Synthetic supramolecular chemistry

With a focus on structures comprising several or many molecules, design and synthesis of chemical systems using molecular self-assembly and molecular recognition. This research area includes the synthesis of host-guest complexes, supramolecular clusters and mechanically interlocked molecular architectures.

We aim to maintain the size of this research area as a proportion of the EPSRC portfolio. This will enable us to support and enable the continuing progress being made by Synthetic Supramolecular Chemistry, which has now started to realise its transformative potential to contribute to applications ranging from nanomaterials in aviation to supramolecular sensors in medicine. Specifically:

  • Changing approaches to Synthetic Supramolecular Chemistry research are accelerating the pace at which disruptive approaches and outputs can be applied in related areas (e.g. nanotechnology, manufacturing and medicine). Over the Delivery Plan period, the community should therefore continue to seek out new opportunities and areas where supramolecular chemistry can be truly transformative without eroding the novelty and creativity of the core discipline
  • Synthetic Supramolecular Chemistry is an area where the UK exhibits real strength in its number of internationally recognised established-career leaders. A small number of young leaders are also emerging in areas where supramolecular chemistry interfaces with other research areas (e.g. Catalysis, Synthetic Coordination Chemistry, Functional Materials and Chemical Biology, and Biological Chemistry). We will therefore work with the community to address the balance of researchers across the career pipeline by focusing on the development of early-career researchers in Synthetic Supramolecular Chemistry.

The UK has an outstanding pedigree in Synthetic Supramolecular Chemistry, with a significant number of internationally leading figures generating high-quality, impactful research (Evidence source 1,2). The quality of research in supramolecular chemistry is a highlight of synthetic chemical research in the UK and builds on national strength in underpinning fundamental core areas (Evidence source 1). Activity in this area is diverse because of the scientific challenges opened up by the ability to control 'chemistry beyond the molecule' (Evidence source 3).

Understanding and being able to control molecular/supramolecular bonding underpins and enables capability in many other areas, with research proposals containing elements from across the EPSRC portfolio, including Computational and Theoretical Chemistry, Synthetic Organic Chemistry, Polymer Materials, Catalysis, Synthetic Coordination Chemistry, Chemical Biology and Biological Chemistry, Functional Inorganic Materials and research aligned to the priorities of the Manufacturing the Future and Healthcare Technologies Themes (Evidence source 4,5).

As noted above, Synthetic Supramolecular Chemistry has begun to realise its potential to contribute to wider academic, industrial and societal fields (Evidence source 1,2,3,4,5). Early impacts - through people, knowledge and skills - have grown to include economic and societal impacts as industrial partners become increasingly engaged. Nevertheless, a wealth of potential remains to be realised due to the way Synthetic Supramolecular Chemistry provides new routes for directed synthesis and self-assembly (Evidence source 3). New opportunities are anticipated in nanotechnology, life sciences and functional materials/devices (Evidence source 3,4,5). This field of chemistry therefore has potential to contribute to capability that cuts across a number of key challenges and has the power to be truly transformative in the long term, as highlighted by the 2016 Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

This area has strong leadership in the UK, with the community supported by diverse funding sources. A number of individuals are regarded as world-leaders in this field (Evidence source 2). The community now needs to focus on developing the next generation of leaders, to ensure the UK maintains critical-mass in the long term. Trained personnel in this area also provide capability for a number of other research areas in chemistry and the physical sciences more broadly.

The infrastructure needs of this research area include computational power for modelling molecular interactions, and the use of analytical equipment both on a local scale (e.g. Nuclear Magnetic Resonance) and at national level (e.g. Diamond Light Source and the UK National Crystallography Service).

This research area provides cross-cutting capability for advanced materials and contributes to the following Ambitions within the Productive and Healthy Nation Outcomes:

P1: Introduce the next generation of innovative and disruptive technologies

This research area will provide new routes for the directed synthesis or self-assembly of functional and smart property- and application-specific materials.

H3: Optimise diagnosis and treatment

Supramolecular chemistry has already begun to fulfil its potential in this field, with chemical sensors reaching the market in the form of portable blood gas analysers with total sales exceeding $0.5 billion.

H4: Develop future therapeutic technologies

Understanding supramolecular bonding and molecular recognition will be vital to creation and manufacture of biologically active future therapies.

Research area connections

This diagram shows the top 10 connections between Research Areas within the EPSRC research portfolio. The depth of the segment relates to value of grants and the width of the segment relates to the number of grants shared by those two Research Areas. Please click to see the related Research Area rationale.


We aim to maintain this area as a proportion of the EPSRC portfolio.

Visualising our Portfolio (VoP)
Visualising our portfolio (VoP) is a tool for users to visually interact with the EPSRC portfolio and data relationships.

EPSRC Support by Research Area in Synthetic Supramolecular Chemistry (GoW)
Search EPSRC's research and training grants.

Contact Details

In the following table, contact information relevant to the page. The first column is for visual reference only. Data is in the right column.

Name: Eleanor Jaskowska
Job title: Portfolio Manager
Organisation: EPSRC
Telephone: 01793 444319