Dr Robert Cameron has received the Royal Society University Research Fellowship to support his study of chiral molecules, pairs of molecules which are mirror images of each other but which have significantly different characteristics.
This can, for example, bring about harmful side effects in drug treatments where chiral molecules are present.
Dr Cameron will use his fellowship award to develop new techniques for probing and manipulating the molecules with the use of light, which has broader applicability than chemistry-based approaches.
Dr Cameron said: “Examples of chirality are abundant in the natural world.
“Many molecules are chiral and can exist in either a left- or a right-handed form, known as enantiomers. Remarkably, the enantiomers of a chiral molecule often interact very differently with living things and this can have striking consequences for the pharmaceutical, agricultural, food, drink, cosmetics and many other industries.
“It has been predicted that around 95 per cent of new drugs will be chiral by 2020. Unfortunately, there is much our existing toolkit for chiral molecules cannot achieve.
“New techniques are needed for each chemical compound when chemistry is used but light has a much more general applicability.
“My fellowship will be concerned with the introduction of three new tools, based upon the use of light to push chiral molecules, the use of light to spin chiral molecules and the close examination of light that has been deflected by chiral molecules.
“These tools will have powerful capabilities that the existing tools do not and will underpin an entirely new level of control over molecular chirality, leading to healthier foods, fewer deaths resulting from surgeries and even new drugs with fine-tuned biological actions, to highlight but a handful of the remarkable possibilities.
“I work in theoretical physics and will be developing these new techniques from the ground up, in partnership with experimental researchers.”
Dr Cameron’s fellowship, which begins in October, is worth approximately £620,000 over five years and will enable him to recruit a PhD student to work on the project.
There will be the possibility of a three-year extension to the fellowship when the current term ends.
The Royal Society University Research Fellowship scheme was established to identify outstanding early career scientists who have the potential to become leaders in their chosen fields, providing them with the opportunity to build an independent research career.