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Department of Chemistry

About the Department

James Finlay Wier Johnston

James Finlay Wier Johnston

The first attempts to found a “Laboratory for Chymical Experiments” in Durham can be traced back to Cromwell in 1657, but these early initiatives were unfortunately blocked politically. It therefore wasn’t until 1832 that James Finlay Wier Johnston was appointed as a lecturer then reader in Chemistry and Mineralogy. Johnston made many important contributions both to chemistry and to the local community. His text “Catechism of Agricultural Chemistry and Geology” (1844) is still available at Amazon 170 years after it was first published, and a local secondary school is named in his honour. Since Johnston’s time, each generation of Durham chemists has continued to make major contributions on the world stage. Six of our current and emeritus staff have been awarded Fellowships of the Royal Society (FRS). You can read more about the history of the Department on our history and alumni wiki site.

The modern Chemistry Department is a thriving centre of scientific activity. Every year it welcomes over 100 new honours Chemistry undergraduates, 150 Natural Science undergraduates, around 35 new postgraduate students and numerous post-doctoral fellows and visiting scientists from around the world. The Department is staffed by a total of 110 people, including academics, teaching fellows, research assistants, technicians, administrators and secretaries. We work closely with many universities and other institutions around the world in our teaching and research. Information on how to join us is available here.

We offer a range of three and four year degrees in chemistry and the Natural Sciences. You can find out more about these via our undergraduate web pages. The lively Durham Chemical Society (DUCS) organises a variety of extra-curricular activities for our students, which include lectures from industry, academia, annual “flashes and bangs” fireworks lectures as well as careers-related events. Our students are in high demand by industry and academia; our undergraduates have topped the employability league tables in recent years and many of our PhD students and PDRAs have gone on to permanent academic positions.

There are currently 40 permanent members of the academic staff who lead research groups. Their activities are coordinated by our six overarching Research Groupings in the areas of: Biological Chemistry, Materials Synthesis and Structure, Optical and Molecular Electronics, Soft Matter Surfaces and Interfaces and Sustainable Chemistry and Catalysis.

Our research community is made up of 4th year Masters Students, over 100 PhD students, post-doctoral researchers and a range of international visitors. We have frequent seminars and other research symposia, including our flagship “Durham Lecture Series” which make the Department a stimulating and exciting place to do research. Much of our work is interdisciplinary and we interact closely with colleagues in other Departments through Durham’s Research Institutes (particularly the Biophysical Sciences Institute and Durham Energy Institute) and Centres (for example in Sustainable Chemistry, X-ray methods, and Soft Matter).

Our research is funded by many different organisations including Research Councils such as EPSRC, BBSRC and NERC, the European Commission, medical research foundations and charities. We also undertake a large number of research projects in collaboration with industries in the personal products, chemical and pharmaceutical sectors, and have built strong strategic partnerships with several organisations. We have also spun out a number of successful companies from our research.

Our webpages and wiki site contain a wealth of information about the Department and you can hear about our most recent successes via the newspages. If you would like to learn more about the Department please follow the instructions on the contact us pages.