max easton

When did you first get interested in Chemistry?

My interest in Chemistry was very incidental. I enjoyed Chemistry in the HSC, but began University with little idea of I wanted to do. I began in a nutrition course and after transferring to go into science teaching, I began to rediscover chemistry again. Then I fell in love with the scientific approach, working on the molecular scale and the eventual applications that impact on the world around us. So I shifted my focus to Chemistry and watched everything fall into place since.

Why did you decide to come to the University of Sydney?

After I finished my Honours year at Macquarie University, I spent a lot of time researching the research groups at Sydney universities for one that matched my interests. I was working in an analytical lab at the time, so I really wanted to find a PhD that would develop a range of skills that I could use in industry, which had me looking for a group with a view to real-world applications and with a focus on building skilled researchers. While there were a number of great options, it was the Masters/Maschmeyer group at Sydney University that was a perfect fit for what I wanted out of a PhD.

Tell us about your research at the School of Chemistry.

I'm working with using ionic liquids (a class of compounds that are liquid salts below 100oC) for a number of applications. The first involves anchoring certain classes of ionic liquids with known antimicrobial activity to clays for use as industrial biocides. The second involves investigating a range of ionic liquids for their ability to stabilise molecular bromine in polybromide networks, before thinking about how we can then anchor said ionic liquids to a surface do just as good a job whilst keeping them in place. It's a very broad area I'm working in, but it's all tied together by the types of compounds I'm working with and what I'm trying to do with them, all for vastly different applications… which perfectly matches what I wanted to do with chemistry.

What do you feel you gain from a postgraduate degree that you wouldn't have had you stayed in industry?

I've worked in industry for a total of about 15 months, and whilst I enjoyed the work and that side of the field, the opportunities were much narrower. The opportunities and breadth of skills you learn in a postgraduate degree in the Sciences is unparalleled; national and international travel, hands on experience in all manner of instruments and techniques, whereas industry is often narrowed down to a very specific field. It's a unique lifestyle that, for anyone with an interest in science, is one that I highly recommend pursuing.

What are you planning to do once you finish your degree and what are your career goals?

I think the greatest thing about the Sciences is the sheer number of opportunities available to you; you can never know what to expect. I'd love to continue in research overseas in a post-doctorate position, but I see myself ending up in industry rather than in academia. In saying that, most of the career turns I've made happened because an unexpected opportunity came up, so I'll keep an eye out for any opportunity that exists out there.