Sophie Dewick

University of Warwick


Homogeneous hydrogenation of nitrous oxide


  • Dr Adrian Chaplin

PhD Summary

Nitrous oxide (N2O) is a potent greenhouse gas that accumulates in the Earth’s atmosphere. It is the dominant ozone depleting substance emitted this century and has a warming potential ~300x greater than CO2. Although naturally occurring, increasing N2O emissions from intensive agricultural fertilisation and industrial processes are a major cause for concern due to the detrimental impact on our environment.

From a chemical perspective, the hydrogenation of nitrous oxide is an attractive remediation method, driven by the release of environmentally benign dinitrogen and water. The aim of my PhD project is to develop new, more effective transition-metal-based catalysts for the homogeneous hydrogenation of N2O. An integral part of the project will be exploring the basic science associated with activation of N2O which will provide a platform to shed light on how this gas can be exploited in chemical synthesis e.g. as a sustainable oxidising agent.

Previous activity

Prior to my PhD, I completed my MChem in Chemistry with Medicinal Chemistry at the University of Manchester. During my undergraduate degree, I enjoyed doing original research projects (both a summer research placement and my MChem project). These helped me realise how fundamental research in chemistry can play a significant role in understanding and solving huge societal challenges, such as climate change.

Why did you choose doctoral research?

I’ve always had a natural curiosity as a scientist; I’m interested in how and why things happen in the world, particularly the unseen reactions and mechanisms (both beneficial and detrimental) that occur around us. But I have always been happiest when in the lab conducting my own research. After finishing my undergraduate studies, I knew I wasn’t done with science and still felt like I had more to learn and contribute. Doing a PhD allows me to do this: apply my passion for science into understanding how fundamental chemistry can be used to solve real-world problems.

Why did you choose CENTA?

The CENTA studentship was appealing to me for a number of reasons. CENTA is heavily focused on being an interdisciplinary and collaborative environment which is essential to improve as a scientist and researcher. Being part of a programme that provides opportunities for professional development beyond your own PhD research field is invaluable, and something you wouldn’t gain outside of the DTP. Also, being able to take advantage of the different training opportunities will enable me to become a more confident and well-rounded researcher. I also think the strong cohort identity that comes with being a CENTA student is quite unique.

Future plans

Having just started my PhD, I’m not sure what my career path beyond my PhD will look like. However, I know that being part of CENTA will provide me with a strong transferable skillset which I could then apply to Post-Doctoral research or a completely new area such as science policy.