Current Group Research

Development and Exploitation of Novel Approaches to Ionic and Molecular Recognition

The study of host-guest recognition, as carried out by supramolecular chemists, has largely focused on the binding and sensing of relatively simple targets, such as metal cations or inorganic anions. Our aim is to prepare novel receptor molecules capable of the recognition of more challenging targets, for example, ion pairs and chiral organic molecules.

It is anticipated that promising receptors will be incorporated into sensory devices for the guest species which they preferentially bind. This can be achieved by linking the receptor to a reporter group, which provides a “real-world” response (e. g. an optical or electrochemical signal) upon binding of the ionic or molecular guest. Illustrated schematically below, examples of this from my doctoral research are discussed here. Alternatively, a receptor may be immobilized into a material that is then packaged with an electrode to produce a sensory device.

Sensing of ion or molecule

Sensing the binding of an ionic or molecular guest

While the primary research aim is guest recognition, the ability to selectively bind, and hence possibly gain control over, a chemical species has real significance in a number of scientific research areas. Projects looking to exploit ionic and molecular recognition in non-sensory applications are therefore also currently under development.

We are particularly interested in using the 3D topologies of catenanes and rotaxanes to create new receptors. However, to maximize the opportunities interlocked molecules offer, synthetic routes to these species need to be rapid, scalable and allow for the incorporation of functionality to bind their target guests. Work on the rapid synthesis of catenane and rotaxane species carried out at Lancaster has already been reported, and application of these methodologies to prepare interlocked molecular receptors is in progress.

Rapidly prepared interlocked molecules: crystal structure of a catenane and computational simulation of a rotaxane

Key references:
Organic and Biomolecular Chemistry, 2015, 13, 11021-11025
Organic and Biomolecular Chemistry, 2017, 15, 2797-2803


Many thanks to those who support our research. To date this includes:

EPSRC, Innovate UK, Royal Society, Royal Society of Chemistry and Lancaster University.