Postdoctoral researchers:

Jyoti Singh

Jyoti Singh

I am a postdoctoral research fellow at the UCL, and my research revolves around tackling the origin of life problem by using nucleotide specific catalyst. I have conducted my doctoral study at the University of Freiburg. My PhD work involved the design and development of synthetic technologies to access phosphorus-containing compounds for the biological application efficiently and straightforwardly. I have held a dual master’s degree from the University of Delhi, India and Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Japan. During my master’s thesis, I work on the synthesis of novel biodegradable polymers as well as studying optoelectronic property of the polymer films.

Daniel Whitaker

Daniel Whitaker

Daniel has been a research fellow at UCL since 2017. After completing his masters project on self-assembled anion-binding copper complexes in the Nitschke group at the University of Cambridge, he worked as a visiting researcher in the Fulton group at the University of Newcastle studying thermoresponsive polymers. Daniel then moved to the Larrosa group at the University of Manchester, where he investigated the role of silver in palladium-catalysed C-H activation.

Benji Thoma

Benji Thoma

Benji completed his undergraduate studies in Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge, undertaking summer research projects in the Nitschke group and the Stoltz group (Caltech). He completed his MSci at Cambridge in 2019 in the Gaunt group, investigating activity-based protein profiling warheads. Following the completion of his PhD in the Powner group, Benji has continued his research in prebiotic chemistry as a postdoc.


Megan Shipton

Hi, I'm Megan and I joined the Powner group as a postdoctoral researcher in 2023. Before coming to UCL, I first completed an MSci in Chemistry with Medicinal Chemistry at Imperial College London, followed by a DPhil in Pharmacology at the University of Oxford as part of the Potter group. During my doctoral degree, I focused on the synthesis and chemical biology of inositol polyphosphates.


Tasos Charitou

Tasos grew up in Drama, Greece. After completing his undergraduate studies at the University of Ioannina, he moved to Manchester to work on visible light-enabled C-H activation within the Greaney group. He then stayed on for a PhD in CDT Integrated Catalysis (iCAT), during which he developed diverse methods for transition metal-free biaryl synthesis. Upon completion of his PhD studies, he joined the Powner group as a postdoctoral research associate, currently exploring prebiotic photochemical peptide ligation.

PhD Students:

Abid Barat

Abid Barat

I was born in Baghlan, Afghanistan, but as a child I grew up in Peshawar, Pakistan. I arrived in the UK in 2008 and went to school in north west London. I then went to the University of Reading to study for an MChem degree. My final year project was on the synthesis of photocaged neurotransmitters, supervised by Dr Christopher Smith. During my Undergraduate studies I also undertook another 8-week summer research project, metal-free aryne mediated C-H bond activation, under the supervision of Dr Christopher jones, at QMUL. For this I was awarded the “RSC Summer UGBursary 2019”. During my undergraduate studies, I was also awarded the organic practical and Edward Guggenheim prize. I am now working on prebiotic peptide ligation for my PhD in mwp group. In my free time I enjoy cooking, running, and going to the gym.

Arran Collis

Arran Collis

My name is Arran, and I come from a village called Angmering in West Sussex. I did a four year integrated masters in Natural Sciences at Cambridge, specialising in Chemistry. I was at Christ’s College, which was attended by Charles Darwin; here I am pictured sitting in his chair. Throughout my undergrad, I was interested in how chemical processes gave rise to living systems. This led me to focus on organic chemistry and its application to biology, and then to apply for a PhD in the Powner Lab. In my spare time, I enjoy reading, hiking, cooking, and the occasional trip to the pub.

Andrew Cummins

Andrew Cummins

After growing up near Dundee (Scotland), Andrew moved southwards to undertake his MChem at the University of Edinburgh, graduating in 2020. While at Edinburgh he undertook projects in the Lloyd-Jones, Cockroft and Thomas groups, work in the latter of which on iron-catalysed B₂pin₂ deuterogenolysis has been published. His final year MChem project on nickel-catalysed Heck reactions was performed under the supervision of Prof. Snyder at the University of Chicago. His work in the Powner group is currently focused on prebiotic cobalt catalysed reactions. In his spare time he would go to the pub or think about where he might next go on holiday, but instead he stays home and watches Netflix, reads the news obsessively, cooks, eats, and sleeps. It’s like Groundhog Day (a film Andrew has seen), but less funny.


Shane Barrett Kavanagh

Shane grew up in Waterford, a small historical city in the southeast of Ireland. He read Chemical Sciences at Trinity College Dublin, specialising in Medicinal Chemistry. He carried out his Capstone Project on the total synthesis of natural products in the Lawrence Group at the University of Edinburgh via an Erasmus+ Traineeship. For this work, he was awarded the Cocker Prize in Chemistry at Trinity. He has undertaken industrial placements at Sanofi and Bausch + Lomb, respectively. His research in the Powner Lab is currently focused on prebiotic phosphorylation reactions. He is passionate about education equality and STEM outreach and enjoys working in these areas. In his spare time, Shane is trying to identify London’s finest pint of Guinness!


Emily Goff

I’m Emily and I grew up in Waterford, in the “Sunny South-East” of Ireland. I completed my four year undergraduate degree in Chemistry of Pharmaceutical Compounds at University College Cork. During this time, I completed a five month internship as a chemist at Merck Sharpe and Dohme (MSD). My final year research project explored the potential of enantioselective copper bis(oxazoline) catalysts in intermolecular C-H insertion. My project aims to build on our knowledge of Catalytic Peptide Ligation (CPL). With this in mind, we aim to advance our understanding of the origins of the central dogma of molecular biology and develop a novel methodology for orthogonally controlled organocatalytic synthesis of peptides and nucleic acids in water. Outside of the lab I enjoy running, baking, and going out with friends.


Postdoctoral Researchers:

Dr Christian Arturo Fernandez-Garcia
Dr Leonardo Maugeri
Dr Saidul Islam

Present: 2014-2020

Research: Prebiotic synthesis of RNA nucleotides, lipids and amino acids.

Subsequent position: Senior Chemist at Concept Life Sciences

Present: 2017-2020

Research: Prebiotic synthesis of cysteine peptides

Subsequent position: Higher Medical Device Specialist at Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency

Present: 2013-2022

Research: Prebiotic nucleic acid and peptide synthesis

Subsequent position: Lecturer in Chemistry, Kings College London

Dr Merina Corpinot
Dr Shaun Stairs

Present: 2019-2020

Research: Crystallisation techniques and strategies for the synthesis of key prebiotic molecules.

Present: 2013-2016

Research: Prebiotic nucleotide synthesis

Subsequent position: Pharmaron, Inc.

PhD Students:

Dr Jasper Fairchild
Dr Álvaro Magalhães
Benji Thoma

Graduated: 2023

Research: Prebiotic cofactor and peptide synthesis, photochemistry

Subsequent position: Organic Chemistry Experimental Officer, UCL

Graduated: 2023

Research: Reactivity of amidines, peptides and organocatalysis

Subsequent position: Postdoctoral Research Fellow - Todd group, UCL

Graduated: 2023

Research: Peptide synthesis, organocatalysis, photochemistry

Subsequent position: Postdoctoral Research Fellow - Powner group, UCL

Dr Ben Colville
Dr Rebecca Marchington
Dr Callum Foden

Graduated: 2021

Research: Studies Towards Nucleic Acids at the Origins of Life

Subsequent position: Postdoctoral Research Fellow - Szostak Lab, UChicago

Graduated: 2020

Research: Studies of prebiotic physical models towards understanding the emergence of biological homochirality

Graduated: 2019

Research: Thiol catalysed prebiotic peptide ligations in water

Subsequent position: Business management consultant

Dr Pierre Canavelli
Dr Kathryn Ashe
Dr Samuel Roberts

Graduated: 2019

Research: Prebiotic peptide elongation by the chemoselective ligation of aminonitriles

Subsequent position: Data scientist

Graduated: 2018

Research: Studies towards the prebiotic synthesis of nucleotides and amino acids

Subsequent position: Associate editor, Nature Chemistry

Graduated: 2018

Research: The prebiotic synthesis of furanosyl-nucleosides

Subsequent position: Postdoctoral Research Associate, Balasubramanian group, Cambridge

Dr Natalie Grefenstette
Dr Arif Nikmal
Dr Adam Coggins

Graduated: 2017

Research: Studies towards the prebiotic synthesis and phosphorylation of ribonucleotides

Subsequent position: Postdoctoral fellow, Santa Fe Institute

Graduated: 2016

Research: Studies Towards a Chemical Origins of RNA: Divergent Prebiotic Synthesis of Pyrimidine and 8-oxo-Purines Ribonucleotides

Subsequent position: Teaching GCSE and A-level chemistry

Graduated: 2016

Research: Studies toward a prebiotic protometabolism

Subsequent position: Analyst

Masters Students:


Francesca Ridgeway Bishop, MSci

William Sheppard, MSci

Atthapol Tweesri, MRes Drug Discovery

Ruocen Sun, MSci

Harry Bell, MSci

Huajing Lui, MRes Chemical Science

Rang Wan, MRes Drug Discovery


Sophie Walpole, MSci

Aminat Amoo, MSci

Yisi (Jasmina) Lui, MRes Drug Discovery

Alex Heaton MSci

Cheng (Frank) Cen, MSci

Jawaher Al Nawah, MRes Chemical Science

Benjamin Colville, MSci (Winner of the Charles Vernon prize for Masters Best Project)

Marcos Fernandez, MSci


James Rushworth, MSci (Joint with Prof. Tom Sheppard).

Giuliamonica Leonardi, MRes Drug Discovery

Conrad Lim, MSci

Kevin O’Loughlin, MRes Drug Discovery

Xinglin (Lynne) Yang, MSci

Raquel Fraquel, MSci (Joint with Cancer Research Technologies; Winner of the Charles Vernon prize for Masters Best Project)

Chenye Sun, MSci

Izaak Fryer-Kanssen, MSci

Harriet Story, MSci (Joint with Cancer Research Technologies)

Summer Students:


Min Gyu Choi (Seoul National University)

Conrad Lim (RSC-Nuffield Scholarship)

Raquel Fraquel (Nuffield Scholarship)