Dr David Nelson

Senior Lecturer

Pure and Applied Chemistry

Personal statement

We conduct research at the intersection of organic and inorganic chemistry, with our primary aim being to discover, develop, and understand metal-catalysed reactions for organic synthesis. We use the tools of physical organic chemistry, organic and organometallic synthesis, and spectroscopy to achieve our aims. Ongoing projects include:

  • Understanding structure/reactivity relationships in nickel catalysed reactions
  • Quantifying reactivity and site-selectivity in metal catalysed C-H functionalisation reactions
  • The design of new ligands and quantification of their properties

We are grateful to have received generous funding from organisations including the EPSRC, the Carnegie Trust, GSK, AstraZeneca, Syngenta, the Leverhulme Trust, and the Royal Society.

Further details can be found on our website at http://personal.strath.ac.uk/david.nelson/.

In addition to research and teaching, I organise colloquia for research students and staff in the Catalysis & Synthesis and Chemical Biology & Medicinal Chemistry sections.

I sit on the Faculty of Science Resources and Planning Committee, and have done so since 2018. I have been a Faculty Education Liason Advisor since March 2020, a role that involves me attending various recruitment events.

I have been a member of the Editorial Board of Communications Chemistry since April 2020. This a relatively new open access journal that is published by Springer Nature.


Has expertise in:


    • Catalysis
    • Cross-coupling
    • C-H activation
    • N-Heterocyclic carbenes
    • Organometallic chemistry
    • Physical organic chemistry


    • Organometallic and organic synthesis
    • Handling of air- and moisture-sensitive compounds
    • NMR and UV/visible spectroscopies
    • Reaction kinetics
    • Reaction simulation using numerical integration software
    • Density functional theory (DFT)


Qualifications and Experience

  • Senior Lecturer, University of Strathclyde, 2018 - Present
  • Chancellor's Fellow and Lecturer, University of Strathclyde, 2014 - 2018
  • Research Fellow (with Prof. S. P. Nolan FRSE), University of St Andrews, 2012 - 2014
  • PhD in Pure and Applied Chemistry (with Prof. J. M. Percy), University of Strathclyde, 2008 - 2012
  • MChem in Chemistry with Industrial Experience, University of Edinburgh, 2003 - 2008


  • Member of the Royal Society of Chemistry
  • Member of the Americal Chemical Society
  • Member of the Society of Chemical Industry
  • Member of the Society of Chemical Industry Young Chemists' Panel
  • Fellow of the Higher Education Academy



The effect of added ligands on the reactions of [Ni(COD)(dppf)] with alkyl halides : halide abstraction may be reversible
Greaves Megan E, Ronson Thomas O, Maseras Feliu, Nelson David J
Organometallics (2021)
Operando neutron scattering – following reactions in real time using neutrons
Skukauskas Vainius, Johnson Humphrey Elliot LB, Hitchcock Iain, York Andrew, Kelleher Joseph, Gibson Emma K, Nelson David J, Silverwood Ian P
Topics in Catalysis (2021)
Reactions of nickel(0) with organochlorides, organobromides, and organoiodides : mechanisms and structure/reactivity relationships
Greaves Megan E, Johnson Humphrey Elliot L B, Nelson David J
Catalysis Science and Technology Vol 11, pp. 2980-2996 (2021)
Synthesis of gold(I)-trifluoromethyl complexes and their role in generating spectroscopic evidence for a gold(I)-difluorocarbene species
Vanden Broeck Sofie M P, Nelson David J, Collado Alba, Falivene Laura, Cavallo Luigi, Cordes David B, Slawin Alexandra M Z, van Hecke Kristof, Nahra Fady, Cazin Catherine S J, Nolan Steven P
Chemistry - A European Journal (2021)
A quantitative empirical directing group scale for selectivity in iridium-catalysed hydrogen isotope exchange reactions
Timofeeva Daria S, Lindsay David M, Kerr William J, Nelson David J
Catalysis Science and Technology Vol 10, pp. 7249-7255 (2020)
Design concepts for N-heterocyclic carbene ligands
Nahra Fady, Nelson David J, Nolan Steven P
Trends in Chemistry Vol 2, pp. 1096-1113 (2020)

More publications


Current Teaching

CH212 Physical Chemistry 1 - Kinetics [2020/21] This lecture course addresses the fundamentals of the kinetics of chemical reactions and covers the core and underpinning topics that allow students to develop a full understanding of what influences the rates of chemical reactions and how (and why) we study this.

CH450/8 Distance Learning Course - Reaction Mechanisms. [2014/15 - Present] This distance learning course is completed by MChem students on placement. The aims of the course are to: develop knowledge and understanding of reaction mechanisms, particularly in organic chemistry; develop skills in analysing reaction mechanisms; extend powers of analysis and deduction, and relate these to the choice of appropriate experiments in the study of reaction mechanisms; and show how knowledge of reaction mechanisms is related to synthetic chemistry and the understanding of processes both in the laboratory or production plant and in living systems.

CH508/9 Advanced and Modern Methods in Organic Synthesis. [2017/18 - Present] This course covers a range of state-of-the-art techniques in organic synthesis, including: palladium, copper, iridium, ruthenium, and gold-catalysis, organocatalysis, and asymmetric synthesis. Several lectures are devoted to the study of physical organic chemistry in the understanding of these reactions.


Previous Teaching Activities

CH107 Chemistry: Principles and Practice 2 - Organic Chemistry. [2016/17, 2017/18] This first year undergraduate course provides students with the understanding of key reactions, concepts, and principles that are relevant to the study and use of organic chemistry. These include: nucleophiles, electrophiles, and radicals; alkenes and their reactions; epoxides and their reactions; carbonyl compounds and their oxidation, reduction, and reactions.

CH208 Fundamental Organic Chemistry - Aromatic Chemistry. [2016/17] This second year course provides students with the understanding of aromatic molecules and their reactivity, including: identifying aromatic molecules; electrophilic and nucleophilic aromatic substitution; and the generation and reactions of benzyne.

CH538: Molecular Catalysis. [2019/20] This course covers various topics in homogeneous catalysis, including the use of organometallic complexes, enzymes, and main group complexes. Students learn about applications, underlying mechanisms, techniques for interrogating reactions, and techniques for catalyst separation and recycling.

CH721: Well defined complexes of gold: synthesis, properties and homogeneous catalysis. [2014/15, 2016/17, 2018/19] This course for MPhil and PhD students covers a range of organic and organometallic chemistry, with a special focus on catalysis, including: the history of gold catalysis; the properties of gold including favoured oxidation states, ligands and geometries; fundamental reactivity of organogold complexes; the synthesis of modern gold complexes as homogeneous catalysts (Au(I) and Au(III)); synthesis of related gold complexes, such as hydroxides, peroxides, di-, tri- and poly-gold complexes; and C-H activation/functionalisation and cross-coupling with gold.

Research interests

Many important reactions in industry today are catalysed by transition metal complexes. Our research focusses on the design, discovery, understanding and optimisation of selective and economical processes, with a specific focus on developing reactions to the point that they can be deployed on scale in industry.

Key Phrases: Catalysis; Organometallic Chemistry; Physical Organic Chemistry; Organic Synthesis

Funding: We are grateful to have received funding and support from the following organisations: Johnson-Matthey/Alfa Aesar; Fluorochem; The Carnegie Trust; The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC); Syngenta; AstraZeneca; GlaxoSmithKline; The Leverhulme Trust; The Royal Society.

Detailed Summary: A detailed summary can be found on our group website (http://personal.strath.ac.uk/david.nelson/).

Training: Students within the research group gain training and experience in the synthesis, isolation, characterisation, and study of interesting organic and organometallic compounds. We use a variety of tools and techniques to achieve our aims, including: Schlenk techniques; inert atmosphere gloveboxes; NMR, UV/visible, and IR spectroscopy; GC and GC/mass spectrometry; cyclic voltammetry.

Professional activities

Communications Chemistry (Journal)
Editorial board member
Nickel Catalysis
Unexpected Speciation in the Reactions of Alkyl Halides with Nickel(0) Complexes
Understanding Oxidative Addition to Nickel(0) for Cross-Coupling Catalysis
Understanding Oxidative Addition to Nickel(0) for Cross-Coupling Catalysis
Understanding Oxidative Addition to Nickel(0) for Cross-Coupling Catalysis

More professional activities


Industrial Case Account - University of Strathclyde 2020 | Russell, Hayley
Nelson, David (Principal Investigator) Palmer, David (Co-investigator) Russell, Hayley (Research Co-investigator)
01-Jan-2021 - 01-Jan-2025
Industrial Case Account - University of Strathclyde 2019 | Sharratt, Hannah
Palmer, David (Principal Investigator) Nelson, David (Co-investigator) Sharratt, Hannah (Research Co-investigator)
01-Jan-2019 - 01-Jan-2023
Industrial Case Account - University of Strathclyde 2019 | Conn, Jonathan
Palmer, David (Principal Investigator) Nelson, David (Co-investigator) Conn, Jonathan (Research Co-investigator)
01-Jan-2019 - 01-Jan-2023
Kinetics by electrochemistry: understanding oxidative addition to nickel(0) and (I) complexes
Nelson, David (Principal Investigator)
15-Jan-2019 - 31-Jan-2021
Computational Screening Of Nickel Complexes For The Activation Of `Inert? Bonds
Nelson, David (Principal Investigator)
01-Jan-2019 - 01-Jan-2020
Defining, Quantifying, and Understanding Selectivity Paradigms in Iridium-Cataly
Nelson, David (Principal Investigator) Kerr, William (Co-investigator)
01-Jan-2018 - 30-Jan-2021

More projects


Pure and Applied Chemistry
Thomas Graham Building

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