We are at the beginning of a new era where our level of knowledge and understanding is starting to make targeted materials design possible. A core mission of Oxford Chemistry has been to expand our understanding of how chemical and physical structure relates to the fundamental properties of materials. As this understanding grows, we will be better able to intelligently synthesize new materials with properties explicitly tailored to match given applications. The department has developed a network of chemists, Oxford Synthesis Connections, who are world-leading experts in the building and characterizing molecules and materials, including in the field of energy.
The department also includes work on an entirely different, yet complementary, approach to materials design. For materials, chemical and physical structure can be thought of as the "genes" that determine their properties. Inspired by the "genetic revolution" in biotechnology, so-called combinatorial chemistry uses robots and other techniques to automatically synthesize and analyze many samples at a time, each with slightly different composition or structure. A vast library of materials can be quickly generated in this way, containing patterns and possibilities that would be nearly impossible to find using manual searches. The result is a powerful partner to targeted design approaches.