Associate Professor Jason B Harper

My Expertise

Physical Organic Chemistry, Bioorganic Chemistry, Enzymes in Synthesis, Peptide Chemistry, Ionic Liquids, Green Chemistry.


Fields of Research (FoR)

Physical Organic Chemistry, Catalysis and Mechanisms of Reactions, Organic Green Chemistry, Organic Chemical Synthesis

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Jason Harper was born in Adelaide, Australia, but spent his childhood in the wilds of the Northern Territory.  He returned to Adelaide for secondary schooling and carried out his undergraduate work at the University of Adelaide and the Australian National University, also receiving his Ph.D. (under the supervision of Prof. Christopher (Chris) Easton) from ANU as the Shell...view more


For more details, please see my website -

Jason Harper was born in Adelaide, Australia, but spent his childhood in the wilds of the Northern Territory.  He returned to Adelaide for secondary schooling and carried out his undergraduate work at the University of Adelaide and the Australian National University, also receiving his Ph.D. (under the supervision of Prof. Christopher (Chris) Easton) from ANU as the Shell Australia Postgraduate Scholar.  After positions at the University of Cambridge (as an NHMRC C. J. Martin Postdoctoral Fellow with Prof. Anthony (Tony) Kirby) and the Open University, he was appointed to the University of New South Wales in 2002, where he is currently an Associate Professor.

His research interests fall broadly in the area of mechanistic and physical organic chemistry.  His contributions to these fields have been in the understanding of the mechanisms of organic processes and what affects such, particularly involving the solvent effects of ionic liquids, novel methods to follow reaction outcomes and acidity of carbon acids.  He has published more than 130 articles and book chapters, has a h-index >35 and has given more than 70 invited lectures around the world.  He is an editor for the journal Chemical Physics and co-editor (with Prof. Nick WIlliams) of the book series, Advances in Physical Organic Chemistry. Along with these positions, is a member of the editorial board of ChemPlusChem, has collated a Research Topic for Frontiers in Chemistry (Ionic Liquids: Properties and Applications, 2018-2019), and been guest editor for themed collections for the Royal Society of Chemistry (Organic and Biomolecular Chemistry/Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics, Non-traditional solvent effects on organic processes, 2020-2021) and the American Chemical Society (Journal of Organic Chemistry, Solvation effects in organic chemistry, 2021).

Jason has been heavily involved in conference organisation.  He was a member of the three-person organising committee for the 4th Asia-Pacific Conference on Ionic Liquids, held at Coogee Beach in 2014.  More recently, he was bid developer and co-Chair of the 23rd IUPAC Conference on Physical Organic Chemistry (ICPOC23) held at the University of New South Wales in 2016.  Along with IUPAC conference involvement, Jason is a member of the Subcommittee on Structural and Mechanistic Chemistry and a Titular Member of Division III (Organic Chemistry).

Outside of the professional sphere, Jason enjoys keeping up with a diverse range of activities, ranging from cycling long distances periodically (Melbourne's "Around the Bay" is a favourite, though he has ridden Launceston to Hobart ... the long way!) to Taiko and Onikenbai (traditional Japanese drumming and "demon sword dance").

The explicit details: Born 1974. Undergraduate work carried out at the University of Adelaide (B.Sc. 1995) and in The Faculties, Australian National University (B.Sc.(Hons) 1996). Shell Australia Postgraduate Scholar, Research School of Chemistry, Australian National University (Ph.D. 2000). C. J. Martin Postdoctoral Fellow, University Chemical Laboratory, Cambridge (2000-2002). Associate Lecturer, The Open University in East Anglia (2001). Appointed Lecturer (2002-2006) Senior Lecturer (2007-2015) and Associate Professor (2016-).  SSP at Boston College (2009). Associate Member IUPAC Division III (2018-2019), Titular Member IUPAC Division III (2020-).


My Grants

"Designer ionic liquids to control reaction outcome: Ionic liquids for solvent-controlled reactivity", Jason B. Harper, William S. Price, ARC Discovery Projects (2018-2020)

"Getting the reaction outcomes you want in ionic liquids: Towards solvent-controlled reactivity using ionic liquids". Jason B. Harper, Lawrence T. Scott, ARC Discovery Projects (2013-2015)

My Qualifications

B.Sc. Adelaide, B.Sc.(Hons) ANU, Ph.D. ANU

My Awards

C. J. Martin Postdoctoral Fellow, 2000-2002

My Research Activities

For more information on all of these research projects and where they sit in the ongoing scheme of the research group, please see the group website at

Our research is focused on understanding how organic processes happen and what affects reaction outcomes.  Particularly this encompasses examining how structural features in both the reagents themselves and the solvent used can change how a reaction proceeds.  This knowledge can then be applied to a range of fields, including bioorganic, synthetic, analytical and environmental chemistry.  Being particularly interdisciplinary, there is extensive opportunity for collaboration and this is currently underway in the areas of catalysis, reaction kinetics, synthesis and molecular dynamics simulations.

The major areas of research are:


Ionic liquid effects on organic reactions: understanding solvation, designing better solvents and getting the reaction outcomes you want!

Ionic liquids are salts that melt below 100 °C.  They have the potential to replace volatile organic solvents but outcomes of reactions in ionic liquids are often different to those in traditional molecular solvents. The aim of this project is to understand the nature of solvation in these systems – the interactions between a solute and the ions of the ionic liquid – through analysis of reaction outcomes, measurements of solution properties (such as diffusion) and molecular dynamics simulations.  The result would be to extend the understanding of these solvent effects we have developed and to use this knowledge to control reaction outcome.

The project would involve kinetic  analyses using NMR spectroscopy to monitor the progress of reactions, along with synthetic organic and analytical chemistry.  Importantly, it can be readily tailored to either the physical and analytical aspects, with the opportunity to focus on methods to measure interactions and molecular dynamics simulations, or the more synthetic aspects, by focussing on designing new ionic liquids, increasing reaction yield and optimising isolation.  Either way, you will be designing solvents to get the reaction outcome you want.

This project is in collaboration with Dr Ron Haines & Prof. Stuart Prescott, UNSW; Prof.’s Anna Croft & Christof Jäger, University of Nottingham; Prof. Bill Price, Western Sydney University; Prof. Tam Greaves, RMIT University.)


Catalysis using N-heterocyclic carbenes: understanding structure-activity relationships

N-Heterocyclic carbenes, have significant roles in both organo- and organometallic catalysis, however some carbenes are effective for some processes but not for others; the origin of this is not well understood.  This project aims to relate the tructure and chemical properties of carbenes to catalytic efficacy; particularly the effects of changing steric and electronic properties will be assessed.  Along with making the precursors to the carbenes, this project involves the opportunity to utilise various characterisation techniques (such as measuring acidity of parent cations to generating electronic probes based on Pd and Se) along with evaluation of catalytic systems; the latter can vary from screening of catalysts to detailed kinetic analyses.  The ultimate goal is to be able to rationally choose an NHC catalyst for a given process.


Non-planar aromatic hydrocarbons: different reactivity based on structure

Aromatic hydrocarbons are meant to be planar – right?  Yet the synthesis of carbon nanotubes and related structures relies on the reactivity of curved aromatic systems.  This project focuses on the different reactivities of these systems relative to 'normal' aromatics and how it might be controlled and exploited.  It will predominantly involve synthesis and reactivity of systems, such as those shown below, with the opportunity for some kinetic studies to interpret the reactivity.  Ultimately, understanding and exploiting these differences will allow the rational synthesis of these curved polyarenes.

This project is in collaboration with Prof. Larry Scott (Boston College).


Broader applications of physical organic chemistry

The understanding developed above can be applied broadly – from understanding lubrication mechanisms to develop new compounds for mechanical engineering throught to the preparation of samples to evaluate ancient climates.  These projects focus on the ability to transfer understanding from one context to another and the skill sets required vary dramatically between projects.  However, they all would suit someone with an interest in combining chemistry with an outside discipline as there will be opportunities to work closely with collaborators in different fields.  Ultimately, these projects seek to expand the impact of the knowledge gained through our fundamental research.

This project is in collaboration with Drs Jeffrey Black, Jonathan Palmer, Chris Marjo and Prof. Chris Tierney, UNSW; Prof.’s Sergei Glavitskih and Mark Rutland, KTH, Stockholm.






My Research Supervision

Supervision keywords

Areas of supervision

Mechanistic and physical organic chemistry, specialising in solvent effects, structure-activity relationships and mechanistic determination.

Currently supervising

Liu, Kenny Tao-Ching - Ph.D. student "Controlling reactivity and selectivity of substitution reactions using ionic liquids"

Smit-Colbran ,Benjamin Allan - Ph.D. student "Structure reactivity relationships for N-heterocyclic carbenes"

Morris, Daniel Connor - Ph.D. student "Investigating ionic liquid effects and alternative methods to carry out analyses of their influence on reaction outcomes"

Chen, Junbo - Ph.D. student "Solvation modelling"

Evans, Alicia - Ph.D. student "Molecular dynamics simulations of ionic liquids"

My Teaching

Assoc. Prof. Harper teaches a range of courses across the School of Chemistry.  For more details, see

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Room 223, Dalton Building