Professor Rachel O'Reilly PhD FRSC CChem CSci MA MSci

Professor Rachel O'Reilly

School of Chemistry
Head of School
Professor of Chemistry

Contact details

School of Chemistry
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

Rachel O’Reilly holds a Chair in Chemistry within the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences at the University of Birmingham. From 1st August 2018 she became the Head of the School of Chemistry. She graduated from the University of Cambridge in 1998 with a BA in Natural Sciences, and in 1999 with an MSc in Chemistry and completed her PhD in 2003 from Imperial College London. She has held a number of prestigious fellowships from the ESPRC, Royal Society and Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851.

She has published over 175 research papers in scientific journals as well as reviews and book chapters in the fields of polymer synthesis, self-assembly, catalysis and DNA nanotechnology. She has given over 170 invited lectures and was recognised as one of the Royal Society of Chemistry's 175 faces of Chemistry. She has received major grants and research support from the ERC, BP and EPSRC. She leads a large interdisciplinary team working at the interface of chemistry, materials and biology. Since 2006 she has graduated close to 25 PhD students and mentored over 20 postdoctoral researchers.

Rachel was appointed on the EPSRC strategic advisory network (SAN) in 2009 and served for almost 7 years. During this time she most significantly contributed to white papers on developing more flexible support for early career researchers, managing diversity and delivering impact. She holds a position as a review editor for Science and is an associate editor of the leading journal in her field, Macromolecules, which is published by the American Chemical Society.

Rachel leads the Rachel O'Reilly Group. Her group’s work has received numerous national and international awards for her polymer and material efforts, including, uniquely, four from the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), and, young researcher medals from the American Chemical Society (ACS) and the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), the world authority on chemical nomenclature and terminology.



Ph.D. in Chemistry, Supervisor: Professor Vernon C. Gibson, FRS
Title : Novel catalyst design for utilisation in controlled radical polymerisations
Imperial College, Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London, SW7 2AY, UK


M.Sci. hons, 1st class in Chemistry
B.A. hons, 1st class in Natural Sciences
University of Cambridge, Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, CB3 0DG, UK


Rachel was born in Holywood, Northern Ireland and then got her first degree from the University of Cambridge, working with Professor Brian Johnson FRS for her Masters project. She then went on to complete her PhD at Imperial College, London in 2003, working with Professor Vernon C. Gibson. Her PhD was in collaboration with BP and focused on organometallic catalysts for radical polymerisation.  She then moved to the US to under the joint direction of Professors Craig J. Hawker (IBM Almaden) and Karen L. Wooley (Washington University in Saint Louis). In 2004 was awarded a Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 research fellowship which she held in the US for 1 year before returning to the UK in 2005. She then started her independent career in 2005 at the University of Cambridge as a Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship. Then in 2008 she moved to the University of Warwick and in 2012 was promoted to full Professor. In 2018 she took up a position of chair at the School of Chemistry in Birmingham.

Postgraduate supervision

We are always looking to recruit talented and committed scientists. If you are interested in working in the O’Reilly group then please get in touch. We do encourage researchers who would like to join our research team to apply for fellowship opportunities, for more details contact

PhD positions are available in our group each year, usually starting in October. If you are interested in doctoral studies in the group then please contact us as soon as possible. An application should consist of your CV, a cover letter, and the names of two academic mentors who know your work and could provide a reference. There are a number of scholarships available through the University to fund graduate studies.

Specific postdoctoral positions within the O’Reilly group will be advertised on the University website and when funding is available. However, if you can apply for your own funding then please contact ROR in advance. Please send a CV and covering letter, along with any enquiries.


functional and responsive nanostructures, which can be utilised in a wide range of applications from materials science to medicine. Overall, we are interested in trying to mimic some of the key features of natural functional nanomaterials such as viruses and cells, using polymer nanoparticles. We also work at the biological-materials interface to engineer new polymeric nanostructures with hybrid properties. We utilise DNA, functional polymers as well as polypeptides for templating and are interested in the development of these techniques towards the preparation of precision materials.

We collaborate with companies and academic groups in other universities (in the UK, Europe and the US). The main scientific research of group members is in polymer synthesis and polymer self-assembly; however, group members also get the opportunity to learn new techniques (both synthetic and instrumental) relating to their projects. Every effort is made so that group members receive a broad scientific training to enable them to achieve their career ambitions.

Our research is divided into 4 main research areas.

  • nanoparticle engineering using crystallisation driven self assembly
  • designer polymer nanostructures
  • new chemistries and functions for nanotechnology
  • biomimetic nanomaterials

 and includes research programmes in the following areas:

  • Altering the self assembly rules
  • Novel fluorogenic tags for imaging and sensing
  • Degradable nanostructures for controlled release
  • Catalytic nanoreactors as enzyme mimics
  • Autonomous oligomer synthesis
  • Preparing 2D nanomaterials using crystallisation driven assembly
  • Cylindrical micelle additives in biomaterials and nanomedicine
  • Responsive polymer nanostructures for controlled release
  • Gated nanostructures for application in cascade reactions
  • Novel nanostructures agents for MRI and delivery applications
  • DNA/protein-polymer conjugates with enhanced stability and function
  • Self-assembly and organisation of biomimetic polymers

Other activities

Selected Professional Societies, Activities and Service

  • Member of the board of reviewing editors for Science
  • Current editorial advisory board member for the RSC’s journals ‘Polymer Chemistry, ‘Chemical Science’ and Wiley journal, ‘Journal of Polymer Science Part A: Polymer Chemistry’ and the ACS journal ‘Bioconjugate Chemistry
  • Previous editorial advisory board member for the RSC’s journal ‘Chemical Communications’ and Wiley journal, ‘Polymer International’ and the ACS journals ‘ACS Macro Letters’ and ‘Macromolecules’ 
  • Previous member of the editorial board of the RSC journal ‘Chemical Society Reviews
  • Elected to the EPSRC Peer Review College and EPSRC Strategic Advisory Network 
  • Member of the EPSRC equality and diversity committee
  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry
  • Member of the American Chemical Society (POLY and PMSE divisions)
  • Member of the Pure and Applied Macromolecular Science Group (Macro Group UK), previously committee member (2007 – 2013)
  • Previously (2005 – 2009) chair of the Recent Appointees in Polymer Science Network
  • Previously, co-lead for the University of Warwick’s global research program in Materials
  • Selected as one of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s 175 faces of Chemistry
  • Member of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Organic Chemistry division awards committee, 2012-2014
  • Member of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Materials Chemistry division awards committee, 2016-current
  • Member of the American Chemical Society POLY awards, 2015-2017

Honours and Awards

  • 2018: RSC industry academic collaboration award winner with BP
  • 2018: Journal of Polymer Science Innovation award
  • 2017: Macromolecules/Biomacromolecules/ACS Macro Letters Young investigator award
  • 2016: Royal Society of Chemistry Gibson-Fawcett award
  • 2014: ERC Consolidator grant awardee
  • 2014: Royal Society of Chemistry and Society of Chemical Industry, McBain Medal
  • 2013: Appointed as a fellow of the POLY division of the American Chemical Society
  • 2013: American Chemical Society, Mark Young Scholar award
  • 2013: Appointed as a fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry
  • 2012: Royal Society of Chemistry Hickinbottom medal
  • 2012: IUPAC-Samsung Young Polymer Scientist Award
  • 2009: EPSRC Career Acceleration Fellowship
  • 2008: Macro group UK Young Researchers medal
  • 2008: Awarded Chartered Chemistry status by the Royal Society of Chemistry
  • 2007: Royal Society of Chemistry, Meldola Medal


Professor O'Reilly has published over 150 independent papers to date, view full publication list.


Recent publications

Poly(oligo (ethylene glycol) vinyl acetate)s: A versatile new class of thermoresponsive and biocompatible polymers, G. G. Hedir, M. C. Arno, M. Langlais, J. T. Husband, R. K. O’Reilly and A. P. Dove, Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2017, 56, 9178-9182, DOI:10.1002/anie.201703763

An autonomous molecular assembler for programmable chemical synthesis, W. Meng, R. A. Muscat, M. L. McKee, P. J. Milnes, A. H. El-Sagheer, J. Bath, B. G. Davis, T. Brown, R. K. O'Reilly and A. J. Turberfield, Nature Chem. 2016, 8, 542–548. DOI: 10.1038/NChem.2495

Structural Reorganization of Cylindrical Nanoparticles Triggered by Polylactide Stereocomplexation, L. Sun, A. Pitto-Barry, N. Kirby, T. Schiller, A. Sanchez, M. Dyson, J. Sloan, N. Wilson, R.K. O'Reilly, and A.P. Dove, Nature Commun, 2014, 5, 5746.DOI: 10.1038/ncomms6746                                                   

 'Giant Surfactants' Created by the Fast and Efficient Functionalization of a DNA Tetrahedron with a Temperature-Responsive Polymer, T. Wilks, J. Bath, Jan de Vries, J. Raymond, A. Herrmann, A.J. Turberfield, R.K. O'Reilly, ACS Nano, 2013, 7, 8561-8572. DOI:10.1021/nn402642a

New functional handle for use as a self-reporting contrast and delivery agent in nanomedicine, M. Robin, A.B. Mabire, J. Damborsky, E. Thom, U. Winzer-Serhan, J. Raymond, R.K. O'Reilly, J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2013, 135, 9518–9524. DOI: 10.1021/ja403587c

Hollow Block Copolymer Nanoparticles through a Spontaneous One-Step Structural Reorganization, N. Petzetakis, M. Robin, J.P. Patterson, E. Kelley, P. Cotanda, P.H.H. Bomans, N. Sommerdijk, A.P. Dove, T.H. Epps, III and R.K. O'Reilly, ACS Nano, 2013, 7, 1120 - 1128. DOI: 10.1021/nn400272p

Conjugation-Induced Fluorescent Labeling of Proteins and Polymer Using Dithiomaleimides, M. Robin, P. Wilson, A. Mabire, J. Kiviaho, J. Raymond, D.M. Haddleton and R. K. O’Reilly, J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2013, 135, 2875-2878. DOI: 10.1021/ja3105494

Tuning the Catalytic Activity of L-Proline Functionalized Hydrophobic Nanogel Particles in Water, A. Lu, D. Moatsou, D.A. Longbottom and R.K. O'Reilly, Chem. Sci. 2013, 4, 965-969. DOI: 10.1039/C2SC21300A

Biomimetic Radical Polymerization via Cooperative Assembly of Segregating Templates, R. McHale, J.P. Patterson, P.B. Zetterlund, R.K. O'Reilly, Nature Chem. 2012, 4, 491-497. DOI: 10.1038/nchem.1331

Programmable one-pot multistep organic synthesis using DNA junctions, M. McKee, P. Milnes, J. Bath, E. Stulz, R.K. O’Reilly, A.J. Turberfield, J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2012, 134, 1446-1449. DOI: 10.1021/ja2101196