Laurence Harwood

Favourite Thing: I still like the thought of carrying out experiments but the nearest I get to that nowadays is when I give my “Colourful Chemistry” demonstration lecture. However, it is always nerve racking beforehand although I get a real buzz afterwards. I am interested in all things to do with natural history and am particularly interested in European butterflies so I have amassed quite a large collection over a few years by hunting for them on Ebay!!



City Grammar School for Boys, Lincoln (now a Co-Ed Comprehensive) 1966 – 1972


University of Manchester BSc Chemistry (1972 – 75), MSc (1976), PhD (1976-78)

Work History:

École Normale Supérieure, Paris; Manchester University, Oxford University/Merton College


Reading University

Current Job:

Professor of Organic Chemistry

Me and my work

I am the Professor of Organic Chemistry at Reading University

I was a student at Manchester University getting a BSc, MSc and PhD before spending 2 years as a postdoctoral research worker at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris where I also learnt French and became a Francophile (or at least grew to like France……..). I then returned to Manchester as a Junior Lecturer before moving to Oxford as  Lecturer and Tutorial Fellow of Merton College – and eventually Wine Steward of the college as well!! My final move was to take the Chair of Organic Chemistry at Reading, although I have also held Visiting Professorships at Strasbourg and Castres.

I am an organic chemist and am heavily involved in undergraduate teaching and research in the areas of natural product total synthesis and synthetic methodology. I am very interested in developing new methods for making molecules react and this has caused me to become interested in ultra-high pressure chemistry – squeezing molecules to transform them into smaller structures. I am also heavily involved in research to develop compounds that stick selectively to elements such as americium and curium – the so called “minor actinides” that are produced in nuclear reactors and constitute the main long term radiotoxicity problem of reprocessed nuclear fuel. Separating them out means they can be utilised as fuel in specialised nuclear reactors and converted into non-radioactive materials, offering the potential for nuclear power with a vastly reduced nuclear legacy and therefore clean energy with a minimal carbon footprint.

My Typical Day

Sleep – work – eat – work – eat – work – sleep……………………..

I like to be at my desk before 8.00 as this means my drive in is much more easy (I live in a village South of Reading) and I get a good hour of work before the phone starts to ring. Much of my day is taken up with bureaucracy – ugh!! However, I also give lectures and tutorials and supervise undergraduate laboratory classes. The undergraduates are, almost without exception, a lot of fun but very demanding on time. What I most like to do is to talk to my research group members and discuss their latest results – or lack of them. I tend not to eat during the day as I like to stay alert so, by the time I’m ready to leave for home around 6.00, I am pretty hungry. After returning home and placating my cat Bandit – who gets bored during the day – and checking the chickens are OK it is time for supper and more work on the computer. I seem to spend half my life on Email but at least in the evenings I can do it with a glass of wine at my elbow.

What I'd do with the money

I’ve decided to use it for a student bursary to pay the registration fee of a PhD student to attend the 25th European Colloquium on Heterocyclic Chemistry, a conference I am organising at Reading this August.

I am running a big international conference – the 25th European Colloquium on Heterocyclic Chemistry to take place at Reading this August and I have decided to contribute it as a student bursary to help a PhD student from Europe to attend the meeting.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Scientific romantic optimist

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Free – their most famous single was “Alright Now” released for the first time in the early ’70’s

What is the most fun thing you've done?

You’ve got to be joking!!!!!!

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

Fly in a spitfire. Receive an FRS. Own a pub.

What did you want to be after you left school?

A chemist (boring……..)

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

No, I was a goody two shoes; although there was one headmaster at my school who used to pick on me.

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

The actinide selective ligand work or a novel general ligation protocol for protein synthesis. I can’t decide.

Tell us a joke.

Did you hear about the glass blower who hiccupped and made a spectacle of himself?