Research Guides

Department of Chemistry University of Oxford

Professor Stuart Mackenzie

This group has a diverse range of research interests covering structure and reactivity, laser spectroscopy in both the gas and condensed phases and a healthy mixture of experiment and computation. Much of the experimental work is novel instrument development in which we devise new techniques to provide new insights to interesting scientific problems.  A large part of our work is interdisciplinary and we have active collaborations with several other internationally leading research groups both within the UK and overseas.

I. Structure and reactivity of small gas-phase metal clusters

Small clusters of atoms (up to 20 atoms) – particularly those of transition metal atoms – exhibit many remarkable size-dependent physical properties which are quite unlike those of either isolated atoms or the bulk metal. Indeed, in many ways these clusters represent a unique state of matter of their own. The structures of small metal clusters remain, however, largely a mystery (at least to experiment) and very little is known of the apparently complex and subtle relationship between structure - both electronic and geometrical - and reactivity.

We take several parallel approaches to studying these systems: In Oxford, we have developed a velocity map imaging instrument  fitted with a laser ablation cluster source  Following laser fragmentation, we can use conservation of momentum and energy to determine the partitioning of energy within the fragments. This, in turn, is used to determine properties such as the electronic and geometrical structure of the cluster and the nature and strength of any adsorbate binding. Understanding the evolution of these properties with cluster size and composition is key to understanding nanoparticle chemistry.








In a recent collaboration with groups in Berlin, we have used mid- and far-infrared free-electron laser radiation to study the vibrational structure of naked (and decorated) metal clusters and to initiate cluster surface reactivity. A recent example of infrared-driven N2O decomposition on rhodium clusters (see image) mimics the chemistry which occurs in the three-way catalytic converter.


All aspects of our cluster work are supported by calculations at the level of density functional theory (DFT). These cluster systems represent a major challenge for DFT as very often the exchange-correlation functionals available have been optimised for bulk and/or atomic properties. Ironically, however, it is the very fact that the electronic structure of small clusters differs markedly from those of the bulk endows transition metal clusters with unique and interesting physico-chemical properties including catalytic activity. 

 II. Optical cavity based spectroscopy in the condensed phase

Cavity-based optical techniques such as cavity ring-down and cavity enhanced absorption spectroscopy have revolutionised sensitive gas-phase trace detection. Extension  to the condensed phase has been comparatively slow and yet it is here that such methods can help address important technological problems. We have developed a range of condensed phase variants of both cavity ring-down and cavity enhanced absorption spectroscopy study dynamical photochemical and interfacial phenomena.

In particular, we collaborate with Professors Peter Hore and Chris Timmel in applying these sensitive detection methods to the study of the dynamics of spin-correlated radical pairs in proteins. it is postulated that such dynamics lie at the heart of the mag netosensitivity in animals

Gas-phase clusters

Infrared signature of structural isomers of gas-phase M+(N2O)n (M = Cu, Ag, Au) ion-molecule complexes
J. Phys. Chem. A, 121, 7565 (2017)

Infrared spectroscopy of Au+(CH4)n complexes and vibrationally-enhanced C-H activation reactions
Top. Catal., (2017) DOI: 0.1007/s11244-017-0868-z

Photofragmentation dynamics and dissociation energies of MoO and CrO
J. Chem. Phys. 147, 013921, 2017

Infrared spectroscopy of gas-phase M+(CO2)n (M = Co, Rh, Ir) ion-molecule complexes
J. Phys. Chem. A, 121, 133, 2017

Dissociation energies of Ag–RG (RG = Ar, Kr, Xe) and AgO molecules from velocity map imaging studies
J. Chem. Phys., 143, 124302, 2015

Chemical Reactivity on Gas=Phase Metal clusters Driven by Blackbody Infrared Radiation
Angew. Chemie Int. Ed., 54, 1357, 2015


Magnetic Field Effects / Cavity-based spectroscopy


Millitesla magnetic field effects on the photocycle of an animal cryptochrome
Nature Sci. Rep. 7, 42228, 2017

Engineering an artificial flavoprotein magnetosensor
J. Am. Chem. Soc., 138, 16584, 2016

Sub-milllitesla magnetic field effects on the recombination reaction of Flavin and ascorbic acid radicals
J. Chem. Phys, 145, 085101, 2016

Chemical amplification of magnetic field effects on radical pair reactions relevant to avian magnetoreception
Nature Chemistry, 8, 384, 2016

Sensitive fluorescence-based detection of magnetic field effects in photoresctions of flavins
Phys. Chem. Chem. Phys., 17, 18456, 2015