Principal Investigators » The MacDiarmid Institute
Principal Investigators

Our people

Professor Penny Brothers

Professor Penny Brothers

Principal Investigator

Functional Nanostructures

+64 9 373 7599, ext. 88281

School of Chemical Sciences
The University of Auckland
Private Bag 92019
Auckland 1142


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.

Research interests

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
Professor Penny Brothers

In the news

Annual Report

When physics meets biochemistry - Annual Report 2018

April 8, 2019

Could bio-inspired self-assembled magnetic structures make computers more efficient?

Read more about When physics meets biochemistry - Annual Report 2018

Interface Magazine

Penny Brothers: Exploring surface patterning

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.

Read more about Penny Brothers: Exploring surface patterning


Element of the week - Iron (Fe)

Element of the Week - Iron (Fe)

June 21, 2019

Professor Penny Brothers introduces the element Iron on RadioNZ Nights' Element of the Week.

Read more about Element of the Week - Iron (Fe)


2017 Lecture Series: Women in nanoscience

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.

Read more about 2017 Lecture Series: Women in nanoscience

Penny Brothers - finding markers of disease

March 21, 2019

Professor Penny Brothers has designed molecules that identify chains of sugars on the surface of diseased cells.

Read more about Penny Brothers - finding markers of disease