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Quaternary amino acids, in which the α-carbon that bears the amino and carboxyl groups also carries two carbon substituents, have an important role as modifiers of peptide conformation and bioactivity and as precursors of medicinally important compounds1,2. In contrast to enantioselective alkylation at this α-carbon, for which there are several methods3,4,5,6,7,8, general enantioselective introduction of an aryl substituent at the α-carbon is synthetically challenging9. Nonetheless, the resultant α-aryl amino acids and their derivatives are valuable precursors to bioactive molecules10,11. Here we describe the synthesis of quaternary α-aryl amino acids from enantiopure amino acid precursors by α-arylation without loss of stereochemical integrity. Our approach relies on the temporary formation of a second stereogenic centre in an N′-arylurea adduct12 of an imidazolidinone derivative6 of the precursor amino acid, and uses readily available enantiopure amino acids both as a precursor and as a source of asymmetry. It avoids the use of valuable transition metals, and enables arylation with electron-rich, electron-poor and heterocyclic substituents. Either enantiomer of the product can be formed from a single amino acid precursor. The method is practical and scalable, and provides the opportunity to produce α-arylated quaternary amino acids in multi-gram quantities.