Leigh is Sir Samuel Hall Chair of Chemistry in the School of Chemistry at the University of Manchester, England. He received his PhD from the University of Sheffield in 1987, and did postdoctoral research at the National Research Council of Canada in Ottawa. In 1989, he returned to the UK as Lecturer at the University of Manchester’s Institute of Science and Technology. From 1998, he was Professor of Synthetic Chemistry at the University of Warwick, and in 2001 he returned to the University of Manchester in his current position. Leigh is widely known for his work on molecular machines.
In particular, Leigh’s work has focused on developing methods to construct molecular motors from structures like rotaxanes, catenanes, and so-called molecular knots, all structures that can be mechanically interlocked using advanced techniques from chemistry. Interestingly, Leigh developed a mechanism known as an “information ratchet,” which has been compared to the fictional demon of Maxwell’s, the latter a thought experiment that involved thwarting the second law of thermodynamics using a device or “demon,” that can manipulate individual molecules. Of course, Leigh’s molecular motor does not violate the second law of thermodynamics! He is also known for structures that act like “walkers,” and can walk along proteins. His work has been so exciting and influential that in 2016 he was recommended for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. However the award was to go to Sauvage, Feringa, and Stoddart, as noted in this list earlier.
Still, Leigh has won a number of prestigious awards, including the Royal Society of Chemistry Award for Supramolecular Chemistry, in 2003. In 2004, he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, and in 2009 he became Fellow of the Royal Society. Most recently, he won the Royal Society of Chemistry Perkin Prize for Organic Chemistry, in 2017.
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