Dr James Wilton-Ely

Senior Lecturer in Inorganic Chemistry
tel: 020 7594 9718
ext: 49718


Research interests:

Transition metal functionalised nanoparticles for use in catalysis
MRI contrast agents based on multimetallic assemblies and nanoparticles
Functionalised thiols for SAM-based nanotechnology applications
Functional multimetallic compounds
Conversion of biomass into platform chemicals using metal catalysts in ionic liquids
Sulfur-based ligand systems in catalysis


Dr James Wilton-Ely joined Imperial in 2009 after being on the faculty at the University of Oxford and UCL. He has extensive experience in coordination and organometallic chemistry of metals from groups 8-11 and their use in catalysis. Current research focuses on multimetallic assemblies and the immobilisation of metal units on gold nanoparticles. These materials address applications in catalysis and bioimaging (targeted MRI contrast agents). The research into nanoscale materials extends also to functionalised thiols for the preparation of Self Assembly Monolayers (with Dr Manfred Buck, St. Andrews). Most recently, the dissolution of biomass in ionic liquids and subsequent conversion into platform chemicals has become the focus of a joint project with Dr Jason Hallett (Imperial College).

New publications:

Reusable and highly active supported Cu(I)-NHC catalysts for click chemistry. J.-M. Collinson, J. D. E. T. Wilton-Ely, S. Diez-Gonzalez Chem. Commun., 2013, in press [doi: 10.1039/C3CC44371J]

Multimetallic complexes and functionalised nanoparticles based on oxygen and nitrogen donor combinations. S. Naeem, A. Ribes, A. J. P. White, M. N. Haque, K. B. Holt, J. D. E. T. Wilton-Ely Inorg. Chem., 2013, 52 4700-4713 [doi: 10.1021/ic400335y]

External positions held: 

Co-Director of the MRes in Catalysis programme


Research Interests

The research group works mainly with sulphur-based systems, in particular thiols and dithiocarbamates to construct new, often multimetallic, materials suitable for applications in fields as diverse as molecular electronics, (bio)sensing and catalysis. Although the systems range in orders of magnitude (monometallic compounds to gold nanoparticles), the key to our work is our broad expertise in synthetic organic, organometallic and coordination chemistry.

In conjunction with Dr Graeme Hogarth and Dr Katherine Holt at UCL, we have explored the potential of dithiocarbamate ligands to link metal centres together in homo- or heteronuclear systems. The ability to utilise the properties of two or more metals in the same ensemble allows the material to exhibit diverse and complementary reactivity within the same system. This can lead to two metals performing catalysis in tandem or the physiological fate of a cytotoxic unit being traceable due to a luminescent metal-based tag. An extension of the methodology we use to achieve this allows the attachment of a metal unit (chosen for its properties) to be immobilised on the surface of gold nanoparticles (see Figure). The large surface area and pre-organised surface arrangement coupled to the marked difference in physical properties give these materials significant benefits over conventional homogeneous or heterogeneous systems in terms of activity, selectivity and recycling of the material. We are in the process of investigating these functionalised nanoparticles using computational methods with Dr Fernando Bresme. This will allow us to improve their design and determine the relative strength of interactions between the surface and the sulphur units attached with a view to constructing mixed surface topographies.

Although dithiocarbamates have proved effective in the tethering of transition metal units to the surface of the nanoparticles, we are also exploring other methods of adding functionality to nanoparticles through straightforward and reliable organic transformations (e.g., click or metathesis chemistry). The incorporation of the innate properties of the metal core of the nanoparticle, such as magnetism, is also under investigation.

In addition to three dimensional gold surfaces, we are also actively engaged in a collaboration with Dr Manfred Buck at the university of St. Andrews to design biphenylalkane thiols, which can form large, almost defect-free domains on Au(111) surfaces. Functionalisation of the surface functionality will allow the deposition of metal units, which may ultimately lead to the fabrication of surface features functioning as electronic components.

In 2011, a new area of research was initiated in collaboration with Dr Jason Hallett, directed at the breakdown of biomass and its conversion into platform chemicals. This approach employs metal catalysts in ionic liquids to dissolve the cellulosic component of biomass and convert it catalytically into 5-hydroxymethylfurfural (5-HMF) – a versatile starting point for many chemical building blocks. This approach could provide a non-petrochemical source for many of the fundamental compounds on which the chemical industry depends.

Recent publications

The use of imidazolium-2-dithiocarboxylates in the formation of gold(I) complexes and gold nanoparticles. S.Naeem, L. Delaude, A. J. P. White, J. D. E. T. Wilton-Ely Inorg. Chem., 2010, 49, 1784-1793 [doi: 10.1021/ic9021504]

Multimetallic arrays: Bi-, tri-, tetra- and hexametallic complexes based on gold(I) and gold(III) and the surface functionalisation of gold nanoparticles with transition metals. E. R. Knight, N. H. Leung, A. L. Thompson, G. Hogarth, J. D. E. T. Wilton-Ely, Inorg. Chem., 2009, 48, 3866-3874 [doi: 10.1021/ic802442d]

Bifunctional dithiocarbamates: a bridge between coordination chemistry and nanoscale materials

E. R. Knight, A. R. Cowley, G. Hogarth, J. D. E. T. Wilton-Ely, Dalton Trans., 2009, 607-608 [doi: 10.1039/b821947h]

The surface functionalisation of gold nanoparticles with metal complexes

J. D. E. T. Wilton-Ely, Dalton Trans., 2008, 25-29 [doi: 10.1039/b714144k]

On the importance of purity for the formation of self-assembled monolayers from thiocyanates

C. Shen, M. Buck, J. D.E.T Wilton-Ely, T. Weidner, M. Zharnikov, Langmuir, 2008, 24, 6609-6615 [doi: 10.1021/la8004272]

Competition as a design concept: Polymorphism in self-assembled monolayers of biphenyl-based thiols P. Cyganik, M. Buck, T. Strunskus, A. Shaporenko, J. D. E. T. Wilton-Ely, M. Zharnikov, C. Wöll, J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2006, 128, 13868-13878 [doi: 10.1021/ja0640647]


Dr Wilton-Ely teaches and tutors in inorganic chemistry and lectures courses on Crystal and Molecular Architecture and Advanced Transition Metal Chemistry.