Chemical Reactions Made Easy

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Mar 18, 2014
from 05:30 PM to 06:30 PM


Ken Edwards Building, Lecture Theatre

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0116 252 2320

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Professor Dai Davies

Department of Chemistry

Lecture Summary 

Why do chemical reactions happen? Can we make them happen faster and how can we control the products? These are some of the questions that chemists have been addressing over the centuries.
The experimental approach to these questions has been to try reacting different chemicals under different conditions to build up a picture of what reacts with what. Chemists classify molecules according to the functional groups they contain. Functional groups are the reactive bits of molecules. Chemists have learnt that certain functional groups react with one another whilst others do not.

To make reactions go faster we use special molecules called catalysts, these often involve metal atoms. In nature, enzymes are catalysts, without them we would not get energy fast enough to live our active lives. For example, our bodies burn (oxidise) glucose to make carbon dioxide and water, which releases energy to power our muscles. Normally glucose and oxygen don’t react spontaneously, however with the right catalyst (the enzyme) the reaction occurs and releases energy.

In some cases the same two molecules may react to give more than one product. For example many molecules exist in a left handed and right handed form (known as isomers) but in nature enzymes have evolved to make and use only one of these two forms e.g. all amino acids are left handed. My group are interested in making new catalysts that will speed up reactions and produce just one isomer.

In recent years the vast increase in computing power has allowed us to start to use computation to model chemical reactions. I will discuss how computation can be used to help explain how reactions work and allow us to try and improve reaction specificity or invent new reactions.

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