Nobel links past, present and future at Concept Life Sciences


Congratulations to Sir Fraser Stoddart and the other recent chemistry Nobel laureates for their research with molecular machines!

It is always good to get some recognition for a job well done and here at Concept Life Sciences one of our chemists can claim a close involvement with the work. Dr Richard Bissell, with a total of over 14 years service at Peakdale, was a post-doc in the Stoddart group back in the early 90’s, tasked with making the first example of a controllable molecular shuttle. The goal of the research could be easily summed up and understood by anyone who has ever played with an abacus, i.e. most kids! The idea was to make a molecular version of a binary abacus where the ‘bead’ could be moved at will between two positions on a ‘thread’. Stoddart’s previous post-doc, Neil Spencer, had developed a synthetic strategy for making molecular shuttles using Stoddart’s trademark ‘blue boxes’. Bissell’s contribution was to make a desymmetrised version where the position of the bead could be controlled by both chemical and electrical stimuli (as shown).

(Image from the University of Birmingham )
The key to success was choosing the right ‘stations’ in the thread, coloured orange and red in the diagram. The quest for a world first took Bissell from Stoddart’s lab in Birmingham, to Miami to work in the lab of electrochemist and Stoddart collaborator, Angel Kaifer. All the pieces came together in the tropical heat and the first example of a controllable molecular shuttle was made and demonstrated. The trans-Atlantic team published (Nature369, 133-137,1994) and the paper remains one of the most cited works in the field of molecular machines. Bissell recalls that Miami in 1993 had just suffered a devastating hurricane a month before he arrived, somewhat reducing his housing options. Whilst working on the ground breaking research he was living in a ‘rat infested hovel’ next to the US 1 South Dixie highway which is one of America’s main motorways – life in the Derbyshire countryside is certainly more pleasant! Outdoor swimming at lunchtime in the University of Miami pool was a plus though. Over twenty years later and controllable molecular shuttles have been incorporated into high density information storage devices making molecular scale electronics a reality.

These days, molecular electronics is a rapidly growing industrial field and Peakdale has been actively working in the area. Boasting a fully independent spin-out company,Neudrive Ltd, as well as continuing to provide synthetic chemistry services to multiple companies and academic institutions in this sector, our organic electronics team now boasts 10 chemists with significant experience and we are proud to have contributed to many projects in this field over the past few years. This track record is rarely found in the general chemistry CRO world.

We are delighted that the latest Nobel prize for chemistry has been awarded to such an exciting area and we congratulate Sir Stoddart on his elevation to Nobel status.

Richard Bissell was a post-doc at the University of Birmingham and attended the event at the University. Congratulations on the recognition and thank you  for authoring this post.