Chemical reaction dynamics and mechanisms

The study of rates and mechanisms of chemical reactions in gas and solution phase, and at surfaces (including kinetics and thermodynamics). This research area includes sub-themes such as physical organic chemistry and ultrafast spectroscopy.

Over the course of the current Delivery Plan, we will focus the research area on:

  • Creating strong pathways to impact from fundamental research
  • Further co-ordinating the provision of infrastructure within this field, to ensure maximised equipment usage

We will encourage the community to focus on integrating the design of 'pathways to impact' at an early stage, including the exploration of opportunities to create new understanding in application areas (e.g. in Catalysis, Bioenergy, Continuous Manufacturing, Biosciences and Biological Chemistry). This will enable advances in this research area to contribute to key challenges in areas such as energy, manufacturing, sustainable chemistry and healthcare technologies.

Strong connections to theoretical work should also be maintained, to increase fundamental understanding of chemical reactions and so underpin developments in other fields.'

We will encourage the establishment of clear links to industry to enable acceleration of impact through translation of research outputs. This could include, for example, small-scale commercialisation of novel components for instrumentation (e.g. detectors), to enable their wider use by researchers within this area and in other fields. This will also allow research in this area to contribute towards EPSRC Outcomes, in particular Productive Nation and Resilient Nation. A greater proportion of this area should comprise investments aligned to these Outcomes by 2020.

In a constrained capital environment, continuing to work together will benefit the community in exploring creative solutions for equipment funding and support, including seeking leverage from alternative sources. Existing investments should be maximised to enable further equipment-sharing, to ensure that the excellence of UK research in this area is not eroded and that researchers can remain internationally competitive. If required, we will support this and facilitate community discussion on this topic.


This area is of high quality research in the UK, including world-leading outputs from experimental work on reaction dynamics (Evidence source 1) and photophysics (Evidence source 2) that is complemented by high-level theoretical work. Recent advances include: use of ultrafast lasers and multidimensional spectroscopies for real-time probing of nuclear motions in condensed-phase systems; new light sources for probing electronic and nuclear motion in gas and condensed phases; and growing interest in exploring how gas-phase studies can inform understanding of reaction dynamics in solution and at the gas-liquid and gas-solid interfaces. (Evidence source 3)

Fundamental research in this area underpins research in a range of other fields across engineering and the physical sciences and contributes to a wide range of sectors. (Evidence source 4) It is recognised as industrially important to the chemicals, agrichemicals, manufacturing, energy and transport sectors, (Evidence source 4) as well as underpinning work in the healthcare, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology and environment sectors. We encourage researchers to consider how they can best engage with users in a changing industrial research landscape, to accelerate impact from fundamental research.

This area benefits from well-balanced distribution of funding across UK institutions, with no single organisation dominating and some critical-mass activity in key centres. Capacity across career stages is also well-balanced and leaders are supported through fellowships from diverse sources in the funding landscape.

This area is capital-intensive and there is an ongoing requirement to maintain and replace equipment. (Evidence source 5) There is concern that the cost of undertaking experimental work may impact on the UK's future capability to conduct world-leading research, (Evidence source 2) and consortium approaches to sourcing, sharing and using equipment are expected to become more commonplace to enable this area to remain internationally competitive. Researchers also make extensive use of large national and international facilities and have received e-infrastructure support through Software for the Future and High Performance Computing development calls, as well as in the usage of computational facilities including the Advanced Research Computing High End Resource (ARCHER).

This research area has the potential to contribute particularly to Resilient, Productive and Healthy Nation Outcomes, including the following specific Ambitions:

P1: Introduce the next generation of innovative and disruptive technologies

This research area will provide a fundamental understanding of chemical reactions to enable development of new processes / methods for continuous manufacturing in sectors such as fine chemicals, agrichemicals and pharmaceuticals.

P5: Transform to a sustainable society, with a focus on circular economy

This area will underpin catalysis research for new sustainable chemistries, where understanding reaction mechanisms forms an integral part of understanding catalyst behaviour in a manufacturing setting.

R1: Achieve energy security and efficiency

This research area will help underpin developments in clean, renewable and next-generation energy technologies (e.g. bioenergy and solar).

R4: Manage resources efficiently and sustainably

Better understanding of chemical reactions may lead to greater efficacy of reaction completion, reducing waste in chemical processes.

H4: Develop future therapeutic technologies

This area could improve understanding of underlying mechanisms that drive the function of fluorescent proteins and small-molecule fluorophores for bio-imaging and the activation of prodrugs by light (e.g. in photochemotherapy). Enhanced understanding may improve the ability to manipulate or direct activation and so help improve drug selectivity.

  1. CWTS, Leiden Ranking Citation Analysis, (2015).
  2. Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014, Main Panel B Overview Report (PDF), (2014).
  3. EPSRC community engagement, (2016).
  4. EPSRC, Sovereign capability report, (2015).
  5. EPSRC REF panel workshop, (2016).

Other source:

Research area connections

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EPSRC support by research area in Chemical reaction dynamics and mechanisms (GoW)
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Contact Details

In the following table, contact information relevant to the page. The first column is for visual reference only. Data is in the right column.

Name: Audrey Nailor
Organisation: EPSRC