What is SynTech?


Our new EPSRC funded Centre for Doctoral Studies (CDT) based in the University of Cambridge offers a four-year PhD programme which will train students from a range of backgrounds to think differently and creatively about making molecules like new drugs by combining state of the art chemical synthesis with the latest developments in machine learning and artificial intelligence. 



SynTech is short for Automated Chemical Synthesis Enabled by Digital Molecular Technologies. The aim of the CDT is to bring together a diverse group of chemists, chemical engineers, theoreticians and data-scientists of all backgrounds, to create a broad understanding of how we can accelerate and improve the molecule-making process. This is a postgraduate inter-disciplinary training programme in which students will train at the interface of these areas to develop the skills, knowledge and confidence to tackle today's evolving issues.


Why SynTech

Despite tremendous advances in synthesis, the increasing challenges posed by devising new compounds of potential interest for drug and agrochemical discovery and development continues to stretch synthetic chemists.  There is a recognised need across the pharmaceutical, biotech, agrochemical fine chemicals and small-molecule functional materials sectors to dramatically shorten synthesis timeframes and improve productivity and cost effectiveness. The world needs researchers who can combine new technologies like automated synthesis with data-driven science such as machine learning methods and artificial intelligence. The programme will enable each student to become an expert in a chosen field related to the CDT's scientific aims, as well as equipping you with a broad set of complementary scientific skills, education in sustainable chemistry and ethical training.



Core Training in Synthesis

PhD project proposals including synthetic chemistry as a core theme will incorporate exposure to training in fundamental & cutting edge aspects of synthetic organic chemistry, thereby equipping the students to be able to:

  • design syntheses of target molecules with strategically powerfully, streamlining & innovative disconnections;

  • invent & discover new synthetically enabling transformations;

  • embrace catalysis as an essential part of modern synthetic chemistry;

  • understand the physical properties of the molecules they make;

  • embrace modern concepts in synthetic chemistry (C–H activation, photoredox catalysis, enantioselective catalysis, late-stage functionalization & electrochemistry) in their solutions to problems;

  • gain familiarity with basic DFT computational approaches to reaction design & elucidation of mechanism;

  • accrue competence in mechanistic organic chemistry involving kinetics & thermodynamics;

  • appreciate the  application of biocatalysis & heterogeneous catalysis; and

  • implement RRI in synthetic chemistry through consideration of environmental impact, sustainability, efficiency & robustness of all processes employed.


Overall Course Structure

In your first six months you will have intensive training through our Core Skills Training Phase as part of the compulsory elements of the course. This will set you up to write a guided group PhD proposal and begin further courses in your area of interest. 

The training programme consists of workshops, experimental research experience and bespoke taught courses broken down into two distinct types:

  • COMPULSORY ELEMENTS which will be followed by all students during the first six months including


  • OPTIONAL ADVANCED COURSES, which will be followed by students according to individual interest/need and at any time during their PhD:

    • Advanced academic courses tailored to individual needs;

    • Researcher development/transferable skills sessions.


We have laid out an overview of the four-year structure below highlighting all training, research and assessments involved.


Course details


These courses are largely tried, tested and optimized courses that we would expect all CDT students to take, in order to underpin all aspects of their experience in the CDT. Many of them have already been piloted, some for a number of years, and we are confident that they will provide our CDT students with an excellent foundation upon which to build their PhDs, whatever their area of specialization. All courses will be taken as part of the first year experience that students have in our CDT.


Fundamental Skills Training


Bridging courses

Students in the CDT will be drawn from a broad range of training backgrounds and disciplines. They will necessarily need to attend bridging courses, which will be aimed to give them a good understanding of all areas covered by our CDT. Some of these will be drawn from existing Tripos or MPhil courses and some will be entirely new courses written to underpin the student knowledge base within our CDT. 

Essentially, the CDT aims to train:

  • chemists in cheminformatics, computational parameterization, modelling and ML & AI concepts so that they understand clearly how best to work together with people skilled in the complementary areas of the SynTech-CDT.

  • theoreticians and data-scientists in understanding the challenges & demands of synthetic chemistry & process engineering and how ML & AI solutions might be realized from partnership with experts to solve challenging problems.

  • chemical engineers in understanding the practical challenges provided by synthetic chemistry & the difficulties they need to consider when, for example, translating synthesis to robotic systems, as well as how synthetic chemists & theoreticians might work with them to design experiments and facilitate these processes.

New and exciting bridging courses have been developed in order to fulfil all of these aims and indeed bridge a gap which has not been filled before.


Current students




Find out more about the research of Professor Matthew Gaunt, Director of the SynTech CDT who specialises in the development of new chemical transformations with catalysis (such as C–H activation and visible light photocatalysis), synthesis-driven chemical biology & nanoscale high-throughput synthesis.




Find out more about the research of Professor Chris Abell who specialise in the field of fragment-based drug discovery, an innovative approach to designing small molecules that bind specifically and selectively to proteins and the development of microdroplet based novel platforms for experimental science.

Apply Now


When is the deadline to apply?

Applications will be open from September 2020 for students looking to start October 2021. Closing date for applications is the 30th June 2021.

Due to the short desired time-frame between application submission and interviewing our prospective applicants, please ensure that your referees are aware that this is the deadline and that they also provide their references by the deadline.

To apply click on this link HERE

Latest news

Syntech applications are now open for the 2021 cohort to start Oct 2021.

To apply please click on the the following link HERE


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