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To achieve this ambitious project, we have brought together a cross-disciplinary team of nine Investigators, ten Post-doctoral Researchers, four PhD students, and a Project Manager spread across the Universities of Sheffield, Bristol and Exeter.  


Their combined expertise spans synthetic biology, photosynthesis, synthetic chemistry, nanotechnology, polymer science, plasmonics, molecular physics and theory. 

Current group members
Picture of Demetris Bates
Demetris Bates

Demetris obtained an MSci(Hons) in Chemistry from the University of Nottingham in 2013. Following this, he worked in industry on cadmium-free quantum dots for display applications and was involved in process scale-up, product production and technology transfer to a pilot plant. In 2016, Demetris began his doctoral studies under Dr Craig Robertson at the University of Liverpool researching heterocyclic radicals and the control of their magnetic and electronic properties via light, temperature and pressure. Demetris then joined the Molecular Photonic Breadboards project in 2021 as a Postdoctoral Research Associate. His current research interests include the synthesis of chromophores for the production of functionalised plasmonic surfaces exhibiting strong-coupling, multi-chromophore/plasmon interactions and the effect of structure/property relationships on light absorption.

Picture of Joel Chubb
Joel Chubb

Joel earned his Bachelor's degree in Biochemistry from Cardiff University before embarking on a joint PhD program under the supervision of Derek Woolfson at the University of Bristol and Alison Rodger at Macquarie University. During his doctoral studies, Joel specialized in designing novel peptide complexes capable of assembling into barrel-like scaffolds. He further explored their applications, including the covalent attachment of Ru-bpy complexes for photocatalysis. Currently, Joel serves as a research associate in the Woolfson group, where his work centres on understanding de novo protein scaffolds and developing them for novel functions.

Picture of Edwin Johnson
Edwin Johnson

Dr. Edwin Johnson completed his PhD in 2020 at the University of Newcastle, Australia where he examined the synthesis and characterisation of polymer brush films. Ed is currently employed as a research associate in surface-initiated polymerisation as part of the Molecular Photonic Breadboards project. Ed is examining the use of polymer brush films as interfacial scaffolds for pigment molecules and photosynthetic proteins. Ed has in depth experience with polymer brush synthesis through ATRP and surface characterisation techniques ellipsometry, AFM, XPS, U.V./vis spectroscopy and neutron reflectometry.

Picture of Robert Oliver
Robert Oliver

Robbie received his MPhys in Physics from Corpus Christi College, Oxford in 2018. Following this, Robbie conducted his DPhil studies under the supervision of Prof Henry Snaith FRS and Prof Michael Johnston, defending his thesis entitled "Interfaces in Metal Halide Perovskite Photovoltaics" in 2022. During his doctoral studies, Robbie focussed on understanding the photophysics of metal halide perovskite semiconductors, and using this knowledge to enhance the performance of photovoltaic devices based on these materials. Robbie has now moved to the University of Sheffield as a Postdoctoral Research Associate on the Molecular Photonic Breadboards project, where he is co-supervised by Dr Jenny Clark (Physics) and Prof Julia Weinstein (Chemistry). His current research focuses on studying light-matter interactions between excitons in organic semiconductors and surface plasmons. In the so-called strong-coupling regime, these excitations couple to form a new hybrid state called a surface plasmon polariton, which combines the properties of light and matter. My research seeks to understand these polaritons on a fundamental level by tracking energy transfer on the nano- and microscopic length scales. This involves capitalising on the latest advances in near-field optical spectroscopy and stroboscopic scattering microscopy to track energy transfer on these length scales in real-time. The aim is to use this fundamental knowledge of energy transfer of these hybrid states to create design rules for the long-range energy transport in molecular materials.

Picture of Marie Rider
Marie Rider

Marie is a postdoctoral research fellow working in the areas of theoretical nanophotonics and plasmonics. She obtained her PhD from Imperial College London in 2021, where she worked on topological light-matter interactions at the nanoscale. In particular, she developed theoretical models to describe topological insulator nanostructures interacting with light, and their application in various THz technologies. Throughout her research she has worked closely with experimental colleagues, which has followed through to her role on the Molecular Photonic Breadboards project. Her current work within the project focuses on the theory of using metallic and dielectric nanostructures to modify molecule-light interactions, particularly in the strong-coupling regime. 

Picture of William Wardley
William Wardley

Will completed his PhD at King’s College London, on the fabrication and characterisation of plasmonic metamaterials for the UV. Following this he was a post-doc for 18 months in the photonics and nanotechnology group at KCL, continuing his work on UV plasmonics and working on the fabrication of nanostructures and metamaterials on alternate substrates, such as the end of an optical fibre or the curved surface of a lens. Following this, he moved to the Natural and Artificial Photonic Structures group, at the International Iberian Nanotechnology Laboratory in Braga, Portugal. There he worked on bio-derived and bio-inspired photonic structures, such as iridescent chloroplasts found in begonia leaves and nanoporous silica exoskeletons of diatom micro algae.

Past group members
Picture of Ben Bower
Ben Bower

Funded by Leverhulme grant

After being brought up Doncaster, Ben completed an MChem degree at The University of St Andrews, before moving to a DPhil position with Prof. Benjamin G. Davis at Pembroke College, Oxford submitting a thesis titled ‘Novel Protein Modification Strategies’. Ben stayed with Prof. Davis for a PDRA position in collaboration with UCB where he studied new reactive probes for 2D-IR spectroscopy. Ben joined Prof. Graham Leggett’s group in 2019 initially working on the Leverhulme Trust project ‘Synthetic Plexitonic Complexes’, before being incorporated into the Molecular Photonic Breadboard in 2021.  Ben’s research interest include: Light matter interactions, biopolymers, organic synthesis and NMR spectroscopy. Away from work Ben enjoys cycling, homebrewing and caring for guinea pigs.

Diagram of Molecular Photonic Breadboards
Rahul Jayaprakash
Diagram of Molecular Photonic Breadboards
George Sutherland
Picture of Wassie M Takele
Wassie M Takele

Wassie earned his master’s degree in Physical Chemistry from the Department of Chemistry at Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia. After working as a lecturer for one year at Arba Minch University, he was awarded a two-year Erasmus Mundus scholarship in 2013, which allows Wassie to study in three European countries (Spain, Portugal, and the UK) and broaden his international experience. Wassie was the recipient of the prestigious Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions fellowship (from March 2017 until May 2021) to conduct his PhD research at two different laboratories: the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences (Prof. Waluk’s group) and the University of Tuebingen (Prof. Meixner’s group). In his thesis, Wassie investigated the influence of the zero-point-energy fluctuations of the optical mode of a microcavity on the IR absorption, Raman scattering, and photoinduced chemical reactivity of molecules. Wassie’s main research areas are light-matter coupling, plasmonics, and single- molecule spectroscopy. Currently, Wassie has been working as a Post-Doctoral Researcher at the University of Sheffield, where he is investigating the photophysical properties and the exciton dynamics of synthetic antenna complexes under plexcitonic strong coupling.

Picture of Kishan-Menghrajani
Kishan Menghrajani

Funded by Leverhulme grant

Kishan's research spans the broad umbrella of light-matter interactions, more specifically in understanding the coupling between molecules and the photonic modes of nanostructures. He obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Exeter in 2019, titled, ‘Strong Coupling of Molecular vibrational Resonances’, where he was exploring strong coupling between the vibrational modes of molecules and infra-red surface plasmons.

Diagram of Molecular Photonic Breadboards
Anna Lishchuk
Picture of Fabio Pirro
Fabio Pirro

Fabio received Chemistry Degrees (BSc and MSc) in Naples, then obtained his PhD supervised by Prof. Angela Lombardi in Naples, Italy. During his PhD, he worked on the de novo design of allosterically modulated multi-domain metalloenzymes in collaboration with the DeGrado Lab (UCSF), where he spent six months as visiting graduate. Fabio then joined the Molecular Photonic Breadboards project in 2021 as a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Dek Woolfson lab at the University of Bristol. His work is focused on the de novo design of ⍺-helical barrels able to bind small chromophores, to develop a new class of artificial light-harvesting complexes.

Picture of Ravi Kumar Venkatraman
Ravi Kumar Venkatraman 

Currently, Ravi is a postdoctoral research associate at the Department of Chemistry (and affiliated with the Department of Physics and Astronomy), The University of Sheffield. His research interests are to unravel the energy transfer mechanisms in (Bio-)Molecular Photonic Breadboards using a variety of Ultrafast Spectroscopy Techniques. These techniques can be thought of as a camera with a shutter speed of 100 parts per quadrillionth of a second. Therefore it can track molecules' motion in real-time and generate a motion picture of molecules at work. Ravi obtained his PhD from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, India in 2017, entitled “Solvent Effects on Photophysics and Photochemistry of Aromatic Carbonyls: A Raman and Computational Study.” Following his PhD, Ravi was internationally mobile, with a two-year postdoctoral stint at Bristol as a Newton Fellow (2017-19) and one year as a postdoctoral scholar (2019-20) at the University of Texas at Austin. His past research interests were to provide a holistic approach to understanding the influence of solvent environments on chromophore photophysics & photochemistry using various ultrafast optical spectroscopy techniques including multidimensional spectroscopy. Apart from his research activities, he likes spending time playing badminton, and cricket, in amateur photography, and with his family.

8.     S. Astier, E. C. Johnson, O. Norvilaite, S. Varlas, G. Sanderson, G. J. Leggett and S. P. Armes, "Controlling adsorption of diblock copolymer nanoparticles onto an aldehyde-functionalized hydrophilic polymer brush via pH modulation", Langmuir, 2024, 40, 3667−3676.

7.     S. J. Hunter, M. H. A. Elella, E. C. Johnson, L. Taramova, E. E. Brotherton, S. P. Armes, V. V. Khutoryanskiy, M. J. Smallridge, "Mucoadhesive pickering nanoemulsions via dynamic covalent chemistry", J.Coll. and Interface Sci., 2023, Volume 651, Pages 334-345, ISSN 0021-9797.

5.     E. C. Johnson, S. Varlas, O. Norvilaite, T. J. Neal, E. E. Brotherton, G. Sanderson, G. J. Leggett, S. P. Armes, "Adsorption of Aldehyde-Functional Diblock Copolymer Spheres onto Surface-Grafted Polymer Brushes via Dynamic Covalent Chemistry Enables Friction Modification", Chem. Mater., 2023, 35, 6109–6122.

4.     K. I. Albanese, R. Petrenas, F. Pirro, E. A. Naudin, U. Borucu, W. M. Dawson, D. A. Scott, G. J. Leggett, O. D. Weiner, T. A. A. Oliver, D. N. Woolfson. "Rationally seeded computational protein design", bioRxiv, 2023.

3.     E. E. Brotherton, E. C. Johnson, M. J. Smallridge, D. B. Hammond, G. J. Leggett,  S. P.Armes. "Hydrophilic aldehyde-functional polymer brushes: synthesis, characterization and potential bioapplications", Macromolecules, 56, 2070–2080 (2023).
2.     E. E. Brotherton, D. Josland, C. György, E. C. Johnson, D. H. Chan, M. J. Smallridge, S. P. Armes, Histidine-Functionalized Diblock Copolymer Nanoparticles Exhibit Enhanced Adsorption onto Planar Stainless Steel. Macromol. Rapid Commun. 2023, 2200903.
1.     A. Lishchuk, E. Csányi, B. Darroch, C. Wilson, A. Nabok, G. J. Leggett. "Active control of strong plasmon–exciton coupling in biomimetic pigment–polymer antenna complexes grown by surface-initiated polymerisation from gold nanostructures". Chem. Sci., 2022, 13, 2405–2417.
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