Functional Materials and Molecular Assemblies

Research areas

Nanostructured Materials 

Inorganic materials structured at the nanoscale, such as carbon nanostructures, metal nanoparticles and 2D materials, crucially underpin a broad range of modern technologies. Our research explores the synthesis and assembly of nanoscale building blocks to create and engineer novel functional nanoparticles, composites and porous materials systems. Structure-function relationships are explored across a wide range of application areas, including pharma-related heterogeneous catalysis, energy storage, renewable energy generation, biomedical sensing and nanomedicines, often in close collaboration with industrial partners. Our research is underpinned by state-of-the-art materials characterisation, including high-resolution electron microscopy, X-ray absorption, tomography and advanced in-situ spectroscopic techniques. 


Crystallisation is a hugely important subject that lies at the heart of a vast array of natural phenomena and technological processes, including weathering and frost heave, scaling phenomena, biomineralization, the formation of ice in the atmosphere and applications such as the fabrication of nanomaterials, mineral-based biomaterials, pharmaceuticals, foodstuffs and personal care products. Developing ways of controlling crystallisation – such that we can generate new materials or prevent unwanted events such as the formation of kidney stones – is thus incredibly important to fundamental research and technology across many disciplines. Our research takes inspiration from biological processes, where nature demonstrates that it is possible to achieve remarkable control over crystal nucleation and growth, generating crystals with complex morphologies and outstanding mechanical properties. Application of bio-inspired strategies such as additive-directed crystallisation and crystallisation in confinement allows us to achieve comparable control in the laboratory. Our work makes extensive use of the excellent analytical facilities available at the University of Leeds, including electron microscopy, and the new Flow-Xl facility in chemistry which allows us to monitor crystallisation in situ in flow systems using Raman spectroscopy and X-ray diffraction.

Supramolecular Chemistry 

Supramolecular chemistry studies how molecular or ionic components come together through reversible interactions to form larger but well-defined assemblies whose functions and properties are different from their constituent parts. It is a broad, interdisciplinary area built on understanding molecular binding and with applications ranging from understanding biological function to the development of new sensors, to building molecular storage vessels, to development of molecular machines. Work at Leeds includes both solution-phase assemblies such as nanometre-sized, hollow, cage-like species for guest-binding applications in sensors and catalysis, and crystal-engineered materials with zeolite-like applications such as metal–organic frameworks or engineered molecular crystals with switchable properties. 

Soft and Biological Matter 

Soft materials are complex fluids or soft solids that are easily changed under applied stresses. Our soft matter research spans a range of materials including liquid crystals, functional polymers and biomimetic membranes. Biological matter is inherently “soft”: we apply materials chemistry approaches to understanding the origins of living matter and to artificial mimicry of biological cells and tissues. Our soft matter research is focused towards applications in a wide range of sectors, including toxicological sensors, biotechnology, medicine and optically and electronically responsive materials. 

Materials Characterisation and Computational Materials Chemistry 

Techniques for imaging and measuring atomic and electronic structure enable research across a variety of materials from organic crystals for pharmaceutical, agrochemical, and optoelectronic applications to supramolecular and biological systems. Research advancing analytical science additionally creates new opportunities to probe structure and chemistry across a range of length scales and to determine functional properties – enabling discoveries that have not been seen or detected with previously established methods. Our materials characterisation research incorporates a wide range of spectroscopy, diffraction, and imaging methods. This is supported by a range of computational and modelling work that supports the interpretation of these experimental results while providing an insight into the structure-function relationship across a range of materials.