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Chelating anion receptors (Mike Kelly)

Nitrous oxide detection (Mike Kelly)

Traffic light detector: CN- (Rémi Tirfoin)



The binding of anions by receptor molecules is an area of enormous interest, relevant not only to biological systems, but also to applications in catalysis and sensing/detection. From the viewpoint of sensor design, key features are selectivity (i.e. the recognition of the target anion over possible contaminants) and signalling (i.e. the triggering of a measurable response on anion binding). A wide variety of chemical strategies have been employed to selectively bind anions, and we have been using group 13 based Lewis acids in this area – with the selectivity for the target anion based either on the strength of the donor/acceptor bond formed (chiefly for fluoride) or on the complementary geometry of the binding site and target anion. A key molecular design strategy is the incorporation of ferrocenyl units for electrochemical or colorimetric reporting.


Ongoing work is centred on the design of novel multifunctional Lewis acids and mixed Lewis acid/base systems for the selective detection of fluoride (and its conjugate acid HF), together with the exploitation of such receptors in the sensing of fluorinated chemical warfare agents (CWAs). A further target is the selective sensing of cyanide (or hydrogen cyanide) in the presence of potentially competitive anions (e.g. halides). More recently, we have been using Lewis acid/base pairs for the activation and detection of ‘difficult’ analytes (such as N2O) which have low affinities for more conventional receptor systems.


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© S Aldridge