Science at Cambridge: The Compelling and Creative World of Physics

Halfway through my degree, I can confidently say that there’s nothing I would rather be doing. Physics is a stimulating subject in so many ways, allowing a really deep understanding of how the physical world works, which can be excitingly counterintuitive.

Studying physics was a natural choice for me – I’ve always loved playing with maths, and physics extends that into making you consider what the maths is telling you about the real world. I enjoyed reading about physics at school, and studying it at university makes everything you’ve read in popular science books so much more compelling, by giving you tools to truly understand the concepts, and then use them to answer questions about how the universe operates.

It is not just the subject matter, but also the act of doing physics; I get a real rush as I suddenly figure out how to finish a question after over an hour’s thinking.

There’s so much stuff happening in the course: with labs, supervisions and extremely fast-paced lectures, it’s not possible to get bored. Many people wouldn’t consider physics to be a creative subject, but I would argue differently: devising solutions to problems you’ve never seen before requires a lot of creativity, and I think studying physics really demands and develops both this creativity and an analytic mind.

I have really enjoyed quantum mechanics this year, because the course hasn’t just introduced new concepts, but also new ways of thinking, in terms of symmetries, inner products and probabilities. This is one of the things I like most about studying physics: thinking in new ways is challenging, but also very exciting. It’s also satisfying just to be able to make predictions about the way microscopic systems behave, when it is so distant from my previous knowledge of the world. I’m really looking forward to third year as it will give me the chance to study subjects like particle physics which I have only previously read about in popular science books and news articles. I’m also excited to be able to do some of my own research, particularly in fourth year.

Murray Edwards is the best place I can imagine to study. There’s a real sense of community, where everyone wants to see everyone else succeed, and it’s inspiring to be surrounded by other women who are equally passionate about science. I’ve just started a year as co-chair of Cambridge University Physics Society, something which I could never have envisaged doing when I was at school. I think studying in Cambridge really gives you the courage to do crazy things!

Physics is a fantastic subject to study in all ways – stimulating, challenging, and ultimately rewarding.

The last two years have been thoroughly enjoyable and inspiring, and I feel confident knowing that whatever I choose to do after I graduate, my degree will have prepared me for it.

Fionn Bishop
Undergraduate student

School Winner: Secret Life of the Naked Mole Rat

Naked mole rats are undoubtedly ugly. With a hairless wrinkled body, small sharp claws and two large protruding teeth capable of moving independently, they appear more like a mutant from a horror film than a relation of the far cuter guinea pig. Yet this bizarre appearance masks a multitude of remarkable adaptations that allow them to survive in the small underground tunnels that form their challenging habitat.

These creatures seem to be largely insensitive to pain, even contact with acid barely affects them. They have evolved a unique ability to metabolise fructose, a mechanism only seen before in plants, in order to survive in incredibly low oxygen environments that would be fatal to humans. The naked mole rat also has a remarkably long life span for a rodent of its size: 32 years, whereas the common brown rat lives only two. Yet, it shows remarkable resistance to many of the adverse effects of ageing, including a disease which is the plague of the modern age – cancer.

Despite decades of study, involving bombarding the mole rats with gamma rays and implanting tumours, only two were ever discovered to have cancer.

So, it would appear we have a lot to learn from these peculiar subterranean rodents, and research at the University of Rochester has unearthed a possible mechanism for the naked mole rats’ cancer resistance. They produce a special type of hyaluronic acid, a sugar polymer that is present between cells in all mammals. In naked mole rats, however, the hyaluronic acid produced, called HMM-HA, has a much higher molecular mass – over five times larger than that of humans or mice – and is broken down much less rapidly. This leads to an abundance of the hyaluronic acid between cells. Researchers found that when they suppressed the gene that produces HMM-HA, or increased the concentration of enzymes that break it down, the cells could then become cancerous.

HMM-HA appears to work by increasing the contact inhibition of cells;  an anti-cancer mechanism that prevents cells from growing too close to each other, so preventing overcrowding, and the formation of tumours. This extraordinary ability seems to be a happy by-product of the naked mole rat’s unique appearance; it is believed that the larger hyaluronic acid molecules give the rodent’s skin the elasticity that is necessary for its life in small burrows underground. For this reason, hyaluronic acid is already in use in anti-wrinkle creams, and due to its properties as a cell lubricant, injections of it are a common treatment for arthritis.

This gives hope for its future as a cancer treatment, as unlike many possible cancer cures, it appears to be well tolerated by the body.

Not bad for a peculiar subterranean rodent.

Katerina Hutton
Dame Alice Owen’s School

“I’m in year 12, studying biology, chemistry, physics and maths. I’m particularly interested in the mechanisms of the human body and degenerative diseases, and plan on studying medicine at university.”

Intellectual Property and the Knowledge Economy

I work as a Senior Patent Attorney at a leading semiconductor design company.  Previously I worked as a Patent Attorney in a UK Patent and Trademark Attorney firm, and before this I spent some time working as a Railway Engineer.  I studied at the University of Oxford achieving a Masters in Engineering Science and am also delighted to have been named as an ‘inventor‘ myself on a patent application.  Patents are fascinating but this area of professional expertise is not well known so I’ll explain further.

Britain continues to grow into a knowledge economy where ideas are often developed and commercialised in the UK but manufactured abroad.  In order for businesses to protect their investments and products whilst maintaining their commercial edge; intellectual property (IP) rights are used.    From patents protecting new pharmaceutical drugs and electronics; trademarks and registered designs protecting new fashion ranges to trade secrets and confidential information protecting the latest Formula 1 cars.   IP is protecting innovation developed by companies in the UK every day.  Although all the types of intellectual property may be used to protect innovations in STEM areas, patents are often particularly valuable to companies.

The first patent laws were created in the sixteenth century to try to encourage inventors and businesses to share their knowledge and discoveries publicly.

Prior to governments issuing patents, most business knowledge was controlled by powerful Guilds and only available to their members.  This resulted in developments being constrained by the limited information available.  The hope was that the monopoly right patents provided, would encourage inventors to publish how to perform the invention.  This in turn would enable others to build on the information provided within the patent and result in furthering scientific progress.

The monopoly right provided by a patent lasts for up to 20 years and enables the patent owner to prevent others from working the invention and so recoup the investment costs required to devise the invention.  One method of doing this is to use the patent to protect the market in which the patent owner is selling goods by preventing competitors from doing the same thing.  A good example of a market where this is still a key use of patents is in pharmaceuticals where a company may use its patent to prevent any generic versions of a drug from being made available.

This approach is particularly suited to areas where any one product is only covered by one patent.  However, in some technical areas, for example telecommunications, there may be thousands of patents which could cover a single product.  In these areas competitors tend to implicitly accept that they all infringe each other’s patents and so have agreements not to sue one another or more explicitly agree to cross-licence each other’s portfolios.

The recent smart phone patent wars were caused by a new entrant to the telecommunications market disrupting these agreements.

They also showed businesses that their patent portfolios could be treated as tangible assets. This has led to a rise in so called Patent Assertion Entities (PAEs) who buy patent portfolios from struggling or bankrupt companies and then assert them against companies who are manufacturing or selling products in the hope of extracting licence fees and royalties.

Whether it is to protect investment or develop new products and markets, Patents provide a vital tool to enable UK businesses to prosper, facilitating both the sharing and safeguarding of knowledge in a global economy.

Adeline-Fleur Smith
Senior Patent Attorney at ARM

 

 

Science at Cambridge: Stuff matters – understanding how materials behave

When I came to Cambridge I thought I’d end up in Physics, but I’m currently in my third year doing Materials Science! I’d barely even heard of materials science before I did Natural Sciences – the closest I’d come to it was the book Stuff Matters by Mark Miodownik, but it was interesting enough that I would choose materials science as one of my options in first year. Quite literally speaking, it made me notice the things around me, and I wanted to know more.

Essentially, materials science is about how different materials behave, both on a macroscopic level (like how beams bend) and on a microstructural level (like how metals are basically made up of tiny grains), and how these macroscopic properties emerge from different kinds of microstructure (which are also often different for different materials). Add in electrical properties, magnetic properties, manufacturing processes, the effect of temperature, corrosion, mechanical stresses and much more, and the result is an interdisciplinary subject that combines physics, chemistry and engineering to explain matter and use stuff well. There’s enough theory in materials science to keep the physicist in me relatively satisfied, and there’s enough practical applications that the everyday relevance more than makes up for any fulfilment deeper theoretical intricacy would otherwise bring.

One of the best things about studying materials science is being able to see the way scientific concepts fit together and are used in items that we take for granted every day.

In second year, I had the chance to take apart a kettle and use equipment in the lab to identify which materials were used, how they were made, and why they were chosen, and all of this using methods that we’d been taught in our practicals and lectures. It was challenging, fun and gratifying to basically pick something apart and figure out how and why it worked.

More recently, I’ve enjoyed working on a literature review, in which we get to pick a topic and have several weeks to read up on the area and summarise and evaluate it. I was reading many papers on the many ways people are attempting to induce magnetism in graphene, and although this started off as quite intimidating, by the end of it I’d learnt so much that I’d begun to get excited about the possibilities if graphene could be used in this way – including significant applications for spintronics (where a particle’s intrinsic spin is used to store and manipulate data, instead of its charge, as in conventional electronics), which would allow massive improvements in current data manipulation capabilities.

Studying materials science – especially in Cambridge – has been such an enriching experience, partly because it’s so interdisciplinary and partly because it allows a much deeper appreciation of the way the world physically works.

I have definitely enjoyed myself for the past three years, and would recommend it for any curious mind!

Danielle Ho En Huei
Undergraduate Student

Career Path: Science publishing – Meet the editor

What area of science are you working in?

I am the chief editor of Nature Reviews Materials – a journal published by Springer Nature. We launched in January 2016 and, as the first journal in the physical sciences within the Nature Reviews family, this was an exciting challenge. As its name suggests, we feature articles covering all topics of materials science — from condensed matter physics to spider silk, and from porous materials to materials for batteries.

I have been an editor for the past 13 years and for most of this time I have worked on the editorial team of a primary research journal.

Studying Natural Sciences at Murray Edwards, specialising in Chemistry in the latter years, gave me an excellent broad base that I find very useful even 20 years on.

I also engage with scientists – mostly in academia – and the fact that I spent time doing my own research, during my PhD years at the University of Durham, enables me to have some empathy with the highs and lows of scientific research.

What appeals to you about the work that you do?

As an editor on a primary research journal, you really feel like you’re at the coal face of research.  On a daily basis, you see a range of articles submitted to the journal and in amongst these could be a real gem. This is very exciting, especially because you never know when it’s going to happen.  Then, overseeing the peer-review process can be challenging and fascinating.

As an editor, it is your responsibility to select manuscripts for publication – using your own knowledge and with the help of the peer-review process.

By selecting what we publish, we become a venue for scientists to go to if they want to read some of the most impactful research in their areas.

I really enjoy being able to improve the written quality of the articles we publish. There is little teaching given to students and young academics on how to write a scientific article and most academics are grateful for the guidance we give them during the editing process. I find this part of the job very satisfying and enjoy helping them communicate their ideas in a clearer way.

How does what you do contribute to what we know or what we do?

As a Reviews journal, we offer a place for world-leading academics to give their opinions on the fields that they are specialists in. This can pose questions to their community that need to be addressed and on occasions act like a ‘call to action’ for the course of a field to be re-thought.

Where do you see the exciting challenges ahead?

In science publishing, the challenge is to move with the digital age and ensure that, as the readership moves to a generation more accustomed to social media outlets, that the content is easily reachable in this form.  Thinking more widely, the challenges for our community are those associated with funding. For researchers at universities in the UK – particularly Cambridge – the competition is probably higher than it’s ever been and this requires them to acknowledge this and raise their standards. The challenge to the researchers is to choose the right problems to work on, collaborate, and work hard to produce results and to communicate their results to the best of their abilities.

Why would you encourage young women today to consider choosing sciences?

For me personally, as an editor, I have found a role that enables me to use my science background and work in an environment with engaging colleagues. The role also has an aspect of it which requires you to work by yourself – for example, during the edit of an article and I can work away from the office while I complete these tasks.  As a result, I can manage my time to work around my family and I have had 3 children during my time with my current employer.

And finally, I have been lucky enough to witness the most prestigious award in science when my father, Fraser Stoddart, won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in October 2016.  The trip to Stockholm, meeting Barack Obama at the White House and a subsequent trip to China, have been huge highlights in recent months.  During this time, I met many inspiring men and women, who are truly committed to advancing science and enabling breakthroughs to happen and be acknowledged.

The possibilities are endless, if you wish to become a scientist.

Dr Alison Stoddart
Alumna

School Winner: A Spiny Solution to Cleaning Our Oceans

Optunia Microdasys (‘Bunny ears’ cactus)

There has been increased demand for new methods of separating oil and water mixtures both from environmental protection organisations in aiding oil spill clean-ups and from the oil industry in order to improve oil recovery. An increase in oil trading has been seen since the mid-1980s and the ITOPF (International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation) reported that approximately 6,000 tonnes of oil was spilt in 2016 from tankers.

Now, we know that if an oil-water mixture is left undisturbed for an amount of time, it will separate by itself and form separate oil and water layers. However in a practical application, like an oil spill, there are in fact many micron sized oil droplets present in the water that must be separated out; a task current methods of oil separation (primarily through the use of membranes that allow water, but not oil to pass through) struggle with. An example is in homogenised milk where tiny fat droplets stay suspended in the milk, proving almost impossible to separate out. Despite this, it seems that a team of Chinese scientists have indeed found a novel solution: with the help of some spiny friends.

These scientists noted that certain species of cacti called Optunia microdasys (commonly referred to as a ‘bunny ears’ cactus) perform a task known as fog harvesting, where they extract tiny, micron-sized water droplets from the surrounding dessert air. These droplets are very similar to micron-sized oil droplets in found in water after an oil spill, allowing the scientists to move this system underwater.

Arrays of smooth (e) and rough (f) synthetic spines

They employed arrays of many half-millimetre long conical needles, made from oil-loving materials such as copper, that capture the miniscule droplets of oil. The interaction between the conical shape of the needle and the surface tension of the water droplet then allow it to be carried to the base of the spine. Once many oil droplets have been collected a large droplet is formed, which the scientists could easily pump out. Their tests showed that these synthesised ‘cactus skins’ could separate up to 99% of  the oil from water and next will require scaling up and testing in field situations.

Fusion of the natural world and science like this is in no way a new idea – it is in fact called Biomimicry.

Biomimicry is a simple idea: emulating and applying nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies in novel ways to seek sustainable solutions to human challenges. It is a whole new way of seeing the natural world around us and who knows where the next solution may come from.

From dolphins to mosquitos, the natural world has already provided inspiration for not only ingenious solutions like the development of tsunami early warning systems that save lives, but in everyday items too. For example Velcro copies sticky plant burrs that get attached to animal fur, and flippers that allow divers to glide through the water mimic the webbed feet and fins of aquatic animals. Mosquitos have inspired ‘nicer’ needles and termites have told us how to build sustainable buildings. With applications in practically every area, from energy to architecture, biomimicry is a growing field and who knows? – the next great scientific breakthrough may lie in your own backyard!

Jasmine Foister
Year 12

“Hi, my name is Jasmine and I am currently in Y12 studying Biology, Chemistry and Maths. At the moment I have about 14 cacti and am quickly running out of space on my windowsill. I also enjoy art and you can often find me crafting clay llamas, crocheting kittens or throwing paint at something.”

References:

http://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms3276

Cactus-inspired material cleans oily water – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-23574410

http://indigenouswater.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/fog-collection-system-cactus.html

https://biomimicry.org/

http://www.itopf.com/knowledge-resources/data-statistics/statistics/

Science Issue: The Mathematics in Our Lives

It has been more than 20 years since I set foot in Murray Edwards, excited to have made it to Cambridge. I had chosen to study Maths, the subject that I most loved at school. Soon after I found out that university Maths was quite different to school Maths – more abstract and going at a faster pace – but it was still the right degree for me. Mathematics is a world of symmetry and structure I can immerse myself in, a language allowing me to understand the world in ways I would not have imagined.

After my BA in Cambridge, and driven by my desire to apply Maths to real life situations, I pursued an MSc in Mathematical Modelling and Scientific Computing at the University of Oxford and subsequently a DPhil there. My DPhil research was about the mathematical modelling of sonic booms, the loud bangs created when the aeroplane breaks the sound barrier and flies faster than sound. Understanding them leads to strategies for minimizing annoyance from them in inhabited areas and it requires advanced knowledge of Maths, Physics and Engineering.

I am still fascinated by sonic booms and I have recently created this TED Ed animation to share my fascination with the world – it has been watched more than one million times by now.

I have also given several popularized talks on sonic booms and other applications of maths in the last decade and two years ago, with a team of many young scientists, we co-founded the Mediterranean Science Festival to share science and maths with the world in interactive and entertaining ways.

After my PhD, I worked at the Centre for Mathematical Medicine in Nottingham, on the mathematical modelling of cancer therapies, such as magnetic hyperthermia where a tumour can be burnt by using an external magnet to raise its temperature. Cancer modelling is an important area of mathematical biology which in the last decade has led to many clinical breakthroughs in the fight of cancer.

Leaving the UK, and curious about the corporate world, I worked for some time at the Boston Consulting Group (management consulting firm) in Greece. BCG advises client companies at the CEO-level and hires a diverse range of people. However, all consultants have in common an inquisitive, curious mind, and strong analytical thinking, just like scientific training provides.

Returning to Cyprus in 2010 I joined the university world again. I teach, which I really enjoy, and have also resumed my research on applied Maths. In my main current research project, in collaboration with the Cambridge Engineering Department, we employ stochastic (probabilistic) mathematical methodologies to quantify the important role that uncertainty plays in the way our cells operate and sustain life.

Moreover, in December 2016 I led the organization of the 1st Study Group with Industry in Cyprus. In this weeklong workshop, the 125th in the European series, 50 expert mathematical modellers from 17 different countries worked intensively in teams on tackling four Cypriot industry challenges. From identifying the appropriate algorithm that automatically generates instructions for constructing a lego-like toy, to predicting the spreading of pollutants in an aquifer supplying drinking water, to optimising urban bus routes, these diverse challenges called for a multitude of mathematical methodologies which the teams of modellers enthusiastically pursued, producing very useful results.

Maths has enabled me to work on exciting, diverse real-life problems and has taken me to a path I would not have imagined. I wholeheartedly recommend studying Maths to anyone thinking of it – the possibilities are endless!

Katerina Kaouri
Alumna

Career Path: Benefiting Society Through Chemical Manufacturing

My educational background gave me a passion for applied science and engineering, and a summer vacation job in the chemical industry gave me an appreciation for the wide variety of opportunities available in manufacturing. I studied Chemical Engineering (at the University of Cambridge) and later in my career I undertook an MBA at Leeds University Management School.

Today, I work for a UK-based medium sized chemical manufacturing organisation which employs just over 200 people. I am responsible for the company’s Commercial activities – my job has many elements including strategic planning, marketing, stakeholder engagement and PR , business development, client management, project management and of course management of people as individuals and as teams.  A significant part of my role, together with my senior management team colleagues, is to provide leadership and direction to enable us to grow our business.

At Briar we work in partnership with our customers to manufacture products that benefit society.

For example, we synthesise molecules that help farmers to maintain a healthy crop, often in highly challenging climates, and veterinary products that prevent disease in cattle and sheep.

From our factory in Norwich we export products to every continent across the globe, and with most of our customers being large multi-national organisations, it means that inevitably I need to travel quite extensively. Business travel is not glamorous and is certainly not for everyone; it does involve a lot of long hours, being away from home, getting stuck in airports and you need to possess a large reserve of stamina and resourcefulness! However, it does suit me and I have been privileged to meet many fascinating people over the years and have learned a great deal about cultural awareness and trust in building long-standing relationships. The role is facilitated by my high energy levels, and satisfies my natural propensity for curiosity, plus my instincts for making connections between people to develop business opportunities, and therefore I find it highly stimulating.

It combines Science and Engineering with creativity.

At the time of writing this piece I am on day 3 of a 4 day shoot to produce a corporate video! I also enjoy the variety and the challenges presented by constant changes (such as BREXIT) in the global business environment – a business’ ability to adapt and evolve is critical, and the people with it. It’s a demanding  business world but none the less, it’s highly rewarding.

Susan Brench
Alumna

Head of Commercial, Briar Chemicals Ltd.

Science at Cambridge: Blurring the boundaries – Psychological and Behavioural Sciences

Inever really classed myself as a scientist; after all, I was arty, a writer, a people person and more into ‘why’ than ‘how’. Art and English literature were ‘my thing’, and quite honestly still are.  At school, Biology interested me – but only the stuff on things like the brain or hormones, so when I found psychology I felt as though I had hit the jackpot. Now, with my time at Cambridge nearly up, I can conclude that studying Psychological and Behavioural Sciences (PBS) has wonderfully blurred the boundaries between the arts and sciences, giving me the freedom to pursue whatever has taken my fancy.

Over the years, I have taken Natsci (Natural Sciences) papers, Sociology papers and Bio-Anth papers, learning about things from the lifecycle of an Angiosperm, to visual phototransduction and families created through assisted reproduction. It has been a learning curve, and at times I have wondered if I was in the right lectures. As this degree is still relatively new, it has been very open to feedback on what works and what doesn’t, and I feel that the students have been actively involved in shaping the content and structure of the course. It feels as though we have a voice beyond our essays, which was a welcome surprise coming to Cambridge.

Autism has always been the area of psychology that has interested me the most, and this year I have chosen to focus on it for my dissertation.

As well as analysing the data and drawing conclusions, I am also involved in the actual collection, conducting tests on language skills and motor ability with low-functioning, non-verbal children with autism. It is a big commitment, and requires a lot of effort and attention, but is  very hands on and I love the applied nature of this final year – I can put what I’ve learned in textbooks into the real world, and the idea that I am actively making a difference, no matter how small, is amazing.

I am graduating in 3 months, and have no firm plans – I may study Clinical Mental Health Sciences at UCL, I may have a year out travelling or get a job on the Isle of Wight. At first this worried me, but I feel as though my degree has not only equipped me with a huge and wide depth of knowledge but given me a new perspective on how I go about my daily life. I often catch glimpses of babies as evolutionarily designed information absorbers, London tube journeys as social experiments or my friends as bizarre machines at the mercy of their brains.

It’s been transformative, and now, I am confident in saying I am a scientist.

What you should expect for PBS:

-You can’t escape statistics no matter how hard you try.

-You will hear about Phineas Gage and attachment at least once a week.

-The degree doesn’t teach you how to read minds.

-Never mention Freud in an essay without saying he’s wrong.

-You’ll learn great chat up lines (Roses are red, Violets are blue. If you were a null Hypothesis, I would fail to reject you).

-…And even better jokes (Who is the most emotional woman in the world? Amy G. Dala).

– Even the best and brightest often can’t spell ‘Pycholology’.

Meg Fairclough
Undergraduate student

Science issue: They just keep moving the line

Flow chemistry equipment

One of the things that is challenging about scientific research is that the problems needing to be solved are constantly evolving. Solutions which were previously considered to be adequate may become inadequate due to changing priorities, meaning that they need to be readdressed.

One such issue which I have become interested in is making peptides.

Peptides are long chains made by joining amino acids residues by amide bonds. Peptides, and proteins (which is the name used for long peptides) are vital components of many of the processes of life, and in recent years there has been ever increasing interest in the use of peptides as potential for treatments for a wide range of diseases.

In 1984 R. B. Merrifield was awarded the Nobel Prize for his excellent work developing a technique to make peptides known as “Solid Phase Peptide Synthesis” or SPPS. The discovery of SPPS revolutionized peptide synthesis, enabling scientists to routinely make increasingly complex peptides, and is to this day the most commonly used method for peptide synthesis. However, SPPS requires large excesses of both the amino acids you are joining together and the chemicals used to form the linkage. As the earth’s resources become increasingly depleted this waste becomes less and less acceptable, meaning that new ways to make peptides must be developed. In order to do this, we as scientists need to be as creative and innovative as possible to come up with new solutions for old problems. One potential solution to the challenge of peptide synthesis is the emerging field of flow chemistry. In flow chemistry, machines are assembled which use pumps to pump streams of reagents through thin tubing. By doing things like meeting two streams containing different reagents together, heating or shining light on the tubing, or flowing the reaction stream through a bed of solid reagents we can effect reactions with very fine control, which has been shown to be very beneficial.

My initial work in this area focused on making a type of naturally occurring molecules known as cyclooligomeric depsipeptides.

The cyclooligomeric depsipeptides synthesized with the dipeptidol monomer units highlighted.

These molecules have repeating dipeptidol units derived from amino acids which are cyclized around to form a ring and have been seen to have interesting bioactivity. By using flow chemistry we able to make these molecules with significantly less effort, as one set up of the machines could be used to make all the amide bonds in the molecule with only minor revision to form the final ring closures. Additionally, we were able to significantly improve the yields for these reactions when compared to previous syntheses. As well as making three natural products (beauvericin, bassinolide and enniatin C) we were able to make three related compounds which have never been made before. This family of molecules can now be tested to see if they have any interesting bioactivity.

There is a way to go until we will know if flow chemistry can augment or even replace the current methods for commercial peptide synthesis, but this work definitely supports the idea that readdressing problems from the past can lead to improvements for our future.

Dr Zoe E. Wilson
Academic Fellow in Organic Chemistry

To read more about our synthesis of the cyclooligomeric depsipeptides see: Daniel Lücke, Toryn Dalton, Steven V. Ley and Zoe E. Wilson*, “Synthesis of natural and unnatural cyclooligomeric depsipeptides enabled by flow chemistry”, Chem. Eur. J., 2016, 22 (12), 4206 – 4217. DOI: 10.1002/chem.201504457

“I recently presented my research at the ACS Fall Meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. For this I recorded a 3 minute summary talk with the ASC Scientific video lab where I discuss this research in more detail.”

Take a look:

[wpvideo cosEMUxD]