Move over dusty volumes, it's time for PhDs on-line

By Sara Crowe

Jeremy Greenwood is a technology whiz who designs Websites in his spare time, so it's not surprising that he is the first student at the University of Sydney, and possibly in Australia, to submit his PhD on-line.

The University's Senate changed its rules in March to allow students to submit their thesis in electronic form rather than as bound volumes, as long as the examiners agreed to mark the submissions in that format.

Jeremy Greenwood

"I took it one step forward from submitting it on a floppy disk to presenting it in Hypertext or html, the language of the Web," said Mr Greenwood, who completed his PhD in the Department of Pharmacology, on the design and classification of drugs using computer modelling.

Jeremy Greenwood

"It was my medium of choice because I find it very flexible in terms of linking resources and three-dimensional data within text, so you get a much richer scientific presentation than you can get on paper," he said.

"In a normal thesis you could have a page full of numbers and it would be pretty hard to interpret."

His PhD, called "Pyridazinediones and amino acid receptors: theoretical studies, design, synthesis, and evaluation of novel analogues".

Mr Greenwood said that scientists, especially chemists, had been among the first in the world to embrace the new format of presenting papers on the Web, because of the need to portray three-dimensional molecules and other complex data.

His co-supervisor, Associate Professor Robin Allan, in the University's Adrien Albert Laboratory of Medicinal Chemistry, said he knew of no other electronic PhD.

"The key thing about Jeremy's submission is that he has tables and figures and pictures linked up, so you can immediately go from one to the other within the document," Professor Allan said.

In this thesis, Mr Greenwood used applied quantum mechanics to support an experimental drug discovery program, and to make predictions about drugs that were being designed and synthesised in a laboratory.

Mr Greenwood made and tested some of the drugs himself, while other people made and tested others in a collaborative effort. His PhD took six years to complete.

"What I was doing was a theoretical approach, assisting and also making predictions about the nature of the molecules which were being made, or could be made, in a laboratory," he said.

The researchers are making analogues, or copies, of the two most important neurotransmitters in the brain, glutamate and GABA, to find out more about how they work.

Mr Greenwood said the pure research could lead to new drugs down the track, such as new anaesthetics, analgesics, or compounds that help protect the brain from brain damage during stroke or help treat diseases like schizophrenia and Alzheimers.

Half of Mr Greenwood's PhD has already been published in peer review journals, including two papers in print publications and two in the Internet Journal of Chemistry, on the Web. He leaves Australia soon to take up a postdoctoral position at the Royal Danish School of Pharmacy.