Daniele Leonori

2021 United Kingdom Award Winner — Faculty

Daniele Leonori

Current Position:
Professor of Organic Chemistry

The University of Manchester

Organic Chemistry

Recognized for: The development of new methods for the formation of chemical bonds between atoms of carbon and nitrogen. His techniques have revolutionized the synthesis of complex molecules by employing photocatalysis—a method to expedite chemical reactions using visible light.

Daniele Leonori

Areas of Research Interest and Expertise: Photocatalysis, Radical Methodology, C–H Activation

Previous Positions:

MChem in Medicinal Chemistry, Universita’ degli Studi di Perugia, Italy
PhD, University of Sheffield, UK
Post-Doctoral Research Associate, RWTH-Aachen University, Germany
Post-Doctoral Research Associate, Max Planck Institute for Colloids and Interfaces, Germany
Research Officer, University of Bristol, UK

Research Summary:

Living things are made up of organic molecules, as are the vast majority of pharmaceutical compounds and agrochemicals. Organic molecules are composed primarily of carbon atoms, but almost always contain other elements, including hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen. Many of these important molecules are synthesized in a laboratory, and it is important to have efficient and inexpensive routes to access them. Daniele Leonori, PhD, has developed new synthetic methods to form bonds between carbon and nitrogen atoms that save both time and money compared to the current state of the art.

Though there are several approaches available for forming carbon–nitrogen bonds, Leonori’s method takes advantage of visible light and a photocatalyst to generate highly reactive nitrogen radicals—short-lived species that are forced into existence through careful control of reaction conditions. This method has several advantages: it avoids the use of toxic metals typically used to generate radicals, reaction conditions that are quite mild and can support a wide-range of chemical species, and it is much more efficient than currently-employed methods that involve multiple synthetic steps to accomplish the same end result. Because carbon–nitrogen bonds are ubiquitous in pharmaceutical compounds, the methods developed in the Leonori laboratory have already found use by companies like AstraZeneca to expedite the synthesis of valuable drug targets.

“My research focuses on inventing new photocatalytic pathways to prepare nitrogenated molecules like drugs and agrochemicals. I am deeply honored to be named the Blavatnik Laureate in Chemistry for the United Kingdom and I owe this success to my outstanding students and postdoctoral researchers. It is their hard work and continuous ability to surprise me with new ways to look at chemistry that has led to all of our major discoveries.”

Key Publications:

  1. S. Dighe, F. Julia, A. Luridiana, J. J. Douglas and D. Leonori. A Photochemical Dehydrogenative Strategy for Aniline Synthesis. Nature, 2020.

  2. E.M. Dauncey, S.P. Morcillo, J.J. Douglas, N.S. Sheikh, D. Leonori. Photoinduced Remote Functionalisations by Iminyl Radical Promoted C–C and C–H Bond Cleavage Cascades. Angew. Chem. Int. Ed., 2018.

  3. A. Ruffoni, F. Juliá, T.D. Svejstrup, A.J. McMillan, J.J. Douglas, D. Leonori. Practical and Regioselective Amination of Arenes Using Alkyl Amines. Nature Chemistry, 2019.

  4. T. Constantin, M. Zanini, A. Regni, N.S. Sheikh, F. Juliá, D. Leonori. Aminoalkyl Radicals as Halogen-atom Transfer Agents for Activation of Alkyl and Aryl Halides. Science, 2020.

Other Honors:

2019Philip Leverhulme Prize
2019AstraZeneca Early Career Awards for Outstanding Contributions to Synthetic Organic Chemistry
2018RSC Harrison-Meldola Memorial Prize
2017Thieme Journals Chemistry Award
2016European Chemical Society, European Young Chemist Award – Silver Medal
2015UNESCO/IUPAC/PhosAgro Green Chemistry Award


In the Media:

C&E News – Chemists Simplify Aniline Synthesis

Chemistry WorldAniline Chemistry Turns to Photochemistry to Access Challenging Targets

AstraZeneca.com – Lighting the Path to Simplified Chemical Reactions

You Tube Channel, “The CycloEdition” Photochemical C-H Amination Through in situ Chloroamines