All RSC group leaders will offer Honours projects in 2021. Below you will find a selection of the Honours research projects and reseach areas available in 2021. If you are interested in any of the projects below or would like information on the other projects offered in the RSC please contact the RSC Teaching Administrator.
Inhibitors of the SARS-CoV-2 main protease
The unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic is threatening global health. It is unclear if and when a vaccine will become available. This project aims to advance the development of specific antiviral drugs targeting SARS-CoV-2 infections. The replication cycle of SARS-CoV-2 in the human host cell has an Achilles heel, the coronavirus main protease. Proteases are key enzymes of replication for many viruses and considered promising drug targets. Inhibiting their function stalls the production of other viral proteins in the cells and thus prevents the virus from replicating. In the past, this strategy has led to approved drugs against chronic viral infectious diseases such as HIV or hepatitis C, where protease inhibitors are important therapeutics. We have established a coronavirus main protease inhibition assay in our laboratory, allowing us to identify new drug candidates. We had previous success with inhibitors targeting similar enzymes of Zika, dengue and other viruses and leverage this expertise to explore new lead compounds targeting the SARS-CoV-2 main protease.
Research in the Hicks group primarily focuses around the idea of using non-toxic, earth abundant metals in modern day organometallic chemistry. Many industrial and pharmaceutical processes still rely on the expensive, toxic and rare noble metal catalysts to perform aspects of their synthesis, whilst others use extremely energy intensive reaction conditions due to low activity catalysts. Our research aims to replace these with efficient earth-abundant equivalents.
Using highly reactive aluminium, calcium and magnesium complexes, we have started to replicate chemical processes that are typically associated with the noble transition metal catalysts. These processes include C–H activation, C–C coupling and small molecule activation (e.g. CO, CO2, N2). In the Hicks group, we are pushing the boundaries with these underrated main group metals to develop methods for more sustainable chemical synthesis for the future.
Our group is interested in supramolecular chemistry, which investigates the use of non-covalent interactions to prepare larger molecular architectures.
One of the systems we work on are hydrogen bonded organic frameworks (HOFs), which are a class of crystalline, porous three-dimensional materials, assembled through hydrogen bonding. We have developed a route to a family of hydrogen bonded materials that are stable even in boiling water. Due to their high stability and easy preparation, these materials can be used for a range of applications, including stabilizing enzymes and other biomolecules. This project could incorporate several different aspects in this area, but all are likely to include a mix of organic synthesis, host-guest binding studies, crystal growth and X-ray crystallography. Two possible options are:
- Developing new frameworks for novel properties. This would involve developing new recognition motifs to assemble H-bonded frameworks, and using different interactions such as halogen bonding and chalcogen bonding to prepare frameworks.
- Interfacing frameworks with enzymes. We have shown that one of our frameworks is able to encapsulate enzymes and protect them from "nasty" environments (e.g. heat, acid). This project would expand upon this and investigate preparing a family of materials, investigating the catalytic properties of the enzyme/framework composites and trying to tune the frameworks to allow controlled release of the enzyme.
Aiming For The Perfect Chemical Synthesis
Important organic molecules such as medicines are traditionally made in a cumbersome way. Chemists either build them from scratch or take a related molecule and renovate it. It is always a lengthy process, with unwanted structural features being ripped out and replaced, which is wasteful and inefficient. The ideal chemical synthesis involves a single step process that converts simple and inexpensive building blocks into complex and valuable products, in an environmentally benign manner. To devise better ways to make complex molecules, we are inventing powerful domino reactions, which are spectacular ways to create complex molecules in the quickest possible way.
We used our new method to make pseudopterosin, a powerful anti-inflammatory and analgesic drug, which is currently only available in tiny quantities extracted from fan coral found in the Bahamas. While it is the most efficient synthesis so far, it is not perfect, so we’re looking to devise even more powerful domino reactions for the next generation of chemical syntheses.
Catalysing and controlling reactions with electric fields
Recently we have shown that static electric fields are capable of catalysing a range of chemical reactions. However, one of the challenges in implementing this new type of catalysis is delivering and orienting the electric field in bulk chemical systems. To date we have shown charged functional groups can achieve this but the practical use of external electric fields remains somewhat limited to niche applications in surface chemistry.
To address this problem, we have been exploring methods for using electric fields and other phenomena such as bubbles to induce internal electric fields in solvents that can in turn catalyse reactions. We have recently established proof of concept and now plan to develop this approach for a range ground and excited state reactions, ranging from CO2 fixation to organic transformations.