When did you become interested in chemistry?
When I left school I had no idea what I wanted to do when I 'grew up'. I couldn't decide between being a musician, designer, engineer or scientist. In the end I began a Bachelor of Liberal Studies knowing I had the option to study almost any subject I liked. After only a few weeks at University, I quickly realised it was Science I wanted to pursue and transferred to a Bachelor of Science.
What made you come to the University of Sydney?
Because I was so indecisive about what I wanted to specialise in, the main drawcard for Sydney University was the availability of a Liberal Studies degree and the wide variety of interesting subjects on offer here. The other was the amount of advanced level subjects available to students.
The pretty grass and beautiful sandstone were an added bonus too!
What made you decide to do Honours in Chemistry?
At the end of first year, I was convinced that Pharmacology and drug design was what I really wanted to do. But in second year when all my subjects changed, some were for the better and some definitely became less enjoyable. My Chemistry subjects turned out to be far more fascinating, and I then knew what my major was going to be.
It was at this point when I was becoming restless with study and craving a gap year (and money) that I signed up for the School of Chemistry Year in Industry Program. I was quickly offered a job with the Dioxin Analysis Unit of the National Measurement Institute. For a wonderful year I worked closely with the members of the DAU who trained me and taught me what it's like to be a 'real' chemist. I was able to handle many new machines not often available to undergraduates and learnt many analytical and industrial lab skills from dealing with air sampling with ppb concentrations of analyte to cutting up seafood. Not only did I learn some great chemistry, I also made some great new friends along the way.
After working in industry, it was clear that a straight BSc wasn't going to cut it; I'd be far more employable as an honours graduate. By that stage I loved working in the lab, so a year of research in a lab seemed a logical next step.
What kind of research are you doing?
My honours project is co-supervised by Professor Kate Jolliffe and Professor Sébastien Perrier, and as such it's somewhat cross-disciplinary research encompassing small molecule organic synthesis, as well as peptide and polymer chemistry.
Cyclic peptides of alternating D- and L- amino acid residues are able to self assemble into hydrogen-bonded nanotubular structures. Using Click chemistry it is possible to attach polymers to the outside of these cyclic peptides, which can provide control of various physical and chemical properties of the nanotubes. My project involves synthesising non-standard amino acids to create a cyclic peptide nanotube cap. This cap incorporates thiol linkers, which can then be attached to a gold surface, allowing nanotubes to be 'grown' on a surface.
What are you planning to do when you have finished your Honours degree?
I'm currently only halfway through my honours year, but it's so exciting to be working at the forefront of chemical research. While I look forward to doing a PhD in Chemistry either at Sydney University or abroad, I also want to travel and work overseas to take a break from study. So at the end of my year here I'll have a very hard choice to make.