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Trinity College Dublin

Research in the McDonald group involves the synthesis of compounds that mimic the roles metals play in biology. Our goal is to take inspiration from biology to develop synthetic catalysts that replicate and/or display enhanced catalytic reactivity as well as gaining a deep understanding of biochemical reactions.


High-Valent Oxidants: The mild, cheap, and selective activation of hydrocarbons (for use in the pharmaceutical and agriculture industries) is a grand chemical challenge due to the strength of the C–H bond. We develop methods for bioinspired metal-mediated oxidative activation of C–H bonds in hydrocarbon substrates. We have identified that tuning of the reactivity of high-valent oxidants can be achieved by simple ligand exchange at high-valent oxidants. We are exploring a new class of hydrocarbon oxidation reaction, high-valent metal-halide C–H hydrogen atom transfer activation, which we believe will achieve facile C–H activation under ambient conditions.

Understanding the Ribonucleotide Reductases: RNRs are essential enzymes that convert ribonucleotides to their corresponding deoxyribonucleotides, providing the precursors for DNA synthesis and repair in all organisms. We prepare biomimetic dimanganese complexes that mimic the structure and function of class Ib dimanganese RNRs. These complexes react with superoxide resulting in the formation of species that mimic the postulated active oxidants in RNRs. Our findings give experimental support for the postulated mechanism of class Ib dimanganese RNRs providing insight into a poorly understood biochemistry.

The chemistry of 2D nanomaterials: We have developed efficient methods for the functionalisation of 2D nanomaterials, making them easily processed and manipulated for industrial application. This has allowed us to tether (amongst others) photosensitising molecules to their surface in order to facilitate light-driven hydrogen evolution catalysis (left). We are currently exploring methods for the functionalisation of transition metal dichalcogenides to enhance their catalytic properties.

Our research is funded by:

EU European Research Council Starting Grant

Royal Society/SFI University Research Fellowship

SFI research centre AMBER/CRANN

Irish Research Council postgraduate award


Useful research LINKS: Useful resources for group members and those pursuing research in bioinspired inorganic chemistry.

Funding opportunities: If you are interested in applying for external funding for a Ph.D. or PostDoc position in our group from the funding agencies below (or elsewhere) please contact Aidan.


Trinity Awards
Science Without Borders
Irish Research Council
Irish Cancer Society


Irish Research Council
Irish Cancer Society
Marie Curie
EMBO Fellowship
HFSP Fellowship