Dr Simon Cotton BSc, ARCS, PhD, DIC, CChem, FRSC

Dr Simon Cotton

School of Chemistry
Honorary Senior Lecturer in Chemistry

Contact details

School of Chemistry
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT


A former schoolteacher, Simon taught for some 30 years in state and independent secondary schools. He has written seven books, four as sole author. The two latest are ‘Every Molecule Tells A Story’ and (with Paul May) ‘Molecules That Amaze Us’. He has published extensively in the chemistry of the d- and f-block metals.

Simon regularly writes Molecules of the Month for the Bristol MOTM site, for Chemistry Review magazine, as well as liaising with journalists and appearing on both radio and TV.


  • Chartered Chemist and Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, 1989
  • PhD in Inorganic Chemistry, London University, 1970
  • Diploma of Imperial College, 1970
  • Associate of the Royal College of Science, 1967
  • BSc (Hons), Chemistry, London University, 1967


Simon Cotton graduated from Imperial College in 1967, continuing there to obtain a PhD (1970) for research into the chemistry of iron compounds, principally by electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR). He then carried out postdoctoral research at Queen Mary College, London, into the synthesis of intensely reactive organometallic compounds of the lanthanides, leading to the discovery of the first σ -bonded f-block organometallic and the first four coordinate lanthanide compound. Subsequently, he was the University Demonstrator in Inorganic and Theoretical Chemistry at the University of East Anglia.

For the next thirty years, he combined teaching at the secondary level in both state and independent schools with chemical writing and research in inorganic chemistry. Ten research papers involving sixth form contributors have so far appeared in peer-group refereed journals, on compounds of scandium, yttrium, the lanthanides, iron and cobalt.

He also writes for audiences in schools, currently regularly contributing articles to the magazine Chemistry Review. His "Soundbite Molecules” column regularly appeared in the magazine Education in Chemistry from 1996 to 2012, reaching every secondary school in the UK, whilst he has been a major contributor to the Royal Society of Chemistry’s “Chemistry in its element – Interactive Periodic Table” and “Chemistry in its element – Compound” podcasts. He has also written over 80 “Molecules of the Month” for the University of Bristol’s website.

Pieces of a more general audience are reached through The Conversation blog and pieces on Research Perspectives, as well as media interviews (radio, TV and newspapers) on topics which have included the dangers of nerve agents, slimming drugs and burnt food.

In 2005, he shared the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Schools Education Award, and in 2014 he was awarded the British Empire Medal for services to chemistry.


Research interests

The chemistry of the transition metals, lanthanides and actinides.


Selected publications:


Cotton, S. A. and Hart, F. A. (1975) The Heavy Transition Elements, Basingstoke, Macmillan.

Cardin, D. J., Cotton, S. A., Green, M. and Labinger J.A. (1985), Organometallic Compounds of the Lanthanides, Actinides and Early Transition Metals, London, Chapman and Hall.

Cotton, S. A. (1991), Lanthanides and Actinides, Basingstoke, Macmillan.

Cotton, S. A. (1997), Chemistry of Precious Metals, London, Blackie.

Cotton, S. A. (2006), Lanthanide and Actinide Chemistry, Chichester, John Wiley.

Cotton, S. A. (2012), Every Molecule Tells a Story, Boca Raton, CRC Press.

May, P. and Cotton, S. A. (2015), Molecules That Amaze Us, Boca Raton, CRC Press.

Cotton, S. A. (2017), “A Perspective on Lanthanide Chemistry”, in C. Altavilla (ed.) Upconverting Nanomaterials: Synthesis Applications and Perspectives, Boca Raton, CRC Press, pp 3 – 18.

Recent key journal articles

May, P., Cotton, S. A., Harrison, K.  and Rzepa, H. S. (2017) The ‘Molecule of the Month’ website – an extraordinary online chemistry educational resource for over 20 years, Molecules, 22, 549.

Cotton, S. A. and Raithby, P. R. (2017), Systematics and Surprises in Lanthanide Coordination Chemistry, Co-ordination Chem. Revs, 340, 220-231

Cotton, S. A (2018), The Scandium Aqua Ion Revisited, Comments Inorg. Chem., 38, 110-125.

Cotton, S. A. (2018), Iron(III) Chloride and its Coordination Chemistry, J. Coord. Chem., 71, 3415-3443. 

Cotton, S. A., Harrowfield, J. M., Semenova, L. I., Skelton, B. W., Sobolev, A. N. and White A. H. (2019), “Allan White and Polypyridines”, Aust. J. Chem., published online 21.6.2019.

Chan, E. J., Cotton, S. A., Harrowfield, J. M., Skelton, B. W., Sobolev, A. N. and White A. H. (2019), “Allan White and Solvento/Aqua Complexes: Sc(III) Solvation”, Aust. J. Chem., published online: 4.7.2019.

Find out more

For more information about Dr Cotton's research, please view the following online research profiles:

ResearchGate profile - Dr Simon Cotton

Academia.eu profile - Dr Simon Cotton