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Chemist wins prestigious emerging-researcher fellowship

2 October 2013

Congratulations to Dr Jonathan Sperry from the University of Auckland, the latest Maurice Wilkins Centre investigator to be awarded a prestigious Rutherford Discovery Fellowship.

He is amongst just ten top early to mid-career New Zealand researchers to receive one of the 2013 fellowships, designed to develop and foster future leaders in the science sector in this country.

“The Rutherford Discovery Fellowships provide our emerging scientific leaders each with a funding package of $800,000 over five years, that will allow them to undertake important research that will be valuable for New Zealand’s future,” said Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce in announcing the awards. “The Fellowships will help attract and retain our most talented early-career researchers and encourage their career development in this country.”

Dr Sperry, a senior lecturer in the University of Auckland’s School of Chemical Sciences, will undertake research titled “Inert C-H bonds: A gateway to molecular complexity.” Carbon-hydrogen bonds are very abundant in organic molecules, and Dr Sperry aims to redefine how they are perceived so that they are no longer considered inert bystanders but useful “handles” that chemists can selectively manipulate.

“The award of this Fellowship demonstrates the importance of fundamental synthetic organic chemistry as an enabling science that underpins drug discovery programmes and provides chemical probes for many other molecular biodiscovery programmes,” says Maurice Wilkins Centre principal investigator Distinguished Professor Margaret Brimble, Chair of Organic and Medicinal Chemistry at the University of Auckland.

Dr Sperry, who earned his BSc (Hons) and PhD at the University of Exeter, joined the University of Auckland in 2006. His research interests involves developing sustainable technologies with applications in natural products synthesis, small molecule construction and medicinal chemistry The Rutherford Discovery Fellowships are open to researchers within three to eight years of having completed their PhD. The scheme was established in 2010 and now supports 40 fellows.