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Portrait of Professor John Atherton Professor John Atherton | 01484 471867


Professor John Atherton has over 37 years industrial experience, most of them in Process Development, starting with ICI, and more recently with Zeneca and Avecia. Following five years leading a group developing continuous process technology, he was for 23 years responsible for a Physical Organic Chemistry Group, whose rationale was to develop and assist in the development of efficient processes by the application of physicochemical thought processes and experimental techniques. During this time he developed extensive contacts with academia, and initiated and co-supervised around 15 PhD projects aimed at developing fundamental understanding of the chemistry involved in the manufacture of fine chemicals. Specific areas of interest were nitration chemistry, nucleophilic aromatic substitution, mechanisms of tandem condensation processes, mechanisms of oligonucleotide synthesis, solvent effects on reactivity, and the kinetics of multiphase reactions.

From 1997 to 2001 he was Chair of the Royal Society of Chemistry Physical Organic Chemistry Group. He retired from industry in 2004, and in the same year was appointed Visiting Professor at the University of Huddersfield, working with the IPOS group, becoming full Professor in 2008. He was Visiting Professor at Leeds University 2007-2012.

He has consulted widely in industry, and has developed and presented extensive training materials aimed at improving skills in Physical Organic Chemistry relevant to chemical process technology. He has presented these courses 41 times since 2001, in UK, across Europe and in USA. He has lectured widely at events associated with Process Development and with Organic Reaction Mechanisms, most recently at the SCI Process Development Conference in Boston, Massachusetts, in July 2011.

He is co-author of the textbook 'Process Development: Physicochemical Concepts' and has also authored or co-authored 44 papers, 5 book chapters, 8 review articles and 24 patents.

Research & Scholarship

During his time in industry he initiated and sponsored projects in

  • Selective nitration of aromatic compounds via via nitrosation, with RB Moodie at Exeter University
  • Nucleophilic aromatic substitution, and tandem condensation reactions, with M Crampton at Durham University
  • Oxidative nucleophilic substitution in activated arynes, with M Makosza, Institute of Organic Chemistry, Warsaw.
  • Mechanisms of processes occurring across liquid-liquid interfaces, with P Unwin at Warwick University
  • Mechanisms of processes occurring at the solid-liquid interface, with RG Compton, at the Physical Chemistry Laboratory, Oxford University, and L Gladden at Cambridge University.
  • Mechanism in oligonucleotide synthesis, with MI Page and AP Laws, at Huddersfield University.

Since he joined Huddersfield University his main research interest has been in furthering the understanding of chemical processes in liquid ammonia solvent, with a view to using it as a readily recoverable solvent for the chemical processing of organic materials. This work has thus far resulted in 9 publications and one patent application, and also in co-operation with two companies interested in the technology.

Publications and Other Research Outputs


Sun, H., Page, M., Atherton, J. and Hall, A. (2014) ‘Kinetics of the conversion of methyl benzoate to benzamide by the alumina catalysed reaction with liquid ammonia at 120 °CCatalysis Science & Technology . ISSN 2044-4753


Atherton, J., Page, M. and Sun, H. (2013) ‘Reaction kinetics in liquid ammonia up to 120C: techniques and some solvolysis and substitution reactionsJournal of Physical Organic Chemistry . ISSN 1099-1395


Ji, P., Atherton, J. and Page, M. (2012) ‘Copper catalysed azide–alkyne cycloaddition (CuAAC) in liquid ammoniaOrganic & Biomolecular Chemistry , 10 (39), pp. 7965-7969. ISSN 1477-0520

Ji, P., Atherton, J. and Page, M. (2012) ‘Copper(I)-Catalyzed Amination of Aryl Halides in Liquid AmmoniaThe Journal of Organic Chemistry , 77 (17), pp. 7471-7478. ISSN 0022-3263

Powles, N., Atherton, J. and Page, M. (2012) ‘Reactive intermediates in the H-phosphonate synthesis of oligonucleotidesOrganic and Biomolecular Chemistry , 10 (30), pp. 5940-5947. ISSN 1477-0539

Ji, P., Atherton, J. and Page, M. (2012) ‘Organic reactivity in liquid ammoniaOrganic & Biomolecular Chemistry , 10 (30), pp. 5732-5739. ISSN 1477-0520


Ji, P., Powles, N., Atherton, J. and Page, M. (2011) ‘Ionization of Carbon Acids in Liquid AmmoniaOrganic Letters , 13 (22), pp. 6118-6121. ISSN 1523-7060

Atherton, J. and Hall, A. (2011) ‘Scale-up – How do we get it right first time?Chemistry Today , 29 (4), pp. 47-49. ISSN 0392-839X

Atherton, J., Houson, I. and Talford, M. (2011) ‘Understanding the Reaction’. In: Process Understanding. Weinheim, Germany: Wiley-VCH. pp. 87-125. ISBN 9783527325849

Ji, P., Atherton, J. and Page, M. (2011) ‘The Kinetics and Mechanisms of Aromatic Nucleophilic Substitution Reactions in Liquid AmmoniaThe Journal of Organic Chemistry , 76 (9), pp. 3286-3295. ISSN 00223263

Ji, P., Atherton, J. and Page, M. (2011) ‘Liquid Ammonia as a Dipolar Aprotic Solvent for Aliphatic Nucleophilic Substitution ReactionsThe Journal of Organic Chemistry , 76 (5), pp. 1425-1435. ISSN 00223263

Atherton, J (2011) ‘Physicochemical Data Requirements for the Design of Fine Chemicals Processes: Acquisition and Application’. In: Pharmaceutical Process Development. Current Chemical and Engineering Challenges. Cambridge UK: RSC. pp. 178-206. ISBN 978-1-84973-146-1


Ji, P., Atherton, J. and Page, M. (2010) ‘The kinetics and mechanisms of organic reactions in liquid ammoniaFaraday Discussions , 145, pp. 15-25. ISSN 1359-6640


Russell, M., Laws, A., Atherton, J. and Page, M. (2009) ‘The kinetics and mechanism of the acid-catalysed detritylation of nucleotides in non-aqueous solutionOrganic and Biomolecular Chemistry , 7 (1), pp. 52-57. ISSN 1477-0539


Russell, M., Laws, A., Atherton, J. and Page, M. (2008) ‘The mechanism of the phosphoramidite synthesis of polynucleotidesOrganic and Biomolecular Chemistry , 6 (18), pp. 3270-3275. ISSN 1477-0539


Hanusek, J., Russell, M., Laws, A., Jansa, P., Atherton, J., Fettes, K. and Page, M. (2007) ‘Mechanism of the sulphurisation of phosphines and phosphites using 3-amino-1,2,4-dithiazole-5-thione (Xanthane Hydride) Organic and Biomolecular Chemistry , 5 (3), pp. 478-484. ISSN 1477-0539


Atherton, J (2006) ‘Reaction kinetics in multiphase systems’. In: The Investigation of Organic Reactions and Their Mechanisms. London, UK: Blackwell. pp. 104-126. ISBN 9781405131421


Heathcote, D., Atherton, J., De Boos, G. and Page, M. (1998) ‘Kinetics of ionisation of 3-phenylcoumaran-2-one and reprotonation of the resulting carbanionJournal of the Chemical Society, Perkin Transactions 2 (3), pp. 541-546. ISSN 1472-779X

Heathcote, D., De Boos, G., Atherton, J. and Page, M. (1998) ‘Mechanism of hydrolysis of coumaran-2-onesJournal of the Chemical Society, Perkin Transactions 2 (3), pp. 535-540. ISSN 1472-779X

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