Faculty of Science

Mattia Silvi


Mattia Silvi

Mattia Silvi

Assistant Professor, School of Chemistry

...discussing science and getting inspired by other scientists is one of my favourite activities. I believe that this is what boosts innovation in research!


1. Describe your research topic in ten words or less?

Visible light driven organic synthesis.

2. Now describe it in everyday terms?

Our research focuses in organic chemistry. Organic chemistry is a fascinating subject that impacts our everyday life: medicines, agrochemicals and many technological materials are all based on organic molecules that need to be prepared and produced in industrial scales. In our lab, we routinely work on the discovery of novel organic reactions to produce the molecules of tomorrow.
Visible light is a clean, inexhaustible and ubiquitous form of energy that remains largely underused. The chemical methodologies that we are studying harness the potential of visible light to drive novel chemical reactions, providing new avenues towards useful molecules with potential applications in various fields, including medicinal chemistry.

3. What inspired you to pursue this research area?

During the last few decades, scientists have developed a remarkable ability to construct useful organic molecules. However, there are open challenges that still need to be addressed. We still rely heavily on the use of unabundant precious metal catalysts and chemical processes that create wastes and long-term sustainability issues. Is Nature better than us in doing chemistry? Think about photosynthesis…a striking biochemical process that allows plants to build up molecules from CO2 using light! Inspired by this ideal process, our long-term aim is to create a general chemical framework to allow scientists to construct organic molecules using the energy of light. 

4. What are some of your day-to-day research and knowledge exchange (KE) activities?

I have a fantastic research group of highly motivated early career researchers (PhDs and post-docs). They are currently working on developing chemical strategies for the generation of new analogues of complex molecules (including drug candidates and natural products). Their enthusiasm and motivation are truly inspiring, and I love supporting them by day-to-day lab discussions and, when time allows, join them in hands-on lab activities. I am often involved in international dissemination activities such as plenary talks in international conferences and invited talks, and discussing science and getting inspired by other scientists is one of my favourite activities. I believe that this is what boosts innovation in research!

5. What do you enjoy most about your research and KE activities?

I enjoy seeing my students grow, come out with new ideas and develop a critical approach to research. They develop quickly and, at some point, they will knock on your door and share a brilliant idea that will unlock a difficult project that was stalling. This is very rewarding for a supervisor because supervising is not only about transferring scientific notions, but also about inspiring younger scientists with values such as passion for the subject, dedication and resilience.

6. How have you approached any challenges you’ve faced in your research/KE activities?

The most difficult challenge I faced so far was keeping up the laboratory morale during the pandemic. Again, thanks to the resilience and the enthusiasm of my students we have transformed a difficult moment into an opportunity, with daily scientific discussions about scientific proposals, journal clubs, etc. Upon restart of the activities, it felt like we have never stopped working.

7. What questions have emerged as a result of your recent work?

We have recently developed new strategies to modify organic molecules using naturally abundant functional groups as handles. This allowed to us to develop a practical conceptual framework to design new structural analogues of drugs and natural products. Using C-H bonds as handles would tremendously extend the generality of our chemistry. But how can we selectively target one specific C-H bond, when a typical relevant molecule has dozens of dozens of them? This is only one of the questions that we aim to answer.  

8. What kind of impact do you hope your research will have?

Organic synthesis often represents the bottleneck of the long process that leads to scientific innovation. We aim to define new practical and sustainable pathways towards chemical synthesis, thereby extending the strict boundaries that limits chemists’ imagination for the invention of the pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals and materials of tomorrow.

9. How do you link your research with your teaching?

Unfortunately, we can’t assemble molecules like we would do with LEGO building blocks, but there are specific rules that need to be followed. These rules constitute the beautiful subject known as Organic Chemistry. In my teaching sessions we study these rules and how these can be followed to make molecules. In our research, instead, we question whether we could provide new disruptive strategies to challenge these rules, thus providing chemists with new avenues to assemble molecular complexity.

10. What one piece of advice would you give your younger, less experienced research self?

I interacted with great scientists and fantastic supervisors during my early development as a scientist, who inspired and assisted me to identify the right pathway for me. I am very happy in my job and I would do everything I did so far again and again. Perhaps my advice would be: try to take it a little easier and enjoy the journey!




Faculty of Science

The University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD