David Leigh

Professor of Organic Chemistry

David Leigh

Scientists can genuinely change the world and I love the excitement of helping students and young researchers do exactly that.


How would you summarise your research to undergraduates?

My group work on the ultimate in miniaturisation, using organic— and sometimes inorganic—chemistry to weave molecular threads and make molecular-sized machines.

How would you summarise your research to postgraduates?

Our research group’s interests are broadly based on new approaches to functional molecule synthesis and the influence of non-covalent interactions on structure and function. Over the last decade we have developed some of the first examples—all be they primitive by biological standards—of functional synthetic molecular level machines and motors.

Perhaps the best way to appreciate the technological potential of controlled molecular-level motion is to recognise that nanomotors and molecular-level machines lie at the heart of every significant biological process. Over billions of years of evolution Nature has not repeatedly chosen this solution for achieving complex task performance without good reason. When we learn how to build artificial structures that can control and exploit molecular level motion, and interface their effects directly with other molecular-level substructures and the outside world, it will potentially impact on every aspect of functional molecule and materials design. An improved understanding of physics and biology will surely follow.

What do you think makes the School distinctive?

The School has an incredibly broad coverage of the chemical sciences, with world class research groups in many areas. The facilities are superb, which is necessary for doing state-of-the-art research in the 21st century.

What do you enjoy most about teaching?

When it’s apparent that I’ve got across how interesting and cool what I’m talking about is. In other words I like teaching when I do it well.

How do you make your teaching up-to-date, innovative and inspirational?

I try to include the most important recent research developments and ideas in an area. I also use some less science-based skills in my lectures.

What do you enjoy most about research?

Pushing back the frontiers of what’s possible. Scientists can genuinely change the world and I love the excitement of helping students and young researchers do exactly that.

What have been the highlights of your career?

I’ve been very lucky that the clever and creative young people that have been through my group have come up with a lot of very cool ideas and have been able to achieve many amazing things in the lab. I was recently asked to name my top five papers and you can read about those here.

To those, I would add our recent achievement of making a molecular machine that makes other molecules.

How long have you been at the School?

I joined the School in February 2012. It’s been quite a first year setting up our new labs and getting down to work.

When a student completes their course, what for you are the measures of success?

There’s no doubt that when tuition fees are £9000 per year then exam results become even more important, for students, parents and staff alike. But education is not a production line and it’s the excitement young people get from being exposed to new ideas and new ways of thinking that ultimately inspires them to go on and do great things themselves.

How do you think students describe/remember you?

I hope as kindly as I think of them when marking exam papers.

▲ Up to the top