ICTAS: Hugh and Ethel Kelly Lecture Series

David Leigh

Keynote Address: September 30th 2016, 310 Kelly Hall
Title: The Magic of Molecular Machines

Abstract: Over the past few years some of the first examples of synthetic

molecular level machines and motors—all be they primitive by biological

standards—have been developed. These molecules respond to light, chemical

and electrical stimuli, inducing motion of interlocked components held together

by hydrogen bonding or other weak molecular interactions.

Perhaps the best way to appreciate the technological potential of controlled

molecular-level motion is to recognise that nanomotors and molecular-level

machines lie at the heart of every significant biological process. Over billions of

years of evolution Nature has not repeatedly chosen this solution for achieving

complex task performance without good reason. In stark contrast to biology,

none of mankind’s fantastic myriad of present day technologies exploit

controlled molecular-level motion in any way at all: every catalyst, every material,

every polymer, every pharmaceutical, every chemical reagent, all function

exclusively through their static or equilibrium dynamic properties. When we learn

how to build artificial structures that can control and exploit molecular level

motion, and interface their effects directly with other molecular-level

substructures and the outside world, it will potentially impact every aspect of

functional molecule and materials design. An improved understanding of physics

and biology will surely follow.


About the Speaker: David Leigh is one of the world’s leading supramolecular

chemists. He has introduced hugely influential concepts for the synthesis of

interlocked and knotted molecular architectures, pioneered the use of ratchet

mechanisms in the invention of synthetic oddslot molecular motors, and is one of the

pioneers of the field of artificial molecular machinery and molecular


David obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Sheffield, U.K., in 1987 and,

after postdoctoral research at the National Research Council of Canada in

Ottawa, David returned to the UK as a Lecturer at the University of Manchester

Institute of Science and Technology in 1989. After spells at the Universities of

Warwick and Edinburgh, in 2012 David returned to Manchester where he is

currently the Sir Samuel Hall Chair of Chemistry and a Royal Society Research


He has won a number of major international awards including the

Izatt-Christensen Award for Macrocyclic Chemistry, EU Descartes Prize and the

Feynman Prize for Nanotechnology. He was elected to the Fellowship of the

Royal Society (FRS), the UK’s National Academy of Science and Letters, in 2009.

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