The team

In this section you will find a short biography of many of our past summer scholars, international visitors, MChem project students, postgraduate students and postdoctoral researchers.

Lee J. Higham

Lee was awarded his EPSRC-sponsored PhD at UEA in 2001 under the supervision of Prof Mike Whittlesey (now at the University of Bath) and Dr Paul Wood (now at Cambridge), working on water-soluble phosphines to tackle separation issues in homogeneous catalysis.

This was followed by a postdoctoral research position with Prof Paul Pringle in Bristol, sponsored by BP Chemicals, which looked at novel phosphines for alkoxycarbonylation catalysts and a second industrial postdoc in the same group funded by Rhodia (now Solvay), which investigated phobane ligands and radical phosphorus chemistry.

In 2003 Lee was awarded a Marie Curie Development Host Research Fellowship to work with Prof Declan Gilheany at University College Dublin on P-stereogenic phosphines and organophosphorus chemistry in the synthesis of azulenes.

After a short stint at the university start-up company Celtic Catalysts, Lee moved to Newcastle University in 2006 as a temporary lecturer in Inorganic Chemistry, before being awarded an EPSRC Career Acceleration Fellowship in 2009.

Lee was promoted to the position of Senior Lecturer in 2013 and as Director of Outreach in the School (2007-2008) was responsible for securing £0.2M in funding to faciliate the creation of a School Outreach Laboratory, a free-of-charge dedicated experimental space to allow schools and colleges to come into the department and carry out practical experiments and analysis that they would otherwise find difficult to do.

Lee is currently the Director of Student Placements, overseeing the Chemistry with Study Abroad and Chemistry with a Year in Industry degree programmes for the School.

Manuel Abelairas Edesa

Originally an Erasmus student from Santiago de Compostela in 2008, Manuel returned to start his PhD in 2009, during which time he has developed important new synthetic routes to bidentate, rather than hemilabile primary phosphines (manuscripts in preparation). Manuel has presented his work in Anaheim, California (2011) and Rennes, France (2012), and has been an important lab-supervisor for a number of Erasmus and MChem students. Took up a one year postdoctoral position in the LJH group in 2013 and now works for NewChem in the School on the synthesis of commercially important bioactive compounds. Midfield General of 7-a-sides.

Salma Al-Hajri

In 2009 Salma, from Oman, diligently carried out her MSc research project entitled ‘Towards New Phosphorus Heterocycles for Materials Chemistry’. This joint project was carried out in collaboration with Prof Martin Heeney at Imperial College London.

Mohamed Alnaggar

Mohamed was born in Egypt in 1979 and obtained his BSc in Applied Chemistry from Teesside University in 2008.  He then studied for his MSc in Drug Chemistry in 2010 which he passed with distinction, under the supervision of Dr Lee Higham and Dr Michael Hall. He successfully synthesised and characterised highly interesting azaphosphindoles with potential applications in the fields of optoelectronics and medicine. He then studied Pharmacy at the University of Sunderland, where we continue to collaborate with his supervisor Prof Rosaleen Anderson. Likes to scale-up reactions.

Tom Backhouse

Tom chose to carry out his MChem research project with us from 2014 to 2015, studying the chemistry of fluorescent group 7 organometallic complexes. These will be tested by our cell imaging collaborators in York and Bath Universities, and by our radiochemistry colleagues at Washington State University – see Our collaborators section.

Tom chose to continue to research phosphorus chemistry at Newcastle,  this time studying the synthesis of new ligands for applications in homogeneous catalysis.

Florian Bartels

Arriving in the lab with his compatriot Steffen Eggers, Florian joined the group in 2012 as an Erasmus student from Gˆttingen, Germany. He successfully prepared a number of novel silver phosphine complexes which have applications in photophysics and as antimicrobial agents.

Graeme Bowling

Graeme joined the group in 2013-2014 for his MChem final year research project on chiral primary phosphines, before opting to sign-up for another three years of lab work for his PhD, which is on the topic of metal complexes of chiral phosphonates.

Graeme was lucky enough to be awarded three months of funding to work with our collaborator Prof Poineau at the UNLV in the USA, on technetium chemistry. Here the two of them are enjoying the view of Petco Park stadium from the Altitude Sky Lounge bar at the Gaslamp Marriott Hotel, after a hard day at the Spring 2016 ACS conference.

Chris Brown

Originally a Midlander, Chris moved to Newcastle to do his Chemistry Masters in 2007, working in the LJH group from September 2010 to April 2011 as part of his fourth year of study. His research involved working with Connor looking into air-stable chiral primary phosphines, with a view to making safer precursors for catalysts such as DuPhos. Since graduating he relocated to Vancouver, Canada where he is undertaking his PhD at the University of British Columbia with Prof. Michael Wolf, investigating the phenomenon of singlet fission in bis-ruthenium complexes. In his spare time he enjoys skiing, eating, and waking up very early to watch Aston Villa play.

Kelsey Cairns

Kelsey completed his Stage 2 studies here in Newcastle and then worked over the summer of 2016 with the LJH group on the synthesis and characterisation of transition metal complexes with potentially interesting magnetic properties, in addition to learning how to prepare chiral phosphonic acids.

Nathan Campbell

Following on from the excellent work of Tim Maheswaran, Nathan joined the group in Spring 2012 to continue work on the synthesis of phosphonic acids of relevance to the field of biomechanics, and was co-supervised by LJH and Dr Mark Birch from the Institute of Cellular Medicine’s Musculoskeletal Research Group.

Michael Charlton

Michael carried out a joint Summer Research project in 2009 with LJH and Dr Dan Frankel from the School of Chemical Engineering and Advanced Materials, which was sponsored by the University Research Centre in Catalysis and Intensified Processing (URCCIP). Michael synthesised novel phosphino amino acids and investigated their behaviour on a range of mineral surfaces. Michael continued his research in the group for his final year MChem research project, preparing novel peptido-substituted phosphonates and related acids. In 2010 Michael started his PhD in the group of Dr Mike Carroll on synthetic radiochemistry. Likes his ‘bait’.

Ana Cioran

Dr Ana Cioran joined the LJH team in 2013 on a one year postdoctoral position to work on biological phosphorus chemistry.

“My experience was mainly dedicated to synthesizing boron-enriched compounds (carborane and metallacarborane derivatives) for their use in a wide range of applications, such as radionuclides extraction, homogenous catalysis, but foremost, in medicine, as potential drug delivery systems and anticancer treatment based on Boron Neutron Capture Therapy (BNCT). I also studied their cellular uptake and intracellular fate on a human cancer cell line, HeLa.

Having a taste of entering the biochemistry world, I then desired to diversify my knowledge of this particular field, and also due to the experience held by the LJH group in biomedicine, I applied for my postdoctoral position at Newcastle University. I worked on synthesizing organophosphorus compounds showing fluorescent properties, for their prospective use as imaging agents.”

Mel Cuthbertson

Mel worked in the group in 2007, carrying out a research project on the synthesis of N-heterocyclic primary phosphines as part of her MSc in Drug Chemistry. Mel was then recruited by the multinational company Proctor & Gamble, who are now one of our sponsors.

Laura Davies

Laura started as a Vacation Scholarship student in 2007, where she studied the oxidation of phosphines by metal complexes. Returning for another Scholarship in 2008, she investigated the synthesis of phosphino amino acids. The top undergraduate in her year opted to carry out her MChem final year research project on related chemistry, before commencing her PhD in 2009 on fluorescent primary phosphines for disease imaging applications (Angew. Chem. Int. Ed., 2012, 51, 4921). Laura has presented her work in Anaheim, California and won Silver Prize for Chemistry at the Science, Engineering and Technology Annual Exhibition at the Houses of Parliament in 2012. She completed a one year postdoctoral position in 2013 after defending her thesis after examination by Steve Archibald (Hull) and has now been snapped-up by Johnson Matthey. Doesn’t like entropy.

Steffen Eggers

Steffen arrived in the LJH group as an Erasmus student in 2012, from Gottingen, Germany and commenced research on some highly unusual phosphorus-based oligomers. Steffen’s Masters thesis meanwhile was with Prof Dr Vana and entitled “Investigations of new polymer coatings for aluminium surfaces” in collaboration with Novelis Inc.  Always found working with a smile on his face, Steffen also forged a dynamic Germanic football understanding with compatriot Arne.

Giorgia Fagnani

I joined the LJH group as an Erasmus student in 2015. Originally from Vicenza, Italy, I studied Pharmacy at the Universita’ degli Studi di Padova, so the field of chemistry research was quite new for me. But with the other LJH group members’ help, I learned much during my time in the group. I worked with analogues of the 4,4-bora-3a,4a-diaza-s-indacene (BODIPY) motif, investigating their properties as different ligands in transition metal complexes of biological importance. I have now graduated and have take a position as a pharmacist in Newcastle.

Matthew Farleigh

Matthew was awarded a Newcastle Undergraduate Research Scholarship in 2016 to spend the summer after his Stage 2 studies on a joint project with Dr Pike’s group and the LJH team on the functionalisation of silicon surfaces.

Adrian Fazans Estevez

Adrian was an Erasmus visitor from Santiago de Compostela, Spain in 2011, during which time he worked on the synthesis of primary MOPs and contributed a Spanish influence to 7-a-side.

Mark Fearns

Mark was a MChem research project student during 2013-2014, working closely with Manuel Abelairas Edesa, on the synthesis of novel chiral phosphines for applications in asymmetric catalysis.

Arne Ficks

Dr Arne Ficks arrived as an Erasmus student in 2008, from Göttingen, Germany to work on phosphiranes. Arne returned to the group in 2009 to start his PhD, after a successful spell with Franck Meyer working on bis(oxazoline) ligands (Organometallics, 2010, 29, 1117). Arne developed the early pioneering work of Rachel Hiney (Angew. Chem. Int. Ed., 2006, 45, 7248), publishing his work on chiral phosphiranes (Chem. Comm., 2011, 47, 8274) and phosphonites (Dalton, 2012, 41, 3515). He has also synthesised intriguing -CR3, -SiR3, -NR2, -OR, and -SR derivatives, which show interesting properties in coordination chemistry and catalysis. Arne has given talks at conferences in Rennes (PhoSciNet) and Warwick (Dalton) and presented a poster in Anaheim, California. He successfully defended his PhD thesis in 2013 following examination by John Brown (Oxford). Keen marathon runner and ever-present 7-a-sider.

James Fleming

James joined the group as an MChem student in 2011 before opting to return to study for his PhD. James continued to find more angles to keep studying MOP!

“I completed my undergraduate degree in 2012. During this time I worked in the LJH group as both a summer student and as a research project student. I am currently investigating the use of chiral primary phosphines as ligand precursors towards the synthesis of transition metal complexes with applications in homogeneous asymmetric catalysis. In 2013 I presented my work at both the 10th European Workshop on Phosphorus Chemistry in Regensburg, Germany.

In the autumn of 2014 James secured a Royal Society of Chemistry Travel Award to visit our collaborator Prof. Eva Hey-Hawkins at the University of Leipzig, to work on phospholide chemistry. James was also kindly hosted and trained in the synthesis of phosphaalkyne chemistry by Dr Chris Russell at the University of Bristol.

Following the publication of his review on the chemistry of primary phosphines from 2005-2015, James won 1st prize at the annual School of Chemistry Postgraduate Research Day for his talk.

Sophie Gambhir

Sophie graduated in 2016 with 1st class Honours in Chemistry with Medicinal Chemistry from Newcastle, choosing to work with the LJH group on the development of fluorescent cell imaging agents for her Masters research project. Sophie’s hard work helped us to better understand our latest molecular system.

Charlotte Hepples

Charlotte joined the LJH group in 2015 to start her PhD studies on the development of multi-modality imaging probes, after graduating with a 1st Class Honours degree in MChem Chemistry with Study Abroad. During her year out she worked with Prof. Graeme Murphy at the University of Waterloo, Canada on the synthesis of 3,3-dichloro-2-oxindoles, which you read more about here. In 2016 Charlotte was awarded a prestigious Capstaff Fellowship to study cell imaging techniques with Prof. Wang’s talented research group at the University of California San Diego.

James Hogkinson

James carried out his final year MChem project in the LJH group on ‘N-heterocyclic Phosphorus Ligand Libraries’ in 2009, where he prepared and characterised interesting hydrogen bonded N-heterocyclic phosphonic acids.

Jabez Inkumsah Jnr

I was born in the twin city of Sekondi-Takoradi, Ghana, where I graduated from Adisadel College before moving to Italy in 2006,where I enrolled at the Faculty of Biotechnology, University of Verona in 2010. In 2011 I enrolled at the school of Pharmacy, University of Padua.

I love all kinds of sports, reading books and exploring scientific fields for innovation, an interest which led me to decide to undertake my final research project in the field of chemistry to learn more about organic and inorganic synthesis. Thanks to the Erasmus project I have been able to do that by joining the Higham research group at Newcastle University, a group full of talented researchers and who make your stay worth every moment.

(Web Editor notes: suspected Professional Footballer)

Zehra Kilinc

Zehra joined the group from Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, München, Germany for her Erasmus exchange, in 2014. Zehra worked very diligently, and successfully, on novel fluorescent compounds – her results will hopefully be published in the near future.

Steve Kirvan

Steve was a placement student at Sellafield during his Stage 3 Year in Industry, before returning to Newcastle to study lanthanide coordination chemistry with the LJH group for his MChem research topic. Steve has now landed a job with his former employer on their graduate programme.

Rachel Lewis

Rachel made a number of interesting PNP ligands for our study on Cr-catalysed transformations of 1-alkenes with Profs Green and Wright during a collaborative undergraduate summer project sponsored by the University Research Centre for Catalysis and Intensified Processing.

Steven Liscombe

Steven worked on a 10 week MChem project looking at novel chiral primary phosphines.

“I chose the project because it looked like a new exciting avenue of research, due to the extremely unstable nature of primary phosphines, this was not prominent mainstream research area, this seemed like a challenge, can these compounds be predicted to be stable and then synthesized? I contributed a new (HO-MOPH2) and (Paracyclophane-PH2) that showed improved stability compared to the root compound phenylphosphine.”

He currently works at High Force Research on next generation printable electronic materials (OLED’s) and new fluorescent dyes. Steven continues to suggest crazy research ideas to the LJH group.

Thomas Lorenzo

Thomas joined the group in 2014 from the University of Le Mans, France on an Erasmus Training Agreement, and worked extremely hard on the synthesis of our favourite chiral primary phosphines, (S)-H-MOPH2 and (R)-MeO-MOPH2 and the highly fluorescent BodPH2. Excellent student and willing Friday Night Football participant.

Adam Lowery

After completing his Stage 3 year here in Newcastle, Adam spent the summer working in the LJH lab on the synthesis and characterisation of lanthanide complexes of chiral phosphonates, under the guidance of PhD student Graeme Bowling.

Tim Maheswaran

Tim was co-supervised by LJH and Dr Mark Birch from the Institute of Cellular Medicine’s Musculoskeletal Research Group here in Newcastle. As a medical student, Tim opted to split his research project in 2011 between the Schools of Medicine and Chemistry and brought a lot of knowledge into the group and enthusiastically embraced the challenges of synthetic chemistry. Tim prepared novel phosphonic acids with potential applications in orthopaedic implants. Learnt more chemistry in ten weeks than many chemists.

Ivan Martinez-Botella

Ivan joined the group in 2007 as an Erasmus student from Alicante in Spain. He successfully prepared the first stable chiral phosphirane for us, which was ultimately published (Chem. Comm., 2011, 47, 8274). Now he is a Research Projects Officer at CSIRO, Australia.

Neil Mucha

In 2013 Neil Mucha was awarded a travel bursary from his supervisor and LJH collaborator Prof. Rory Waterman from the University of Vermont, USA. Neil passed on a great deal of helpful synthetic tips and tricks to the group, who in return introduced Neil to the Valley Junction and The Carriage, the jewels in Jesmond’s crown.

Ethan Nelson

After completing his studies in Stage 2, Ethan was successful in being awarded a Newcastle Undergraduate Research Scholarship to join the group for the summer of 2016. Supervised by Antonio Sanchez-Cid, Ethan synthesised unusually stable, fluorescent primary phosphines.

Stephen Ojo

Stephen received his Masters of Chemistry with Industrial Training degree at Newcastle in 2009, during which he worked at the GlaxoSmithKline R&D Stevenage site as an industrial trainee researcher. His project focused on the synthesis of large libraries of potential anti-malaria and anti-cancer therapeutics.

In the Summer of 2007 he gained valuable experience in the LJH lab as an undergraduate researcher. He worked on the synthesis of attractive “user-friendly” air-stable chiral primary phosphine ligands:

Stephen is currently completing his four year doctoral program (Ph.D.) at the University of Liverpool under the supervision of Professor P. Andrew Evans on biologically active natural products and has won a number of awards for his research.

Has poor taste in football teams.

Mr P

An ever-present member of the group, and likely to stay that way for the foreseeable.


Like Mr P, a permanent member of the group, team mascot and keeper of the flame. Like the Yoda of phosphorus chemistry.

James Padmore

James joined the group as a University Vacation Scholarship student in 2012, at the end of his second year prior to his Exchange Year in Vermont with Prof Rory Waterman. In the lab James prepared novel metal complexes of fluorescent tripodal phosphines, which have potential applications as disease imaging agents.




Sebastian Rath

Sebastian worked in the group from 2014-2015 for his final year MChem research project. He successfully managed to prepare a number of novel chiral phosphonates, the properties of which are currently under investigation.

Vincent Riley-Smith

Vincent graduated from Newcastle in 2o16 with a 1st Class Honours degree in Chemistry with Medicinal Chemistry. He chose to join the LJH group for his research project, where he synthesised novel fluorescent transition metal complexes which will be screened for their anti-cancer properties.

Shaun Robinson

Shaun joined the group in 2009 as an MChem student and worked on the synthesis of novel N-heterocyclic Quinox-type phosphines.

Sarah Rotimi

Sarah joined the group in 2013 for a Vacation Scholarship project on computational chemistry. In addition to modeling different phosphines and their properties, Sarah also developed easy-to-use Spartan tutorials before graduating with First Class Honours in 2015. She then successfully completed her PGCE and is now a qualified school teacher.

Baptiste Ruel

Baptiste joined the LJH group from the Université du Maine, France for an Erasmus Training Agreement work placement in 2015. During his stay he synthesised fluorescent primary phosphines which were developed into ligand derivatives for coordination chemistry studies. Baptiste worked mainly under the guidance of Antonio Sanchez Cid, and impressed the Friday Footy crowd with his lightening speed and skill.

Antonio Sanchez Cid

Antonio A. Sanchez Cid was born in Puebla, Mexico. His major during his undergraduate study was in Pharmacy at BUAP University in Puebla, Mexico. After working for a year in a public hospital in Mexico he decided to take the MSc course in Drug Chemistry at Newcastle University. Antonio graduated in the summer of 2013, and started his PhD studies on medicinal phosphorus chemistry in the autumn of the same year. Thinks it’s cold at Gateshead Stadium.

Freddie Saunders

Freddie joined the LJH group in the summer of 2015 as an undergraduate summer student on the School’s MChem Chemistry with Study Abroad programme, in order to synthesise (R)-MeO-MOPH2 and (S)-H-MOPH2 ahead of his Erasmus research year abroad under the guidance of Prof. Konstantin Karaghiosoff at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich.

Connor Sibbald

Connor returned from a successful Erasmus stint in Göttingen, Germany where he worked on bis(oxazoline) ligands (Organometallics, 2010, 29, 1117), opting to join the LJH group in 2009 for his final year MChem research project on chiral phosphetanes. In 2010 he started his PhD developing radical routes to P-C bond formation, which he presented to the ACS conference in San Diego, 2011. Connor has also made good progress on chiral phosphonic acids and their metal complexes, which he developed with Kasia, and later, Ana. Likes Trent time.

Lorella Spiteri

Lorella joined the LJH group for the summer of 2016 as a Training Agreement intern from the University of Malta, which is an Exchange Partner of ours. This project centred on the development of fluorescent ligands for cell imaging.

Emma Stewart

Emma carried out two Vacation Scholarships in the group in 2009 (sponsored by a Nuffield Science Bursary) and 2010 (sponsored by a University Vacation Scholarship). During this time she developed novel phosphonium salts with potential as chiral phase transfer agents.

James Tarbit

James carried out a research project in the LJH group on functionalising silicon surfaces with phosphine functionality as part of his MSc studies in 2007.

Stuart Thompson

Stuart worked in the group during the summer of 2008, when he investigated the synthesis of air-stable chiral primary phosphines, a project funded by a Nuffield Science Bursary for Undergraduate Research. Stuart is now studying for a PhD in Computational Chemistry with Dr Tom Penfold here at Newcastle University.

Bebhinn Tully-Penon

Newcastle undergrad ‘Bave’ earned herself a competitive University Research Scholarship over the summer of 2015, to work on novel air-stable diprimary phosphines, which were converted into chiral derivatives, and used in the asymmetric hydrogenation of prochiral alkenes. Returned a year later to work on fluorescent phosphines for cell imaging.

The group’s master cake baker.

Jenny Wallis

Jenny carried out a Johnson Matthey-sponsored Summer Scholarship in 2010, preparing novel boronic acid phosphonates. An MChem project followed on related Suzuki coupling reactions to prepare novel primary phosphines with axial chirality. In 2011 she started a Knowledge Transfer Award MPhil, generously co-sponsored by High Force Research Ltd, to investigate the unusual properties of fluorescent primary phosphines. In 2012 Jenny started her EPSRC EngD research, co-sponsored again by HFR. Jenny won a national Engineering YES (Young Entrepreneur Scheme) award in June 2015 and won first prize for her presentation at the 2016 EPSRC EngD conference at the Baltic.

Jake Wimshurst

Ardent football fan Jake joined the LJH group for his MChem final year research project, during which he prepared several novel phosphonates. The properties of these are currently under investigation.

Katarzyna Witek

A hard-working Erasmus visitor from the Silesian University of Technology in Poland, Kasia arrived in the Summer of 2012. Her research focused on the synthesis and complexation of novel phosphonic acids, which has helped open up a whole new area of research for the group.