Jason Harper

Jason Harper

Jason Harper

B.Sc. Adelaide 1995, B.Sc. (Hons) Australian National University 1996, Ph.D. Australian National University 2000.

Associate Professor, Director of Teaching (School of Chemistry)

Contact details

Phone: (02) 9385 4692
Email: j.harper@unsw.edu.au
Fax: (02) 9385 6141


Room 223, Dalton Building
UNSW, Kensington 2052

Research Group Website


Biographical 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-).

Research Interests

Our research is focussed 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: getting the reaction outcomes you want
(in collaboration with Dr Anna Croft, University of Nottingham, UK; and Dr Ron Haines, University of New South Wales)

Ionic liquids are salts that melt below 100°C.  They have potential as replacements for volatile organic solvents but outcomes of reactions in ionic liquids are often unexpectedly different to those in traditional molecular solvents.  The focus of this project is to extend the understanding of ionic liquid solvent effects we have already developed and to use this knowledge to demonstrate that ionic liquids can be used to control reaction outcome.  The project involves using NMR spectroscopy to monitor reactions and kinetic analyses of these results, along with synthetic organic and analytical chemistry.  The project has both physical and analytical aspects, with the opportunity to develop new methods for following reaction progress and undertake molecular dynamics simulations, along with more synthetic aspects, focussing on increasing reaction yield and optimising isolation.  That is, the aim is to get the reaction outcome you want!

Solvent-solute interactions in ionic liquids: can we design better solvents?

(in collaboration with Dr Ron Haines, University of New South Wales; and Drs Anna Croft and Christof Jaeger, University of Nottingham, UK)

We have previously made use of molecular dynamics simulations to understand interactions between a solute and the components of an ionic liquid; this can be used to explain why benzene is so soluble in ionic liquids and why certain reactions proceed faster on moving to ionic solvents.  This project aims to extend this and to model - both with simple compounds and simulations – which ionic liquid would be better solvents for a given solute.  In order to do this both physical measurements of solubility and molecular dynamics are being undertaken to highlight key solute-solvent interactions.  The outcome would be a better understanding of what interactions are required to confer good solubility giving us the opportunity to 'design' appropriate properties into ionic liquids – and these could then be made and used!

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

N-Heterocyclic carbenes, have significant roles in 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 structure and chemical properties of carbenes to catalytic efficacy, along with observing any solvent effects – this requires a series of chosen carbenes that vary in one way only (steric bulk, electronics, heteroatoms).  Along with making the precursors to the carbenes, this project involves the opportunity to utilise various characterisation techniques and to undertake evaluation of catalytic systems; the latter can vary from simple screening of catalysts through 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
(in collaboration with Prof. Lawrence Scott, Boston College, USA)

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 predominantly involves synthesis and reactivity of systems, such as those shown below, along 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.



For more information on all of these research projects and where they sit in the ongoing scheme of the research group, please see the Harper Group Site.

Selected Recent Publications (2019-, others available on request)


  • Schindl,A.; Hawker, R. R.; Schaffarczyk McHale, K. S.; Liu, K. T.-C.; Morris, D. C.; Hsieh, A. Y.; Gilbert, A.; Prescott, S. W.; Haines, R. S.; Croft, A. K.*; Harper, J. B.*; Jäger, C. M.*: “Controlling the outcome of SN2 reactions in ionic liquids: From rational data set design to predictive linear regression models”, Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics, accepted. 26th September 2020.
  • Liu, K. T.-C; Haines, R. S.; Harper, J. B.*: “The effect of bisimidazoliumbased ionic liquids on a bimolecular substitution process. Are two head(group)s better than one?”, Organic and Biomolecular Chemistry, 2020, accepted 4th September 2020.  doi: 10.1039/D0OB01500h
  • Gilbert, A.; Haines, R. S.; Harper, J. B.*: “Controlling the reactions of 1-bromogalactose acetate in methanol using ionic liquids as co-solvents”, Organic and Biomolecular Chemistry, 2020, 18, 5442-5452.
  • Konstandaras, N.; Dunn, M. H.; Luis, E. T..; Cole, M. L.; Harper, J. B.*: “The pKa vales of N‑aryl imidazolinium salts, their higher homologues, and formamidinium salts in dimethyl sulfoxide”, Organic and Biomolecular Chemistry, 2020, 18, 1910-1917.
  • Mallo, N.; Tron, A.; Andréasson, J.; Harper, J. B.; Jacob, L. S. D.; McClenaghan, N. D.; Jonusauskas, G.; Beves, J. E.*: “Hydrogen-bonding donor-acceptor Stenhouse adducts”, ChemPhotoChem, 2020, 4, 407-412.
  • Blake, S. A. P.*; Palmer, J. G.; Björklund, J.; Harper, J. B.; Tierney, C. S. M.: "Palaeoclimate potential of New Zealand Manoao colensoi (silver pine) tree rings using Blue-Intensity", Dendrochronologia, 2020, 60, Article 125644.
  • Konstandaras, N.; Dunn, M. H.; Guerry, M. S.; Barnett, C. D.; Cole, M. L.; Harper, J. B.*: “The impact of cation structure upon the acidity of triazolium salts in dimethyl sulfoxide”, Organic and Biomolecular Chemistry, 2020, 18, 66-75.
  • Zheng, X.; Harper, J. B.; Hope, G.; Mooney, S. D.*: "A new preparation method for testate amoebae in minerogenic sediments", Mires and Peat, 2019, 24, Article 30.
  • Gilbert, A.; Bucher, G.; Haines, R. S.; Harper, J. B.*: "Correlating ionic liquid solvent effects with solvent parameters for a reaction that proceeds through a xanthylium intermediate", Organic and Biomolecular Chemistry, 2019, 17, 9336-9342 .
  • Schaffarczyk McHale, K. S.; Wong, M. J.; Evans, A. K.; Gilbert, A.; Haines, R. S.; Harper, J. B.*: "Understanding the effects of solvate ionic liquids as solvents on substitution processes", Organic and Biomolecular Chemistry, 2019, 17, 9243-9250.
  • Schaffarczyk McHale, K. S.; Haines, R. S.; Harper, J. B.*: "Investigating variation of the pnicogen nucleophilic heteroatom on ionic liquid solvent effects in bimolecular nucleophilic substitution processes",  ChemPlusChem, 2019, 84, 534-539.
  • Schaffarczyk McHale, K. S.; Haines, R. S.; Harper, J. B.*: "Understanding the dependence of ionic liquid solvent effects on the nucleophilic heteroatom in SNAr reactions. Highlighting the potential for control of selectivity", ChemPlusChem, 2019, 84, 465-473.
  • Gilbert, A.; Haines, R. S.; Harper, J. B.*: "Understanding the effects of ionic liquids on a unimolecular substitution process: correlating solvent parameters with reaction outcome", Organic and Biomolecular Chemistry , 2019, 17, 675-682.
  • Clarke, C. J.*; Maxwell-Hogg, S.; Smith, E. F.; Hawker, R. R.; Harper, J. B.; Licence, P.*: "Resolving X-Ray Photoelectron Spectra of Ionic Liquids with Difference Spectroscopy", Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics, 2019, 21, 114-123.
  • Butler, B. J.; Harper, J. B.*: "The effect of the structure of the anion of an ionic liquid on the rate of reaction at a phosphorus centre", Journal of Physical Organic Chemistry, 2019, 32, e3819.