School of Chemistry

Molecular Bonding and Spectroscopy

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Molecules – the fundamental building blocks of materials and living organisms (including humans) are invisibly tiny, with more than 250,000 H2O molecules required to span the diameter of a single strand of hair. Our research makes molecules tangible by building bridges to the molecular world that reveal molecular structure and function, explaining why molecules interact with each other, with surfaces, or with radiation, and making clear how they react in chemical reactions.

We invent a variety of experimental and theoretical methods, and develop instrumentation that allows the study of molecules in gasses, solids or liquids, adsorbed on surfaces, or entrapped in pores. This fundamental knowledge is vitally important for solving challenges across a broad range of chemistry topics, including the discovery of materials, sustainable catalysis, and new functional devices.

Our Research

“What would happen if we could arrange atoms one by one the way we want them?” wondered Richard Feynman as early as 1959. Instead of tiny tools dreamt by Feynman, chemists probe and manipulate molecules with lasers, X-rays, or beams of fast particles.

In this way, spectra, diffractograms, or images unveil molecular composition, structure, and dynamic behaviour. Similarly, light, heat, electric current, X-rays, or electron beams applied to molecules trigger chemical reactions by exciting vibrations or rotations, ionising them or even breaking interatomic bonds directly.

This allows us to study molecules ‘in action’ and, combined with theoretical modelling, our powerful approach sheds light on the private lives of molecules in chemical reactions.

Our core research, aimed at the fundamental understanding of molecular structure, function, and reactivity, is heavily reliant on our innovations in analytical chemistry, utilising different types of spectroscopy and microscopy, all underpinned by a deep specialism in quantum chemistry, density functional theory, and statistical thermodynamics methods, along with our rich expertise in the preparation of several specialist materials, including ionic liquids, coordination compounds, molecular monolayers, graphene, nanotubes, and nanoparticles.

Our Research Theme centres on the unravelling of the most fundamental mysteries of chemistry.


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Blurring the Boundary between Homogenous and Heterogeneous Catalysis using Palladium Nanoclusters with Dynamic Surfaces.

A recent publication led by Dr Jesum Alves Fernandes, with Professor Pete Licence, Professor Andrei Khlobystov, and Dr Graham Rance, in the high impact journal Nature Communications.

Stabilization of Polyoxometalate Charge Carriers via Redox‐Driven Nanoconfinement in Single‐Walled Carbon Nanotubes.

A recent publication between the MBS and Materials theme featuring Professor Andrei Khlobystov, Dr Graham Rance, Dr Lee Johnson, Dr. Darren Walsh, and Dr Graham Newton, in the journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition.

Two chemically distinct root lignin barriers control solute and water balance.

A collaborative publication between Professor Mike George and Professor David Salt, School of Biosciences, in the high impact journal of Nature Communications.

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Reactions Caught on Camera

We succeeded in ‘filming’ inter-molecular chemical reactions using the electron beam of a transmission electron microscope (TEM) as a stop-frame imaging tool.

The electron beam simultaneously stimulates specific chemical reactions of molecules entrapped in carbon nano test tubes (the World’s tiniest test tubes according to the Guinness Book of World Records), and films their chemical reactions at the single-molecule level in real time.

As a result, we have discovered a new class of chemical reactions, observing the fate of individual molecules as reactions take place - from the reactants and all the way through to the resulting products.

Find out more

Recent Publications

Wavelength dependent photoextrusion and tandem photo-extrusion reactions of ninhydrin bis-acetals for the synthesis of 8-rings lactones, benzocyclobutenes and orthoanhydrides. Sun, W., Kayal, S., Raimbach, W., Sun, X. Z., Light, M. E., Hanson-Heine, M. W. D., Harrowven, D., & George, M. W. Chem. Commun. 2022.

A high-throughput, solvent free method for dispersing metal atoms directly onto supports. Kohlrausch, E. C., Centurion, H. A., Lodge, R. W., Luo, X., Slater, T., Santos, M. J. L., …Alves Fernandes, J. J. Mater. Chem. A. 2021, 9(47), 26676-26679.

Experimental measurement and prediction of ionic liquid ionisation energies. Seymour, J. M., Gousseva, E., Large, A. I., Clarke, C. J., Licence, P., Fogarty, R. M., …Lovelock, K. R. J. Phys. Chem. Chem. Phys. 202123, 20957-20973.

Synthesis of ultrathin rhenium disulfide nanoribbons using nano test tubes. Norman, L. T., Biskupek, J., Rance, G. A., Stoppiello, C. T., Kaiser, U., & Khlobystov, A. N. Nano Res. 2021, 1-6.

Multigram Synthesis of Trioxanes Enabled by a Supercritical CO2 Integrated Flow Process. Wu, L., Abreu, B. L., Blake, A. J., Taylor, L. J., Lewis, W., Argent, S. P., Poliakoff, M. P., Boufroura, H., & George, M. W. Org. Process Res. Dev. 2021, 25(8), 1873–1881.

Group 11 m-Terphenyl Complexes Featuring Metallophilic Interactions. Liu, Y., Taylor, L. J., Argent, S. P., McMaster, J., & Kays, D. L. Inorg. Chem. 2021, 60(14), 10114–10123.

Photoelectron angular distributions from resonant two-photon ionization of adiabatically aligned naphthalene and aniline molecules. Arlt, J., Singh, D. P., Thompson, J. O., Chatterley, A. S., Hockett, P., Stapelfeldt, H., & Reid, K. L. Molecular Physics. 2021, 119(1-2).

Solar Driven Photocatalytic Activity of Porphyrin Sensitized TiO2: Experimental and Computational Studies. Otieno, S., Lanterna, A. E., Mack, J., Derese, S., Amuhaya, E. K., Nyokong, T., & Scaiano, J. C. Molecules. 2021, 26(11), 3131.

Modeling Ultrafast Electron Dynamics in Strong Magnetic Fields Using Real-Time Time-Dependent Electronic Structure Methods. Wibowo, M., Irons, T. J. P., & Teale, A. M. J. Chem. Theory Comput. 2021, 17(4), 2137–2165.

Unpicking vibration-vibration and vibration-torsion interactions in m-fluorotoluene. Davies, A. R., Kemp, D. J., & Wright, T. G. J. Mol. Spectrosc. 2021, 381,111522.

Controlling multiple orderings in metal thiocyanate molecular perovskites Ax{Ni[Bi(SCN)6]}. Lee, J. Y., Ling, S., Argent, S., Senn, M., Cañadillas-Delgado, L., & Cliffe, M. Chem. Sci. 2021,12, 3516-3525.



Fully-funded PhD studentships are open for the EPSRC and SFI Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Sustainable Chemistry: Atoms-2-Products.

For more information and to apply, please visit:

Recent awards

Professor Pete Licence has secured an Innovate UK funded Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with the company Trelleborg. The KTP project will see Nottingham's expertise in green and sustainable chemistry applied to the area of polyurethane chemistry to deliver a novel, recyclable thermosetting polyurethane.


Postgraduate research

Depending on the research group, your project may involve a combination of analytical method development, synthesis of specific molecules or nanomaterials, and theoretical modelling.

We offer a wide range of research projects studying structure, function and reactivity of different molecules by advanced methods:

  • spectroscopy
  • microscopy
  • electrochemistry
  • photochemistry
  • theoretical modelling of molecular electronic structure
  • intermolecular interactions

Chemistry PhD/MRes

How to apply

Postgraduate Funding

Research Fellowships

Students in the Carbon Neutral Laboratory for Sustainable Chemistry
Researchers using the X-Ray Photoelectron Spectrometer
Technician in the Mass Spectrometry laboratory
Researchers working out calculations on a whiteboard




School of Chemistry

University Park Nottingham, NG7 2RD

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