skip to content

Department of Chemistry


Royal Society University Research Fellow

Funded PhD Studentship available for October 2021 - In collaboration with AstraZeneca. Click here (group website) for more details. Contact Robert directly by email if interested.

Funded PDRA position available Feb 2021 - see here for more details. 

The assembly of molecules for all manner of applications is occurring constantly – right from novel molecules on a milligram scale to established ones on a tonne scale. The principles and methods employed to achieve this form the basis of synthetic chemistry. Synthetic chemists generally work within established guidelines of reactivity and selectivity which define how we approach the disconnection of a target molecule into smaller building blocks. Establishing new bond disconnections and finding innovative ways to exert control on reaction selectivity is key to advancing synthetic chemistry and thereby streamlining the process of putting together target molecules.

Our research focuses on exploring novel approaches to catalysis for the rapid and efficient construction of small molecules. Of great importance is that the methods are highly selective, which covers chemoselectivity, regioselectivity and enantioselectivity. We are particularly interested in exploring new designs of multifunctional catalysts, which could be purely organic or incorporating transition metals, to facilitate such reactions. Non-covalent interactions such as hydrogen bonds and ion pairs have been shown over the last decade to be powerful tools to apply to chemical catalysis and harnessing these to achieve selectivity plays an important role in our research. We are also very much interested in exploring the potential of other non-covalent interactions for catalysis. 

Background: Robert received his MSci in Chemistry from Imperial College London in 2006. He moved to the University of Cambridge to complete his PhD (2010) with Prof. Matthew Gaunt on the development of new copper-catalysed arylation reactions. In 2011, he moved to the Unviversity of California, Berkeley on a Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellowship with Prof. F. Dean Toste in the area of asymmetric fluorination using chiral phosphoric acid catalysts. In 2013 he returned to Cambridge for the return year of his Marie Curie Fellowship before taking up his current position as a Royal Society University Research Fellow in October 2014. He was awarded an ERC Starting Grant in 2017 (NonCovRegioSiteCat) and was a recipient of a RSC Harrison Meldola Memorial Prize in 2019.


Proctor, R. S. J.; Colgan, A. C.; Phipps, R. J. "Exploiting attractive non-covalent interactions for the enantioselective catalysis of reactions involving radical intermediates" Nature Chem. 2020 doi: s41557-020-00561-6 Click for link

Fanourakis, A.; Docherty, P.J.; Chuentragool, P.; Phipps, R.J. "Recent Developments in Enantioselective Transition Metal Catalysis Featuring Attractive Noncovalent Interactions between Ligand and Substrate", ACS Catal.202010, 10672-10714 Click for link

Genov, G. R.+; Douthwaite, J. L.+; Lahdenperä, A.S.K.; Gibson, D. C.; Phipps, R. J. +(Authors contributed equally)  "Enantioselective remote C–H activation directed by a chiral cation" Science2020367, 1246-1251 Click for Link

Golding, W. A.; Phipps, R. J. "Electrostatically-Directed Pd-Catalysis in Combination with C-H Activation: Site-Selective Coupling of Remote Chlorides with Fluoroarenes and Fluoroheteroarenes" Chem. Sci. 2020, 11, 3022-3027 Click for Link

Reid, J. P.+; Proctor, R. S. J.+; Sigman, M. S.*; Phipps, R. J.* +(Authors contributed equally) "Predictive Multivariate Linear Regression Analysis Guides Successful Catalytic Enantioselective Minisci Reactions of Diazines" J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2019 141, 19178-19185 Click for Link

Mihai, M. T.; Williams, B. D.; Phipps, R. J. "Para-Selective C-H Borylation of Common Arene Building Blocks Enabled by Ion-Pairing with a Bulky Countercation" J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2019, 141, 15477-15482 Click for Link

Lee, B.; Mihai, M. T.; Stojalnikova, V.; Phipps, R. J. "Ion Pair-Directed Borylation of Aromatic Phosphonium Salts" J. Org. Chem. (Invited Article - Special Issue on C-H Functionalization)  2019, 84, 13124-13134  Click for Link

Proctor, R. S. J.; Phipps, R. J. "Recent Advances in Minisci-Type Reactions" Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2019, 58, 13666-13699 Click for Link

Golding, W. A.; Pearce-Higgins, R.; Phipps, R. J. "Site-Selective Cross-Coupling of Remote Chlorides Enabled by Electrostatically-Directed Palladium Catalysis" J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2018, 140, 13570-13574. Click for Link

Proctor, R. S. J.; Davis, H. J.; Phipps, R. J. "Catalytic enantioselective Minisci type addition to heterorenes" Science 2018, 360, 419-422 Click for Link

Mihai, M. T.; Davis, H. J.; Genov, G. R.; Phipps, R. J.  "Ion Pair-Directed C-H Activation on Flexible Ammonium Salts: Meta-Selective Borylation of Quaternized Phenethylamines and Phenylpropylamines" ACS Catalysis 2018, 8, 3764 - 3769

Mihai, M. T.; Genov, G. R.; Phipps, R. J.* "Access to the meta position of arenes through transition metal catalysed C–H bond functionalisation: a focus on metals other than palladium (2018 Emerging Investigators Themed Issue)" Chem. Soc. Rev. 2018, 47, 149-171  Click for Link.

Türtscher, P. L.; Davis, H. J.; Phipps, R. J.* "Palladium-Catalysed Cross-Coupling of Benzylammonium Salts with Boronic Acids under Mild Conditions" (Invited Contribution for Bürgenstock Special Section 2017: Future Stars in Organic Chemistry) Synthesis 2018, 50, 793-802 Click for Link.

Montenegro, J.*; Phipps, R. J.* Highlights from the 52nd EUCHEM conference on stereochemistry, Bürgenstock, Switzerland, May 2017 Chem. Commun. 2017, 53, 9960-9966

Davis, H. J.; Genov, G. R.; Phipps, R. J.* "Meta Selective C-H Borylation of Benzylamine, Phenethylamine and Phenylpropylamine-Derived Amides Enabled by a Single Anionic Ligand" Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 201756, 13351-13355 Click for Link.

Mihai, M. T.; Phipps, R. J.* "Ion-Pair-Directed meta-Selective C–H Borylation of Aromatic Quaternary Ammonium Salts" (Invited Synpacts Account) Synlett 2017, 28, 1011-1017. Click for Link.

Davis, H. J.; Phipps, R. J.* "Harnessing Non‐Covalent Interactions to Exert Control Over Regioselectivity and Site‐Selectivity in Catalytic Reactions" Chem. Sci. 2017, 8, 864-877. Click for Link.

Davis, H. J.; Mihai, M. T.; Phipps, R. J.* "Ion Pair-Directed Regiocontrol in Transition-Metal Catalysis: A Meta-Selective C–H Borylation of Aromatic Quaternary Ammonium Salts" J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2016138, 12759-12762. Click for Link.

Beaud, R.; Phipps, R. J.; Gaunt, M.J. Enantioselective Cu-Catalyzed Arylation of Secondary Phosphine Oxides with Diaryliodonium Salts toward the Synthesis of P-Chiral Phosphines J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2016. 138, 13183-13186. Click for Link.

Phipps, R. J.* Cluster Preface: Non-Covalent Interactions in Asymmetric Catalysis Synlett 2016, 27, 1024–1026 (commentary). Click for Link.

Yang, X.; Wu, T.; Phipps, R. J.; Toste F. D. Advances in Catalytic Enantioselective Fluorination, Mono-, Di-, and Trifluoromethylation, and Trifluoromethylthiolation Reactions. Chem. Rev. 2015, 115, 826. Click for Link.

Tissot, M.+; Phipps, R.J.+; Lucas, C.+; Leon, R.M.; Pace, R.D.M.; Ngouansavanh, T.; Gaunt, M.J.; Gram-scale enantioselective synthesis of the morphinan alkaloids via an ortho-para oxidative biphenol coupling strategy. Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2014, 53, 13498 +(Authors contributed equally). Click for Link

Yang, X.+Phipps, R. J.+; Toste, F. D.; Asymmetric Fluorination of α-Branched Cyclohexanones Enabled by a Combination of Chiral Anion Phase-Transfer Catalysis and Enamine Catalysis using     Protected Amino AcidsJ. Am. Chem. Soc. 2014136, 5225-5528 +(Authors contributed equally). Click for Link.

Wu, J.; Wang, Y.; Drljevic, A.; RauniyarV.; Phipps, R. J.; Toste, F. D. A combination of directing groups and chiral anion phase-transfer catalysis for enantioselective fluorination of alkenes. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 2013, 110, 13729-13733. Click for Link.

Phipps, R. J.; Toste, F. D. Chiral anion phase-transfer catalysis applied to the direct enantioselective fluorinative dearomatization of phenols J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2013, 135, 1268-1271. Click for Link.

Honjo, T.; Phipps, R. J.; Rauniyar, V.; Toste, F. D. A doubly axially chiral phosphoric acid catalyst for the asymmetric tandem oxyfluorination of enamides. Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2012, 51, 9684-9688. Click for Link.

Phipps, R. J.; Hamilton, G. L.; Toste, F. D. The progression of chiral anions from concepts to applications in asymmetric catalysis. Nature Chem. 2012, 4, 603-614. Click for Link

Phipps, R. J.; McMurray, L. M.; Duong, H. A.; Ritter, S.; Gaunt, M. J. Copper-catalyzed alkene arylation with diaryliodonium salts. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2012, 134, 10773-10776. Click for Link.

Phipps, R. J.; Hiramatsu, K.; Toste, F. D. Asymmetric fluorination of enamides: access to α-fluoroimines using an anionic chiral phase-transfer catalyst J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2012, 134, 8376-8379.Click for Link.

Paddock, V.L.; Phipps, R. J.; Conde-Angulo, A.; Blanco-Martin, A.; Giró-Mañas, C.; Martin, L. J.; White, A. J. P.; Spivey, A. C. (±)-trans,cis-4-Hydroxy-5,6-di-O-isopropylidenecyclohex-2-ene-1-one: synthesis and facile dimerization to decahydrodibenzofurans. J. Org. Chem. 201176, 1483-1486. Click for Link.

Duong, H. A.; Gilligan, R. E.; Cooke, M. L.; Phipps, R. J.; Gaunt, M. J. Copper(II)-catalyzed meta-selective direct arylation of α-aryl carbonyl compounds. Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2011, 50, 463-466. Click for Link.

Ciana, C. L.; Phipps, R. J.; Brandt, J. R.; Magnus, F. –M.; Gaunt, M. J. A highly para-selective copper(II)-catalyzed direct arylation of aniline and phenol derivatives. Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 201150, 458-462. Click for Link.

Phipps, R. J.; Gaunt, M. J. A meta-selective copper-catalyzed C-H bond arylation. Science 2009, 323, 1593-1597. Click for Link.          

Phipps, R. J.; Grimster, N. P.; Gaunt, M. J. Cu(II)-catalyzed direct and site-selective arylation of indoles under mild conditions. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2008130, 8172-8174.Click for Link.  


Research Group

Research Interest Group

Telephone number

01223 336367

Email address