Simon Lancaster


  • 1.43 Chemistry

Personal profile


Click here for current PhD opportunities in CHE. But feel free to email me to discuss projects outside these areas and alternative sources of funding.

Royal Society of Chemistry Higher Education Teaching Award Winner 2013.  Awarded for innovative use of technology to engage, challenge and enthuse students by blurring the boundaries between the internet and the lecture theatre.

Higher Education Academy National Teaching Fellow (2013).

One of the 175 Royal Society of Chemistry Faces of Diversity.

School Positions: Professor of Chemistry Education; Director of Learning and Teaching; Director of the Chemistry with a Foundation Year Degree; Director of the Chemistry with Education Degree; Head of Foundation Year.

Potential Research Studentships available:
Direct quantitative measure to determine learning gain
Applications of immersive virtual reality in chemistry education

Prof Lancaster obtained a BSc 1991, MSc 1992 and PhD 1995, from the University of East Anglia. In 1996 the RSC awarded him the Laurie Vergnano prize for the best contribution to Inorganic Chemistry by a young researcher for his work on Early Transition Metal Alkyl Cations and their role in Polymerisation Catalysis. He then spent four years as a research officer at the University of Leeds. In February 2000 Prof Lancaster returned to UEA as a Lecturer in Inorganic Chemistry and was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2009 and Professor in 2014. He is currently Director of Learning and Teaching.

Prof Lancaster began his academic career studying organometallic chemistry, fascinated by its novelty and the sense of chemical adventure. He developed new organometallic complexes and their pre-cursors for applications as diverse as catalysing the dehydrocoupling polymerisation of ammoniaboranes, predicting, rationalising and ultimately controlling supramolecular architectures and exploited the synergy between main group and transition metal centres to activate small molecules.

Prof Lancaster is a dedicated and innovative teacher and has been rewarded by UEA’s Sir Geoffrey and Lady Allen teaching excellence award. His application of technology to support student engagement has been supported by Teaching Fellowships and funding from both the Higher Education Academy and the University Annual Fund. He is the recipient of the 2013 Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) Higher Education Award and in 2013 was recognised by the Higher Education Academy as a National Teaching Fellow. He is an external examiner at Queen Mary College, University of London.
Prof Lancaster seeks to ensure students at UEA benefit from an evidence-based approach to the utilisation of technologies as diverse as audience participation apps and immersive virtual reality. He is keen to provide quantitative benchmarks for tangible learning gain against which popular proxies can be compared.

Through his keynote lecture and professional development workshops, Prof Lancaster plays a leading role in promoting technology enhanced learning and teaching both nationally and internationally. He is President of the Education Division of the Royal Society of Chemistry, where he champions chemistry education, students and teachers at every level.

Selected Publications

D Elford, SJ Lancaster, GA Jones
Fostering Motivation toward Chemistry through Augmented Reality Educational Escape Activities. A Self-Determination Theory Approach
J. Chem. Educ. 2022, 99, 10, 3406–3417
DOI: 10.1021/acs.jchemed.2c00428

D Elford, SJ Lancaster, GA Jones
Exploring the effect of augmented reality on cognitive load, attitude, spatial ability, and stereochemical perception
Journal of Science Education and Technology volume 31, pages 322–339 (2022)
DOI: 10.1007/s10956-022-09957-0

D Elford, SJ Lancaster, GA Jones
Stereoisomers, not stereo enigmas: A stereochemistry escape activity incorporating augmented and immersive virtual reality
J. Chem. Educ. 2021, 98, 5, 1691–1704
DOI: 10.1021/acs.jchemed.0c01283

S Chamberlain, D Elford, S J Lancaster, F Silve
Tailored Blended Learning for Foundation Year Chemistry Students
DOI: 10.2533/chimia.2021.18 

Lancaster, S.J. 
Immersed in virtual molecules
Nat Rev Chem 2, 253–254 (2018). 
DOI: 10.1038/s41570-018-0043-5





  • Research Officer, University of Leeds 1995–2000
  • Lecturer, University of East Anglia 2000–2009
  • Senior Lecturer, University of East Anglia 2009–

Teaching Interests

Dr Lancaster is the leading innovator in teaching practice at UEA. First to use a virtual online environment to deliver automated formative quizzes, first to capture his lectures and first to introduce flipped teaching. A self-confessed geek and Twitter evangelist he constantly strives to refresh his teaching through the application of the latest technologies. However, developments are pedagogically driven and evaluation is facilitated through independent focus groups. Dr Lancaster is a regular contributor to Education in Chemistry, New Directions and to UEA’s teaching update Learning Highlights. He is currently leading a national collaboration to implement chemical concept inventories to provide quantitative tools for assessment of the impact of innovative teaching practices. He has led sessions in many of UEA’s schools of study for the graduate school and the centre for staff development and has been invited to speak on Teaching related matters at York, Edinburgh, Sheffield, Southampton, Reading, Hull, Liverpool, London Metropolitan and Queens Belfast. His Twitter accounts @S_J_Lancaster and @ChemVignette have over 2000 followers and provide a valuable service to the community.

Key Research Interests

Homogenous Catalysis

As well as our development of poorly coordinating counteranions for highly electrophilic catalysts our resarch has recently focussed on the generation of hybrid (heteroligated) octahedral group 4 alkene polymerisation catalysts. Our objective is to combine the properties of highly active catalysts with high comonomer incorporation systems to generate new or existing copolymer materials with very high productivities.

This approach has proven to be remarkably successful. The best examples to date are the (salicylaldiminato)(pyrrolylaldiminato)titanium catalysts.


  • The synthesis, structure and ethene polymerization activity of octahedral heteroligated (salicylaldiminato)(-ketiminato)titanium complexes: The X-ray crystal structure of {3-But-2-(O)C6H3CHN(Ph)}{(Ph)NC(Me)C(H)C(Me)O}TiCl2. D. A. Pennington, R. W. Harrington, W. Clegg, M. Bochmann, S. J. Lancaster, J. Organomet. Chem., accepted.
  • Salicylaldiminato Pyrrolylaldiminato Group 4 Metal Alkene Polymerization Catalysts: Combining High Activity with High Comonomer Incorporation. D. A. Pennington, S. J. Coles, M. B. Hursthouse, M. Bochmann, and S. J. Lancaster, Macromol. Chem. Rapid. Commun., accepted.
  • Hybrid catalysts: synthesis, structure and ethene polymerisation activity of salicylaldiminato)(pyrrolylaldiminato) titanium complexes. D. A. Pennington, S. J. Coles, M. B. Hursthouse, M. Bochmann and S. J. Lancaster, Chem. Commun2005, 3150 – 3152.

Very Weakly Basic Anions

Organometallic Lewis acids, notably the perfluorophenyl borane B(C6F5)3, are well known as activators for homogeneous group 4 metal polymerisation catalysts. They are also very useful building blocks for the construction of extremely weakly coordinating anions. Our approach consists of binding two or more B(C6F5)3units to a central anionic linker. Examples are: [CN{B(C6F5)3}2], a linear anion which produced one of the most active ethylene polymerisation catalyst yet reported while our preferred anion is [H2N{B(C6F5)3}2] since it shows comparable stability to the synthetically much less accessible [B(C6F5)4] and has much better crystallisation behaviour (ORTEP below left, space filling below right).


The effectiveness of all these systems in stabilising extremely electrophilic metal centres depends on the extensive delocalisation of the negative charge over a very large volume, as shown below on the left by the van-der-Waals volumes of [N(CN)2{B(2-C6F4C6F5)3}2] in comparison with [Cp2ZrMe]+:
The resulting complex anions are essentially non-coordinating and support extremely electrophilic cationic centres. The best-known of these are group 4 metallocenium ions, [Cp2M-R]+ (M = Ti, Zr, Hf).

Key references

  • Anion Effects on Activity and Stereoselectivity in Propene Polymerisations Catalysed by C2-symmetric and “Oscillating” Catalysts. A. Rodriguez-Delgado, M. D. Hannant, S. J. Lancaster and M. Bochmann, Macromol.Chem. Phys. 2004205, 334 - 346.
  • Role of B(C6F5)3 in catalyst activation, anion formation, and as C6F5 transfer agent. M. Bochmann, S. J. Lancaster, M. Hannant, A. Rodriguez, M. Schormann, D. A. Walker and T. J. Woodman, Pure Appl. Chem.200375, 1183 – 1195.
  • [H2N{B(C6F5)3}2]: A New, Remarkably Stable Diborate Anion for Metallocene Polymerization Catalysts. S. J. Lancaster, A. Rodriguez, A. Lara-Sanchez, M. D. Hannant, D. A. Walker, D. L. Hughes and M. Bochmann,Organometallics 200221, 451 – 453.
  • Synthesis, Structures and Reactivity of Weakly Coordinating Anions with Delocalized Borate Structure: The Assessment of Anion Effects in Metallocene Polymerization Catalysts. J. Zhou, S. J. Lancaster, D. A. Walker, S. Beck, M. Thornton-Pett and M. Bochmann, J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2001123, 223 – 237.


Many of the species we are interested in are highly electrophilic cations which means we need to concern ourselves with the anion and potential coordination. Ions are always going to be less soluble in non-polar solvents than neutral species. By introducing an anionic substituent into the ligand backbone one can prepare neutral zwitterions where previously the complexes would have been cationic in nature. At best this tethers the anionic group where it can not coordinate to the metal centre, at worst it still produces a material that is much more soluble than it would otherwise have been.

The rationale and approach to zwitterion formation can be extended far beyond the realm of metallocene catalysts. We are currently looking at zwitterions as alternatives to discrete cations and anions in a number of catalysts and materials applications.

Activated Ammonia

One of the most exciting areas is research into the reactivity of the ammonia adduct of tris(pentafluorophenyl)boron, which reacts with metal amides to give amidoborate complexes. These can be regarded as zwitterionic complexes of an 'anionic amine' ligand.

Key references

  • Tris(dimethylamido)bis(dimethylamine)titanium(IV) chloridobis(dimethylamine)[tris(pentafluorophenyl)boron--amido][tris(pentafluorophenyl)boron--nitrido]titanate(IV) toluene solvate. A. J. Mountford, S. J. Lancaster, S. J.Coles Acta Cryst. C200763, m401-m404.
  • The Synthesis, Structure and Reactivity of B(C6F5)3-Stabilised Amide (MNH2) Complexes of the Group 4 Metals. A. J. Mountford, W. Clegg, S. J. Coles, R. W. Harrington, P. N. Horton, S. M. Humphrey, M. B. Hursthouse, J. A. Wright, S. J. Lancaster Chem. Eur. J. 200713, 4535-4547.
  • New titanium and zirconium complexes with M–NH2 bonds formed by facile deprotonation of H3N·B(C6F5)3. A. J. Mountford, W. Clegg, R. W. Harrington, S. M. Humphrey and S. J. Lancaster Chem. Commun. 2005, 2044-2046.
  • The synthesis of half-sandwich bis(pentafluorophenyl)boryl-substituted cyclopentadienyl zirconium, niobium and tantalum complexes and the isolation and molecular structure of a zwitterionic niobocene. S. J. Lancaster and D. L. Hughes Dalton Trans.2003, 1779 – 1789.
  • Ansa-Metallocenes with B‑N and B‑P Linkages: The Importance of N‑H····F‑C Hydrogen Bonding in Pentafluorophenyl Boron Compounds S. J. Lancaster, A. J. Mountford, D. L. Hughes, M. Schormann and M. Bochmann, J. Organomet. Chem. 2003680, 193 – 205 (invited paper).
  • Anionic ansa-Zirconocenes with Pentafluorophenyl-Substituted Borato Bridges. S. J. Lancaster and M. Bochmann, Organometallics 200120, 2093 – 2101.

Supramolecular Organometallic Chemistry

We have recently started to explore the preparation of supramolecular architectures for materials applications through purely intermolecular interactions between Lewis basic adducts of perfluoroaryl substituted organometallics. Perfluoroaryl groups bonded to metal centres can participate in a remarkable array of truly intermolecular (as opposed to dative) interactions, which connect molecules to form supramolecular assemblies.


Packing diagram illustrating the one-dimensional chains in (cyclo-C5H10NH)2Zn(C6F5)formed by a PhF···PhF stacking motif.

A sheet of molecules of (Me2NH)2Zn(C6F5)2 connected through the illustrated N‑H···F interactions. The two ligands labeled ‘•’ are of a neighboring sheet and have parallel overlapping PhF···PhF ring interactions with groups of the first sheet.

Key references  

  • The Remarkable Solvent-Dependent Crystallization of the Mono- and Bis(4-pyrrol-1-ylbenzonitrile) Adducts of Bis(pentafluorophenyl)zinc E. Martin, D. L. Hughes, and S. J. Lancaster Eur. J. Inorg. Chem. 2006, 4037–4041
  • The Synthesis, Molecular Structures, and Supramolecular Architecture of Amine Adducts of Bis(pentafluorophenyl)zinc A. J. Mountford, S. J. Lancaster, S. J. Coles, P. N. Horton, D. L. Hughes, M. B. Hursthouse, and M. E. Light Organometallics, 200625, 3837-3847.
  • Intra- and Intermolecular N-H···F-C Hydrogen-Bonding Interactions in Amine Adducts of Tris(pentafluorophenyl)borane and –alane. A. J. Mountford, S. J. Lancaster, S. J. Coles, P. N. Horton, D. L. Hughes, M. B. Hursthouse and M. E. Light Inorg. Chem. 200544, 5921-5933.
  • Intra- and inter-molecular C–H F–C and N–H F–C hydrogen bonding in secondary amine adducts of B(C6F5)3: relevance to key interactions in alkene polymerisation catalysis. A. J. Mountford, D. L. Hughes and S. J. Lancaster Chem. Commun. 2003, 2148-2149.

Administrative Posts

  • Member of Learning and Teaching Day organisation group (UEA)
  • Member of Taught Programmes Policy Group (UEA)
  • Member of Professional Standards Framework working group (UEA)
  • Director of Admissions (CHE)
  • Chemistry executive member
  • Course Director Chemistry BSc
  • Course Director Chemistry MChem
  • Member of web committee (CHE)
  • Member of teaching executive

Research Group or Lab Membership

Current members

Miss Sarah Bayliss

E-mail: s.bayliss[at]

Sarah has the precious gift of crystalophilicity: novel compounds crystallise for Sarah. During her MChem project she is utilising her gift to explore the molecular and supramolecular structures of zinc benzoate complexes. 

We suspect that even if Sarah’s project wasn’t going so well she’d still be smiling.

Miss Irina Ivanova

E-mail: i.ivanova[at]

Irina is working at the interface between the Lancaster group with its expertise in main group and early transition metal chemistry and the world famous Pickett group, home of catalytic hydrogen generation.

Mr Nicky Savjani

E-mail: n.savjani[at]

In a collaboration between the Inorganic Chemists in our lab and the Organic Chemists upstairs Nicky is developing new gold(I) and gold(III) catalysts and casting light on the shadowy subject of their mechanism. 

In the lab Nicky is known as “goldfingers”, in poker circles, he’s just called “lucky”. 

Miss Elizabeth Jacobs

E-mail: e.jacobs[at]

The research group has gained international recognition for its development of the chemistry of amido- and nitride-borate ligands for the group 4 transition metals. It took Elizabeth less than three months to close the gap by preparing the first imidoborate complex and she wasn’t even trying. We are excited about exploring the reactivity of this novel species.

Past members

Dr Anna-Marie Fuller

E-mail: anna-marie.fuller[at]

Anna found many ways to exploit the chemisty of the ammonia adduct of tris(pentafluorophenyl)borane She was able to show that it could be used as the node in supramolecular assemblies reminiscent of coordination polymers. She met the long-standing challenge of preparing mononuclear nitridoborate complexes. All this and combining a love of the steep outdoors with her dedication to the girl guide movement.

Anna and has been appointed as a Senior Demonstrator in our School of Chemistry. We’re hoping that and the Brownies will leave her enough time to run a few X-ray structures for us!

Dr Dale Pennington

Dale made countless novel alkene polymerisation catalysts during his PhD. The undoubted highlight were hybrid complexes with a combination of salicylaldiminato and pyrrolylaldiminato ligands yield spectacularly active high-incorporation co-polymerisation catalysts.

Dale rapidly found employment in the chemical industry and fate has brought him back to UEA campus working for GasPlas.

Dr Eddy Martin 

Eddy arrived from Rennes and learnt crystallography here at UEA, solving dozens of his own structures. His project involves determining the requirements for controlled supramolecular assembly of coordination and organometallic compounds without recourse to dative coordination polymers.

Eddy went on to postdoc in Spain and impressed so much they have offered him a permanent position as a staff crystallographer.

Dr Andrew Mountford 

Andy succeeded in preparing the first examples of complexes containing phosphidoborate and amidoborate ligands. In the process he has developed a new set of organometallic supramolecular synthons. We have recently published the tenth paper on results from his thesis, which is the benchmark in our group.

Andy now has a successful career as a chemical engineer, sharing his time between the UK and Spain!

Dr Robyn Bott

Robyn's PhD studies culminated with the preparation of bis(phenoxy-oxazoline)zirconium catalysts which are amongst the most active ever seen. Robyn now works for the NHS in Bath and no doubt continues to fill her spare time eating vast amounts of cake and chocolate and looking for nice shoes on eBay.

Dr Mark Hannant 

The pinnacle of Mark's Phd project was the preparation of some truly huge perfluorinated anions. Mark has emigrated to Wales and now uses his chemistry knowledge to enthuse the next generation.

Dr Fuquan Song

Fuquan excelled at polymerisation kinetics and managed to cast new light on the mechanism of metallocene alkene polymerisation catalysis. Fuquan now works in research and development for Sigma Aldrich HiTech, the semiconductor precursor manufacturers.

Areas of Expertise

Catalysis; organometallics; co-ordination chemistry.


  • Chemistry
  • catalysis
  • Energy materials
  • organometallic
  • inorganic
  • Main group
  • Transition metals
  • Small molecule activation
  • polymerisation
  • Technology enhanced learning
  • Higher education pedagogy