Alumni Newsletters

Recent newsletters for alumni are archived on this page.

2014 Alumni Newsletter

Dear Alumni,

I'm writing to give you a brief update on life at Durham Chemistry over the last 12 months. The Department of Chemistry has had a busy year, and we have continued to work hard to increase our national and international reputation in both teaching and research.

December saw the National Research Excellence Framework results published. We were please to come 5th in the UK (on average grade points), and were ranked as the top department in the UK for “Research Impact”. 96% of our research was graded as world-leading or internationally excellent.

Out of our five “Research Impact” submissions, 3 scored 4* (the highest grade) in areas of: • super-repellent surfaces • the use of lanthanide complexes in analysis and diagnosis • elemental fluorine for fine chemical manufacture, reflecting some of the super research work that staff and students have achieved over the last few years. For those wanting to read some more, there is a nice link from the university web site, including a YouTube video made by one of our former PhD students.

We were also delighted this year to reach 2nd place in the recent Times University Guide Tables for UK Chemistry Departments. This has also been another year where we have received excellent NSS feedback, with our overall student satisfaction score moving up to 95%, so that we are now in the top 5 chemistry departments nationally in terms of overall student satisfaction. Our number of international students has increased for the third year in a row and now amounts to approximately 15% of our first year intake.

The start of a new term in October saw us welcome our first student from the new 2+2 MChem degree with Peking University in China, along with the first cohort of students for our new Centre for Doctoral Training in Soft Matter and Functional Interfaces (SOFI CDT), which we share with the universities of Leeds and Edinburgh.

October also saw new European postgraduate students arrive, funded by three new European International Training Networks (ITNs). FLUOR21, led by Graham Sandford and Steve Cobb, links seven leading institutes and four companies across Europe which are working in complementary fields of fluorine within the Life Sciences. The MICSED ITN is a research collaboration between Durham University and Procter and Gamble (P&G) led by John Evans, which aims to deliver the theoretical and experiments tools needed to enable sustainable innovations in Hygiene, Laundry and Personal Care products. The MOLESCO ITN, led by Martin Bryce, aims to tackle the major challenges surrounding the design and fabrication of future molecular electronics.

We had some very sad news this year in March with the death of Professor Ken Wade FRS (1932–2014). Ken joined the Durham Chemistry in 1961, was Head of Department from 1986 until 1989 and continued to be extremely active in Durham Chemistry after his formal retirement in 1997. He will be greatly missed by all of us. In December we organised a one-day Inorganic Chemistry Symposium in celebration of Ken's life and work, particularly in the formulation of ‘Wade’s rules’.

In memory of Ken, we have initiated the “Ken Wade PhD Thesis Prize”. Congratulations to Michael Smith for winning the inaugural prize for his thesis “Application of new Mass Spectrometric Technologies for the Structural Characterisation of Synthetic Polymers”. Michael was supervised by Jackie Mosely.

Some further congratulations this year go to AnnMarie O’Donoghue for winning the RSC Physical Organic Chemistry Group’s Josef Loschmidt Award for her contributions to understanding proton transfer in organocatalysis and in biological reaction mechanisms; and to Karl Coleman who was awarded the University’s prize for Knowledge Transfer for his work on graphene including establishing the successful spin-out company Applied Graphene Materials.

October saw Robert Pal take up a prestigious University Research Fellowship from the Royal Society. His research will focus on the Development and Chemical Application of Phase Modulation Nanoscopy. Earlier in the year Robert was involved in another national news story. Glide Pharmaceutical Technologies have announced that they have taken an exclusive world-wide licence to exploit the prostate cancer diagnosis technology developed by David Parker, Robert Pal and co-workers through their FScan spin-out company. This is a another great example of impact arising from research in Chemistry.

This year the Department received a Bronze Athena Swan award. Thanks are due to Sharon Cooper and her team for putting together the department's submission.

In addition to the ITNs and the £4.8 million SOFI grant from EPSRC, a couple of the (many) funding highlights include the EPSRC grants:

Moving the goal posts: PARASHIFT proton magnetic resonance imaging, £337k led by David Parker FRS. Realising the combined potential of solid-state NMR and structural databases, £357k, to Paul Hodgkinson and Judith Howard FRS.

Finally, September saw the launch of the Department's £1.1M state-of-the-art Integrated Chemical Reaction Facility (ICRF). The ICRF laboratory, led by Andy Whiting and Phil Dyer, is custom-designed to support academic and industrial researchers. It provides access to complex chemical process reactor systems and associated analytical instruments and facilities, enabling unique high pressure, high hazard, flow and parallel reactions to be undertaken in a controlled and safe environment.

With best wishes, Mark Wilson

2013 Alumni Newsletter

Dear Alumni

I'm writing to give you a brief update on life at Durham Chemistry over the last 12 months. It has, as always, been an extremely busy time in the Department, and we've had another extremely successful year.

Our undergraduate programme continues to thrive and this year we welcomed around 120 new chemists and 100 natural scientists to the Department. Our standard 'A' level offer is now A*AA, and it's fun to teach such a talented cohort. Last year's graduating class performed exceptionally well. On graduation day one of our 4th year class had his research (from a summer internship between Durham and the ILL in Grenoble) on the front cover of the ACS journal “Chemistry of Materials” - a great achievement for an undergraduate. We also awarded the top two 4th year prizes (academic achievement in examinations and the alumni thesis prize) to the same student – Bethany Harriss. We were delighted when Bethany went on to win the national SET award for being the best chemistry student in the country following a judging process and interview in London. Sophie Scott, who graduated from our BSc class, won the Durham “Rising Stars” research symposium poster prize for her presentation on “The Graphene Dream”.

I was also pleased that our National Student Survey (NSS) scores rose significantly this year. 97% of graduating students reported that their course was intellectually stimulating and 95% felt that staff were accessible and that there was good access to specialised equipment, IT and Library support.

The Department was also again ranked highly in the national league tables and in the Times/Sunday Times “Good University Guide” we moved into second place, overtaking Oxford.

We've also had a very successful year on the research side. Staff have continued to publish many high quality papers and we've been very successful in raising research funding. We've been able to invest around £2M in new analytical equipment and around £1.4M in refurbishing synthetic laboratories over the year. Perhaps the highlight of 2013 though was the recent announcement of a major EPSRC grant (£10M in total) to support a “Centre for Doctoral Training in Soft Matter” in collaboration with Leeds, Edinburgh and a number of industrial partners. The credit for coordinating the bid goes to Lian Hutchings. We've also raised significant EU funding (£1.5M) to help continue our successful strategic partnership with Procter and Gamble.

There have also been some great stories around the impact of our research outside academia over the last year. The top story here is Prof Karl Coleman's spin-out company 'Durham Graphene Science'. Durham Graphene Science floated on the AIM stock market in November (as Advanced Graphene Materials); first week share price rises valued the company at £77M. Well done to Karl!

There are a huge number of other things that have happened in the Department, which you can read about in detail on our web pages ( In (very brief) summary: Mark Miller arrived as a Senior Lecturer in physical chemistry; Prof David Phillips was awarded an honorary degree; we hosted Peter Seeberger as the 2013 Durham Lecturer; Andy Beeby and team undertook some exciting Raman investigations of Durham's ancient manuscript collection when the Lindisfarne Gospels returned home in the summer; Prof Mark Wilson won the Students' Union 2013 prize for “Science Lecturer of the Year”; Casey Lam won the NE Blueprint award for her “Top Hat Teacakes” business; Aaron Brown won the national Hampshire Trophy for glass blowing; one of our graduates was awarded the title of “France's most talented cheesemonger”; and the staff won the Lyn Williams trophy in the annual staff-student cricket match!

As always, there's more detail on the stories above on the Department's web pages ( and, for anyone interested in all the gory detail, there's an archive of Departmental newsletters over the past 5 years at (

Finally, I'm now approaching the end of my term as Head of Department. I've enjoyed the role immensely but five years is enough! I'm delighted that Prof Mark Wilson will be taking over next August, and wish him every success in the role. I know that the Department will be in safe hands and that he will do a superb job.

With best wishes.

Prof John S.O. Evans

2012 Alumni Newsletter

To all our alumni

I thought that you might be interested in a quick update from Durham Chemistry. 2012 has again been a busy and productive year in the Department and our undergraduate and research programmes continue to thrive.

It has been a year of considerable change in higher education as higher fees were introduced. Demand for places at Durham has remained high, and our normal A-level offer is now A*AA. It is wonderful that we are still attracting the most talented students in the country. The Department now has around 480 students in total across our different degree courses and has been in the top-three slot in the major UK league tables for the last three years. If you are interested in reading about the experiences of our current undergraduates, there are interviews with them on our webpages at: and There are also lots of highlights of their successes in the news section of our webpages (

We are continuing to place significant emphasis on student employability (we topped the league tables in 2011 and 2012) and in 2012 we were able to launch a range of new summer bursary schemes to give undergraduates a taste of working in a research group. We have been able to support one such scheme through a generous gift from Julian Tanner ( and another through income the Department earned by selling Professor Jas Pal Badyal’s spin-out company Surface Innovations to P2i. If you are interested in helping our current undergraduates improve their employability in any way, please do get in touch ( Julian has also helped to raise undergraduate and postgraduate spirits through supporting the installation of brand new kitchen facilities in the Musgrave room.

Many of you attended our 50th Birthday event in September 2011. Photos from the day (and other Departmental events) are now on our flickr website at: There are various sub-albums on the right-hand side of the page with pictures of the exhibition, demonstrations and opening of the Coates Laboratory. We would like to capture details of everybody in the pictures so please do post a comment or caption online (or send to

The Department has also had a very successful year in research. We have welcomed several new academics to the Department (Prof Ian Baxendale, Dr Sandra Engelskirchen and Dr Simon Beaumont), and their research interests are available on-line. We have also had significant successes in raising funding for our research and for the infrastructure that underpins research and teaching. One recent highlight was a £1.6 million award from the research councils and University to provide major upgrades to our NMR, crystallography, mass spectrometry and microscopy facilities.

One particular highlight in 2012 was the Department/University winning the Times Higher Education award for Innovation at a ceremony in London. The award was made for the commercialisation of Karl Coleman’s spin out company Durham Graphene Science. It recognised his efforts in creating the underpinning technology and the University’s support in the process of setting up the company. The full story is at: You won’t often see a chemist being cuddled by David Walliams on the University home page (!

I have tried to keep this letter brief by only highlighting a few of the many things that are going on in the Department. If you are interested in learning more, our monthly internal newsletters are all archived on the alumni wiki site at:

With best wishes,

John Evans

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