I studied the structure of metal carbonyl fragments for my PhD under J. J. Turner. In that period in Cambridge and Newcastle from 1971-74, I established the existence of one of the first σ-complexes, Cr(CO)5(CH4), and the first metal-Xe bond, Cr(CO)5Xe, by photochemical matrix isolation. After periods in Muelheim, Edinburgh and Oxford, I moved to York in 1983 and was promoted to Professor of Chemistry in 1991.
Along the route from Newcastle to York, I broadened my interests to encompass many aspects of the reaction mechanisms, photochemistry, spectroscopy and synthesis of organo-transition metal and metal hydride complexes. For instance, I have measured the rates of oxidative addition of H-H, C-H, B-H and S-H bonds at 4-coordinate Ru(0) centres and shown that oxidative addition of dihydrogen may occur with essentially no activation barrier. These studies required a combination of product investigation by solution NMR spectroscopy, nanosecond laser flash photolysis and matrix isolation. In recent work in this area, I have used photochemistry within the NMR probehead to observe manganese-propane complexes by NMR and am now developing laser pump-NMR probe methods with my colleague, Simon Duckett. Another major strand of my work has been the development of C-F bond activation at transition metals, culminating in new routes to metal fluoride complexes and fluoro-organics. One spin-off of this work has been the discovery that metal fluoride and metal hydride complexes can form halogen bonds to IC6F5. In turn, we have now been able to demonstrate that hydrogen bonds to neutral metal fluoride complexes are as strong as the strongest hydrogen bonds to organic acceptors. Throughout my work, I have collaborated with theorists to understand the wider implications of my experiments. Recent examples include comparisons of the selectivity for C-H versus C-F bond activation and the development of computational approaches to bond energy correlations. The theoretical predictions of the increase in metal carbon bond strength on ortho-fluorine substitution of a metal aryl have been vindicated by experiment.
I have also turned my hand to supramolecular photochemistry, concentrating on mechanistic studies of compounds designed and synthesised in house. For example, I have demonstrated that photo-induced charge separation can occur in times as short as 10-12 s by use of ultrafast infrared spectroscopy. This research has led to the current emphasis on solar fuels and the reduction of carbon dioxide with visible light by incorporating metalloporphyrin photosensitisers with CO2 reduction catalysts.
I have delivered the Tilden Lecture of the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Dow Lectures at the University of Ottawa and the Seaborg Lectures at the University of California, Berkeley. I have been awarded the Nyholm Medal and Lectureship of The Royal Society of Chemistry for 2005. I was awarded the Sacconi Medal of the Italian Chemical Society in 2008 and the Franco-British Award of the French Chemical Society in 2009. I served as President of Dalton Division of The Royal Society of Chemistry from 2007 - 2010. I was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, the UK’s national academy in 2010. Fellowship of the American Association for the Advancement of Science followed in 2015.
I have become very active in promoting women in science and served as a member of the Athena SWAN steering group from 2006-11, and on the panel for the Royal Society Rosalind Franklin award from 2012-14. This work for women in science arose from my role in improving the department’s support for women in science which contributed to its Athena SWAN Gold award, renewed in 2015. I am currently a member of the Royal Society’s Diversity Committee. I am also active in support for disabled students in STEM subjects and served for several years on the national STEMM-Disability Committee.
The research group has active collaborative links within the Department of Chemistry in York, with research groups elsewhere in the UK and abroad.
Collaboration in York with the research groups of:
Collaboration with research groups outside York:
Research support comes from EPSRC.