News

Prestigious Award for Best Student in Materials Science



14 October 2008

Jennifer Tilley, a British Masters of Engineering student who completed her final year research project in the University of Sydney's School of Physics, has won Best Student in Materials Science at the UK's prestigious 2008 Science, Engineering and Technology Student of the Year awards.

Jennifer Tilley receives her Best Student in Materials Science award at the Science, Engineering and Technology Student of the Year awards.
Jennifer Tilley receives her Best Student in Materials Science award at the Science, Engineering and Technology Student of the Year awards.

The Science, Engineering and Technology Student of the Year awards are Britain's most important awards for science and technology undergraduates, with the awards presented in an impressive ceremony in London's Royal Lancaster Hotel attended by more than 500 students, academics, business leaders, senior figures from government, and the media.

Jennifer Tilley, a materials science student at Trinity College, Oxford University, was supervised by Professor Marcela Bilek at the University of Sydney, for her award winning research project.

"Jennifer's project entitled 'Creation of Surfaces Suitable for Immobilising Bioactive Proteins: Characteristics Affecting Immobilisation' was part of our continuing interdisciplinary research program on biologically active surfaces," said Professor Bilek.

"This large scale program, involving physicists, biochemists and medical practitioners, as well as a number of biomedical device companies, provided an opportunity for Jennifer to gain new knowledge and skills which cross traditional discipline boundaries.

"Her work benefited greatly from ongoing collaboration within the University of Sydney between our Applied and Plasma Physics group in the School of Physics and Professor Anthony Weiss' team, from the School of Molecular and Microbial Biosciences, and Professor Cris dos Remedios' team, from Anatomy in the School of Medical Sciences.

"Outside of the University of Sydney, we collaborate with Professor David Cockayne and Dr Jan Czernuska, from the University of Oxford, who were Jennifer's home supervisors," explained Professor Bilek.

"It's wonderful that Jennifer's work has been recognised in this way - she is highly motivated, intelligent and hard working."

The judges of the Science, Engineering and Technology Student of the Year awards were impressed by Jennifer's breadth of knowledge, which she could clearly demonstrate with enthusiasm. They were further impressed by her ability to look at an existing problem - how do biosensors work? - with a fresh approach leading directly to a new insight into possible mechanisms.

"Jennifer looked at how bioactive proteins can be made to attach to surfaces in a controlled way. This is called protein immobilisation and is important in bioengineering applications. However, the mechanisms of attachment and the factors controlling key immobilised protein parameters, such as strength of attachment and longevity of bioactivity, are not well understood," said Professor Bilek.

"Previously we found that polymer substrates - the surface to which we attach these proteins - are much better able to bind to proteins when pre-treated by Plasma Immersion Ion Implantation.

"So Jennifer investigated the hypothesis that oxygen-containing groups incorporated into the Plasma Immersion Ion Implantation-treated surface upon exposure to air - in particular carboxyl groups - are important in the formation of the strong bonds observed," explained Professor Bilek.

"What she found was really significant: it turns out that oxygen-containing groups, specifically carboxyl groups, are not important in the formation of strong bonds between Plasma Immersion Ion Implantation-treated surfaces and immobilised proteins. Instead, the research indicated that free radicals may be important."

Supported by British industry, and Britain's leading scientific and technical institutions, the Science, Engineering and Technology Student of the Year awards provide a showcase for educational excellence by publicly recognising the exceptional achievements of both students and universities.


Contact: Katynna Gill

Phone: 02 9351 6997

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