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Inspired to keep learning

A pipette in a chemical bottle
Before Richard Blackall started his undergraduate degree at the University of Reading, he believed he would look for a job straight after graduating. However, while working on his final-year BSc project, he caught the organic chemistry bug.

“I picked an organic chemistry project investigating new photochemical methodology towards the total synthesis of natural products. Not only did this project spark an interest in organic chemistry, photochemistry and natural products, it helped me discover a new passion.”

The natural products Richard studied were extracted from rare plants used in herbal remedies and have been shown to possess anti-microbial and anti-cancer properties.

Updating the science

During his project, Richard learned practical synthetic techniques that set him up for a future career in chemistry. Wishing to continue his research project, he chose to stay at Reading to complete an MSc degree. He initially set out to follow literature procedures to synthesise natural products.

“Most of the literature was written in the 1970s, when health and safety was somewhat lacking. Most of the reagents used are now heavily restricted or banned in most laboratory environments.

"My project quickly evolved to find new ways to synthesise compounds. This required me to think on my feet and keep an open mind to any possible procedure. I learned to adapt by analysing results, isolating compounds and understanding the chemistry that was happening.

Influenced by Reading

Richard is now completing a PhD, where he is striving to overcome the challenges faced by natural products in clinical trials. His time spent at Reading still influences the work he does today.

“My Industrial PhD in Antibody Drug Conjugates (ADCs) is part of the GSK-University of Strathclyde PhD programme. It focuses on an area that has not been investigated by GSK before.

“I am working with biology as well as chemistry, despite having no background in biology. I’ve found the skills I learned at Reading have helped me learn biology at an extremely rapid rate and my skills have dramatically improved.”


Richard believes the synthetic chemistry skills he learned at Reading mean he make compounds quickly and in high yields. He is also able to analyse results and suggest solutions to problems.

“The skill set I picked up has been hugely beneficial for my PhD and future career. I don’t believe I would be doing a PhD if it wasn’t for my time at Reading. If I had to do it all again, Reading would be my first-choice university.”

Learn more about master's study in our Department

Yuanyuan Wang: China to the UK

Outside a building at Nanjing University
Yuanyuan studied Applied Chemistry at the Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology (NUIST) before making the most of our 4+1 agreement to join us for her master's degree and PhD.
Athena SWAN Silver Award