Heriot-Watt and Oxford: working together on fundamental chemistry research

Heriot-Watt and Oxford: working together on fundamental chemistry research

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A collaboration between Heriot-Watt University and the University of Oxford is paving the way for step-changes in fundamental chemistry research.  Funded by a £5.9 million Programme Grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the project brings together complementary experimental and theoretical expertise to form a unique team drawn from the two centres of excellence for molecular scattering in the UK.

Colliding pairs of molecules in vacuum has become a uniquely powerful method for investigating the fundamental mechanisms through which molecules interact and either exchange energy or undergo a chemical reaction. Scattering experiments of this type have reached a high level of sophistication. Theoretical modelling has progressed in parallel, allowing the forces that act between the molecules to be calculated increasingly accurately and providing rigour to the interpretation of the mechanisms. However, until recently, these advanced methods have only been able to treat small molecular systems, typically containing no more than three atoms and often with only one set of chemical products formed via a single mechanism. The EPSRC grant will enable research on a range of more complex systems to be tackled for the first time.

The project will be instrumental in the development of the next generation of scientists, including the Oxford research groups of Professors Mark Brouard, Stuart Mackenzie and Claire Vallance, and directly funding around 12 Postdoctoral Research Associates. Further funding will be leveraged for around 15 PhD students, and 20 final-year Masters students are expected to benefit from associated research-project work. The team will be trained to a high level in state-of-the-art laser, vacuum, electronics, computational and information technologies, in addition to gaining transferable skills for future employment in a wide range of sectors.

Professor Mark Brouard, Head of the Department of Chemistry and co-investigator on the project, said: “We are absolutely delighted that the EPSRC has recognised the importance of fundamental science and its value in informing a diverse range of research fields. The Programme Grant brings together a great team of scientists and we are really looking forward to working collaboratively with our colleagues at Heriot-Watt to cement and enhance the UK’s long-standing reputation for excellence in the field of molecular scattering. The award of this grant represents a major boost to fundamental research to better understand chemical reactions.”