University of Dundee

Fergus Preston wins Young Chemist Award

16 Dec 2021

Fergus Preston, who is undertaking a PhD within the DDU and WCAIR, was one of 10 successful applicants for the Scientific Update Young Chemist award.  This award is open to PhD students presenting work at the Scientific update 7th Winter Process Chemistry Conference, 8-9 December 2021. The Young Chemist award is aimed at those who are considering a career in process chemistry in industry (including pharmaceuticals, fine chemicals, agrochemicals, flavour & fragrance and speciality chemical industries) and will give them an opportunity to meet and network with key industrial leaders and discover potential career options.

Fergus and the other 9 successful awardees were invited to attend the conference free of charge and had the opportunity to present their work during a 5 minute flash presentation session and present a poster.  Fergus presented on his PhD research which is developing a highly optimised route to synthesise a novel difluoromethylated fragment. The overall route has seven steps, on a scale up-to 100g and involves just one silica purification, with the other steps involving either a recrystallisation, no purification at all or a final HPLC purification. One of the attractiveness’ of the route is the one silica purification. Fergus used software to design experimental conditions and optimise steps. The Design of experiment is a statistical approach that allows for variation of multiple factors simultaneously, thus enabling the evaluation of a large number of reaction parameters in a relatively small number of experiments.

Fergus’ PhD is sponsored by Vernalis Research ( He recently spent 3 months working within their research labs. Talking about his placement Fergus said “Whilst down at Vernalis, I was still working on my own fragments that I have identified as part of my PhD.  I carried on with the work that I was doing in the labs in Dundee which was good as it meant I could pick up from where I left off! Having fresh eyes on a project is always beneficial as new ideas were suggested that aided with the synthesis of some of my fragments. Since Vernalis are world leaders in fragment-based drug discovery (which just so happens to be what my PhD research is on), it was invaluable to see this approach in a real-world setting and get hands on experience with X-Ray crystallography, NMR binding and isothermal titration calorimetry (ITC). This area of fragment-based drug discovery is something that I would wish to continue post completion of my PhD.”

The 7th Winter Process Conference provides an environment to discuss the latest issues in synthetic route design, development and optimisation, reactor design, work up and purification, crystallisation, process engineering, hazard studies and quality and regulatory issues. It attracted speakers from University of Oxford, AstraZeneca, Sygnature, Jannsen, GSK and Pfizer.