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MSc by Research – Bioactive Chemistry

Bioactive Chemistry is the study of how molecules impact and interact with life and requires an appreciation at the molecular level of the chemical and biochemical processes involved. Research in bioactive chemistry therefore involves the development and application of novel molecular tools, materials and techniques that are essential to our ability to meet the challenges of the 21st Century including infectious disease, antimicrobial resistance, feeding growing populations and building sustainable environments.

Ongoing research in Bioactive Chemistry at Durham is leading to

New treatments for neglected tropical diseases,

Poster title is Infectious Diseases.  The picture is of microscopic disease molecules


Light activated nanomachines for photodynamic therapy

Poster text reads Applied Materials & Interfaces.  Poster image is of molecular diagrams powering lightbulbs


Cofactor engineering for synthetic biology and biocatalysis  

A cover poster for the JOC showing plants with molecular diagrams


New sensing platforms for bacterial toxins

A poster bearing the writing biomacromolecules.  Image shows a micro scope slide of molecules


Peptide nanomaterials as anticancer agents

 Poster bearing the title Biomedical Engineering and diagrams


 Structure Based Drug Discovery

Image shows a 3D printer, with the title


Bioinspired and Eco-Friendly Antibacterial Surfaces

Poster bearing the title Journal of Materials Chemistry B.  Image is a drawing of a person with a cage on their head.


New Vehicles for Drug Delivery

Image shows two jellies on an outdoor dining table.  Each jelly bears a molecular diagram on a cocktail stick.

All these exciting projects are driven by chemist working in partnership with life, clinical, engineering and materials scientists both with colleagues in other University Departments and with collaborators in the healthcare, pharmaceutical, biotech, personal care and agritech sectors.

Masters by Research - New Projects for 2023

We are excited to offer new Bioactive Chemistry projects for the MSc by Research departmental programmes. These projects offers graduate students year-long research opportunities in interdisciplinary research and are excellent preparation for an interdisciplinary PhD involving chemistry and the life sciences. For more information about the wider research interests of those offering projects please use the links below. Each project will last for 12 months [or potentially 24 months part-time] and will be assessed by a final research dissertation / thesis that will be examined by experts in the field from both within and external to the University.

  • Title – Chemical Tools for the Identification of Plant U-Box Proteins: A new approach for Agrochemical Discovery

Professor Patrick Steel (Chemistry) Professor Ari Sadanandom (Biosciences)


  • Title – Exploring the Leishmania Host Pathogen Interactome through Chemical Proteomics

Professor Patrick Steel (Chemistry) Dr Kalesh Karunakaran (National Horizons Centre)


  • Title - Artificial Intelligence for Metagenomic Database Mining

Professor Ehmke Pohl (Biosciences and Chemistry)


  • Title – Harnessing circularly polarised luminescence for the detection of chiral emissive species in live cell imaging and thermometry

Professor Robert Pal (Chemistry)


  • Title – Designer gels for crystallizing bioavailable drug polymorphs

Professor Jon Steed (Chemistry)


  • Title – Artificial Thiamin Cofactors - Synthesis and Applications in Biocatalysis

Professor AnnMarie O’Donoghue (Chemistry) and Professor David Hodgson (Chemistry)


  • Title – Synthesis and Applications of Peptide Conjugates of Stable Organic Radicals

Professor AnnMarie O’Donoghue (Chemistry) and Dr William Brittain (Chemistry)


  • Title – Probing Plant Kinases

Professor Patrick Steel (Chemistry) and Dr Martin Edwards (Newcastle University)


  • Title –Synthesis of Nucleoside Phosphates for Synthetic Biology and Chemical Biology

David R. W. Hodgson (Chemistry)


  • Title - Novel Fatty Acids for Profiling the Reactivity of Bioactive Lipids 

John Sanderson (Chemistry) and Paul Denny (Biosciences)


  • Title - Novel membrane-active Antimicrobials 

John Sanderson (Chemistry) and Gary Sharples (Biosciences)


  • Title - Synthesis of new small molecules as ligands for bacterial cysteine synthases

Dr Allegra Franchino (Chemistry) and Professor Ehmke Pohl (Biosciences and Chemistry)

Programme structure and Duration

The course is a one-year research project (or 24 months part-time) based in the laboratories of your supervisory team.  During this period students are encouraged to attend and contribute to research seminars, symposia and workshops.  To broaden their general chemistry knowledge students are required to attend a minimum of four lecture courses of relevance to their own research area(s), which provide additional tailored academic and scientific development opportunities.  These are chosen by the student in consultation with their supervisor from a portfolio offered for students at this level.  In addition to these there are many wider student experience activities, as well as non-credit bearing skills development courses delivered through the Chemistry Department and other Department’s across the University including Biosciences, Maths, Computer Science, Earth Sciences, Engineering and Physics.  Training in a wide range of transferrable skills is also provided via our Durham Centre for Academic Development, our aligned Centres for Doctoral Training and through our Department Early Career Researcher group.

How we Support our Postgraduate Students

Mutual respect and support are at the core of how the Department of Chemistry functions.  Masters by Research students are a valued part of our interdisciplinary community, and are encouraged to take part in all of our activities, particularly our Early Career Researcher Group.  All postgraduate students are assigned a “supervisory team” comprising their supervisor and a second member of academic staff, providing both scientific direction and more general support.

In addition to the formal courses described above we offer an enhanced range of opportunities for Masters by Research students to participate in to support their development as professional chemists. These include:

  • Project-specific technical training from the MSc supervisory team.
  • Weekly seminars in the Department of Chemistry covering a diverse range of topics.
  • Monthly Bioactive Chemistry Research Meetings. 

Career Development  

The MSc by research gives graduate students year-long research opportunities, increasing their research skills and independence. The course provides training in both specialist provided further develops valuable transferable skills. They are excellent preparation for an R&D career in industry or an interdisciplinary research PhD.

How to Apply 

  • Expression of interest: via email to Postgraduate Admissions.  Please include a CV and a statement (no more than 1 page) of why this course is right for you.  This statement should include the titles of two projects of interest to you.
  • The Supervisors of your chosen projects will review your application and may then invite you to attend an in-person or on-line interview.  
  • Following a successful interview you will receive an invitation to submit a formal application for postgraduate study using the link on the Department of Chemistry Postgraduate Opportunities pages.
  • Applications are now being accepted for an October 2023 start date. 

Entry Requirements

Academic qualifications: We ask for a minimum of 2:1 BSc, 2:2 MChem (or equivalent) in chemistry or a related subject.

English Language requirements: For students whose first language is not English or whose first degree was awarded by a University not delivering the courses in English, postgraduate students must demonstrate proficiency in English Language.  For postgraduate study and research in the Department of Chemistry the requirement is at Band E.

Fees and Financial Support

General University information on tuition fees and funding for postgraduate research is located here.  Specific information on tuition fees for this programme can be found here ("Laboratory Based (PGR)" fees apply).  There may be a requirement for bench fees although this varies depending on the nature of the project and the support status available to the student.