Dr Jonathan Sperry

PhD/BSc(Hons) (Exon.)

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Associate Professor


  • Feb 2017-present. Associate Professor in Organic and Medicinal Chemistry, University of Auckland. 
  • Feb 2014- 2019. RSNZ Rutherford Discovery Fellow
  • Feb 2012- Feb 2017. Senior Lecturer in Organic and Medicinal Chemistry, University of Auckland. 
  • Nov 2009- Feb 2012. Lecturer in Organic and Medicinal Chemistry, University of Auckland
  • Mar 2006- Nov 2009. Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Auckland, New Zealand, (RSNZ Marsden Fund, D.Prof. M. A. Brimble FRS)
  • Oct 2002- Feb 2006. Ph.D Synthetic Organic Chemistry, University of Exeter, UK. Biomimetic Oxidations in Natural Product Synthesis (Prof. C. J. Moody)
  • 1999-2002. BSc (Hons) Biological and Medicinal Chemistry, 1st class. University of Exeter, UK. Final year project: A Diels Alder approach to Vitamin B6 analogues

Research | Current

****MSC SCHOLARSHIP AVAILABLE FOR 2021**** Contact Jon for more details

BSc(Hons) / MSc

Several Honours and MSc projects are available for students starting in semesters 1 and 2. Please contact Jon for further information

Ph.D studies

A number of funding sources are available to support students into their PhD studies. The application processes are conducted through the University of Auckland, however please get in contact with Jon first to discuss the application. If you are an Australian or New Zealand student with a first class honours degree then you should be eligible for a scholarship.

If you are from outside Australasia, possess a stellar academic record and good English skills (IELTS, TOEFL scores), I will endeavour to organise a scholarship for you.

If your country has a scholarship program then please contact Jon to see if we are able to support an application.


We regularly host interns from all over the world. If you are interested spending some time in the Sperry lab, please contact Jon

Our Research interests can be split into three main areas:

- Organic Synthesis -

Study of natural product synthesis as a platform for methods development. Particular emphasis is placed on compounds that possess unprecedented architecture, biomimetic synthesis and novel reaction development. 

- Medicinal chemistry -

We have a strong interest in developing therapeutics for areas of unmet need.

The synthesis and biophysical analysis of isocitrate lyase (ICL) inhibitors for the treatment of latent tuberculosis - in collaboration with Dr Ivan Leung and Dr Ghader Bashiri (University of Auckland)

- Subjecting alkaloids to phenotypic screening in various central nervous system disease models, focusing on neuropsychiatric disorders such as depression, schizophrenia, psychosis, OCD, anxiety, etc.

- Novel therapeutics targeting the PSA-NCAM complex - in collaboration with Prof. Maurice Curtis (Centre for Brain Research). This work is focused on discovering fundamentally new strategies to treat aggressive brain cancers such as glioblastoma

- Sustainable Synthesis / Green Chemistry -

Synthesis of fine and commodity chemicals from biomass, in collaboration with various chemical engineers at Kyushu University, National University of Singapore and Xiamen University.

Clean synthesis methods, including electrochemistry (with Prof. Paul Kilmartin) and mechanochemistry

Mechanochemical degradation of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), PFAS, PFOA and pharmaceutical waste (in collaboration with Environmental Decontamination Limited; EDL)

Green solvents and reagents.


We are actively incorporating machine learning methods into our organic and medicinal chemistry programmes (in collaboration with Dr Jeorg Wicker, School of Computer Science). This includes a number of disctinct projects, ranging from assessment of large compound libraries for blood brain barrier permeability, through to reaction optimisation and development. These projects are primarily computational based, and are suitable for students who prefer 'dry' chemistry to lab-based research.



Teaching | Current

  • CHEM 253
  • CHEM 260
  • CHEM 330
  • CHEM 360
  • CHEM 730
  • CHEM 735
  • CHEM 750
  • CHEM 760

Postgraduate supervision


Dr Ashley Lindsay

Dr Ryan Dixon 

Dr Shi-Wei Kim 


Jessica Liyu (2017)

Maurycy Prystupa (2017)

Rory Devlin (2018)

Kapish Gobindlal (2018)

Stephanie Lee (2019)

Simon Lin (2020)

Karen Ichikawa (2020)

Yichen Qiu (2020)

Jessica Neville (2021)

Daniel Anstis (2021)


Flynn Parrish

BSc (Hons)

Tyler Murgatroyd

Rebecca Tritscher

Cindy Ho

Juan Arteaga Giraldo






RSNZ Rutherford Discovery Fellowship 2014-2019

Thieme Chemistry Journal Award 2014

Deans Commendation 2002

Henry Normon Rydon Award 2001

Deans Commendation 2000


Associate Professor in Organic and Medicinal Chemistry

Royal Society of New Zealand Rutherford Discovery Fellow


Areas of expertise

Organic and Sustainable Synthesis

Medicinal Chemistry

Heterocyclic Chemistry

Natural Products

Green Chemistry

Committees/Professional groups/Services

Founding member of the Centre for Green Chemical Science (CGCS)

2016-2018 Chair: Auckland branch of the New Zealand Institute of Chemistry (NZIC)

School of Chemical Sciences Research Committee

School of Chemical Sciences Wellbeing Officer


Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)

As of 29 October 2020 there will be no automatic updating of 'selected publications and creative works' from Research Outputs. Please continue to keep your Research Outputs profile up to date.
  • Bolan, N., Sarkar, B., Yan, Y., Li, Q., Wijesekara, H., Kannan, K., ... Noll, H. (2021). Remediation of poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contaminated soils – To mobilize or to immobilize or to degrade?. Journal of Hazardous Materials, 401.10.1016/j.jhazmat.2020.123892
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Melanie Kah
  • Chitara, M. K., Keswani, C., Varnava, K. G., Birla, H., Dilnashin, H., Singh, S. P., ... Singh, H. B. (2020). Impact of the alkaloid colletotrichumine A on the pathogenicity of Colletotrichum capsici in Capsicum annum L. Rhizosphere, 16.10.1016/j.rhisph.2020.100247
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Kyriakos Varnava
  • Feng, Y., Long, S., Yan, G., Chen, B., Sperry, J., Xu, W., ... Lin, L. (2020). Manganese catalyzed transfer hydrogenation of biomass-derived aldehydes: Insights to the catalytic performance and mechanism. JOURNAL OF CATALYSIS, 389, 157-165. 10.1016/j.jcat.2020.05.037
  • Devlin, R., & Sperry, J. (2020). The curious yellow colouring matter of the Iceland poppy. Organic & biomolecular chemistry, 18 (28), 5278-5286. 10.1039/d0ob01162b
  • Anstis, D. G., Lindsay, A. C., Söhnel T, & Sperry, J. (2020). Synthesis of the 1,2,4-Thiadiazole Alkaloid Polyaurine B. Journal of natural products, 83 (5), 1721-1724. 10.1021/acs.jnatprod.0c00166
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Tilo Söhnel
  • Kim, S. H., Söhnel T, & Sperry, J. (2020). Structural Revision of Pseudocerosine and Validation of a Biosynthetic Proposal for E-ring Formation in Pyridoacridine Alkaloids. Organic letters, 22 (9), 3495-3498. 10.1021/acs.orglett.0c00953
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Tilo Söhnel
  • Thuy, T. P., Chen, X., Soehnel, T., Yan, N., & Sperry, J. (2020). Haber-independent, diversity-oriented synthesis of nitrogen compounds from biorenewable chitin. GREEN CHEMISTRY, 22 (6), 1978-1984. 10.1039/d0gc00208a
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Tilo Söhnel
  • Anderson, K., Eastabrook, A. S., & Sperry, J. (2020). One-pot oxidative hydrolysis-oxidative cleavage of 7-borylindoles enables access to o-amidophenols and 4-acylbenzoxazoles. Chemical communications (Cambridge, England), 56 (24), 3559-3562. 10.1039/c9cc09807k

Contact details

Primary office location

Level 7, Room 727A
New Zealand