School of Natural and Environmental Sciences

Staff Profile

Dr Lee Higham

Senior Lecturer and SNES Academic Lead for Employability and Enterprise



Our phosphorus research group has been awarded over £1M in external research funding, including Lee's EPSRC Career Acceleration Fellowship, to better understand some highly exciting and somewhat controversial findings we have made in phosphorus chemistry. Our team is split into four sections:

  1. Stable primary phosphines as gateway compopunds
  2. Fluorescent phosphorus compounds as biological cell imaging agents
  3. Highly unusual phosphorus ligands for asymmetric catalysis
  4. Phosphorus compounds in materials chemistry

Moving outside the confines of traditional and proven phosphine chemistry, we seek to use experimental and computational methodology to aid the design and synthesis of phosphorus compounds with high impact applications or which test false assumptions.

The LJH group is multidisciplinary in attitude and works with excellent international academic and industrial partners. We are previous winners of the Science, Engineering and Technology Silver Prize for UK chemistry, awarded at the Houses of Parliament.

Please go here to find out much more and get involved:

Roles and Responsibilities

  • SNES Academic Lead for Employability and Enterprise 2017
  • EPSRC Career Acceleration Fellow 2009-2014.
  • Erasmus and North America Exchange Programme Coordinator.
  • Year in Industry 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)
  • Committee member of the Applied Catalysis Group of the Royal Society of Chemistry

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.

Area of Expertise

Phosphorus Chemistry


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


Research Interests

By clicking on our dedicated website you can read a lot more about our research into Organophosphorus Chemistry and its many wonders!

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 also invested ca. £15k on an electrochemical analyser for cyclic voltammetry and our own internal molecular modelling capability.

Hard working and friendly undergraduate students in their second and third years are welcome to apply for Nuffield/RSC and University-sponsored Summer Studentships, and Erasmus and International students are regular members of the group - we collaborate widely with research groups in France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the US.

Future Research

See a lot more information on our own website here.

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, Erasmus and Non-EU 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.


EPSRC CASE Award 2017-2021

EPSRC New Directions for Research Leaders Award in 2012

Awarded an EPSRC Career Acceleration Fellowship in 2009

EPSRC EngD Award 2013-2017

Multiple Vacation Scholarships awarded from Newcastle University, Nuffield Foundation, RSC and the URCCIP

£0.25M brought in to create the School's flagship engagement 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.
CHY8425 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.