March 2, 2017, by Rob Ounsworth

GSK Labs: An exciting place for PhD researcher

The GSK Carbon Neutral Laboratories for Sustainable Chemistry has officially opened. Connor Yap, a third year PhD student, reflects on working as a researcher in this landmark building.

The GSK Carbon Neutral Laboratories for Sustainable Chemistry (CNL) is the latest landmark building on Jubilee Campus, housing the Centre For Sustainable Chemistry. This large, wooden-framed building is designed to foster research into technologies that address the issues which face us in the coming century. These include the use of renewable resources and feedstocks, food security and developing environmentally friendly chemical processes. I’ve been lucky enough to work here for the past eight months, so I’d like to give you an insight in what life is like for a researcher in this building.

On a personal level, the CNL is one of the reasons why I decided to come The University of Nottingham to pursue a PhD. The chance to work in such a cutting edge and unique building (the first of its kind in the UK), with a focus on developing industrially relevant technologies was very appealing. Despite the unfortunate fire of 2014 which destroyed the first iteration of the CNL, the process of visiting, moving into and finally working in the building has been extremely exciting.

Bringing research teams together

Additionally, on Thursdays we have informal building wide research updates, where anyone from one of the groups can give a short talk detailing their research over a cup of coffee. This allows to us to find out more about each other’s research, make “out of the box” suggestions that might not have been considered originally, and allows us to spot opportunities for collaboration.

For those of us that do research, the labs are spacious and extremely well equipped, with many built-in features which reduce our energy and carbon footprint, such as highly efficient fume hoods and the use of recycled water. We also have access to several instrument rooms, containing state-of-the-art analytical equipment which anyone can use. The facilities on offer and the friendly atmosphere make the CNL a great place to do research. If there is something that we need in the main Chemistry building on University Park, we have an electric-powered van that can transport chemicals to and from both buildings.

A place to share ideas

As well as research labs, there is a large area downstairs known as the Winter Garden. This is a multipurpose space, which people use to have lunch, to brainstorm and to have meetings. It’s not just for us though, as both the University and the wider community frequently use this are to hold events and meetings.
As a PhD student based in the CNL, and also a member of the Centre for Doctoral Training in Sustainable Chemistry, my research is focused on developing new sustainable technologies. Currently, I am trying to develop new reactions which use cheap and abundant metal catalysts. Catalysts are used in a huge variety of processes, from the production of drug molecules and agrochemicals, to the formation of polymers which can be used to make materials.
However, many of the catalysts that we use rely on expensive and rare metals, so their long-term sustainability is limited. By replacing these metals with cheaper alternatives and by exploiting their unique chemistry to develop new reactions, we can potentially reduce the cost of drugs and materials in the future.

My project is partly funded by AstraZeneca, and close collaborations with industry mean that we continue to develop science that has a wide impact outside of academia.

Hopefully I’ve given you an insight into what working in the CNL is like, I’ve enjoyed the past year and am looking forward to spending the rest of my PhD here.

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