Synthetic organic chemistry

Devising new ways to design and synthesise organic molecules, with an emphasis on developing new reagents or new/novel synthetic methodologies based on new chemical reactivity. This research area synergises with the areas of Catalysis (which includes organocatalysis, asymmetric catalysis, metal-mediated catalysis and associated mechanistic studies of reactivity and selectivity) and Chemical Biology (which includes use of controlled molecular assembly to explore biology).

This research area is central to addressing the immediate and longer-term challenges faced by the UK chemicals manufacturing, materials/electronics and healthcare sectors. Many of these will only be tackled successfully by developing novel, efficient, selective and sustainable ways of making organic molecules with new properties.

We aim to support activity that will protect the UK's high international standing and enable the community to contribute to EPSRC Prosperity Outcomes. In both industry and academia, there is high demand for trained organic chemists at all career stages and we will continue to support a strong 'people pipeline' to provide the workforce and develop the future leadership that the UK requires.

To meet our aims, the community will need to:

  • Continue to be energetic and proactive in building appropriate links with end-users - e.g. small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and established chemicals, pharma and agricultural companies - and to engage in greater levels of intra/interdisciplinary collaboration where this delivers genuine added value (e.g. with data science and chemical engineering to develop approaches to chemical synthesis that are sustainable and scalable; or with biology, pharmacology and chemical biology for the discovery of drugs and new antimicrobial agents). This would be expected to enhance research impact.
  • Increasingly explore the benefits of integrating research on synthetic methodological development or new reagents with research areas such as Chemical Biology, Medicinal Chemistry, Medical Imaging, Catalysis, Synthetic Supramolecular Chemistry, and Polymer Materials; organic synthesis will continue to provide practical, often elegant solutions to accessing molecules with challenging structures.
  • Explore opportunities for collaboration at the interface between organic synthesis (focused on use of new catalysis tools) and chemo- catalysis/biocatalysis (developers of these tools) in the field of clean and efficient organic chemistry based on Catalysis.
  • Address areas of topical and growing research interest
    • computer-aided approaches (machine-learning/AI) to identifying new molecules, new reactivity, new methodology, synthesis design, and the development of robotic and automated approaches to organic synthesis.
    • new synthetic routes to the development of bio-based synthetic polymers that are biodegradable/recyclable/eco-friendly alternatives to oil-based plastics.

The result will be an excellent, diverse portfolio that matches researcher ambition and  societal needs. We will continue to work with other funders, such as the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Medical Research Council (MRC) to ensure interdisciplinary research is dealt with appropriately across remits.


Historically, Synthetic Organic Chemistry has been strong in the UK, which continues to produce internationally excellent and world-leading outputs in natural product synthesis, new reaction discovery and medicinal chemistry (an allied field drawing heavily on organic synthesis and crossing into MRC's remit). (Evidence source 1) The area is a core field, enabling advances in many other fields in chemistry, biological sciences, materials science, medical imaging and pharmacology (e.g. the translation of many of the advances that will arise from the Francis Crick Institute will require a strong base in cutting-edge synthetic chemistry) (Evidence source 2).

The area underpins many chemical-using sectors that are crucial to the UK economy (e.g. pharma and agrochemical), and where there is growing need for more environmentally friendly processes based on new chemical reactivities and synthetic methodologies. All chemical manufacturers require more sustainable synthetic approaches with less dependence on critical raw materials or petroleum-based feed stocks (Evidence source 3,4,5,6), while the emerging synthetic biology and industrial biotechnology sector requires organic chemistry methods and skills to deliver innovative products and processes (Evidence source 7),

The significant training investment in this area reflects the continued strength and growth of industrial sectors that need these skills. Chemists trained in synthesis are essential for manufacturing pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals, flavours/fragrances, paints and polymers. The change in the UK landscape away from large pharma companies has led to growth in contract/custom synthesis organisations and SMEs, preserving the high demand for skilled synthetic organic chemists. However, this change firmly puts the onus on universities to provide a skilled UK workforce where once pharma companies were a major training environment. (Evidence source 8,9)

This research area will contribute most strongly to Productive, Healthy and Resilient Nation Outcomes over a shorter timeframe. It also has potential to contribute more indirectly to the Connected Nation Outcome over a longer timeframe. Examples of relevant Ambitions include:

P1: Introduce the next generation of innovative and disruptive technologies

This research area will produce next-generation chemical building-blocks for drug discovery from bio-based raw materials. It will also develop a better methodology for application of flow chemistry in drug discovery, and contribute to development of manufacturing routes.

C3: Deliver intelligent technologies and systems

This area will produce polymeric materials for organic/plastic electronics and displays, and flow processes for targeted/remote/at-the-point-of-use manufacturing processes.

R4: Manage resources efficiently and sustainably

Environmentally sustainable agri-food production requires new agrochemicals for protection and yield optimisation (e.g. new generations of herbicides to combat resistance).

H2: Improve prevention and public health

This area will produce organic contrast agents for biomedical imaging (e.g. to image Alzheimer's disease in early-stage patients), as well as better, more predictable ways to prepare novel (e.g. 'drug-like') molecules, new molecular motifs (e.g. new molecular fragments) and more-diverse chemical libraries.

Research area connections

This diagram shows the top 10 connections between Research Areas within the EPSRC research portfolio. The depth of the segment relates to value of grants and the width of the segment relates to the number of grants shared by those two Research Areas. Please click to see the related Research Area rationale.

Visualising our Portfolio (VoP)
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EPSRC Support by Research Area in Synthetic Organic Chemistry (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: Talit Ghaffar
Job title: Manager
Department: Physical Sciences
Organisation: EPSRC
Telephone: 01793 444424