Molecular Magnetism Group
Winner: 2021 Dalton Division Horizon Prize
For contributions to molecular magnetism, including high temperature single molecule magnets, applications of EPR spectroscopy to actinide chemistry and the use of heterometallic rings as building blocks in supramolecular chemistry.
Celebrate Molecular Magnetism Group
A multinational team of synthetic, spectroscopic, magnetism,and computational researchers all working to a unified goal: generating and understanding ground-breaking paramagnetic molecules with novel potential applications.Read more
Paramagnetic molecules contain unpaired electrons, and these electrons can be manipulated to either store information, be used in quantum information processing or studied to probe chemical bonding.
The team has consistently developed new paramagnetic molecules to better control the unpaired electrons, in order to move from serendipitous discoveries to designed and better understood properties. This has the potential to deliver new molecular properties that could translate to smaller data storage devices, able to store far more data than current physical limits. This discovery could also enable quantum computers that can perform calculations far quicker than conventional computers, and help us better deal with the UK’s nuclear legacy by extracting or recycling nuclear waste. This basic science therefore has the potential to deliver societally beneficial applications in the future.
The teamSee full team
Ana-Maria Ariciu, EPR spectroscopy/PhD student, The University of Manchester
Deepak Asthana, Synthesis/ Post-doctoral researcher, The University of Manchester
Michael Baker, X-ray spectroscopies/Lecturer, The University of Manchester
Reece Beekmeyer, Electronic structure calculations/ PhD student, University College London
Alice Bowen, EPR spectroscopy/ Dorothy Hodgkin Fellow and Lecturer, The University of Manchester
Adam Brookfield, EPR spectroscopy/ experimental officer, The University of Manchester
Neil Burton, Molecular dynamics calculations/ Reader, The University of Manchester
Nicholas Chilton, Computation/ Royal Society University Research Fellow and Senior Lecturer, The University of Manchester
David Collison, EPR Spectroscopy/ Professor, The University of Manchester
Antonio Fernandez, Synthesis/ Post-doctoral researcher, The University of Manchester
Jesus Ferrando-Soria, Synthesis and measurements/ Post-doctoral researcher, The University of Manchester
Alasdair Formanuik, Synthesis/ PhD student, The University of Manchester
Jonathan Fowler, Synthesis/ Post-doctoral researcher, The University of Manchester
Conrad Goodwin, Synthesis/ PhD student, The University of Manchester
Andrew Kerridge, Electronic structure calculations/ Lecturer, Lancaster University
Steve Liddle, Synthesis/Professor and Head of Inorganic Chemistry, The University of Manchester
Selena Lockyer, Synthesis and measurement/ Post-doctoral researcher, The University of Manchester
Eric McInnes, EPR spectroscopy/ Professor, The University of Manchester
David Mills, Synthesis/ Reader, The University of Manchester
Chris Muryn, Measurements/ Principle Experimental Officer, The University of Manchester
Selina Nawaz, Molecular dynamics simulations/ Post-doctoral researcher, The University of Manchester
Fabrizio Ortu, Synthesis/ Post-doctoral researcher, The University of Manchester
Daniel Reta, Electronic structure calculations/ Post-doctoral researcher, The University of Manchester
Grigore Timco, Synthesis/ Senior research fellow, The University of Manchester
Floriana Tuna, EPR spectroscopy/ Senior research fellow, The University of Manchester
Inigo Vitorica-Yrzebal, X-ray crystallography/ Experimental officer, The University of Manchester
George Whitehead, X-ray crystallography/ Experimental officer, The University of Manchester
Richard Winpenny, Synthesis and measurement/ Professor and EPSRC Established Career Fellow, The University of Manchester
Richard Winpenny, Professor and EPSRC Established Career Fellow, The University of Manchester
What different strengths did different people bring to the team?
What we do is interdisciplinary. It involves skills ranging from handling incredibly sensitive materials, through to being able to perform very high level calculations, supported by extremely difficult measurement. You need people who can do each of those – it would be unreasonable to expect one person to be able to cover all those bases. This is why I like the team award: it recognises how we work.
How do you see this work developing over the next few years / what is next for this technology?
That's a very good question, but I always find it a little difficult, because I try very hard not to follow the paths that everybody else follows. Everybody tells me that we're going to be putting these molecules on surfaces and using those as information storage devices. We still need to move up the temperature at which you can store information to be genuinely technologically applicable, but the change from five years ago is astonishing.
On information processing, we're looking at trying to use the entire quantum states of a system. Traditional information storage uses the electrons in a movement. But the advantage of a molecule is that you have electronic states and nuclear states, and you could potentially use all of them. And if you could work out a way of using all of them reliably, you would be able to perform quantum error corrections, and that begins to be competitive with the sort of thing that Google are already doing.
What does good research culture look like/mean to you?
One of the things I’ve often said is that the most important papers published for my research were not published by me. They were published by other people, and I could then reference them and show how important the work is and therefore push for UK activity in that area. You’re not competing with people elsewhere – we are all colleagues. You are working alongside others and you are trying basically to discover what you can. In the best research culture, the science comes before the egos of the people doing the science.
Selina Nawaz – Post Doctoral Research Associate, The University of Manchester
Why is chemistry important?
Chemistry is the fundamental characteristic to everything in nature. Many of the changes we observe around us are due to some kind of chemical reaction.
What advice would you give to a young person considering a career in chemistry?
A career in chemistry gives you an all rounded perspective of most industries and gives you the skills for the real world. It also changes the way to think and analyse things. So chemistry isn’t just about the periodic table and chemical reactions but changes your thought process and ways to solve problems.
What inspires or motivates your team?
I think our biggest inspiration is to share our expertise to illustrate the beauty of our diverse group in molecular chemistry.
Conrad A. P. Goodwin, J. Robert Oppenheimer Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellow
What were the biggest challenges in this project?
It was chemistry that had not been attempted with molecular systems like we were working with. We had no idea if it would work, and then it took optimization to conclusively characterize the identity of the compounds, this is where [Fabrizio] Ortu stepped in.
Initially we did not realize the material was temperature sensitive, and the first measurements were very disappointing, as was suspected they might end up being. A chance remark by [Nicholas] Chilton that the sample was “a lovely pink colour”, when it is actually bright yellow, lead us to revisit measurements. Once we began magnetic characterization properly, we didn’t initially believe the results we got – the previous record high-temperature molecular magnet functioned at 14 K, and we saw hysteresis loops at 2 K that simply did not make sense or have any precedence. It took a lot of data gathering to convince ourselves that we hadn’t made a mistake.
How are the chemical sciences making the world a better place?
Some of the largest problems facing society currently, from air pollution, climate change, even global pandemics, all require chemical science contributions to solve. There is incredible technology involved in the manufacture of tests for diseases and treatments/vaccinations – these have required feats of chemical engineering to reliably mass-produce fine chemicals/products that were simply ideas on a whiteboard a few years ago.
Solutions to climate change and air pollution require cleaner ways of producing the materials we need to make transitions away from fossil fuels – mining and processing rare earths, and their recycling, is a very intensive process. Research programmes in this area are already demonstrating recycling capabilities.
While not always visible in the headlines, chemical know-how often underpins larger headlines, such as figuring out how to reliably produce the next-generation polymer in an airplane frame, or in how to make renewable and degradable alternatives to current disposable plastics.
What advice would you give to a young person considering a career in chemistry?
Do it because you found something fascinating and your enthusiasm will carry you through the hard parts. I watched a demonstrator freeze a banana in liquid nitrogen and smash it with a hammer when I was 12 and that made me think about the physical sciences. I then got to do a lot of practical chemistry during high school and that made me want to learn and do practical chemistry. Finally, I find tremendous satisfaction in seeing the colours of metal compounds, and that led me to inorganic chemistry. Passion, excitement, inquisitiveness, and a helping of perseverance are the keys to chemistry and anyone can do it if they find the world around them interesting. Chemistry is everywhere.