Chemist sets his sights on sustainability

Professor Philip Chan

Professor Philip Chan

Professor Philip Chan, the latest Monash Warwick Alliance joint appointee, is a synthetic organic chemist on a mission to create efficient, cost-effective and environmentally sustainable chemistry.

Professor Chan's research career spans two decades at universities around the globe, including postdoctoral positions at Tohoku University, Japan, the University of Sydney, and the University of Hong Kong, followed by eight successful years at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.

Professor Chan joined the Alliance in late 2014 as Monash Warwick Professor of Sustainable Chemistry.

In this role he will pursue the development of sustainable catalytic strategies for complex molecule synthesis and their potential applications in the field of natural products and functional materials synthesis and drug discovery.

“A large part of our research is to find new chemical knowledge that sustains rather than destroys our environment,” Professor Chan said.

“We are trying to make chemical processes that are cheaper, and at the same time, better for the environment by using materials from renewable resources and using as little energy as possible – for instance, seeking reactions we can do at room temperature rather than at high or low temperatures that require electricity.

"We want to develop new methods and make building blocks that have applications for use in projects, research and manufacturing processes.”

While Professor Chan concedes that chemistry is a long way from achieving the perfection of Mother Nature, solving the puzzle to seek new, efficient and sustainable solutions is the goal.

“We are curiosity driven. Ultimately knowledge is the driver for innovation and new technologies, and is the source of human advancement. That’s where we are in terms of what we want to do,” he said.

“But we are far from what we’d love to achieve. We are making great progress, but we have a long way to go. Mother Nature is the ultimate chemist.”

Professor Chan sees the opportunities available through the Alliance as a way to connect, collaborate and share knowledge and resources.

“To know I am a faculty member of Monash and Warwick excites me because I know the opportunity it provides me. It gives me the wonderful platform to explore, realise and hopefully achieve,” he said.

Formed in early 2012, the Monash Warwick Alliance represents an innovation in higher education and research and aims to accelerate the exchange of people, ideas and information between Monash University and the University of Warwick.