Dr Lee Higham
Senior Lecturer

  • Email: lee.higham@ncl.ac.uk
  • Telephone: +44 (0) 191 208 5542
  • Address: School of Chemistry
    Bedson Building
    Newcastle University
    Newcastle upon Tyne
    NE1 7RU


I was awarded an EPSRC Fellowship for the period 2009-2014 to better understand some highly exciting and somewhat controversial findings we have made in phosphorus chemistry.
What if:
-a functional group avoided by many researchers due to its tendency to burst into flames or even explode, could be tamed and made safe?
-we could use this technology to prepare safe alternatives for workers in the chemical industry?
-we can make previously inaccessible chiral ligand libraries to prepare enantiopure pharmaceutical precursors?
-we can make 'smarter' disease imaging agents?

The LJH team are currently working hard on these and other exciting projects.

Roles and Responsibilities

EPSRC Career Acceleration Fellow 2009-2014.
Erasmus and North America Exchange Programme Coordinator.
Inorganic, Organic and Physical Chemistry Lecturer.
Director of Outreach programme 2008-2009 at the SoC.
PhD, MChem and MSc Supervisor (ongoing).


PhD (UEA): 2000

Previous Positions

Researcher in Catalyst Discovery & Development, Celtic Catalysts, Dublin, Ireland.

Marie Curie 'Development Host' Research Fellowship on Combinatorial Asymmetric Catalysis, School of Chemistry & Chemical Biology, UCD

Postdoctoral Research Fellow sponsored by BP Chemicals & Rhodia, School of Chemistry, University of Bristol with Prof. Paul Pringle


Member of the Royal Society of Chemistry (MRSC).

Honours and Awards

EPSRC Career Acceleration Fellow, 2009-2014.
Marie Curie Research Fellow, 2003-2005.
RSC bursary awarded to present at the 1st EuCheMS in Budapest, 2006 and the SET for Britain Roadshow, 2007.
Royal Society 'Science in Society' Fellow 2002.
Best Lecture Glaxo Wellcome Symposium, UEA 1998.


Bad Italian (Erasmus year spent at the University of Naples).

Research Interests

Higham Group Research Page
Organophosphorus Chemistry and its many wonders!

Latest research published Chapter 1, in the forthcoming book 'Phosphorus Compounds: Advanced Tools in Catalysis and Material Sciences' discusses our breakthrough work on air-stable, chiral primary phosphines: www.springer.com/chemistry/book/978-90-481-3816-6
Watch this space for more exciting developments in 2011.

Other Expertise

Organometallic Chemistry; Homogeneous Catalysis; Asymmetric Catalysis; Primary Phosphines; Fluorescent Phosphines; Phosphino Amino Acids.

Current Work

The main objective of my research group is to understand organophosphorus chemistry, with its multitude of applications in biology and catalysis always at the forefront of our minds. These compounds are often readily studied by NMR, IR and X-ray crystallography and are forever throwing-up surprises. Phosphorus sits at the boundary between Inorganic, Organic and Biological chemistry and allows us to probe the best of all worlds.

Our team is currently investigating the stability and applications of primary phosphines in asymmetric catalysis and biomedicine. A project within the LJH group will allow a researcher to become experienced in air-sensitive techniques, multinuclear nmr analysis, Infra Red Spectroscopy, High Resolution Mass Spectrometry and X-ray crystallographic data interpretation. We have recently invested ca. £15k on an electrochemical analyser for cyclic voltammetry and our own internal molecular modeling capability.

Hard working and friendly undergraduate students in their second and third years are welcome to apply for Nuffield and University-sponsored Summer Studentships.

Future Research

We aim to establish the routine use of primary phosphines, a class of compound generally thought to be extremely hazardous. These are in fact ideal precursors for the development of novel chiral ligands to be used in radiopharmaceuticals and asymmetric catalysis.

A second goal is to develop synthetic methodology in order to investigate novel organophosphorus compounds as pharmaceuticals.

A third project aims to prepare phosphorus-containing nanoparticles for asymmetric catalysis.

Finally the application of organophosphorus compounds to materials science is also currently being investigated.

Postgraduate Supervision

The group regularly hosts summer undergraduates (stage 2 and 3 undergrads sponsored by the University, Nuffield Foundation and the URCCIP), MChem and MSc research students, and a number of PhD workers.

Esteem Indicators

EPSRC Career Acceleration Fellow 2009-2014.
Member of the EPSRC Peer Review College.
Proposal Referee for the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada
Member of the Royal Society of Chemistry.
Invited speaker at the RSC General Assembly 2007.
Symposium Organiser 2008: 'Catalysis Enabled Synthetic Methodology for Pharmaceuticals and Fine Chemicals'.
Director of Outreach at the SoC; Responsible for creating the concept and securing £0.25M funding to build the School's flagship project 'The Outreach Laboratory' which allows regional schoolchildren access to practical chemistry facilities & support, 2008-2009.
Oral presentations: The International Conference on Phosphorus Chemistry, China 2007; Scottish Dalton, St. Andrews 2009; Homogeneous Catalysis and Bioinorganic Chemistry for Medicine and Nanomaterials Symposium, Newcastle 2009; Strathclyde University 2010; UEA 2011; Nottingham University 2011; American Chemical Society Conferences: Anaheim 2011, Atlanta 2006 & San Diego 2005; Set for Britain Research Day, House of Commons, 2007; RSC bursary awarded to speak at the 1st EuCheMS conference in Budapest, 2006.
Invited to write "Comment" section of Chemistry World, May 2006.
Invited Delegate at Voice of the Future 2006 at The House of Commons, organised by the Royal Society of Chemistry; a 'Question-Time' quizzing of the Select Committee on Science and Technology.
Invited delegate to the Council for Science and Technology (a Government Think Tank), Young Researchers Symposium, 2006.
Royal Society MP-Scientist Pairing Scheme Fellow, 2002; this established a collaboration between myself and Andrew Murrison MP to network and discuss science issues; time was spent at the RSC and with the International Media.


Awarded an EPSRC Career Acceleration Fellowship in 2009.
Vacation Scholarships x2 awarded from Newcastle University, Nuffield Foundation x2 and the URCCIP x3 in 2009-2010.
£0.25M brought in to create the School's flagship project The Outreach Laboratory

Industrial Relevance

We have been kindly supported in our research by Rhodia, Evonik, Fluorochem and Johnson Matthey. And, of course, the EPSRC!

The stabilisation of highly reactive functionality such as the -PH2 group should allow the safer synthesis of chiral phosphines for asymmetric catalysis which are employed by the pharmaceutical industry. Other larger scale processes we are looking at, such as hydroformylation/carbonylation, are of interest to BP and Shell. We also have links to Strem Chemicals Inc. and Celtic Catalysts.


In talks with the Business Development Directorate and an International Chemical Supplier about the possibility of patenting certain ligands.

Undergraduate Teaching

Stage 1.
CHY1201 Elements of Physical Chemistry: Spectroscopy - 12 lectures

Stage 1.
CHY1201 Elements of Physical Chemistry: Spectroscopy - 12 lectures. Inorganic tutorials, lab demonstrating & script marking.
Stage 2.
CHY2301 Metal-Ligand Bonding: Organometallics, Comparative Transition Metal Chemistry - 25 lectures.
CHY2401 Structural Chemistry: Multinuclear NMR Spectroscopy - 6 lectures.
Lab demonstrating & script marking.
Stage 3.
Lab demonstrating & script marking.
Stage 4.
CHY4302 Further Inorganic Chemistry: Inorganic Materials - 8 lectures.

Postgraduate Teaching

CHY8301 Catalyst Application & Design: Alkene Polymerisation & Metathesis - 5 lectures.
CHY8105 Methods and Techniques for Drug Discovery: Retrosynthesis, Spectroscopy - 20 lectures.
MSc Lab demonstrating & script marking.