Inspiring peopleGraham Newton

Nottingham Research Fellow
Graham cropped
What is your position and role at the University?
I’m a Nottingham Research Fellow, and now also an Assistant Professor of Inorganic and Materials Chemistry.
Why did you apply for a Fellowship?
I had been working as an Assistant Professor at the University of Tsukuba in Japan for a few years, and loved it, but I felt like it was time to come back to the UK. The fellowship was a perfect way to get back into academia in this country as it gave me the resources and time I needed to build a research area and group.   
Why Nottingham?
I didn’t know much about Nottingham when I came for my interview, except that the Nottingham Research Fellowship was very attractive. I was really impressed by the School of Chemistry and the University, and I was surprised by how much I liked the city. There’s a lot going on here, and it’s a great place to live.
What has the experience been like?
The Fellowship has been great. When I started it was only me and a lab bench, but the group has grown steadily thanks to some great support in the School. We are now sitting at around 11 people in the lab, and research is going well. I’ve been so impressed by the collegiality of colleagues at the University, particularly the early career researchers, and I’ve made so many exciting connections and collaborations that the scope of my research has grown massively in these three years. 
How would you explain your research?
I work in the area of inorganic or nano-materials with applications in energy storage, electrocatalysis and solar fuels. In real terms, we make molecules that can reversibly pick up lots of electrons and then we try and use them in different ways!
What inspired you to pursue this area?
My PhD looked at the self-assembly of transition metal complexes, and the fundamental interactions and forces that drive the assembly of complex systems. I continued along this theme during my Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Tsukuba, Japan, and began to specialise in the synthesis and characterisation of single molecule magnets or switchable molecular systems. These types of molecules may allow us to revolutionise data storage and processing in the future. When I moved to Nottingham I wanted to build on what I had learned but use the complex molecular systems I had been working with to address major global issues like energy storage and the generation of clean fuels.
How will your research affect the average person?
Global energy demands are expected to keep increasing over the coming decades, while the atmospheric concentration of CO2 (the most significant anthropogenic greenhouse gas and primary product of typical fossil fuel combustion) is already at its highest level since records began and continues to grow. New approaches are therefore required if we are to address the energy deficit without risking further damage to the global climate and environment. Our research addresses both sides of this challenge as we aim to generate clean fuels using solar energy, convert waste CO2 into useful chemicals, and develop the next generation of energy storage and battery technologies.
What has been the greatest moment of your career so far?
Seeing my research group grow and produce amazing results means every day is exciting.
Who or what has helped you get to where you are today?
Of course family and friends! I guess that the majority of academics can thank their doctoral and postdoctoral supervisors for their mentorship and support. In my case, my PhD supervisor (Lee Cronin) showed me how to think differently about research and always push for the next level of insight. My Postdoc boss (Hiroki Oshio) taught me the importance of absolute accuracy and depth of knowledge. Without either of these guys I wouldn’t be the researcher I am today.
What advice would you give to someone starting out?
Keep having ideas, and silly ones are OK! Stay curious and don’t be put off by negative results, we can always learn something. Don’t just think about a project to start your career, try to make an area of research. Stay flexible and open to collaboration. Talk to your colleagues and be friendly.
How does being based at The University of Nottingham allow you to fulfil your research aspirations?
I’ve had great support from the School of Chemistry, and I have been really lucky to build many excellent collaborations both within the School and with researchers in different faculties. The research environment at Nottingham is very dynamic and there is a huge amount of support for researchers through the Research Priority Areas, UNICAS and the Beacons of Excellence. I’ve been able to engage with these entities and win funding to start numerous projects.
What next?
Keep doing exciting research and build the group. Develop fundamental chemistry that can be applied to real world systems and make a difference.  

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Graham's research group focuses on the synthesis of complex organic/inorganic molecular systems for applications in small molecule conversion, energy storage, photo-catalysis and the development of functional materials.

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