I studied chemistry at Oxford University, where I was at New College. (Before you ask, I didn’t sing in New College choir, as I was not of that standard. I moonlighted at Oriel, and occasionally at Queen’s and Balliol. But that belongs on the Music page.)
My Part II (4th year undergraduate research) project was supervised by Dr Gordon Whitham, a wonderful chemist of the old school. It was about free-radical-mediated rearrangements of allylic sulphones, sulphoxides, and thioethers. But where sulphoxides got involved, sigmatropic rearrangements took over.
For my DPhil (that is Oxford-speak for PhD) I worked in the laboratories of Dr (now Professor) Stephen Davies. I concentrated on synthetic organic chemistry, in particular finding synthetic applications of a route to enantiomerically pure beta-amino esters that had been developed in the group a little earlier. Unimaginatively, my thesis was called “Asymmetric synthesis via beta-amino esters”. In my favourite part, I combined the existing methodology with a Meisenheimer rearrangement to make 1,5-dihydroxy compounds; and with a Cope elimination to make asymmetric Baylis-Hillman adducts. I also made daunosamine and an epimer of it, but that was not as elegant as I had hoped. But it was my first exposure to sugar chemistry, which remains an interest. My internal examiner was Dr George Fleet, a leading carbohydrate chemist.
I did a two-year post-doc in Japan at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in the laboratory of Professor Koichi Mikami. I am very grateful for his kindness – I was the first post-doc in his laboratory (and indeed in his department), and he made me very welcome. I was working with oxonium-ene reactions, in particular intramolecular variants. I had a very enthusiastic student, now Dr Hirofumi Ohmura, who is now a researcher at Astellas. I was funded at that time by a fellowship from the Royal Society and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science.
I now practise primarily in the field of chemical patents, but in a very wide range of chemistry.
I am a member of:
The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC)
The Society of Chemical Industry (SCI)
The Society of Dyers and Colourists (SDC)
On four occasions since 2006 I have been involved in organising and presenting a one day course called “What a chemist needs to know about patents” for members of the SCI. We hope to repeat in late 2013 or early 2014.
It distresses me that in normal discourse “chemical” is synonymous with “toxic” and, conversely, “natural” is a synonym for “healthy”. ”Natural” and “chemical” are not usually capable of existing in the same meme. A number of chemist bloggers that I follow highlight examples of what has been named “chemophobia”, which crop up in the labelling of everything, from foods and cosmetics, where one might expect it, all the way through to (I am not making it up) chemistry sets for children. (Look up the Twitter hashtag.) I find myself wanting to shout rather often “Strychnine is natural! Chemicals are everywhere and everything!”. I don’t, of course. I just resort to thinking harsh thoughts, occasionally tweeting, and now blogging.
I will post about chemistry and science matters from time to time. I hope to highlight example of chemophobia when I find them.