact:

Dr Michael J. Hannon
Department of Chemistry,
University of Warwick,
Tel: 024 76 524107
Fax: 024 76 524112