Organometallic chemistry

This research group, led by John Spencer, focuses mainly on creating new transition metal complexes with organic groups to study novel bonding.

Organometallic chemistry - looking at a crystallising compound

We design and make new transition metal complexes with organic groups to study novel bonding and how their reactivity is affected by changes in the nearby steric and electronic environment.

One goal of this work is to produce novel homogeneous catalysts that are soluble in a reaction mixture and can be optimised for use in particular reactions. Such catalysts could be applied to the synthesis of key industrial molecules, lowering the amount of energy required for a reaction to proceed and minimising waste by making the reaction more efficient.

Our work begins with the design of a new transition metal complex followed by the synthesis of the ligands using standard organic chemical routes. The complex is then assembled and tested as a catalyst in a reaction, where the rate of reaction and the reaction products are analysed.


Two researchers look at a sample in a lab.

Homogeneous catalysts offer an advantage over traditional heterogeneous catalysts in some reactions. The surface of a heterogeneous catalyst, usually a solid metal, is difficult to study and the mechanisms of the reactions that take place at the surface are often not well understood.

Homogeneous catalysts are discrete, well-defined molecules, and can be studied using spectroscopic and crystallographic techniques. Not only does this study allow the reaction mechanism to be better understood, but it also enables the molecules' active sites to be optimised for the best reaction rate and product.

The active site can be modified by adding different ligands to change the stereochemistry and electronic properties of the organometallic molecule. Linking molecules with phosophorous, nitrogen, sulfur or oxygen atoms also adds other variations to the ligand environment.

An image of a molecule – BCP (bicyclopropylidene) ligand.
BCP (bicyclopropylidene) ligand

Analytical methods

We use multi-nuclear NMR and single crystal X-ray crystallography to study the transition metal complexes we make. High-resolution mass-spectrometry and traditional methods are also used to analyse the reaction products.


We collaborate with Prof Kate McGrath and Dr Matthias Lein, at the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences.


For more information, contact Prof John Spencer, or see our Research projects page.

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John Spencer