I completed my undergraduate studies in Chemistry, History and German at the University of Sydney graduating with a University Medal, before completing a Bachelor of Laws and PhD in Chemistry at the same institution. I made extensive contributions towards university life during that time which was recognised by the award of the Convocation Medal. During the same period, I spent time on the board of the Australian Youth Orchestra and a regional Credit Union in NSW. I then spent two years on a prestigious Marie Curie Fellowship at the University of Cambridge where I was also a Director of Studies at Emmanuel College. I returned to Australia to join The University of Queensland in 2012.
My research is in the field of metallo-supramolecular chemistry and bridges the traditional fields of organic and inorganic chemistry. I use a self-assembly approach and by combing the inherent physical and chemical properties of metals with organic (ligand) components I can design and synthesis new materials with central cavities that are capable of selectively binding smaller molecules. The resulting nanoscale structures can be either discrete or polymeric (framework) in nature. The potential applications for these compounds are diverse including drug delivery, catalysis, sequestration, separation and gas storage. Many of my compounds are characterised by X-ray diffraction methods. Due to their large size, somewhere between average “small” molecules and biological macromolecules (and challenging diffraction properties), I often employ synchrotron radiation for analysis. My research work can roughly divided into the following sub-categories, although there are not always clear boundaries between each of them.
Metallo-Supramolecular Capsules and Cages
Careful consideration of the geometrical properties of metals and organic components allows for the construction of a variety of discrete “supermolecules” formed from the spontaneous aggregation of numerous predesigned components. These structures, often with central cavities, take numerous forms from two-dimensional architectures such as triangular and square architectures to elaborate and beautiful three-dimensional species such as tetrahedra and cubes. Changing the size, shape, properties and charge of the architecture allows for the selective encapsulation of different materials inside them. Anions, cations, multiple solvent molecules, gases, drug molecules and pyrophoric substances have all been shown to be bound inside the larger self-assembled molecules. In addition, metallo-supramolecular architectures have been shown to catalyse a variety of reactions mimicking the enzymatic processes found in biological systems.
Metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) are a type of crystalline coordination polymer constructed from the linkage of metal ions by bridging polydentate ligands. These materials often display the very useful industrial properties such as regularity, porosity, robustness and high surface-areas leading to applications in heterogeneous-catalysis, gas separation and storage. Because of the way that these molecules are formed it is often very difficult to predict there structures and properties. My research is targeted towards the design and synthesis of porous MOFs with predictable functions. The use of this targeted pre-design strategy will lead directly to the development of complex materials with applications and properties not accessible by other methods. I use a hierarchical self-assembly approach to engineer these functional materials. In this strategy I aim to transcribe the well understood binding properties of discrete metallo-supramolecular architectures onto the new framework products resulting in very large 3D voids and considerable structural complexity.
Complex systems and interlocked architectures
In general, the molecules we study under the heading of “chemistry” are far less complicated than those that exist in biology and nature, where many different molecules come together in a mixture or “system” to perform tasks that are not possible by individual molecules on their own. Thus there is an emerging interest in understanding how chemists can design mixtures of molecules to emulate the “complexity” and functions of natural systems. The broad approaches to addressing this problem include the inclusion of reversible (dynamic covalent) bonds into materials, the study of the way that mixtures of molecules interact with each other and the generation of topologically complex “interlocked” molecules such as catenanes, knots and ravels. Collectively this knowledge produced will allow for the construction of synthetic assembly lines such as those employed by Nature and lead to the development of molecular machines.
ARC Discovery Project (2013-2015)
Designing metal-organic materials through a hierarchical self-assembly strategy
Total value of grant $390,000