Director's Colloquium

Instructing molecules to do our bidding: three short stories

Professor Penny Brothers
Research School of Chemistry, ANU

I will present three vignettes of recent research that will have appeal to a broad audience. They have as their common theme how to design and make molecules which have encoded “instructions” for particular applications. We can’t physically control their behaviour at the molecular level but we can “code” them with specific functional groups to try and achieve the outcomes we want.

1. New chemistry of O-BODIPY: boron-oxygen-saccharide conjugates
We have developed chemistry for attaching the BODIPY fluorophore directly to sugars through the BODIPY boron, avoiding the need for a tether. We are exploring the scope and opportunities for applications of this chemistry.

2. Molecular quasicrystals: Penrose tiling with molecules
Triangles, squares, rectangles and hexagons can all be used to fill a 2D space with no gaps between – unlike pentagons which cannot. These patterns are known as Penrose tiling and are 2D relatives of the fascinating and unusual 3D quasicrystals. We have developed an approach using molecular pentagons as tiles to try and create a 2D Penrose tiling pattern comprised of molecules.

3. Using magnetism to sense pH: iron spin crossover complexes
Measurement of pH using glass electrodes is the most frequently performed chemical measurement in industry, but has the drawbacks of fragile glass electrodes and calibration issues. We have investigated a completely new approach using iron coordination complexes whose magnetic properties are sensitive to pH embedded in a film and coated on a RFID chip.

Professor Penny Brothers is a New Zealander educated at the University of Auckland and Stanford University. She has been in the School of Chemical Sciences at the University of Auckland since 1988 and has been a visiting professor at the Universities of California at Davis and at Berkeley, the Heidelberg, Münster, Burgundy, Peking University, the Arctic University of Norway and Los Alamos National Laboratory (as a Fulbright Senior Scholar). She is a Principal Investigator in the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Nanomaterials, on the Marsden Fund Council and an Associate Editor of Chemical Communications. She is currently investigating the chemistry of boron coordinated to porphyrin and corrole ligands, BODIPY fluorophores for sugar recognition and surface patterning using molecular pentagons. Her webpage can be found at

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