Born 1982. Graduate of the University of Leeds (B.Sc. 2004) and the Queen’s University Belfast (Ph.D. 2007). Visiting researcher at Merck KGaA (Darmstadt, Germany, 2006). Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Queen’s University Ionic Liquid Laboratory (QUILL), Queen’s University Belfast (2007 to 2009) and University of Oxford (2009 to 2011). Appointed Lecturer at the University of New South Wales in 2011.
Research in my group focuses upon the joint application of ionic liquids and electrochemistry, such as electrosynthesis to prepare useful aromatic compounds as well as a variety of fundamental investigations into the synthesis, purification and physical properties of ionic liquids. Ionic liquids are relatively new media, with tremendous promise in the number of areas, such as in Green Chemistry and Electrochemistry. However, the waste generated in their preparation, their relatively high expense, the general lack of fundamental and physical knowledge of these systems, and the fact that they often contain impurities are all limiting factors that we seek to improve on.
Synthesis and Purification of Ionic Liquids
Ionic liquids are frequently referred to as Green Solvents, as their non-volatility makes them relatively easy to recycle without the generation of atmospheric pollutants (Volatiles Organic Compounds). However, their initial synthesis is multistep, energy intensive and generates extensive waste. Research is therefore ongoing on innovative, more environmentally friendly synthesis techniques.
Ionic liquids are also excellent solvents that can dissolve a wide variety of compounds. However, this, combined with their non-volatility, makes them easy to contaminate and difficult to purify! Research is therefore looking at techniques that can easily prepare ionic liquids of high purity, and well as a range of techniques that can be used to thoroughly purify them if contaminated.
The traditional purification of [C4mim][Br] (left to right), a solid ionic liquid precursor,
Conversion of Biomass to Feedstock Molecules
Crude oil supplies a huge variety of aromatic chemical feedstock molecules to the modern chemical industry, which are used to make colourants and dyes, pharmaceutical, plastics, etc. With the gradual exhaustion of crude oil, the price and scarcity of these molecules will increase. Alternative sources are therefore required. Lignin, a major constituent of wood, is the most abundant renewable source or aromatic compounds available to us.
Ionic liquids are excellent solvents for biomass, and can dissolve extensive quantities of wood, including lignin and cellulose. Ionic liquids are inherently conductive, and ionic liquids containing dissolved lignin offers a new method for the electrochemical conversion of lignin into a range of useful, smaller aromatic molecules, and research is currently focusing on this.
Fundamental Physical Chemistry Investigations involving Ionic Liquids
The fundamental physical chemistry of ionic liquids is an area that has only just begun to be explored. Research is ongoing in various areas, particularly relating to the inherent internal structuring and organisation that occurs in ionic liquids, even in the liquid state. Emphasis will also be on the application of this state of organisation to achieve improvements in the conversion and synthesis of a variety of materials.
The growth of gold nanomaterials in an ionic liquid - can changing