Dr Charlotte Willans


Dr. Charlotte E. Willans

University of Leeds Independent Research Fellow (Principal Investigator)

1998-2002: Masters Degree in Chemistry with a Year in Industry, University of York.
2001-2002: Research Assistant at DSM with Prof. Johannes de Vries and Dr. André de Vries – fourth year MChem research project (Geleen, Netherlands). Project entitled ‘ligand-free palladium-catalysed Heck reactions’.
2002-2005: Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), University of York (Supervisors: Dr. Francesca M. Kerton and Dr. Jason M. Lynam), working on lanthanide complexes for catalysis and organophosphorus cages.
2006-2008: Post-Doctoral Research Associate with Prof. Jonathan Steed, Durham University. Projects included metal organic frameworks (in collaboration with Prof. Len Barbour, Stellenbosch, South Africa), anion binding and N-heterocyclic carbenes.

2009-2013: Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Research Fellow, University of Leeds.

2013-present: Leeds University Research Fellow


Research interests

N-Heterocyclic carbenes (NHCs) are stable singlet carbenes that can act as excellent two electron donor ligands towards elements across the whole periodic table. They have received wide attention in transition metal chemistry and have a plethora of catalytic and biomedical applications. However, the use of NHCs in industry is still relatively limited due, in part, to their non-trivial synthetic procedures. We are developing novel synthetic routes to metal-NHCs which rely on electrochemistry rather than harsh basic conditions. Coupled with the translation into electrochemical flow reactors (Figure 1), we envisage metal-NHCs becoming more attractive for general use in important industrial processes.


Electrochemical flow methods synthesis and catalysis
Figure 1. Electrochemical flow reactor for the synthesis of metal-NHCs


The electrochemical synthesis of metal-NHCs enables more elaborate functional groups to be incorporated into the ligand structure, allowing for finer control at the metal centre. We are interested in bringing together the two distinct and highly versatile ligand types, NHCs and carboranes, to take advantage of the unique properties of each moiety within one ligand structure.

We are involved in the development of metal-NHCs for both catalytic and biomedical applications. Our focus has been on copper-NHCs for catalysis, due to its lower cost and toxicity compared to precious metals, and the chemotherapeutic properties of silver-NHCs. We examine the reactivity of 'non-innocent' NHCs, as full mechanistic understanding of how these ligands behave will help in their design to prevent catalyst deactivation.

Postgraduate research opportunities

We welcome enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study. Our research opportunities allow you to search for projects and scholarships.

Projects currently available: