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David Alan Leigh (born 1963)[1] FRS FRSE FRSC is a British chemist, Royal Society Research Professor[2] and, since 2014, the Sir Samuel Hall Chair of Chemistry in the School of Chemistry at the University of Manchester. He was previously the Forbes Chair of Organic Chemistry at the University of Edinburgh (2001–2012) and Professor of Synthetic Chemistry at the University of Warwick (1998–2001).[3][4]

David Leigh
David Alan Leigh

(1963-05-31) 31 May 1963 (age 56)[1]
Alma materUniversity of Sheffield (BSc, PhD)
Known forCatenanes, Rotaxanes, Molecular knots, Molecular machines
AwardsFRS (2009)
FRSE (2005)
Feynman Prize (2007)
Izatt-Christensen Award (2007)
Perkin Prize (2017)
Royal Society Bakerian Medal (2013)
Scientific career
FieldsOrganic chemistry
InstitutionsUniversity of Manchester
University of Edinburgh
University of Warwick
ThesisThe synthesis and properties of novel and natural macrocyclic trichothecenes (1987)


Career and researchEdit

He is noted for the development of new methods to construct rotaxanes, catenanes and molecular knots and for the invention of some of the first synthetic molecular motors and functional nanomachines. Using mechanically-interlocked molecular architectures he prepared a novel molecular information ratchet[5] that employs a mechanism reminiscent of Maxwell's demon (although it requires an energy input and so does not challenge the second law of thermodynamics).[6]

He has developed a rotaxane based photoactive molecular switch with the capability of changing the hydrophobicity of a surface and thus causing small droplets of liquid to move up hill, against the force of gravity.[7]

In 2009 he reported the first small-molecule walker-track system in which a 'walker' can be transported directionally along a short molecular track in a manner reminiscent of the way that biological motor proteins 'walk' along biopolymers in the cell.[8] In 2011 his research group described the smallest molecular knot prepared to date (a 76-atom-loop trefoil knot – three crossing points[9]) and also a 160-atom-loop pentafoil knot (five crossing points).[10] The Leigh group have also reported the synthesis of an 819 knot, the most complex molecular knot made to date.[11] In 2013 the Leigh group reported[12] a small-molecule machine capable of detaching and assembling a series of amino acid building blocks from a track into a peptide of specific sequence, a very primitive version of the task performed by the ribosome. They also invented the first autonomous chemically-fuelled synthetic molecular motor[13] and demonstrated a small-molecule 'robotic arm' able to transport molecular fragments between sites 2 nm apart on a molecular platform, marking the start of so-called 'small-molecule robotics'.[14] In 2017 the Leigh group reported the first molecular robot that can be programmed to build different molecules.[15] The molecular robot could be programmed to construct any one of four different stereoisomers of a molecular product, a significant step towards a 'molecular assembler'. The achievement was hailed as 'science fiction becomes fact'.[16]

In September 2016 Leigh was suggested as one of three candidates for the potential award of a Nobel Prize for synthetic molecular machines.[17] However, on 5 October 2016 the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to J. Fraser Stoddart, Ben Feringa and Jean-Pierre Sauvage for the design and synthesis of molecular machines.[18]

Awards and honoursEdit


  1. ^ a b c "LEIGH, Prof. David Alan". Who's Who. 2016 (online Oxford University Press ed.). A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc. (subscription or UK public library membership required) (subscription required)
  2. ^ "Leading scientists awarded Royal Society Research Professorships", The Royal Society, 6 Sept 2016
  3. ^ Kay, E. R.; Leigh, D. A.; Zerbetto, F. (2007). "Synthetic Molecular Motors and Mechanical Machines". Angewandte Chemie International Edition. 46 (1–2): 72–191. doi:10.1002/anie.200504313.
  4. ^ Brouwer, A. M.; Frochot, C.; Gatti, F. G.; Leigh, D. A.; Mottier, L.; Paolucci, F.; Roffia, S.; Wurpel, G. W. (2001). "Photoinduction of Fast, Reversible Translational Motion in a Hydrogen-Bonded Molecular Shuttle". Science. 291 (5511): 2124–2128. doi:10.1126/science.1057886. PMID 11251112.
  5. ^ Leigh's Group's illustrated explanation of the "ratchet" Archived 20 August 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ "Tiny engine boosts nanotech hopes" BBC News Feb. 1, 2007
  7. ^ "Nanotech team move water droplets" BBC News Aug. 29, 2005
  8. ^ "'Two-legged' molecular walker takes a stroll" Chemistry World 21 December 2009
  9. ^ Barran, P. E.; Cole, H. L.; Goldup, S. M.; Leigh, D. A.; McGonigal, P. R.; Symes, M. D.; Wu, J.; Zengerle, M. (2011). "Active-Metal Template Synthesis of a Molecular Trefoil Knot". Angewandte Chemie International Edition. 50 (51): 12280–12284. doi:10.1002/anie.201105012. PMID 21919173.
  10. ^ Ayme, J. F.; Beves, J. E.; Leigh, D. A.; McBurney, R. T.; Rissanen, K.; Schultz, D. (2011). "A synthetic molecular pentafoil knot". Nature Chemistry. 4 (1): 15–20. CiteSeerX doi:10.1038/nchem.1193. PMID 22169866.
  11. ^ Danon, Jonathan J.; Krüger, Anneke; Leigh, David A.; Lemonnier, Jean-François; Stephens, Alexander J.; Vitorica-Yrezabal, Iñigo J.; Woltering, Steffen L. (2017). "Braiding a molecular knot with eight crossings". Science. 355 (6321): 159–162. doi:10.1126/science.aal1619. ISSN 0036-8075. PMID 28082585.
  12. ^
  13. ^ Wilson, M. R.; Solá, J.; Carlone, A.; Goldup, S. M.; Lebrasseur, N.; Leigh, D. A. (2016). "An autonomous chemically fuelled small-molecule motor". Nature. 534 (7606): 235–240. doi:10.1038/nature18013. PMID 27279219. Archived from the original (PDF) on 9 June 2016.
  14. ^ Kassem, S.; Lee, A. T. L..; Leigh, D. A.; Markevicius, A.; Solá, J. (2016). "Pick-up, transport and release of a molecular cargo using a small-molecule robotic arm". Nature Chemistry. 8 (2): 138–143. doi:10.1038/nchem.2410. PMID 26791896.
  15. ^ Kassem, S.; Lee, A. T. L..; Leigh, D. A.; Marcos, V.; Palmer, L. I.; Pisano, S. (2017). "Stereodivergent synthesis with a programmable molecular machine". Nature. 549 (7672): 374–378. doi:10.1038/nature23677. PMID 28933436.
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  18. ^ Staff (5 October 2016). "The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2016". Nobel Foundation. Retrieved 5 October 2016.
  19. ^ "RSC Perkin Prize for Organic Chemistry 2017 Winner". Royal Society of Chemistry. Retrieved 16 June 2017.