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Alex Horan SSPC Graduate of the year
September 3, 2023

Congratulations to Dr Alex Horan SSPC’s Graduate of the Year. The award is based on an exceptional PhD graduate based on their achievements and outputs. Alex’s work in her PhD focussed on Synthesis of Heteroarylsulfonium Salts and Their Applications in Organic Synthesis under the supervision of Eoghan McGarrigle at University College Dublin and is now working as a Process Chemist with Thermo Fisher Scientific.

Pictured above Alex Horan being presented with her award by Michael Napier ex Janssen and current SSPC Governance Board member.

Read Alex’s background and experiences in her own words:

My PhD project focussed on the development of new synthetic methodologies in organic synthesis, in particular using organosulfur chemistry. Following some initial studies in asymmetric organocatalysis, I began developing a new, selective method for synthesising an underexplored class of compound – heteroarylsulfonium salts. Together with my co-worker Vincent Duong, we applied these new salts in sulfur-mediated transition metal-free ligand coupling reactions, producing bipyridines and bis-heterocycles. These compounds are prevalent motifs across a range of disciplines in chemistry. They are found in natural products, drug targets and are frequently used as ligands for transition metals. Syntheses of bis-heterocycles are predominantly transition metal-catalysed. The new synthetic methodology we have developed offers an attractive alternative to transition metal-catalysed syntheses of these compounds.

I demonstrated the utility of our methodology by preparing a range of natural products. We then collaborated with the Draper group in Trinity College Dublin, using our chemistry to prepare 3 functionalised, unsymmetrical 2,2’-bipyridines (preparation by conventional transition metal-catalysis had proven challenging). Our co-workers complexed these bipyridine ligands to Ru and investigated the photophysical properties of the resulting complexes. This collaboration exemplified the power of synthetic chemistry to unlock new regions of chemical space for other disciplines in chemistry, enabling exciting new discoveries.

My PhD experience was greatly enhanced by the support of SSPC. I have worked on a range of exciting projects, each with their own challenges, which has allowed me to build a skillset of great value to the pharmaceutical sector in which I now work. I am grateful for my time spent researching in a lab supported by SSPC. Being surrounded by talented chemists willing to share their knowledge and enthusiasm made the 4 years of hard work so much more enjoyable.

During my PhD, I was lucky to have the SSPC facilitate an opportunity to go on industrial placement. I spent 4 months in MSD, Ballydine in the Process Development and Commercialisation department. I worked on a number of different projects, from new product introduction to supply product deviation investigations. I was exposed to new people and areas of expertise, new equipment and technologies and a new understanding of synthetic chemistry. I found the work involved in new product introduction really exciting. This ultimately led me to pursue my current role as Process Chemist with Thermo Fisher Scientific, where I work towards the manufacture of new products for clinical trials. Without the support of the SSPC, this placement and the skills I developed during it would not have been possible.

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