Introduction to Chemistry Research

Research within the Division of Chemistry and Biological Chemistry covers a wide spectrum of topics. We are particularly strong in synthetic chemistry, biological and medicinal chemistry, imaging and sensing methods, main group chemistry, and femtochemistry. As of 2017, NTU was ranked 13th in chemistry research, among worldwide academic institutions, by Nature Index.

The SPMS chemistry building

We are housed in one of the world's best chemistry buildings, equipped with state-of-the-art instruments including seven high-field Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectrometers, multiple mass spectrometers, an Electron Paramagnetic Resonance (ESR) spectrometer, a confocal microscope, multiple Transmission Electron Microscopes (TEMs), three X-ray diffractometers, and a range of HPLCs and GCs. These instruments are accessible to our undergraduates, as well as postgraduate researchers.

Synthetic Chemistry and Catalysis


The field of synthetic chemistry deals with the development of new chemical reactions and the preparation of target molecules with unique properties, such as biologically-active natural products, drugs, polymers and functional materials. Advances in synthetic chemistry research are critical for many areas of modern science and technology, particularly the chemical and pharmaceutical industries.

The synthetic chemists in our Division perform research on topics such as:

  • Catalytic aliphatic C-H bonds functionalisation
  • Environmentally benign molecular transformations performed without noble toxic transition metals (involving ubiquitous front-row transition-metal catalysts such as copper, iron, nickel and manganese together with high-performing organocatalysts)
  • Synthesis of complex natural products and functional materials
  • Biomass conversion
  • Methods for biomolecule functionalisation
  • In-vivo catalysis
  • Integrated synthesis methods for continuous manufacturing

Faculty members working in this area include Loh Teck Peng, Roderick Bates, Robin Chi, Shunsuke Chiba, Jason England, Leung Pak Hing, Liu Xuewei, Sreekumar Pankajakshan, Sumod Pullarkat, Soo Han Sen, Mihaiela Stuparu, Tan Choon Hong, Xing Bengang, Motoki Yamane, Naohiko Yoshikai, Zhao Yanli, and Steve Zhou.

Biological and Medicinal Chemistry

In this field of chemistry, researchers aim to develop novel chemical synthesis methods to address medicinal and biomedical challenges. Our research in this important field includes the following topics:

  • Design and synthesis of novel anticancer and antiviral agents
  • Computational modelling and simulation of biomolecules
  • Synthesis and study of cell surface-bound carbohydrates, such as sialylpolysaccharides and lipopolysaccharides
  • Phage display and peptide chemistry
  • Synthesis of biologically interesting natural products

Faculty members working in this area include Roderick Bates, Gang Chen, Robin Chi, Shunsuke Chiba, Loh Teck Peng, Liu Xuewei, Tan Choon Hong, and Xing Bengang.

Imaging and Sensing Technologies

The ability to image biological cells, and their components, is critical for a range of scientific and technological applications, including the study of how proteins function and how drugs work. Our researchers are developing robust imaging methods that improve on current methods based on fluorescent or bioluminescent organic dyes.

White light image and fluorescence image of a salt crystal. Credit: Dr. Liu Fang.

We are also developing new technologies for sensing chemicals such as pollutants, toxins, pathogens, and explosives. This line of research involves developing new chemical processes so that the presense of the target molecules triggers chemical signals that can be accurately measured using electronic or optical instruments. This involves understanding a range of physical and chemical processes such as solubility, fluorescence quenching, photobleaching, protein-label interactions, label-cell interactions and more.

Specific research topics include:

  • Developing efficient multiplexing labels
  • Understanding the properties of dyes and plasmonic nanostructures
  • Studying recognition among biomolecules
  • Electrochemical sensing
  • Membrane-based biosensing

Faculty members working in this area include Alessandra Bonanni, Chen Gang, Chen Hongyu, Leong Weng Kee, Ling Xing Yi, Loh Zhi Heng, Shao Fangwei, So Cheuk Wai, Tan Howe Siang, Richard Webster, Xing Bengang, Edwin Yeow, and Zhao Yanli.

Main Group Chemistry

Of all the blocks of elements in the periodic table, the main group elements (s- and p-block) are the most dissimilar, possessing a much wider range of properties than any other block of elements. Main group elements range from highly reactive non-metallic elements (such as fluorine), and semi-metals (such as silicon) to the highly reactive alkali metals (such as potassium). One of the long-standing challenges of fundamental chemistry is to understand the surprising and unpredictable nature of main group chemistry.

We have several strong teams involved in main group research, with a particular focus on the synthesis of compounds containing main group elements, and the investigation of their reactivity patterns with an eye toward possible applications. Research topics include:

  • Novel bonding and structural paradigms of main group compounds
  • Main group organometallic chemistry and its applications
  • Main group elements in catalysis and their applications
  • Influence of main group elements in wider contexts (such as heterocyclic chemistry, carbon analogues, low-valent compounds, transition metal clusters and asymmetric synthesis)
  • Electronic applications (including molecular materials for optoelectronics, new π-electron systems for electronic devices, main group transition-metal systems for molecular wires and main group magnetic systems)
  • Novel materials (such as photocatalyst doping or grapheme doping)
  • Energy storage systems (such as molecular wires and main group magnetic systems)

Faculty members working in this area include Felipe García, Rei Kinjo, Leong Weng Kee, Sumod Pullarkat, So Cheuk Wai, and Steve Zhou.


Experimental measurements of the attosecond (10-18 s) scale transient absorbance of an ion.
Credit: Prof. Loh Zhi-Heng.

Using state-of-the-art spectroscopic techniques, it is now possible to study chemical processes occurring at ultra-short time-scales (ultrafast phenomena), as well as ultra-small length scales (down to the level of individual molecules). Researchers at the Division of Chemistry and Biological Chemistry have developed sensitive techniques for studying fundamental photophysical reactions, which govern the efficiency of devices such as solar cells.

We have also applied single-molecule microscopy to the study of pharmaceutical interactions, in order to improve the design of antibacterial and anticancer treatments. In the area of ultrafast phenomena, our researchers have developed new techniques for performing ultrafast multidimensional spectroscopy, which can be used to observe phenomena that cannot be detected by conventional methods (such as transient absorption/pump probe spectroscopy). These techniques can be used to study the ultrafast energy-transfer processes that occur during photosynthesis, to investigate the ultrafast dynamics of photovoltaic and optoelectronic materials, etc.

Faculty members working in this area include Lee Soo Ying, Loh Zhi Heng, Tan Howe Siang, and Edwin Yeow.