postgraduate profiles

PhD candidate, Jessica Stanley.

Jessica Stanley

As with many people when they finish school, I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. When I was little science fascinated me, and I had a kit with 101 experiments. In the later years of school I found myself pushed towards the sciences, but wanted to study the humanities, too. When I started my undergrad at the University of Sydney I chose the most flexible degree that I could find, and ended up with a triple major in Chemistry, Ancient History and French Studies (and took the odd English Literature and Art History subject for fun). Somewhere in third year chemistry I found that I was back where I started. I realised that I liked the research side of chemistry from lab workshops, and unlike exams, I was quite good at it. That led me to doing my Honours year in chemistry, and now I am nearing the end of my PhD.

My project involves using catalysts to develop renewable fuels and chemicals. I design sulfur resistant bimetallic catalysts that have potential applications in processing biomass into renewable fuels. I test other catalysts with green reagents to make valuable chemicals normally sourced from crude oil. I like to think that I am doing my part to save the planet!

My favourite aspect of my project is that it is very multidisciplinary. I love the materials/inorganic side, making and characterising novel catalysts, but I also like that I test my catalysts in real organic reactions. Not only does this mean that I have acquired a massive skill set and get to use heaps of different instruments, it also means I don't get bored!

The highlight of my PhD was the opportunity to spend twelve months working in a research lab in Venice, Italy. As part of the Cotutelle PhD stream, I had the opportunity to perform a significant part of my research at an overseas institution. My supervisors in Sydney have a close collaboration with a group at the University of Ca' Foscari, located in the lagoon of Venice itself (not on the mainland!), so you can imagine what an amazing experience it was walking through the city by the canals and over bridges to get to work each morning.

In addition to my year in Venice, I've had the opportunity to present my work at conferences in Sydney, Germany, and later this year in Taiwan. I've also travelled to the Photon Factory in Japan and to the Australian Synchrotron in Melbourne. I find it pretty amazing that I can perform experiments on a machine that is about the size of a football field, that shoots electrons around in a circle at close to the speed of light, and enables me to see how the platinum and ruthenium in my catalysts are bonded together at the atomic level!

Joining the Masters/Maschmeyer research lab back in my Honours year was the best thing I've ever done. I've learned so much from being part of the group, not just with chemistry, and I've had so many opportunities that I didn't know existed when sitting in chemistry lectures as an undergrad. I formed friendships in my research group with European postdocs and former students that I know I'll have for the rest of my life. I think the fact that half my old group descended on Venice for one weekend is testament to the strength of the friendships formed in the lab.



Postgraduate student, Mr Ilyas Qasim, 2013

Ilyas Qasim

Science is crucial for any nation to keep up with the ever growing challenges facing the world which is why I chose to become a science teacher in high school. I have always felt a strong passion for science and in order to pass on this passion to my students, I used to run a chemistry group which we called "kurjuk". This involved conducting chemical experiments designed to challenge and engage my students. The aim was not only to inspire students but to teach them to search for new things - the world of the unknown! However, I needed more of a challenge and it became crystal clear to me that going back to university was the right choice.

I feel science is interesting - as it is quoted in "bilimning dengizi kaynak hem chongkur" (meaning: Ocean of knowledge is hot and deep). I've found real pleasure in doing science at the University of Sydney and I am fortunate enough to be working with my supervisor Professor Brendan Kennedy and other academics such as Associate Professor Chris Ling, Dr Siggi Schmid, Dr Peter Blanchard (XANES expert), and others. As my research progresses, I have had some really exciting results from my studies on transition metal oxide perovskite materials. We have published some of our results in various scientific journals but still have more findings to write and share with others. I think this is due to my supervisor's expertise in this field, our accessibility to world class advanced research facility such as the Australian Synchrotron for SXRD and XANES, neutron diffraction and the project itself. Perovskite materials with basic general formula of ABO3 are known to be the largest class of minerals and multifunctional materials on Earth. Besides, the materials are susceptible to partial replacement with other element at A, B , and O sites. This provides the possibility to design new materials with required properties. Our research group is called the Solid State Chemistry group, a small group in the School but a productive one.

I love observing how smart people tackle tricky problems and conferences and seminars are a good place to see this in action. I have had the opportunity to present my work at conferences in New Zealand, Adelaide, ANSTO and even as far away as France. These conferences are extremely rewarding and have given me the chance to talk, and to learn from, eminent scientists from around the world.

Aside from research, I was able to tutor first and second year students for a few semesters. This, in addition to my scholarship, assisted me in supporting my family. As English was not my first or second language, tutoring helped build my confidence to teach in English and has rekindled my passion for teaching. It was extremely rewarding to hear one student say "I wish I had a high school teacher like you".

Apart from more than ten years teaching experience, I studied extraction, separation, and chemical analysis of natural medicinal plant – Hypericum (also called St John's wort) for my Master's degree. Later, and just before I commenced my current PhD candidature in the School of Chemistry, I had some research experience in the field of zeolite and phosphors materials in Seoul, Korea. This could partially get me closer to my current dream, which is to teach at a university, but definitely I have to do more to prepare myself for this dream.

Now I am racing against time to finish my PhD thesis. As soon as I have finished, I hope to find a postdoctoral position and swim in the ocean of knowledge and science. This may not be easy, but I believe "where there is a will, there is a way".



Postgraduate student, Mr Tim Sheedy

Tim Sheedy

I can first remember when I decided to devote my life to science. I was in year 8 and thoroughly fascinated with the acids and bases module associated with the science syllabus. I remember asking myself questions such as "How does that work?" and "Why does something bubble the way it does?" the latter being in reference to vinegar reacting with bicarb soda. While at the time I had no idea I was going to end up doing chemistry for a living, I knew it was something I intended to pursue at a later point. After making the choice to major in chemistry in third year, I knew there was no turning back. Even a brief dalliance in teaching high school did not quench my desire to return to the field where I felt the most comfortable.

The field of work I am currently investigating is the reactivation of older antibiotics such as chloramphenicol. With so much in the media about superbugs (bacteria which are resistant to multiple treatments), I thought it would be great to be able to contribute to a field where I could potentially lower antibiotic resistance in bacteria. My work is specifically focused round chloramphenicol itself, modifying its structure to allow potential activation once it is bound to an enzyme that would otherwise deactivate it. This is done by adding a linkage to the chloramphenicol portion and appending a metal-containing azamacrocycle unit to it. In the presence of the desired enzyme, the chloramphenicol will be sequestered and release the metal centre of the azamacrocycle unit to do become active and potentially do something good. While the mechanism of action is yet to be determined, the possibilities of these potential 'double punch' antibiotic conjugates are exciting. Just imagine a world where we don't have to worry about antibiotic resistance ever again. I know I would love to be part of that.

The ever-changing face of science and the quest for knowledge is something that drives me to do my very best. The most important thing when undertaking a scientific endeavour is an open mind. And while doing chemistry is something that I love, learning and understanding the biological mechanisms of prodrugs in vivo, such as the ones I am currently investigating, is an amazing opportunity for me to move out of comfort zone and become not just a chemist, but a budding scientist as well.

As well as my research I am currently a laboratory demonstrator to both first year and second year (organic chemistry) students. This is great for me as it allows me the opportunity to pass on what I have learned over the years. I currently do this once a week in each laboratory and enjoy every minute of it.

Postgraduate student, Mr Max Easton

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.

dom konkolewicz

Alexandra Manos-Turvey

I’ve always been a fan of science, although when I was younger it didn’t really matter what the topic was so long as I could really immerse myself in it. Teachers have always had a big impact on my learning experiences and it was my teacher in Years 11-12 who got me hooked on chemistry. She was just so enthusiastic and really engaged with us all! Her analogy for electrochemistry, a pool with a conveyer belt at the edge where “as a person gets in the pool they put their swimming costume on the belt and then someone else takes it at the other end of the pool on their way out”, has strangely enough stayed with me (I’m smiling even now at the memory).

Aside from teachers and the topic itself, I really did (and still do) enjoy the practical side of science. The fact that in most cases you can learn something new and then prove or demonstrate it to yourself just makes it more real and hence relevant somehow! So it came as no surprise to my friends and family when I ended up in a laboratory doing research for my PhD.

In third year we did practicals in all three major branches of chemistry and the area that hit a chord with me was organic. Although some of my friends lament the fact that all the compounds you make in organic chemistry are white, unless you’ve done something wrong, I love the fact that it’s not unlike cooking (only you definitely wouldn’t want to lick the bowl…or beaker). I’ve always been inspired by research that has a relevant end goal, and my PhD centres around trying to find new drug leads against some of the most deadly organisms in the world today. In particular I am making compounds to try to combat Tuberculosis and African Sleeping Sickness. The hope that our research could eventually help millions of people is highly motivating. The bigger picture is what keeps you going.

One of the greatest parts of my PhD has been the collaborations and conferences. We work with biologists over in Auckland, New Zealand and I have had the opportunity to go and learn some enzymatic assays, keeping my other love, Biology (yes I know, shocking), alive. I’ve also been able to attend conferences within Australia and overseas in awesome countries like Belgium, Greece and England. Seeing the work that others are doing in and out of your field is really amazing and reminds you of all the things in chemistry that have yet to be solved or synthesised.   

Apart from the research it’s been really great to be able to try to impart the enthusiasm for chemistry I got from my teachers by being a Teaching Fellow during my PhD. I tutor first year students and help stop them from drowning in all the new information they suddenly find themselves bombarded with. It’s great when you explain something to them in a different way and then *click*, you literally see the light bulb appear above their heads. It can be very rewarding and also gives you a break from the lab when things aren’t going to plan.

I’m almost at the end of my PhD now, the light at the end of the tunnel has been sighted and I am looking forward to heading off for a post-doctoral position overseas, continuing my chemistry learning experience.

dom konkolewicz

John Moraes

Someone once said that the one of the most wonderful aspects of being a scientist is the fact that you can walk into work each morning, put your thinking cap on and say to yourself: “Well, what shall I discover today?” In reality, the role of a PhD student is probably not as glamorous as that, but at the end of the day it is a truly fascinating and rewarding way to spend the daylight hours.

I’m always puzzled by people who say that they aren’t interested in science. Science is such a broad term that covers a wide range of disciplines from astronomy to medicine to geology to mathematics; it is difficult to find an area of our lives that science does not have a profound role in shaping. What I admire about science, and in particular about chemistry, is that it allows me to interact with specialists from so many other fields. I’ve been to numerous conferences where nuclear physicists, medical doctors, mechanical engineers and marine biologists all come to interact with research chemists and talk about the common ground their disciplines cover. Chemistry is like the circle in a Venn diagram that all the other circles want to be friends with.

I did my undergraduate and Masters degree in chemistry at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. It was there that I became interested in scientific research and the potential it had to improve both the quality of our lives and the planet we inhabit. After taking a four year break from university to travel the world, write a book, get married and work nine-to-five jobs, I found myself gravitating back to university – this time to do a PhD.

My current project at the University of Sydney involves making some pretty fascinating hybrid nano-structures from cheap materials like silica (sand) and polymers (plastic). I like to call what I’m doing “macromolecular engineering.” I take simple silica nanoparticles and graft smart polymers onto it. The polymers have a range of functions so I can decide which one I want and simply ‘dial-up’ the properties. With this relatively simple concept, I can make hybrid particles in a range of sizes, shapes and properties. I can make them change shape in response to changes in temperature or pH; I can make them waterproof or hydrophilic (water-loving); I can make them glow in the dark or have anti-bacterial properties. The ideas just keep coming in. Some are simply to investigate various aspects of nanoengineering (i.e. have fun), while others have more practical purposes.

I am currently investigating the use of these hybrid particles in a range of applications from drug-delivery vehicles to photonic crystals. My project has seen me cover a lot of ground that, as a chemist, I’d never encountered before. Being at the University of Sydney is a great advantage because I can ask for help from people with expertise in a wide range of fields. I also have access to a broad spectrum of instruments which has helped to make my project a success.

I try to make the most of the opportunities that the university and the wider chemistry community offer. Last year I was awarded a grant from the Royal Australian Chemical Society (RACI) to go to Japan and collaborate with a well-known research group in Kyoto. Assoc. Prof. Kohji Ohno and his team there helped tremendously in moving my project forward and sharing some of the wonderful chemistry that they were working on. I came back to Sydney and presented my research at a national conference in Coffs Harbour where I won the prize for the best oral presentation. This in turn led to me being invited to submit an article to the Australian Journal of Chemistry and indirectly to having my research featured on the cover of the September issue of the journal.

The University of Sydney is very supportive in terms of funding for international conferences as well as bringing international speakers to Sydney. Two of my favourite speakers have been Prof. William Phillips, a Nobel laureate in physics who spoke here at Sydney and Prof. Craig Hawker, an ex-pat Australian chemist from Santa Barbara who spoke at a polymer conference in Cairns. I love going to these lectures and being inspired by scientists at the top of their game. It is an integral part of the university experience and one that really contributes to my overall appreciation of science. I always come out of these lectures with my thinking cap on saying “Well, what shall I discover tomorrow?”

Katie Cergol

Cécile Roche

You're at Sydney University on an exchange program, is that right?

I am not exactly on an exchange program, I am doing a "Cotutelle PhD", which is a Joint/Double-Badged Doctoral Degree. That means that I’m supervised by professors both from Sydney and my French University, the University of Strasbourg (Professor Max Crossley and Professor Jean-Pierre Sauvage, respectively).

What made you come to Sydney to study?

I came to Sydney to study because I thought it would be a good experience for me to do some research in a foreign, English-speaking country. I find collaborative projects very interesting because they combine researchers areas of expertise. I thought that I would learn more if I did a Cotutelle PhD. Indeed, I learnt a lot about the chemistry of interlocked compounds like rotaxanes while in Strasbourg and now I am perfecting my skills and knowledge in porphyrin chemistry here in Australia. I studied in Sydney on an exchange program when I was doing my Masters and I thought it was a really nice place to live in. So I am very happy to be back!    

What are you making in the lab?

My project is inspired by a class of proteins called chaperonins. The role is these proteins is to assist other proteins in their folding process. This function would be really difficult to reproduce with a synthetic system, and we are not that ambitious. So our goal is to make a system that can trap a guest molecule and change its conformation by squeezing it. We called our model a molecular press. We chose to use porphyrins as plates for our press and to assemble several components in a rotaxane structure to form an adaptable molecular receptor. In practice, I spend most of my time doing organic chemistry in the lab in order to synthesise the building blocks needed.

So using organic synthesis allows you to answer some interesting biological questions?

Ultimately, we aim to make an adaptable molecular receptor that can trap oligopeptides and to gain an insight into the mechanism of protein folding. But first, we want to prove that we can change the conformation of a substrate by means of an external constraint, and the substrates are not necessarily of biological relevance. My project is mostly a synthetic challenge for the organic chemist.

Do you have an idea of what you'd like to do after your PhD?

I find science fascinating and I would like to keep doing research after my PhD. I hope to do a postdoc and then get an academic position, maybe back in France, in Australia or elsewhere. I am interested in the field of molecular machines, and more generally in self-assembly and supramolecular chemistry. I am also interested in optically active molecules and their applications. I would like to study these fields and maybe combine them in my future research.

adam cawley

Cameron Weber

When did you first get interested in Science, especially Chemistry?

I’ve always had some interest in science since I was young but it wasn’t until I studied chemistry in year 11 that I really developed a strong interest in the subject. Senior chemistry helped make clear the link between understanding chemistry and the outside world, making it more relevant and exciting. That experience prompted me to study chemistry at University where my passion for the subject grew.

Tell us about your research at the School of Chemistry.

I am currently researching salts that are liquids at room temperature. These are called ionic liquids and are useful as solvents for chemical reactions. The strength of ionic bonding and the huge number of other interactions between ionic liquid molecules, mean they are more highly structured than traditional solvents used for organic chemistry. What I am interested in doing is trying to find a way to use this structure to rationally increase the rate of reactions and when multiple products are possible, engineer conditions to favour one product over another. In the future, this could have potential applications in the synthesis of fine chemicals, such as pharmaceuticals.

Has anything surprised you about doing a degree in the School of Chemistry?

The number of opportunities we have to interact with and learn from academics both within Australia and internationally has definitely surprised me. The seminar program within the school means that every week there are usually several talks from academics with expertise in extremely diverse areas of chemistry. These academics often take the time to visit research groups individually and I have personally received some extremely valuable advice as a result of these visits.

Tell us about why you applied to become a postgraduate teaching fellow and what that involves?

I first applied for the teaching fellow program because I really enjoyed teaching students as a laboratory demonstrator when I was in Honours and wanted to become more involved in the teaching program. I am also considering a future in academia so I felt the teaching experience would be incredibly useful. The teaching fellow program involves teaching 4 first year tutorials per week and marking exams. We also meet up with the course lecturers on a weekly basis to discuss the content of each week’s tutorials and areas we should focus on. This has been a valuable and worthwhile experience and has taught me a lot about the amount of thought and planning that goes into undergraduate teaching.

Tell me about your time working in Venice.

I was lucky enough to have an opportunity to work in Venice with A/Prof Alvise Perosa for 2 months thanks to funding from the Dr Joan R. Clarke scholarship. This opportunity was valuable not only because I had a chance to work with expert researchers on the other side of the world but I also got to experience the local culture. The novelty of commuting via vaporetto every morning never faded. From a research point of view it was incredibly worthwhile to be able to work in a laboratory in another country to gain a different perspective about my own research and experimental methods in general.

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

After I finish my degree I am hoping to work as a postdoctoral researcher overseas with the ultimate aim of pursuing an academic career. It is possible the plan will change but at this stage the thought of continuing to be involved with research while also helping with teaching at a University level is something that really interests me.


Dominik Konkolewicz

(Dominik graduated in 2011)


I think I wanted to do science since my first week at high school, although these were perhaps not the most groundbreaking classes, I was just excited by science, and when we made sherbet in the Friday afternoon lab class my career path seemed sealed! By late high school I was drawn towards the physical sciences and mathematics, although I enrolled in the combined degree of Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Commerce at Sydney Uni since I also enjoyed economics. Towards the end of my double degree I knew that I wanted to work in the physical sciences, and chose to do an honours degree in chemistry at Sydney Uni, since the honours programme is very research focused.

My research attempts to describe the properties of a class of molecules called ‘highly branched polymers’. Polymers are all around us, from cling wrap and Styrofoam cups to biological polymers such as DNA and starch. If linear polymers may be thought of as a molecular piece of string or twine, then highly branched polymers may be thought of as the result of tying many of these linear strands together. These highly branched polymers, or knotty molecular strings, are easily prepared, and could be used in a vast range of applications, from catalysts that speed up reactions, to molecular cages that can hold a drug molecule and release it at a target site in the body.

My research is at the cusp of physics and chemistry trying to describe how such polymers grow, what these highly branched polymers look like. I develop theoretical models for the structure, or growth rate of these branched molecules, and then make some of these polymers in the lab to test whether our model successfully describes the property we are looking at. I love working in this field, I like applying many of the mathematical techniques I learnt as an undergraduate to tangible problems with direct applications. By studying the structure of these highly branched polymers, we gain information about how they would behave if we tried to use them to hold and deliver a drug molecule, or to support a series of catalysts. We can ask questions like: what is the best size for a polymer to target a drug to a tumour in the body and how long should the reaction be run to get that polymer size? My research attempts to develop a model that gives this information. We are still a little way off using highly branched polymers for controlled release of drug molecules, but it is great being involved in the field and seeing the progress made.

I enjoy working at the School of Chemistry; it's quite a close research community where almost everyone knows who you are. As a research student, there are societies run by postgraduate students for postgraduate students, which offer anything from a meal at lunchtime, to a student run mini-conference. The School of Chemistry has many excellent facilities, often ones that are not found elsewhere in Australia, and the campus is beautiful and leafy, which is nice to spend time in when not in the lab. After finishing my PhD I want to continue researching in my field of physical chemistry, and follow a research-oriented career.

Adam Cawley

(Adam graduated in 2007)


I have been interested in chemistry since the age of seven. I’m not sure who or what influenced me in my desire to do chemistry at such an early age, since none of my friends or family were interested in science, let alone chemistry. In 1988, I was 10, and there was a lot of attention being paid to the hole in the ozone layer and discussions of the greenhouse effect, I began making my own environmentally friendly insect spray. I doubt it will be patented anytime soon and its effectiveness was dubious to say the least but I loved mixing things. Like all good young geeks I set up a lab in my garage at home. It consisted of three chemistry sets, two microscopes and some glassware.

For my PhD I am using the technique of Gas Chromatography-Combustion-Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometry (or GC-C-IRMS). It is a very specialised technique used by relatively few laboratories, but its concept is truly amazing. The potential of the information obtained from GC-C-IRMS analysis to answer questions of steroid origin has yet to be fully exploited by doping control laboratories. So this is where I would like to make my mark on the field. The current focus of endogenous steroid research aims to determine effective screening markers of specific endogenous steroid abuse. Every sample analysed by the laboratory is screened for the presence of anabolic steroids using Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS). The mere detection of steroids that occur naturally in the body obviously cannot constitute a doping violation, so the presence of marker steroids altered following illegal administrations is critical to identify samples as “suspicious” and therefore begin the process of confirmation by GC-C-IRMS. Further, the metabolic component of the research requires a greater understanding of the fundamental changes in stable carbon isotopes that occur during pharmacological alteration. On the applied analytical side, there is the requirement for metrological concepts to be implemented into GC-C-IRMS analysis. These largely comprise the issues of measurement uncertainty and traceability that will serve to maintain the defensibility of the GC-C-IRMS technique in the medico-legal domain of doping control.

I enjoy working with dedicated people who like to make a difference in science. We certainly have that at the National Measurement Institute (or NMI) and particularly the Australian Sports Drug Testing Laboratory (or ASDTL) research team. It’s a privilege to work alongside them. Using state of the art instruments each worth several hundred thousand dollars is also pretty exciting. The opportunity to travel that exists in a multinational area of science like doping control is also very exciting. I have been fortunate to meet many chemists from around the world at conferences in Europe and the USA. These networks create amazing opportunities such as being invited to work for the Turin 2006 Winter Olympic Games testing team.

The skills I use are wide and varied. They range from maintaining constructive interactions with colleagues to technical knowledge of chemical techniques and instrumentation. Probably the most important is the ability to think of ideas, plan methods, perform investigations, analyse data and present information in an analytical manner.

Katie Cergol

Katie Cergol

(Katie graduated in 2009)


My name is Katie Cergol, and I’m a first year PhD student in the School of Chemistry at the University of Sydney. I had a really enjoyable time here during my undergraduate degree in Advanced Science, especially in my Honours year, and so I decided to continue my studies in chemistry at the University of Sydney.

When I arrived here four years ago I was apprehensive and unsure of what would lie ahead, but I soon found the University to be a warm and inviting place. The campus is filled with beautiful buildings and sunny patches of grass. With many clubs and societies on campus, and a full events calendar, socialising at the University of Sydney is never a problem.

The School of Chemistry is located in the main part of the campus, and is filled with enthusiastic scientists whose vast array of knowledge and willingness to help creates a low stress and supportive working environment. Our School is also among the most well funded and best equipped in Australia, which has allowed it to become a key centre for scientific research.

My PhD project is focused in the area of organic synthesis methodology. In nature, there is a wide range of natural products with interesting and useful medicinal properties. For example, organisms such as plants and sea sponges produce a vast array of compounds and, excitingly, some of these have potential as new cancer treatments. Unfortunately, these compounds are hard to isolate and only minimal quantities can be obtained.

For many decades, organic chemists have tackled the complex synthesis of a huge library of natural products in order to obtain greater quantities, so that the potential of such compounds as new drugs can be explored. My job as an organic chemist is to research new and useful methods that can be used in the synthesis of such natural products and their derivatives. This area of research is vast and expanding rapidly and new chemists are always needed to take up new challenges!

As well as carrying out my research, I have also had the opportunity to attend and present my work at an international chemistry conference. This is a great opportunity to see interesting places and meet chemists from all over the globe. When I finish my PhD, I hope to travel and work in different laboratories overseas.

There is always research to be done in chemistry, and, with endless challenges to come, I am excited about my future as an organic chemist.