News Release

Scientists unveil cutting-edge ruthenium catalyst for new reaction discovery and optimization

Peer-Reviewed Publication

University of Manchester

Researchers at The University of Manchester have achieved a groundbreaking advancement in catalyst technology.

They have developed a new catalyst which has been shown to have a wide variety of uses and the potential to streamline optimisation processes in industry and support new scientific discoveries.

Catalysts, often considered the unsung heroes of chemistry, are instrumental in accelerating chemical reactions, and play a crucial role in the creation of most manufactured products. For example, the production of polyethylene, a common plastic used in various everyday items such as bottles and containers or found in cars to convert harmful gases from the engine's exhaust into less harmful substances.

Among these, ruthenium – a platinum group metal – has emerged as an important and commonly used catalyst. However, while a powerful and cost-effective material, highly reactive ruthenium catalysts have long been hindered by their sensitivity to air, posing significant challenges in their application. This means their use has so far been confined to highly trained experts with specialised equipment, limiting the full adoption of ruthenium catalysis across industries.

Today, in the journal Nature Chemistry, scientists at The University of Manchester working with collaborators at global biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca unveil a ruthenium catalyst proven to be long-term stable in air while maintaining the high reactivity necessary to facilitate transformative chemical processes.

Lead author Gillian McArthur, PhD student at The University of Manchester, said: "We are extremely excited about this discovery. Our new ruthenium catalyst boasts unparalleled reactivity, while maintaining stability in air – a feat previously thought unattainable.

“As well as eliminating the need for specialised equipment or handling procedures, it also enables the user to run simultaneous reactions, facilitating rapid screening and streamlining optimisation procedures. This means procedures are quicker, more environmentally friendly and the accumulation of large amounts of waste is prevented.”

The discovery allows for simple handling and implementation processes and has shown versatility across a wide array of chemical transformations, making it accessible for non-specialist users to exploit ruthenium catalysis. Collaborative efforts with AstraZeneca demonstrate this new catalyst’s applicability to industry, particularly in developing efficient and sustainable drug discovery and manufacturing processes.

Dr James Douglas, Director of High-Throughput Experimentation who collaborated on the project from AstraZeneca said: “Catalysis is a critical technology for AstraZeneca and the wider biopharmaceutical industry, especially as we look to develop and manufacture the next generation of medicines in a sustainable way. This new catalyst is a great addition to the toolbox and we are beginning to explore and understand its industrial applications.”

The new approach has already led to the discovery of new reactions that have never been reported with ruthenium and with its enhanced versatility and accessibility, the researchers anticipate further advancements and innovations in the field.



Full paper title: An air- and moisture-stable ruthenium precatalyst for diverse reactivity

Journal: Nature Chemistry

DOI: 10.1038/s41557-024-01481-5

Link: An air- and moisture-stable ruthenium precatalyst for diverse reactivity | Nature Chemistry


Jessica Marsh
News and Media Relations Officer, The University of Manchester

Tel: 07780281312


About The University of Manchester

In 2024, The University of Manchester is marking its bicentenary. We’re celebrating 200 years of learning, innovation and research. 200 years of our incredible people and community. 200 years of global influence. It’s an important time for our University. A time to reflect on the past. A time to recognise our key discoveries, world firsts and incredible people. And a time to look forward to what our third century could bring. We’re spearheading change, addressing our planet’s greatest challenges, and making a difference in our city, nation and beyond. Our bicentenary year is packed with events for everyone – head to our website to find out more: 


The University of Manchester is a member of the prestigious Russell Group and one of the UK’s largest single-site universities. We have over 40,000 students, 12,000 staff and, with 500,000 former students from more than 190 countries, are home to the largest alumni community of any campus-based university in the UK. We are ranked in the top ten of the Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Rankings


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