AECI Chemistry laboratory
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Research Areas

Postgraduate Opportunities exist across a number of research fields. 

Overview - Research at the Molecular Sciences Institute (MSI)

Researchers at the Institute are involved in fundamental research and applied chemistry. Postgraduate research may involve more than one programme contributing to the collaborative spirit of the Institute.

Bioinorganic & Coordination Chemistry

Bioinorganic chemistry is a multi-disciplinary subject, drawing on traditional coordination chemistry, organic chemistry, physical chemistry and, more recently, computational chemistry. It seeks to explain the role of metal ions in biology. Research work focuses on haempeptides, vitamin B12, and on the action of antimalarial drugs.

Coordination chemistry deals with the chemistry of compounds formed by metal ions with other molecules or ions (Iigands). Work focuses on the development of such compounds for use as MRI contrast agents and as radiopharmaceuticals for treatment of cancer. This section hosts the DST/NRF SARChI Chair in Bioinorganic Chemistry.

Structural Chemistry and Crystallography

Structural Chemistry and Crystallography probes the structure, symmetry and nature of bonds in molecular crystals. Accurate molecular geometries, stereochemistry and even absolute configurations of molecules are almost routinely determined from x-ray diffraction data. Research is focused on the experimental determination of electron density in crystals, and the prediction of observable electronic properties of molecules and crystals (such as electrostatic potentials, piezoelectricity) using software developed by the group. Two major research themes in this regard are the study of electronic changes associated with solid-state single-crystal reactions and crystal structure polymorphism.

Catalysis and Materials Chemistry

The Catalysis, Organo-Metallic and Materials Chemistry (CATOMMAT) group research the synthesis and characterisation with appropriate testing of the properties of new materials made in various projects. Interests include solid-state organometallic chemistry, homogeneous (Ziegler-Natta) and heterogeneous (Fischer-Tropsch, Phillips) catalysts and the sol/gel preparation of ceramics. The programme includes a state of the art power X-ray diffraction facility. This programme contributes to the DST/NRF Centre of Excellence in Strong Materials (CoE-SM), the Wits Materials for Energy Research Group (MERG), the South African Nanotechnology Initiative (SANI) and the DST/NRF Centre of Excellence in Catalysis (C-Change).


Enzymes can provide high stereo-, regio- and chemo-selectivity for chemical synthesis of pharmaceuticals and chemicals, as well as in bio-refinery technology. Collaborating with the School of Molecular and Cell Biology and the CSIR we are researching the use of biocatalysis in reducing process costs and environmental impact (Green Chemistry).

Organic Chemistry

Organic synthesis dominates the research programmes in this area. Target-orientated syntheses and methodological studies are important research pursuits. Projects are in heterocyclic chemistry and include the development of generalised synthetic routes to N-containing compounds of biological interest; the synthesis of heterapentalene systems and investigations on O-containing heterocycles. Methodological research involves the exploration of new synthetic methods based on main-group elements and transition metals and studies on enaminone reactivity. Application in medicinal chemistry and drug design for malaria, cancer and HIV is a particular focus. Structural and stereo-chemical considerations feature prominently in the work, and much attention is being devoted to the topical subject of enantioselective synthesis.


Electrochemistry is involved mainly in the study of metal-ligand equilibria by voltammetric and related techniques. Research activities are focused on methodologies, theories, data treatment and refinement and software development. Geochemistry has a focus is on the sedimentary and hydrological processes of wetlands and lakes.

Environmental Analytical Chemistry

Research in the department is largely focused on environmental chemistry, in particular the transport and fate of inorganic and organic pollutants in the environment. We study the speciation of heavy metals and organic pollutants transformations and fate in biogeochemical environmental systems. A wide variety of experimental and analytical techniques are used to address these issues. We also develop and optimise new technologies for sampling, trapping, and remediation of polluted environmental compartments. The programme collaborates with the Schools of, Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences (APES), Geosciences, departments in Faculties of Medicine and Engineering and industrial partners.