Tuesday, 18 October 2022
A chemistry researcher has been awarded a five-year fellowship from the Royal Society for molecular nanoscale research that could help towards securing a sustainable future for the global chemical industry.
Dr Ben Pilgrim, a Research Fellow from the University of Nottingham’s School of Chemistry has been awarded over £1 million through the fellowship to develop his research into molecular self-assembly of “nanoboxes”.
Chemists traditionally make molecules one bond at a time which makes constructing large and complex molecules very time consuming. Dr Pilgrim’s research focuses on molecules that can undergo reversible bond making and breaking until they come together into a larger well-defined structure – a process called self-assembly.
Through manipulating these interactions, the assembly of matter can be controlled on the nanoscale, creating nanoboxes, 10,000 times smaller than a human hair. Dr Pilgrim’s research group specialises in metallosupramolecular cages, made from both metal ions, and carbon-based ligands or struts. These cages have shapes such as cubes, tetrahedra or prisms, with an inner void or cavity which can trap or bind another species of interest. This might be to extract something that is really rare, to act as a sensor, or to stabilise something otherwise only fleetingly existent.
Forty-four chemical elements are at risk of being in limited supply in the next century, many crucial for the catalysts which make the products essential to everyday life. Innovative approaches that improve our understanding of how catalysts work, aid catalyst isolation and recovery, and allow multiple catalysts to work in tandem, are vital for securing a sustainable future for the global chemical industry. Dr Pilgrim’s group will design an array of new nanoboxes to address these challenges.
I’m delighted to be receiving this funding and recognition from an institution as renowned at the Royal Society. This research fellowship will give me the freedom and support to develop exciting research leads, allowing us to expand the functionality self-assembled structures and find new sustainable approaches to chemical catalysis.
Royal Society University Research Fellowships are amongst the most prestigious Fellowships awarded to scientists in the UK at the beginning of their career. They allow researchers to pursue high-risk, high-reward long term goals that cross the boundaries of traditional disciplines.
Dr Pilgrim joined the University of Nottingham to start his own independent research group as part of the Green Chemicals Beacon of Excellence in 2019. Dr Pilgrim's research interests span supramolecular chemistry, self-assembly, interlocked molecules, and catalysis. Dr Pilgrim is also a leading advocate for public engagement and outreach in chemistry. He has been the Head Mentor for the UK Chemistry Olympiad team for many years and has made appearances on BBC radio's The Naked Scientist.
Dr Pilgrim’s research project on hollow, self-assembled molecular containers is likely to open new opportunities for analytical and synthetic chemistry alike – the tiny well-defined space (typically under a cubic nanometre) available in these “nanoboxes” may help to entrap and stabilise fleeting reaction intermediates so that they could be studied with greater precision, or change pathways of chemical reactions towards new products inaccessible by other means. This is excellent news for Dr Pilgrim and our research community that the Royal Society decided to support this exciting, highly innovative project.
More information is available Dr Ben Pilgrim on Ben.Pilgrim@nottingham.ac.uk or Twitter @BenSPilgrim
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About the University of Nottingham
Ranked 32 in Europe and 16th in the UK by the QS World University Rankings: Europe 2024, the University of Nottingham is a founding member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience, and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our students. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement.
Nottingham was crowned Sports University of the Year by The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2024 – the third time it has been given the honour since 2018 – and by the Daily Mail University Guide 2024.
The university is among the best universities in the UK for the strength of our research, positioned seventh for research power in the UK according to REF 2021. The birthplace of discoveries such as MRI and ibuprofen, our innovations transform lives and tackle global problems such as sustainable food supplies, ending modern slavery, developing greener transport, and reducing reliance on fossil fuels.
The university is a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally - and our graduates are the second most targeted by the UK's top employers, according to The Graduate Market in 2022 report by High Fliers Research.
We lead the Universities for Nottingham initiative, in partnership with Nottingham Trent University, a pioneering collaboration between the city’s two world-class institutions to improve levels of prosperity, opportunity, sustainability, health and wellbeing for residents in the city and region we are proud to call home.