David Nelson, MChem PhD PGDip MRSC FHEA


  • United Kingdom

Accepting PhD Students

PhD projects

1) Synthesis and study of nickel complexes for homogeneous catalysis (organic, organometallic, physical organic, catalysis)
2) Exploring mechanism and selectivity in metal-catalysed C-H functionalisation reactions (organic, organometallic, physical organic, catalysis)
3) Design and characterisation of new NHC ligands (organic, organometallic, catalysis)


Research output per year

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Personal profile

Personal Statement

We conduct research at the intersection of organic and inorganic chemistry, with our primary aim being to discover, develop, and understand metal-catalysed reactions for organic synthesis. We use the tools of physical organic chemistry, organic and organometallic synthesis, and spectroscopy to achieve our aims. Ongoing projects include:

  • Understanding structure/reactivity relationships in nickel catalysed reactions
  • Quantifying reactivity and site-selectivity in metal catalysed C-H functionalisation reactions
  • The design of new ligands and quantification of their properties

We are grateful to have received generous funding from organisations including the EPSRC, the Carnegie Trust, GSK, AstraZeneca, Syngenta, the Leverhulme Trust, and the Royal Society.

Further details can be found on our website at http://personal.strath.ac.uk/david.nelson/.

In addition to research and teaching, I organise colloquia for research students and staff in the Catalysis & Synthesis and Chemical Biology & Medicinal Chemistry sections. I have been a member of the Editorial Board of the Springer Nature journal Communications Chemistry since 2020.

Research Interests

Many important reactions in industry today are catalysed by transition metal complexes. Our research focusses on the design, discovery, understanding and optimisation of selective and economical processes, with a specific focus on developing reactions to the point that they can be deployed on scale in industry.

Key Phrases: Catalysis; Organometallic Chemistry; Physical Organic Chemistry; Organic Synthesis

Funding: We are grateful to have received funding and support from the following organisations: Johnson-Matthey/Alfa Aesar; Fluorochem; The Carnegie Trust; The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC); Syngenta; AstraZeneca; GlaxoSmithKline; The Leverhulme Trust; The Royal Society.

Detailed Summary: A detailed summary can be found on our group website (http://personal.strath.ac.uk/david.nelson/).

Training: Students within the research group gain training and experience in the synthesis, isolation, characterisation, and study of interesting organic and organometallic compounds. We use a variety of tools and techniques to achieve our aims, including: Schlenk techniques; inert atmosphere gloveboxes; NMR, UV/visible, and IR spectroscopy; GC and GC/mass spectrometry; cyclic voltammetry.

Expertise & Capabilities


  • Catalysis
  • Cross-coupling
  • C-H activation
  • N-Heterocyclic carbenes
  • Organometallic chemistry
  • Physical organic chemistry


  • Organometallic and organic synthesis
  • Handling of air- and moisture-sensitive compounds
  • NMR and UV/visible spectroscopies
  • Reaction kinetics
  • Reaction simulation using numerical integration software
  • Density functional theory (DFT)

Industrial Relevance

Catalysis provides many of the tools that various chemical industries use to prepare important molecules and materials. The rate and scale at which we can prepare such chemicals, as well as their cost, are often dictated by the availability of suitable chemical processes by which they can be made.

We are therefore focussing on two key areas that have been established in academia, but have yet to be regularly used on an industrial scale. These are (i) ruthenium-catalysed C-H activation and (ii) nickel-catalysed cross coupling. By understanding what influences activity and selectivity in these processes, we aim to develop the next generation of catalysts and reactions, towards their deployment in industry.

Academic / Professional qualifications

Qualifications and Experience

  • Senior Lecturer, University of Strathclyde, 2018 - Present
  • Chancellor's Fellow and Lecturer, University of Strathclyde, 2014 - 2018
  • Research Fellow (with Prof. S. P. Nolan FRSE), University of St Andrews, 2012 - 2014
  • PhD in Pure and Applied Chemistry (with Prof. J. M. Percy), University of Strathclyde, 2008 - 2012
  • MChem in Chemistry with Industrial Experience, University of Edinburgh, 2003 - 2008


  • Member of the Royal Society of Chemistry
  • Member of the Americal Chemical Society
  • Member of the Society of Chemical Industry
  • Member of the Society of Chemical Industry Young Chemists' Panel
  • Fellow of the Higher Education Academy


Teaching Interests

Current Teaching

CH450/8 Distance Learning Course - Reaction Mechanisms. [2014/15 - Present] This distance learning course is completed by MChem students on placement. The aims of the course are to: develop knowledge and understanding of reaction mechanisms, particularly in organic chemistry; develop skills in analysing reaction mechanisms; extend powers of analysis and deduction, and relate these to the choice of appropriate experiments in the study of reaction mechanisms; and show how knowledge of reaction mechanisms is related to synthetic chemistry and the understanding of processes both in the laboratory or production plant and in living systems.

CH508/9 Advanced and Modern Methods in Organic Synthesis. [2017/18 - Present] This course covers a range of state-of-the-art techniques in organic synthesis, including: palladium, copper, iridium, ruthenium, and gold-catalysis, organocatalysis, and asymmetric synthesis. Several lectures are devoted to the study of physical organic chemistry in the understanding of these reactions.

CH538: Molecular Catalysis. [2019/20] This course covers various topics in homogeneous catalysis, including the use of organometallic complexes, enzymes, and main group complexes. Students learn about applications, underlying mechanisms, techniques for interrogating reactions, and techniques for catalyst separation and recycling.

CH721: Well defined complexes of gold: synthesis, properties and homogeneous catalysis. [2014/15, 2016/17, 2018/19] This course for MPhil and PhD students is delivered in January/February of odd-numbered years. The course covers a range of organic and organometallic chemistry, with a special focus on catalysis, including: the history of gold catalysis; the properties of gold including favoured oxidation states, ligands and geometries; fundamental reactivity of organogold complexes; the synthesis of modern gold complexes as homogeneous catalysts (Au(I) and Au(III)); synthesis of related gold complexes, such as hydroxides, peroxides, di-, tri- and poly-gold complexes; and C-H activation/functionalisation and cross-coupling with gold.


Previous Teaching Activities

CH107 Chemistry: Principles and Practice 2 - Organic Chemistry. [2016/17, 2017/18] This first year undergraduate course provides students with the understanding of key reactions, concepts, and principles that are relevant to the study and use of organic chemistry. These include: nucleophiles, electrophiles, and radicals; alkenes and their reactions; epoxides and their reactions; carbonyl compounds and their oxidation, reduction, and reactions.

CH208 Fundamental Organic Chemistry - Aromatic Chemistry. [2016/17] This second year course provides students with the understanding of aromatic molecules and their reactivity, including: identifying aromatic molecules; electrophilic and nucleophilic aromatic substitution; and the generation and reactions of benzyne.

Education/Academic qualification

Doctor of Philosophy, University of Strathclyde

Master of Chemistry, University of Edinburgh

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Research Output

Aldehydes and ketones influence reactivity and selectivity in nickel-catalysed Suzuki-Miyaura reactions

Cooper, A. K., Leonard, D. K., Bajo, S., Burton, P. M. & Nelson, D. J., 21 Feb 2020, In : Chemical Science. 11, 7, p. 1905-1911 7 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Open Access
  • 2 Citations (Scopus)
    3 Downloads (Pure)
    Open Access
  • Thesis

    A quantitative scale for directing group power in ruthenium(II)-catalysed ortho-directed C-H arylation reactions

    Author: McIntyre, J., 12 Oct 2017

    Supervisor: Nelson, D. (Supervisor) & Murphy, J. (Supervisor)

    Student thesis: Master's Thesis


    Communications Chemistry (Journal)

    David Nelson (Editorial board member)
    1 Apr 2020 → …

    Activity: Publication peer-review and editorial work typesEditorial board member

    Nickel Catalysis

    David Nelson (Consultant)
    10 Mar 202030 Mar 2020

    Activity: Consultancy typesConsultancy


    Supply of NHC-Nickel Complexes for Commercial Sale

    David Nelson (Participant)

    Impact: Economic and commerce