Prof Matthew Powner

Prof Matthew Powner

Professor of Organic Chemistry

Dept of Chemistry

Faculty of Maths & Physical Sciences

Joined UCL
12th Dec 2011

Research summary

My research interests center around chemistry associated with the origin of life and, along with my research group, I have made contributions in the areas of nucleic acid and amino acid chemistry, protometabolic networks, ribozymes, lipids, crystal engineering, green chemistry, catalysis and photochemistry. Our experiments are 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 investigate the mechanisms by which information transfer, catalysis and self-assembly can emerge in networks of these molecules.

Teaching summary

  • 1st Year UG Organic Chemistry.
  • 1st Year UG Organic Chemistry Laboratories.
  • 1st & 2nd Organic Chemistry Tutor.
  • 4th Year Masters & PG – Biomimetic and Prebiotic Chemistry.


Other Postgraduate qualification (including professional), ATQ02 - Recognised by the HEA as an Associate Fellow |
Other Postgraduate qualification (including professional), ATQ01 - Successfully completed an institutional provision in teaching in the HE sector |
University of Manchester
Doctorate, Doctor of Philosophy | 2009
University of Manchester
Other higher degree, Master of Chemistry (Honours) | 2005


I was born in Wensleydale, North Yorkshire, UK, in 1981. I obtained a first-class master’s degree in chemistry at the University of Manchester (2005), where I 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. I then completed a medicinal chemistry internship at AstraZeneca, Alderley Park, before returning to Manchester to complete my Ph.D. (2009) and a short EPSRC Doctoral Prize postdoctoral fellowship with John Sutherland FRS. In 2009 I was awarded a Harvard Research Fellowship to work with Nobel laureate Jack Szostak FRS at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, USA.

I returned to the U.K. in 2011, joining UCL as a lecturer in the chemistry department, where I am currently Professor of Organic Chemistry and an Investigator of the Simons Foundation Collaboration on the Origins of Life. 

I have been awarded various prizes and fellowships in recognition of my 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 FRS), an EPSRC Early Career Fellowship (2013), a Bürgenstock JPS Fellowship (2015), the Thieme Chemistry Journal Award (2015), a Center for Advanced Studies Fellowship (2016), the RSC Harrison-Meldola Memorial Prize (2019) and Blavatnik Award Honoree (2021).