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Chemistry academic awarded prestigious Royal Society Industry Fellowship

Posted on 6 November 2020

Professor Ian Fairlamb of the Department of Chemistry at the University of York has been awarded a four-year Royal Society industry fellowship to work in collaboration with Johnson Matthey, on a project that will enable more efficient use of the planet’s natural resources.

Ian Fairlamb

The fellowship, to the value £187,000, will allow Professor Fairlamb to spend 50% of his time working collaboratively with Johnson Matthey, a global leader in sustainable technologies. The collaboration will focus on precious metal palladium catalysts, which are embedded within the production of many important commercial products including advanced materials, devices and medicines, and on making their use more sustainable. A primary aim of the fellowship is to identify methods for the sustainable deployment and recovery of palladium catalysts. 

Palladium (pre)catalysts are widely applied in cross-coupling reactions, including those that are in the top-10 reactions used globally within the pharmaceutical sector. The work will involve understanding how palladium precatalysts are activated under varying reaction conditions to deliver the active catalyst form. Catalyst changes, speciation and deactivation will be further examined, enabling lower catalyst loadings (towards sub-10 parts per million palladium catalyst) to be more routinely employed in appropriate reaction chemistries. For palladium to be sustainable we need to use less but recover and recycle more.

The interaction between Professor Fairlamb and Johnson Matthey will enable exchange of knowledge about complex reaction mechanisms (academic insight) to be translated to an industrial setting. Professor Fairlamb will benefit from exposure to the real-world challenges involved in large-scale industrial processes, including palladium catalyst manufacture.

Professor Fairlamb said: “The Industry Fellowship represents a fantastic opportunity. Our academic studies and findings are increasingly becoming important to industrialists, especially in Process Chemistry, where understanding about what is going on within a catalytic reaction mixture very much matters.”

Professor Fairlamb’s collaborative work with Johnson Matthey adds to existing strong links between Johnson Matthey and the Department of Chemistry, from individual research collaborations across a range of topics. 

Professor Fairlamb is the Department’s second recipient in the past two years of the Royal Society Industry Fellowship; in 2019 Professor Peter O’Brien was awarded a three-year fellowship to work in collaboration with the Fragment Chemistry Group in AstraZeneca, Cambridge. The award of two industrial fellowships in consecutive years highlights that industrially-aligned academic research is vibrant within the Organic Chemistry section.

The Industry Fellowship is part of the Royal Society’s Science and Industry Programme which aims to connect science, industry and government. It enables the mobility of talented scientists and engineers from industry and academia in order to move between the sectors.