Blood is red in colour because of the presence of porphyrins: small, ring-shaped molecules with an iron atom in the centre, the oxygen carrying site. Porphyrins are chemically similar to the green pigments in plants and to biomolecules such as vitamin B12. Laboratory synthesis of porphyrins makes them accessible to chemists who study how the special properties they impart to hemoglobin, chlorophyll and vitamin B12 can be utilised for applications ranging from medicine to materials. Porphyrins in biology bind iron, magnesium or cobalt, but in the laboratory can be made with almost any element in the periodic table. The study of boron porphyrins pushes these limits because boron doesn’t “fit” in a porphyrin; nevertheless because of this they show unusual and interesting properties. The theme of this lecture will be how chemists can learn from nature’s ingenious solutions for chemical problems and use this knowledge to design new molecules, using boron porphyrins as a case study.
About the Speaker: 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. Her 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. Her current research brings together her interests in porphyrin chemistry, the main group elements and organometallic chemistry. She investigates how porphyrin and corrole ligands can be used to modify the chemistry of elements such as boron and bismuth, and has a broad interest in coordination chemistry of the transition metals and main group elements. She has a number of research collaborations in NZ and internationally.