Matthew Powner, Ph.D.

Professor of Organic Chemistry, University College London

SCOL Project: Systems Chemistry: Unified Metabolite Syntheses at the Origin of Life

The key goal of our project is to understand why life is built from one specific set of molecules. We will explore the relationship between life’s essential molecules to elucidate their chemical roots. Our experiments will be directed toward understanding the emergence of the nucleic acids, peptides, lipids and core components of the central metabolism used by life. Overlaid on this, we will investigate the mechanisms by which information transfer, catalysis and self-assembly can emerge in networks of these molecules.

Matthew Powner was born in Wensleydale, North Yorkshire, England, in 1981. He obtained a first-class master’s degree in chemistry at the University of Manchester (2005), where he was awarded the Royal Society of Chemistry prize, the Degussa award, the Sigma-Aldrich prize, the Glaxo prize, the Eric Braithwaite prize, the Swan prize and the Merck Sharp & Dohme award. He then completed a medicinal chemistry internship at AstraZeneca, Alderley Park, before returning to Manchester to complete his Ph.D. (2009) and a short EPSRC Doctoral Prize postdoctoral fellowship with John Sutherland. In 2009 he was awarded a Harvard Research Fellowship to work with Nobel laureate Jack Szostak at Massachusetts General Hospital.

He returned to the U.K. in 2011, joining UCL as a lecturer in the chemistry department, where he is currently professor of organic chemistry and an Investigator of the Simons Foundation Collaboration on the Origins of Life. His research interests center around chemistry associated with the origin of life and, along with his research group, he has made contributions in the areas of nucleic acid and amino acid chemistry, protometabolic networks, ribozymes, lipids, crystal engineering, green chemistry, catalysis and photochemistry.

Powner has been awarded various prizes and fellowships in recognition of his research, including the ISSOL Stanley Miller Award (2011), the SET for Britain Roscoe Medal (2012), first prize in the Origins of Life Challenge (2012; jointly with John Sutherland), an EPSRC Early Career Fellowship (2013), a Bürgenstock JPS Fellowship (2015), the Thieme Chemistry Journal Award (2015), a Center for Advanced Studies Fellowship (2016) and the RSC Harrison-Meldola Memorial Prize (2019).

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