Dr Kevin Back

PhD student (2008-2011), EPSRC Doctoral Prize (2011-2012)

Kevin took up a position at Pfizer, UK, in October 2012


His new email address is: Kevin.Back@pfizer.com

Kevin Back
2003 MChem, Trinity College, Oxford

Professional Roles, Scholarships, Awards
2011-2012 Committee member, SCI Liv NW committee and Early Career Support Subcommittee
2009-2011 SCI Scholar
2009 Departmental poster prize
2009 Awarded bursaries from the RAE, SCI and BACG to attend the Annual Meeting of the ACA in Toronto
2008-2012 PhD in Conformational Crystallisation
2008 Regional Innovation award for developing salt screening tools
2007-2008 Senior Scientist Solid State, AstraZeneca
2003-2007 Scientist, AstraZeneca
2000-2003 Millard Exhibition in Chemistry
1999-2003 Charlesworth Scholarship from the Foundation Governors of Bridlington School


I am currently undertaking research on the nucleation properties of organic materials, using two major techniques.

  • By carrying out statistical measurements of nucleation rates, it is possible to elucidate kinetic and thermodynamic parameters describing the nucleation event.
  • UV spectroscopy of solutions close to and above their saturation points allows a theoretical model to be applied, giving information on the aggregation behaviour of these solutions.

By combining the information from these two techniques, and through collaborations with Prof. Joop ter Horst at TUDelft, and with Prof. Ake Rasmuson at the University of Limerick, a greater understanding of the mechanism of crystal nucleation will be developed. Both these techniques are new, and provide rare opportunities for analysing the nucleation state.

Solubility, metastable zone width measurement and crystal growth of the 1:1 benzoic acid/isonicotinamide cocrystal in solutions of variable stoichiometry
Sarah Boyd, Kevin Back, Keith Chadwick, Roger J. Davey, Colin C. Seaton
Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Volume 99, Issue 9, pages 3779–3786

The isolation of a metastable conglomerate using a combined computational and controlled crystallization approach
Roger J. Davey, Ghazala Sadiq, Kevin Back, Laura Wilkinson and Colin C. Seaton
Chem. Commun., 2012, 48, 1976-1978

I am an analytical chemist, working in the area of nucleation, crystallisation and solid state properties. My focus is on pharmaceutical materials and fine chemicals. I have been awarded an EPSRC Doctoral Prize for 2012, working with Dr. Sven Schroeder.

My PhD, supervised by Prof. Roger Davey, was sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline, investigating the effect of impurities on the crystallisation of pharmaceutical molecules.  Learning about crystal growth, nucleation and crystal structures has been a fascinating experience for me, and I hope to apply this knowledge in future work.  It’s also been great working on current pharmaceutical compounds with industrial sponsors, as seeing how your project could directly improve processes in real situations keeps me enthusiastic, even when the compound refuses to grow into the crystal you need!

Crystal growth is an area that’s been well studied, and it is well known through the work of various groups, including Roger’s, that additives can have a dramatic influence on the shape of the crystals that you find.  However, much of this work has been done on small molecules, whereas the majority of new pharmaceutical compounds are much bigger, with molecular weights of more than 500 Daltons.  My PhD has focussed on these large, often conformationally flexible molecules.  Almost inevitably in industry, the solution that you crystallise these molecules from contains impurities from side reactions and unused reagents, which are often very close in structure to the molecule you’re crystallising.  These structurally related impurities may act as tailor-made additives, binding at certain crystal faces and preventing growth there, and thus influencing the habit of the crystals.

I graduated from Trinity College, Oxford in 2003 with a degree in chemistry, and went to work for AstraZeneca in Macclesfield.  I spent 5 years working for AstraZeneca, working initially as an analyst on late stage compounds and then moving into the solid state group.  Here I developed an interest in polymorphism and material properties through the enthusiasm of my colleagues for research and training.  I decided to pursue this by returning to university to study a PhD.  I had enjoyed hearing Roger Davey speak a number of times, and read many of his papers, and while looking for a PhD found that he had a position, which was instantly my first choice!  Luckily he agreed to take me on, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience!

During my PhD, I’ve been able to go to many conferences and present posters, which has been an invaluable experience and something I’d recommend to any PhD student.  You get a much better and broader view of your field through these conferences, as well as learning about the other areas that are related to your field.  It’s also great fun to travel abroad!  Presenting a poster is a great chance to talk to leading scientists about your research and get some suggestions for future directions for your research.  I’ve been able to go to the Annual Meeting of the American Crystallographic Association in Toronto and the first Gordon Conference on Crystal Engineering in New Hampshire, both of which were an excellent opportunity to talk to the international community about my research – and at the Gordon Conference, to do some trail biking (the conference was at an outdoor activities centre!).  I’ve also been able to attend two of the British Association of Crystal Growth conferences and the Annual Meeting of the British Crystallographic Association.  I was only able to attend these conferences, particularly the international ones, thanks to financial support from GSK, the British Association of Crystal Growth, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the SCI.  The SCI in particular gave me one of their generous scholarships, and I’ve had the opportunity to get involved with their local events, assisting with organising one of them here in Manchester.

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