PhD position: design of organic catalysts for sustainable chemical transformations

Would you like to become doctor in Organic Chemistry and create organic catalysts to combat environmental damage? Then you cannot miss this opportunity!

The Laboratory of Organic Chemistry (LOC) at the Department of Chemistry and Applied Biosciences is looking for a PhD candidate in the field of asymmetric organocatalysis. The research aims at developing efficient organic catalysts and exploiting them to render important chemical reactions – such as asymmetric hydrogenations – more sustainable. The PhD position is funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation, and the earliest starting date is 1st February 2023.

Project background

We must protect our planet!

Catalysis plays a key role in chemical synthesis, increasing the efficiency of chemical processes while minimizing their energy and resource consumption. One of the most relevant reactions in the industry is the catalytic asymmetric hydrogenation of unsaturated substrates (e.g. olefins, ketones, imines). These are efficient transformations for the manufacturing of chiral intermediates leading to fragrances, pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals, and other commodities. However, current asymmetric hydrogenations are predominantly powered by catalysts containing scarce and toxic metals, such as rhodium or iridium. This approach is not sustainable for much longer, and more eco-friendly alternatives are urgently needed.

For these reasons, creating organic catalysts that can rival metal-based counterparts in efficiency would surely constitute a big scientific advancement, saving enormous amounts of money while helping to protect the environment. In fact, the great importance of asymmetric organocatalysis was highlighted with the 2021 Chemistry Nobel Prize.

Job description

In this project, you will develop new metal-free catalysts by:

  • rationally designing and synthesizing chiral ‘Frustrated Lewis Pairs’, prioritizing features such as structural simplicity and ambient stability
  • studying their key molecular properties and mode of action (through experimentation and theory) in order to predict optimal catalyst structures
  •  testing them in asymmetric hydrogenations of diverse unsaturated substrates, aiming to reach high catalytic performances under mild reaction conditions

Your profile

  • You are a highly motivated, committed and creative person, who is able to work in a team and possesses excellent communication skills in English.
  • You hold a M.Sc. degree (or equivalent) in Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Chemical biology, or related field.
  • Prior experience in organic synthesis / catalysis and knowledge of computational chemistry are highly valued but not a pre-requisite.

Your workplace

We offer

A highly supportive environment in a young vibrant team led by Dr. Josep Mas-Roselló. The daily research will take place within the laboratories of Prof. Dr. Helma Wennemers (

We will encourage your research ideas and support your ventures into all aspects of organic synthesis and catalysis, including experimentation (catalyst synthesis, reaction optimization, mechanism elucidation) and theory (computational design, catalyst structure prediction). We will assist you in developing your scientific knowledge, research abilities and professional communication skills through engaging in all internal activities (e.g. seminars, group meetings, literature reports, synthesis exercises) as well as through active participation in scientific conferences.

You will have access to the cutting-edge facilities of the Laboratory of Organic Chemistry (LOC) at ETH Zurich, and you will have all the benefits of becoming an employee of ETH.

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We value diversity

In line with our values, ETH Zurich encourages an inclusive culture. We promote equality of opportunity, value diversity and nurture a working and learning environment in which the rights and dignity of all our staff and students are respected. Visit our Equal Opportunities and Diversity website to find out how we ensure a fair and open environment that allows everyone to grow and flourish.

Curious? So are we.

We look forward to receiving your online application with the following documents:

  • Short motivation letter (max. 1 page)
  • Updated CV
  • Degree certificates and academic transcripts
  • One reference contact

To apply, please send the documents to the following email address:

For further information regarding the advertised position, please contact Dr. Josep Mas-Roselló at the same email address shown above. For professional information about Josep, you can visit his LinkedIn profile ( A group website is under construction.