What's it like to meet a Nobel Prize winning chemist?


Former Sheffield University lecturer Sir J. Fraser Stoddart was awarded a share of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Sir Fraser joined the University of Sheffield in 1970 as an ICI research fellow, before becoming a Lecturer in Chemistry and later being promoted to Reader. He left the University in 1990 to take up a position at the University of Birmingham before moving to the USA, where he is currently Professor of Chemistry at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

Earlier in 2017, Sir Fraser was invited back to Sheffield as part of British Science Week and the Sheffield Festival of Science & Engineering. He took the opportunity to visit the department where he had worked for 19 years and attend a special poster session where PhD students and fourth year undergraduates presented their research to him. While our students took inspiration from the interest that Sir Fraser displayed in their work (and his answers to their questions), he could also relate to the students - especially their persistance and enjoyment of research.

Krebs Lecture

As part of his visit to the University of Sheffield, Sir Fraser also delivered a Krebs Lecture entitled "The Rise of Mechanical Bond: From Molecules to Machines".

Watch the lecture

A Student's perspective

Sir Fraser was impressed by how many of our students took ownership of their work in an interdisciplinary fashion. One example was Beth Crawston's research that used cellular imaging techniques in addition to chemical synthesis.

Beth and Sir Fraser at the psoter session

Read Beth's Medium post on her experience of the day

Chemists have a diverse set of skills

Undertaking one of our degrees will equip you with the large set of skills a modern chemist needs. John Cully presented a poster to Sir Fraser describing his final year undergraduate research project - designing, building and testing a fluorescence microscope. To be able to do this, John drew on skills and knowledge in computing, biological chemistry, data analysis and a whole lot more.

John and Sir Fraser at the poster session

Zoe and Sir Fraser at the poster session

It was an amazing experience to be able to discuss my research with a Nobel Prize winner and I will never forget it. Sir Fraser seemed genuinely interested in the work I was presenting on nitrogen-rich compounds, and he was very friendly and down-to-earth.

zoe smallwood, Chemistry phd student

See more photos from the event on our Facebook page.


Sir J. Fraser Stoddart shared the 2016 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Jean-Pierre Sauvage and Bernard L. Feringa for "their design and production of molecular machines." Sir Fraser’s highly cited 1991 paper outlines the creation of a molecular shuttle along a class of molecules known as rotaxanes. These are molecules where a ring has been threaded through a chain which cannot escape as the ends are blocked by bulky carbon chains called “stoppers”. He has since built upon these ideas in a number of applications, such as molecule-based computer chips.

Supramolecular chemistry remains an active area of research in the department, including the groups of Prof Mike Ward, Prof Lee Brammer and Prof Jim Thomas.