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Kate Nicholson


Department: Applied Sciences

Kate completed her MChem at Durham University in 2003, having worked under the supervision of Prof. Andrew Beeby, her research project addressed the issue of creating a spectrometer capable of measuring evanescent wave induced fluorescence.

Kate Nicholson Staffprofile Northumbriauniversity255In addition, the effect of immobilisation or tethering of highly fluorescent molecules at the interface subjected to the evanescent wave was investigated.  This was a challenging project as worldwide only one group had published any work on this type of spectrometric arrangement.

Following from her research in photochemistry Kate embarked upon a PhD under the supervision of Dr Sharon Cooper.  Having always been fascinated by crystal growth, particularly the early or nascent phases of a crystal’s existence, she was able to use emulsion and microemulsion systems as a method of probing classical nucleation theory and its’ applicability to these confined systems.  Ice nucleation formed the initial investigation and led to the eventual conclusion that in such confined systems thermodynamics will determine if crystal growth is even possible.  The effects of ULIFT’s were also investigated on model compounds such as glycine and asparagine to test the effect of interfacial curvature to the extreme, and leading to growth of macroporous single crystalline materials without use of any templating material.  This work provided the foundation for a complete revision of nucleation theory in nano-confined systems. Kate was awarded the BACG Young Scientist Award in 2007 based upon this work and her outstanding contribution to the field.

Naturally, Kate continued to further the work in this area applying the control achieved in microemulsions to polymorphic compounds, and throughout her next two post-doctoral positions, this became a patented method for controlling crystallisation.

Concurrently with her postdoctoral work, Kate held an associate lectureship with The Open University, teaching their 3rd year degree level Physical Chemistry course.  She decided to take a year out from her research to pursue a formal qualification in education and studied towards a PGCE teaching secondary science.

The challenges presented by research however were soon calling, and Kate returned to working at Durham University through a KTP project once again building specialised spectrometers for an industrial partner Eshtec.

Due to her expertise in building specialised equipment for optical analysis she was then invited to join the pigment analysis team at Durham University, as part of a privately funded research project linked with the Lindisfarne Gospels exhibition in 2013.  This has spring boarded her research career in a whole new direction and she is now part of a much larger consortium working on pigment analysis of medieval artefacts in the British Isles, spending time at the Fitzwilliam museum in Cambridge working with the MINIARE team and the scientific analysis team at the Bodleian library in Oxford, and the conservation team from special collections in Aberdeen University, along with the founding members at Durham University and Durham Cathedral libraries.

0191 227 3511


  • PGCertEd
  • PhD
  • MChem

Research Themes and Scholarly Interests

Kate continues to build on the work she started during her PhD by characterising soft-matter systems and their phase behaviour to elucidate candidates that will form micro reactors for materials synthesis.  These microemulsion based-reactors can then be used to synthesise well defined nanomaterials, with an unprecedented level of control as illustrated in her earlier patent.  She is also interested in studying the photophysical properties of the nanomaterials which can lead to novel applications in areas such as anti-counterfeiting.

Analysis of Paints and Pigments: Kate collaborates with Dr Justin Perry and Dr Brian Singer (Art Conservation, Northumbria University) on the use of analytical methods to determine the source of coloration in artists’ media for art conservation purposes.

Kate’s expertise in building portable spectrometers has led to the development of mobile equipment that she has used in libraries across the UK from Aberdeen to Bodleian, Durham to Cambridge and her current research goal is to optimise this equipment whilst collecting data on manuscripts carefully selected by her Historian colleague Prof. Richard Gameson at Durham University so that the first comprehensive guide to pigment use in the British Isles can be produced.

Sponsors and Collaborators

  • Dr Justin Perry, Northumbria University Applied Sciences
  • Dr Charis Theodorakopoulos Northumbria University School of Arts and Social Sciences
  • Prof Andrew Beeby, Durham University Chemistry Department
  • Prof Richard Gameson, Durham University History Department
  • Durham Cathedral Library
  • Durham University Library Special Collections Palace Green
  • MINIARE project, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
  • Bodleian Library, Oxford
  • Aberdeen University Library Special Collections
  • Royal Society of Chemistry – Researcher mobility fellowship 2014

Current/Recent Projects

Royal Society of Chemistry Researcher Mobility Fellow August 2014 – visiting researcher at the The Fitzwilliam Museum MINIARE project Cambridge.

KTP researcher working with Eshtec Autumn 2012

Named PDRA on EPSRC grants: 2008-present

EP/J013021/1   Complementary Gel and Microemulsion Strategies for Pharmaceutical Solid Form Control

EP/D070228/1  Crystallization: The Future is Controllable

Key Publications

'Pigments of the Earliest Northumbrian Manuscripts’ A.Beeby, A. R. Duckworth, R. G. Gameson, C. E. Nicholson (Durham University) R. Clark, B. Meehan, A. W. Parker (Consultants) accepted by Scriptorium, awaiting publication date.

‘Nonclassical Crystallization of Dipicolinic Acid in Microemulsions’ Cen Chen, Catherine E. Nicholson, Helen E. Ramsey, and Sharon J. Cooper Crystal Growth & Design Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/cg501147j

 ‘Crystallization of Mefenamic Acid from Dimethylformamide Microemulsions: Obtaining Thermodynamic Control through 3D Nanoconfinement.’, C. E. Nicholson, S. J. Cooper,  Crystals, 2011, 1, 195-205.

‘Leapfrogging Ostwald’s rule of stages: Crystallization of stable γ-glycine directly from microemulsions’, S. J. Cooper, C. E. Nicholson, C. Chen, O. Cook, Cryst. Growth Des., 2011, 11 (6), 2228–2237

‘Stable Polymorphs Crystallized Directly under Thermodynamic Control in Three-Dimensional Nanoconfinement: A Generic Methodology’, C. E. Nicholson, C. Chen, B. Mendis, S. J. Cooper Cryst. Growth Des.2011, 11(2), 363-366

‘A simple classical model for predicting onset crystallization temperatures on curved substrates, and its implications for phase transitions in confined volumes’, S. J. Cooper, C. E. Nicholson, , J. Liu J. Chem. Phys. 2008, 129, 124715 



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