Deciding to study chemistry thanks to his fantastic and inspiring chemistry teacher, Londa Larson, at his junior college in California, Louis Adriaenssens’ interest in synthetic chemistry only grew during his PhD at the University of Glasgow.
“Moving to Glasgow from California was a bit of a culture shock, but I really enjoyed the chemistry, especially during my last year when I was able to put the first two years of training to use,” says Louis. “Richard Hartley – my supervisor there – was great, he was really encouraging and I learned so much from him.”
Knowing he could further his PhD research into synthetic chemistry by following an academic pathway, Louis went to work with a friend in the Czech Republic, where he began the first of his three postdocs.
“I thought that going into academia would give me more freedom to study what I wanted. So after my first postdoc, I decided to do another in France and then another in Spain, before starting to apply for more permanent roles in Europe.”
Struggling to find the right academic position for him, Louis decided to take up his first role in industry at Econic Technologies, a spin-off company based at Imperial College London.
Econic Technologies was created by Charlotte Williams, who is a world-leading polymer chemist, and I enjoyed working for her so much. Econic introduced me to polymer chemistry and showed me how fascinating that field is. It was with thanks to the wonderful environment there that I felt re-energised to go for jobs in academia again, and so I applied for a post at the University of Lincoln.
The University of Lincoln was at the time setting up a new chemistry department, and so Louis’ job was to help start up the courses, doing everything from establishing the course content to building the research, training and admin infrastructure necessary for the department to run.
“It was great fun and everything I strived to be in academia for. After two or three years of setting the department up, we were ready for research to happen, some of that inspired by the work on polymers I had been doing at Econic previously.
“I am glad that I went back to academia. I find that I have more freedom to choose the directions I want to go in as I don’t have to describe any project as being purely profitable. I can choose to work on something fundamental that may have promise in the future, but we do not know it yet. I really enjoy fundamental research and dedicating myself to that.”
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At the University of Lincoln, Louis has a research group consisting of both undergraduate and PhD students. They have received a research grant from the Royal Society of Chemistry that enabled them to purchase equipment and chemicals that laid the foundations for their research, which is split into two areas: polymers and supramolecular chemistry. On the polymer side, Louis and his research group are creating new polyurethanes by modifying the base carbamate linage structure.
“In our case, we do that by building an understanding of how a catalyst works with the different comonomers that you throw at it. Thanks to a collaboration with Liam Ball and his group at the University of Nottingham, we’ve been able to develop some mechanistic understanding of how these polymers are actually formed. With this rare insight, we can modify comonomers and conditions to create fundamentally different polyurethanes with structures that allow a type of functionalisation which can potentially move polyurethanes from their established structural roles to more high-tech applications.
“Building on this chemistry, we’ve also created an original class of polymer, the polyallophanates, where we modified polymerisation conditions to alter the way the catalyst puts the comonomers together.
“Within our supramolecular chemistry research, we’re creating materials based on ferrocene scaffolds. Ferrocenes are synthetically tractable – you can modify their structure using established chemistry and purify them using standard techniques, which is not always possible for organometallic compounds. This allows us to adjust the structure of a ferrocene molecule to give it interesting supramolecular behaviours. At the moment, we’re primarily looking towards directed self-assembly of these ferrocenes as a route to materials for applications in molecular electronics.
Some of our research on polymers has been published, which is amazing. It’s what I wanted all those years ago when I decided to pursue academia, and it would have been totally impossible without the funding support from the RSC. Everyone who worked on the project is incredibly proud and it was a wonderful moment for my group.
“I attended a number of conferences that were heavily funded by the RSC where I saw the support that they were giving to people. It wasn’t just research support, but support to put on events to champion specific sections of chemistry. I noticed that they weren’t just having a conversation with a few people about how to champion their research, field or chemistry generally, but they were also putting money behind it, which is very important.
“So I joined, and since then they’ve helped me to put on events and fund research. I certainly get a lot out of it!”.
When Louis first became a member, he joined the Macrocyclic and Supramolecular Chemistry Group and Directed Assembly Network.
Louis has found the RSC’s events extremely useful in helping him to promote the University of Lincoln’s new chemistry department. He has also used the RSC’s equipment for outreach, showcasing to schools what Lincoln can offer them.
“In our first year when nobody really knew about us, it was a challenge to get students in. But then in the second year and on the back of some outreach work, it was much easier, and our intake has increased pretty dramatically year on year. I think a lot of that is thanks to the RSC’s Spectroscopy in a Suitcase, which is really popular. It enables us to give students an authentic image of what chemistry really is. From a university point of view, it shows students that we can do more than just impart concepts and theory, and that we can give them that essential practical experience too.”
Using funding to hold conferences, Louis has also been able to attract more people to his university’s chemistry courses.
Membership can help you meet others and see the opportunities that are out there. But there is nothing better than the comprehensive research support that the RSC offers. It’s not just advice or a helpful point in the right direction, but the actual nitty-gritty finances in addition to all the other stuff you need to make your research actually happen.
“So far we’ve run two one-day symposia at Lincoln. The Symposium of Organic and Biomolecular Chemistry was very generously funded, and we were able to pay for the travel of every single attendee. The funding ensured we had a great audience, which was brilliant because it was the first real symposium we led and it enabled us to let people know Lincoln is on the map and has ambitions to be a research-based player. It really worked so well – we were able to get truly excellent speakers from young to established.
“The events, conferences and special interest groups are so important as they enable you to meet others in your field. It’s crucially important to meet people locally to develop collaborations, especially when you are just starting out.
“I’ve had a really positive experience with the RSC, and they are great in helping you to organise your research. I’ve had meetings with RSC representatives which have been very helpful and they have given me the advice to build my academic career more sensibly."