This summer I undertook a 10 week EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) funded project within the School of Chemistry under the supervision of Professor Wayne Hayes and Dr Andy Russell. The project helped me significantly in improving my laboratory skills and was a great insight into life as a research chemist. I also hope it will improve my chances when applying for jobs in the near future as it can be difficult to gain relevant work experience within chemistry prior to graduating.
My project looked in to the “Synthesis and Evaluation of Self-Immolative Molecules for Toxic Chemical Detection.” Self Immolative molecules are ones which, under certain conditions, are triggered to break apart in order to release part of the molecule. In this instance the molecule I was trying to synthesise was designed to be triggered by the presence of toxic chemicals and release a portion of the molecule, which, on its own is brightly coloured to indicate the presence of the toxic chemicals and warn of the apparent danger. One of the challenges I had to overcome during synthesis was to create molecules which were stable so that they only reacted with the toxic chemicals and not with, for example, moisture in the atmosphere. Over the 10 weeks I had to search the literature to find appropriate reaction procedures to follow and carry out a series of reactions as the product I was trying to make was made via a multi-step synthesis. On some occasions I found reactions to be unsuccessful and needed to find alternative routes to synthesis. To work out whether I had made the correct products, I analysed my samples using the machinery available within the Chemical Analysis Facility. Usually this was the NMR Spectrometer.
Overall I found the project to be very rewarding. It was enjoyable, interesting and insightful and I would thoroughly recommend doing a summer placement to anyone who wants to gain more experience in their chosen field and to further their interest in their subject.