PLA group

PLA group

f block organometallic chemistry; reactivity, understanding
We have research labs both on the University of California Berkeley campus, focused on f-block homogeneous catalysis, and on the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab site, focused on actinide chemistry. Find out more in the links above.



Professor of Chemistry, University of California, Berkeley.

Director, Chemical Sciences Division  |  Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.


Latimer Hall, rm 446, College of Chemistry, UC Berkeley, CA 94720-1460, US.

Assistant: Anneke Runtupalit  |  [email protected]  |  +1 510 642 2044

Bldg 50B, rm 4245  |  MS 50B4230  |  1 Cyclotron Road, Berkeley, CA 94720-8099, US.

Assistant: Nancy Muto |  [email protected]  |  +1 510 486 5767

cell +1 510 612 6883 @ProfArno


Our Research Laboratories:

rare earth catalysis: UC Berkeley campus Latimer Hall, 511, 539, 547 |  Berkeley, CA 94720-1406, US.

actinide and transuranic chemistry: Lawrence Berkeley National Lab  Bldg 70, rms 203/209/HERL | 1 Cyclotron Road, Berkeley, CA 94720-8099, US.


Who we are:

Five postdocs: Dr Brad Cowie is working on new oxo-group reactivity of actinyl compounds for catalytic C-H/C-element bond activation. Dr Amy Price is working on f-block structure and bonding and small molecule activation chemistry. Drs Rory Kelly and Tatsumi Ochiai are studying subtle ligand and reagent interactions with organo-f-block complexes. Andrea di Guiseppe is developing new catalyses from organo-lanthanide complexes.

Six PhD students: Connor Halliday, Steven Gray, and Paul Ewing are part of the EPSRC-funded Criticat CDT (Centre for Doctoral Training) in sustainable catalysis, and supported in part by the UK catalysis hub. Steven is developing new, polynuclear rare-earth catalysts for the co-polymerization of biorenewables. Paul is working in collaboration with Andrew Smith in St Andrews on catalytic conversions of carbon dioxide and other biorenewables using the reactive lanthanide-N-heterocyclic carbene conbination. Connor is working alongside Francis Lam, and Lars Thode on the use of chelating O-donor ligands that incorporate stabilising arene interactions for catalytic conversions of small molecules (hydrocarbons, CO, CO2, and N2).  Jamie Purkis is funded by the UK National Nuclear Laboratory on catalytic C-H bond functionalisation chemistry using uranyl complexes.

We now carry out transuranic chemistry in-house in the HERL, but until recently, conducted most of the transuranic (Np and Pu) work in the Transuranic Actinide research lab of the EU Joint Research Centre for Nuclear safety and security, in Karlsruhe, Germany.

PLA:  In October 2019 Polly became the Director of the Chemical Sciences Division at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. From Jan 2020 she also holds a faculty professorship at the University of California, Berkeley. She obtained her degrees from Oxford and Sussex, and was a Fulbright postdoctoral fellow at MIT before returning to the UK to a lectureship in 1999. Her research is focused on exploratory synthetic chemistry, specifically the design and synthesis of metal compounds that can activate small, traditionally unreactive molecules such as carbon oxides and hydrocarbons, with the ultimate goal of developing these into innovative catalytic transformations. By working with some of the heaviest and most reactive metals, including uranium and lighter transuranic elements, new fundamental knowledge is gained that can help with understanding the behavior of nuclear wastes.

Polly has received a variety of awards and prizes including the GDCH Todd Krebs Lectureship in 2019, RSC Wilkinson prize in 2018, the Lord Kelvin Medal 2017, which is the senior prize for the physical sciences awarded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and the Royal Society’s Rosalind Franklin award in 2012. She made the film ‘A Chemical Imbalance’, a call to action for simple changes to achieve equality of opportunity in science, and was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s birthday honours list in 2018 for her contributions to chemistry and women in STEM.