David Leigh - Biography#

Over the past two decades David Leigh's group have produced some of the first and most advanced examples—all be they primitive by biological standards—of synthetic molecular level machines and motors [for examples see: Nature 406, 608-611 (2000); Science 291, 2124-2128 (2001); Nature 424, 174-179 (2003); Science 299, 531 (2003); Science 306, 1532-1537 (2004); Nature Mater. 4, 704-710 (2005); Nature 445, 523-527 (2007); Nature 458, 314-318 (2009); Nature Chem. 2, 96-101 (2010); Science 328, 1255-1258 (2010); Nature Chem. 3, 244-248 (2011); Nature Nanotech. 6, 553-557 (2011); Nature Chem. 4, 15-20 (2012); Science 339, 189-193 (2013)]. These molecules respond to light, chemical and electrical stimuli, inducing motion of components held together by hydrogen bonding and other interactions. A noteworthy example is the first synthetic hydrogen bonded molecular rotor (Nature 2003; ‘highlighted’ in Science 301, 438-439 (2003) and Angew Chem Int Ed 35, 1622-1624 (2004) and selected as one of the ‘Chemical Highlights of 2003’ by the ACS). An advance on this system, a reversible synthetic rotary molecular motor, was reported a year later (Science 2004). The first example of using artificial molecular machines to do work in the macroscopic world (transporting a liquid droplet across a surface and up a gradient on a monolayer of synthetic molecular machines) was a significant breakthrough which generated significant interest around the world (Nature Mater. 2005), as was the non-adiabatic experimental realisation of James Clerk Maxwell’s 140 year old ‘Demon’ thought experiment as a fundamentally new motor-mechanism for synthetic nanomachines (Nature 2007; selected as one of the ‘Chemical Highlights of 2007’ by the RSC).

In 2010 he introduced the first artificial molecules that can ‘walk’ along molecular tracks, reminiscent of the dynamics and function of biological motor proteins such as kinesin (Nature Chem. 2010; selected as one of the ‘Chemical Highlights of 2010’ by the RSC).

In 2012 his group described the one-pot self-assembly of a 160-atom loop pentafoil knot, the most complex non-DNA molecular knot prepared to date (Nature Chem. 2012; selected as one of the ‘Chemical Highlights of 2011’ by the RSC).

In 2013 his group reported an internationally acclaimed synthetic mimic of the ribosome, arguably the most advanced synthetic molecular machine described to date (Science 2013; one of Science’s ‘Breakthroughs of the Year 2013’ and ‘Top Chemistry Moments of 2013’ by C&EN), and in 2014 Leigh reported the most complex catenane synthesized thus far, a Star of David catenane (Nature Chem 2014).
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