Professor Penny Brothers was born and grew up in Auckland, New Zealand, and completed BSc and MSc (Hons) degrees in chemistry at the University of Auckland. In 1979 she was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship and set off for Stanford University to begin a PhD in chemistry under the supervision of Professor Jim Collman.
Penny's PhD thesis, and much of her subsequent research work, has centered around the chemistry of porphyrin complexes. In 1986 she returned to Auckland and spent two years working as a postdoctoral fellow with Professor Warren Roper in the Department of Chemistry, focussing on organometallic chemistry. In 1988 she took up her current academic position at the University of Auckland, and was promoted to Professor in 2009.
She has been a visiting scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory (2003, 2005, 2007) and a visiting professor at the University of California at Davis (1993), the University of Heidelberg (2003), the University of Burgundy (2004, 2006) and the University of Münster (2010). She was awarded a Fulbright Senior Scholar Award in 2007. She is a member of the Chemical Communications Editorial Board.
The major theme of my research work has been in the chemistry of boron with porphyrin and corrole ligands. These small, ring-shaped molecules are significant in biology, materials science and catalysis applications. Although almost all the elements of the periodic table have been explored as their porphyrin or corrole complexes, I have been the only researcher to study the element boron in this context.
Over 15 years my group has established not just new types of molecule, but significant new examples of chemical reactivity. This work has lead me to become recognised as a world leader in the broader field of main group porphyrin chemistry, which I was instrumental in helping to establish 20 years ago.
I have also had a long-running collaboration with University of Auckland colleagues on the development of cobalt complexes as potential hypoxia-selective and radiation-activated anticancer drugs. Recent, new collaborations have led to publications on ruthenium porphyrins and germanium corroles.
I also have a new project preparing molecular quasicrystals for which the aim is to reproduce a Penrose tiling pattern on a surface using molecular pentagons as the tiles.
I am currently Associate Editor of Chemical Communications (RSC). I have held visiting professor positions at Los Alamos National Laboratory (USA), University of Burgundy (France), University of Muenster (Germany) and Peking University (China).
The spectrum of science from fundamental to applied is like a piece of string. While laypeople might only see the useful end, if you shorten the string – leaving the basic research behind – you lose out on the length. MacDiarmid Institute research connects those two ends of the piece of string, linking fundamental synthesis and materials chemistry with potential applications.Professor Penny Brothers
March 31, 2021
As classes and meetings moved online in March as Aotearoa New Zealand entered Level 4 lockdown, we adapted our community outreach activities to the virtual environment.
October 22, 2020
Becoming CEO of a startup is never straightforward, but Dr Kyle Webster has taken the ‘long road’ to an extreme
April 8, 2019
Could bio-inspired self-assembled magnetic structures make computers more efficient?
July 13, 2015
Professor Penny Brothers is as proud and enthusiastic talking about her family as she is her science – her screensaver is a beautiful shot of her climbing Mt Aspiring with her son Tristan. She tells me, with some pleasure, that she’s delighted to be the incoming President of both the New Zealand Institute of Chemistry and the New Zealand Alpine Club in 2016.
September 14, 2020
Professor Penny Brothers and Dr Mike Price give their scientific take on whether fictional materials could be reality in a not too far off future.
August 21, 2020
Professor Penny Brothers discusses the science behind Nth Metal from the DC Comics on RNZ Nights with Bryan Crump
February 16, 2019
Three MacDiarmid Institute nanoscientists tell their personal stories of life in science, and what it is like being a woman in the physical sciences.
March 21, 2019
Professor Penny Brothers has designed molecules that identify chains of sugars on the surface of diseased cells.