Professor Rachel O'Reilly PhD FRSC CChem CSci MA MSci

Professor Rachel O'Reilly

School of Chemistry
Head of School
Professor of Polymer 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.

Rachel is also part of the Birmingham Plastics Network, an interdisciplinary team of more than 40 academics working together to shape the fate and sustainable future of plastics.  This unique team brings together chemists, environmental scientists, philosophers, linguists, economists, and experts in many other fields, to holistically address the global plastics problem.



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

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


Recent publications


Rauschenbach, M, Lawrenson, SB, Taresco, V, Pearce, AK & O'Reilly, RK 2020, 'Antimicrobial hyperbranched polymer-usnic acid complexes through a combined ROP-RAFT strategy', Macromolecular Rapid Communications.

Worch, JC, Weems, AC, Yu, J, Arno, MC, Wilks, TR, Huckstepp, RTR, O'Reilly, RK, Becker, ML & Dove, AP 2020, 'Elastomeric polyamide biomaterials with stereochemically tuneable mechanical properties and shape memory', Nature Communications, vol. 11, no. 1, 3250.

Arno, MC, Inam, M, Weems, A, Li, Z, Binch, A, Platt, CI, Richardson, SM, Hoyland, JA, Dove, A & O'Reilly, R 2020, 'Exploiting the role of nanoparticle shape in enhancing hydrogel adhesive and mechanical properties', Nature Communications, vol. 11, 1420.

Foster, JC, Grocott, MC, Arkinstall, LA, Varlas, S, Redding, MJ, Grayson, SM & O'Reilly, RK 2020, 'It is Better with Salt: Aqueous Ring-Opening Metathesis Polymerization at Neutral pH', Journal of the American Chemical Society, vol. 142, no. 32, pp. 13878-13885.

O'Reilly, R, Dove, A, Foster, J & Yu, W 2020, 'Length control of biodegradable fibre-like micelles via tuning solubility: a self-seeding Crystallization-Driven Self-Assembly of poly(ɛ-caprolactone) containing triblock copolymers', Macromolecules, vol. 53, no. 4, pp. 1514–1521.

Xie, Y, Arno, MC, Husband, JT, Torrent-Sucarrat, M & O'Reilly, RK 2020, 'Manipulating the fluorescence lifetime at the sub-cellular scale via photo-switchable barcoding', Nature Communications, vol. 11, no. 1, 2460.

O'Reilly, R, Dove, A, Xie, Y, Jimaja, S, Varlas, S, Foster, J & Taton, D 2020, 'Nickel-catalyzed coordination polymerization-induced self-assembly of helical poly(arylisocyanide)s', ACS Macro Letters, vol. 9, no. 2, pp. 226–232.

Yildirim, T, Pervez, M, Li, B & O'Reilly, RK 2020, 'Size-controlled clustering of iron oxide nanoparticles within fluorescent nanogels using LCST-driven self-assembly', Journal of Materials Chemistry B, vol. 8, no. 24, pp. 5330-5335.

O'Reilly, R, Keogh, R, Blackman, LD, Foster, J & Varlas, S 2020, 'The importance of cooperativity in polymer blending: toward controlling the thermoresponsive behavior of blended block copolymer micelles', Macromolecular Rapid Communications, vol. 41, no. 6, 1900599.

Fritea, L, Gross, AJ, Gorgy, K, O'Reilly, RK, Le Goff, A & Cosnier, S 2019, 'A bifunctional triblock polynorbornene/carbon nanotube buckypaper bioelectrode for low-potential/high-current thionine-mediated glucose oxidation by FAD-GDH', Journal of Materials Chemistry A, vol. 7, no. 4, pp. 1447-1450.

O'Reilly, R, Couturaud, B, Houston, ZH, Cowin, GJ, Prokes, I, Foster, J & Thurecht, KJ 2019, 'A supramolecular fluorine magnetic resonance spectroscopy probe polymer based on Passerini bifunctional monomer', ACS Macro Letters, vol. 8, no. 11, pp. 1479.

Hua, Z, Jones, JR, Thomas, M, Arno, MC, Souslov, A, Wilks, T & O'Reilly, R 2019, 'Anisotropic polymer nanoparticles with controlled dimensions from the morphological transformation of isotropic seeds', Nature Communications, vol. 10, 5406, pp. 1-8.

Moatsou, D & O'Reilly, RK 2019, 'Catalyst: size distribution in self-assembly matters', Chem, vol. 5, no. 3, pp. 487-490.

Garmendia, S, Lawrenson, S, Arno, MC, O'Reilly, R, Taton, D & Dove, A 2019, 'Catalytically active N-heterocyclic carbene release from single-chain nanoparticles following a thermolysis-driven Unfolding Strategy', Macromolecular Rapid Communications, vol. 40, no. 15, 1900071, pp. 1-8.


Akar, I, Keogh, R, Blackman, LD, Foster, JC, Mathers, RT & O'Reilly, RK 2020, 'Grafting density governs the thermoresponsive behavior of P(OEGMA-co-RMA) statistical copolymers', ACS Macro Letters, vol. 9, no. 8, pp. 1149-1154.

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