Ai-Lan Lee



+44 (0)131 451 8030
Room 1.21
William Perkin Building
Heriot-Watt University
Roles and responsibilities
  • MChem Study Director
  • Deputy Head of Molecular Chemistry research grouping
  • CRITICAT CDT Management and Teaching Committee
  • Teaching Coordinator for Organic Chemistry

Synthesis and Catalysis

Our research interests centre around the areas of catalysis and organic synthesis, with particular emphasis on gold, palladium and photoredox catalysis.  Areas of interest include:

1. Gold Catalysis

In the past decade, gold has emerged as a powerful catalyst for the electrophilic activation of carbon-carbon π bonds.  We are interested in the development of novel gold catalysed reactions with the aim of expanding the current toolkit of synthetic techniques.  Recent highlights from our group include developing novel gold-catalysed reactions with cyclopropenes, allenes and allylic alcohols, as well as asymmetric catalysis (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. Asymmetric catalysis.

2. Palladium Catalysis

Our research in this area centres around development of Pd(II)-catalysed reactions, particularly oxidative Heck couplings on challenging substrates.  Highlights include Pd(II)-catalysed C-H functionalisations of benzoquinones (Fig.2), enantioselective desymmetrisation reactions and auto-tandem catalysis.






Figure 2. Pd(II)-catalysed C-H functionalisations of benzoquinones.

3. Photoredox Catalysis

Visible light photoredox catalysis has recently come to the forefront of organic chemistry as a very powerful method for activation of small molecules.  Photoredox catalysis has the unique ability to facilitate the development of totally new reaction pathways and mechanisms.  Furthermore, it can also be used in unison with other transition metal catalysts in a dual catalytic mode to enable reactions which are not possible using transition metal catalysts alone.  For example, we have recently utilised dual gold and photoredox catalysis to enable C-H activation of arenes for cross-couplings (Fig. 3).

Figure 3. Utilisation of dual gold and photoredox catalysis for C-H activation of arenes for cross-couplings.



Selected publications

Up-to-date publications are listed on this research profile.


Ai-Lan obtained her first degree MSci (Hons) and the University Emeleus Prize from University of Cambridge (2000).  She remained at Cambridge for her PhD studies, working under the supervision of Prof. Steven Ley CBE FRS FMedSci from 2000 - 2003.  She was subsequently awarded a Lindemann Trust Fellowship (2004 - 2005) to work at Boston College with Prof. Amir Hoveyda on alkene metathesis.  In 2006, Ai-Lan was appointed as a fixed-term Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh, carrying out research with Prof. David Leigh on rotaxane synthesis.  She started her independent research career as a Lecturer at Heriot-Watt University in 2007 and was promoted to Associate Professor, Reader in 2013.  Her research interests include developing new gold-, palladium- and photoredox-catalysed reactions and catalysts.

Further information

Lee Group Webpage