honours profiles

Mr John Caddy (2013 Honours)

Interestingly, when I arrived at university, I was intent on doing a major in Physics.  However, first year chemistry (both practical and theory) was so interesting I changed my mind and studied chemistry instead.  I really enjoyed seeing how the properties of atoms and bonds affect the attributes of materials, linking the nanoscopic and macroscopic spheres.  My choice to study chemistry was strengthened by my involvement in the Talented Students Program in second year – I was able to do 6 credit points of research with Dr Deanna D’Alessandro on metal-organic frameworks.  This was a fantastic opportunity to get a “taste” of independent research.

By the end of third year, I had a desire to challenge myself and investigate an area of Chemistry in-depth – which perfectly encapsulates an honours year!  Inorganic materials chemistry seemed to combine the best parts of chemistry together – organic synthesis, metal chemistry and x-ray diffraction.  Deanna had several interesting-sounding projects in this field, and so I began my Honours year investigating photoactive metal-organic frameworks.

It was a new experience having one year to work on a fixed project.  The project had an end goal: to create and investigate a photoactive metal organic framework.  However, there was no straightforward path to achieve this goal.  Thus, a substantial portion of my time was spent investigating several different branches of chemistry, and using what I found as a springboard to apply it to something new.  I think this was my favourite part of the project – researching and creating several potential methods to create photoactive materials, and then trying to put them into action.  Even though my project was not a complete success, I was overjoyed when another research group expressed an interest in investigating the materials and methods developed over my honours year.  It was fantastic that I could contribute to our investigation of the world!

Aside from my studies, during honours I was also able to demonstrate laboratory practicals, including over the summer – this was an enjoyable challenge, as I had to explain and demonstrate chemical concepts to students who had often not done any chemistry since Year 10.

Although I loved my honours year, I didn’t have an overwhelming desire to do a PhD – and, from talking to other students, you shouldn’t sign up for a PhD unless you’re completely prepared for it.  I began looking for jobs.  I wanted a career which involved scientific understanding as well as research-oriented study.  I applied at a number of organisations and companies, and, opportunely, was offered a job at the Reserve Bank of Australia working in Note Issue Department.

One of the functions of the Bank is to print Australia’s banknotes, and so I have been working to ensure that banknotes are of consistently high quality.  This involves keeping up to date with printing science and technology, and effectively conveying that science to others.  This has definitely been helped by my honours year, both in learning about a specific subject deeply and having to explain it! (For example you may ask what a metal-organic framework is… hint: imagine a sponge, but with pores that are nanometre-sized, rather than millimetre sized – ask Deanna for more information!).  Another important part of my job is individual research, which has definitely been helped by my problem-solving in honours.

Although my job definitely isn’t experimental Chemistry, the creative challenge of my honours year really set me up to have a good knowledge of the concepts underlying my job, as well as the skill set to ask interesting questions and to investigate how to best answer them.

2013 Honours student, Mr Marlowe Graham

Marlowe Graham (2013 Honours)

When did you become interested in chemistry?

I have been interested in science in general since I was very little, and became deeply interested in chemistry when it was offered in high school. Participation in the chemistry Olympiad developed my interest further, and by the end of high school I was certain I would study chemistry in some capacity, and ended up choosing a combined Engineering/Science degree.

What made you come to the University of Sydney?

Starting my degree I had a vague idea that I wanted to pursue a research career, the reputation of the university as a leading Australian research institute was one of the deciding factors in choosing the University of Sydney. After having the opportunity to visit the university a few times, the campus environment began to grow on me and it was a lot easier to get to than other universities as well.

What made you decide to do Honours in Chemistry?

I originally enrolled in a combined Engineering/Science degree intending to major in chemical engineering and chemistry and then find work as a chemical engineer. After second year I was a part of the Year in Industry program through the school of chemistry whereby I worked in a chemical laboratory for a year, and during this year I realized that I much preferred the idea of working on difficult problems and novel ideas in research than going through the motions of a full time routine in industry. Towards the end of the year I attended an organic chemistry research conference, where I saw people not much older than I was presenting their research, and the sorts of things they were doing seemed so interesting that I knew this was what I wanted to do, so I dropped Engineering and decided to do Honours in chemistry.

What kind of research are you doing?

My honours project is supervised by Dr Chris McErlean, working in the areas of novel reaction development and natural product synthesis. I am working towards applying on-water catalyzed reactions to develop a novel synthetic route to the ansamycins – a family of natural products being investigated for their antitumor properties.

What are you planning to do when you have finished your Honours degree?

After Honours I think I'll (hopefully) continue to a PhD, either here or abroad. Being involved in research is challenging and rewarding, and with every passing day I want more to make a career out of it. One day I hope to research and be paid for it too!


dom konkolewicz

Tammie Barlow (2012 Honours)

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.



David Flynn

When did you become interested in chemistry?

I was somewhat unaware about what I wanted to do with my future when I left school. I had started studying Chemistry in Year 10 on the suggestion of my science teacher, not thinking much of it at the time. However by the time I left school I knew I wanted to do something involving science. Science is fascinating as it is continually expanding and changing. It is a diverse and multi-faceted area of our knowledge that allows us, through logic and evidence, to deduce conclusions and use these to help provide solutions to our modern-day problems.

Moreover, science is becoming increasing relevant in our everyday world. Society looks towards research in order to cure diseases, create sustainable energy sources and create solution to alleviate the effects of global warming. This was something that I not only wanted to learn about, but something that I wanted to be a part of.

Studying chemistry at the University of Sydney for the past four years has been an enriching and wholly satisfying experience. It has taught me to logically view problems and systematically apply my knowledge to overcome obstacles. These are not lessons applied in chemistry alone, but also in the wider context of my university life. Having reached my Honours year, I know that studying chemistry was the correct choice for me and I have done immeasurable more than I ever thought I would be able to do in these few years.

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

Choosing the University of Sydney was never a big issue for me. I had known that I wanted to study here ever since I first visited the campus with my sister when I was 14 years old. The name and prestige of the University were definitely driving factors towards my enrollment. Visiting the University of Sydney Open Day and witnessing the research and level of teaching available to students cemented my desire to study here. On top of the world-class research that the University provides, the countless opportunities to get involved and be apart of campus life made the decision one of the easiest of my academic career.

What made you decide to do Honors in Chemistry? What kind of research are you doing?

Throughout my chemistry degree it became increasing clear that I enjoyed the organic and inorganic areas of chemistry and was able to see their real-world applications. Mid way through my third year, I decided that I would like to undertake an Honours year in order to get hands-on scientific experience while also contributing to scientific research. Many of my friends in older years had often told me of the importance of their honors year and the incredible experiences that came from it.

I chose to undertake a combined organic/inorganic research project that looked at synthesizing cobalt-based anti-cancer prodrugs and attaching a glucose molecule to the complex. The glucose molecule was attached in order to facilitate their selective uptake into tumors, specifically into hypoxic regions that are otherwise difficult to penetrate. The project is interesting and mentally stimulating and I am really enjoying the year thus far!


Phil Norcott

What’s the purpose of your current research?

I am currently working on expanding a field of chemistry known as "on-water" catalysis. Most reactions in synthetic organic chemistry are conducted in a range of organic solvents, which vary in their toxicity, hazards and cost. However certain reactions show a significant rate increase when normal water is used instead, such that the reaction is in an aqueous dispersion - that is, even when the reactants are completely insoluble. My research is specifically aiming to extend how we use these reactions in organic synthesis, which may enable us to produce synthetic targets - natural compounds, pharmaceuticals, organic catalysts and so on - in a cheap, clean and safe way using water.

So water is a green solvent? How do you get your desired molecules out of the water?

Yes, well a lot of the chemistry that goes on in the environment around us is in water: in rivers, oceans, processes like erosion and the nutrient cycles, and biological processes at large and within the living cell. We couldn't find a more benign solvent for the environment; it has been designed with water in mind! Practically though, for many reactions in chemistry that are done in water other, harsher solvents must be used to extract the desired product out of the water so that they can be isolated, which somewhat defeats water's "green solvent" status. However, the reactions I am developing are not "in water"; they are "on-water". These reactions are initiated at the interface between a group of reactant molecules and water, so those molecules must be insoluble for that strong interface to exist. The well-known fact that oil and water don't mix helps us get our product easily. Ideally, our desired products will be an oil that can be separated from the water, or an insoluble solid that can be filtered out of the water.

Sounds interesting - are you working on a particular reaction, or understanding how the "on water" effect works?

There have been a variety of ideas for how the "on-water" effect works, including just last year from our group here. However, I'm mainly working on a few specific reactions to try and determine under what conditions, and with which different chemical substrates, we can see on-water catalysis. We envision that these particular reactions - if they work - will open up new ways to synthesize chemical targets; which will hopefully be via a cleaner, more efficient and high yielding process. Of course though, due to the nature of science, investigating a range of different reactions helps to build up experimental evidence for our proposed mechanism of how on-water catalysis works.

Do you have plans for after your Honours year?

Gaining an Honours degree in chemistry will help greatly in widening my opportunities for next year. At the moment I am considering starting a PhD in chemistry either here at Sydney or elsewhere. I have greatly enjoyed the insights and challenges of Honours this year, as well as that feeling of working at the frontier of science and being immersed in an environment where there is so much innovative and cutting edge research being undertaken. At the moment I can't think of many other workplaces that can offer this as much as research does.


Mellodee Anvia

When did you become interested in chemistry?

I’m not sure when I first became interested in chemistry, but I can remember my first experiment in chemistry. I hadn’t started school yet, but one winter I decided to experiment and see whether I could freeze a small of bowl of water if I left it outside in the cold air. The next morning I discovered it was still unfrozen, but I kept the experiment going night after night believing the reaction hadn’t been given enough time to work. Eventually my dad asked me what I was trying to do and broke the news to me, thus shattering my hypothesis.

Why did you decide to come to the University of Sydney

I decided to come to the University of Sydney after I came to the university’s Open Day. Prior to then I had also been considering UNSW, but in the end I felt that Sydney University provided a sense of greater freedom in learning. I also felt that Sydney had a sort of atmosphere which warned you there would be challenges throughout your academic life here, but I think that for me this just made the prospect of studying at Sydney Uni more desirable.

What made you decide to do Honours in Chemistry?

During second year I became a little restless at uni, and this was starting to reflect in my grades as well. Of all the subjects I studied here at Sydney, I loved Chemistry the most and had always intended to major in Chemistry, and potentially pursue further study in it. As a result, I decided to take a year off and refocus myself and decide what I really wanted to do in the future now that I was sick of university. So at the end of second year, I applied for the Year In Industry program with ANSTO Minerals, and was given a job with them almost immediately. That year off was the best decision I have ever made. I went and worked alongside 60 of the most wonderful chemists and chemical engineers, learning and experiencing so much more than I had ever done even at uni. I worked on a number of major projects as a lab technician and experienced all sorts of new things in chemistry. I also experienced shift work, and realised how difficult it was! Overall though I absolutely loved it, and most importantly I could finally see the relevance of my studies. I also realised in that one year off that it was important to take my studies further. I finished off third year and then started my Honours with Thomas Maschmeyer and Tony Masters. 

What kind of research are you doing?

I am now almost at the end of my Honours year with only three weeks to go until I submit my thesis. I spent the entire year focussing mainly on developing ruthenium oxide catalysts supported on silica which can be used to catalyse the oxidation of cyclohexane to cyclohexanol and cyclohexanone. These products are important industrial compounds, as they are ultimately used to produce nylon. After preparing my catalysts, I spent a lot of time trying to develop a reliable sampling protocol for analysing the products of my reaction using gas chromatography before screening these catalysts on an automated high pressure and temperature reactor.

What are you planning to do when you have finished your Honours degree?

After I have finished, I would like to start a PhD in Chemistry, either with my current supervisors or as a joint project with my current supervisors and ANSTO Minerals, who offered me a PhD project in Radiochemistry earlier this year.

Arnold Barkhordarian

Why Science?

When I left school I studied literature and worked as a travel journalist for 8 years. I saw a lot of the developing world and began to think more and more about its huge environmental problems as well as its natural beauty. The pollution, poverty, lack of water and mismanaged forestry seemed to be a failure not only of policy, but also of science. While in the Solomon Islands, writing about logging, I chanced across an environmental scientist at a remote lagoon and spent a few hours talking to him. Rather than just write about the islands, he was trying to help them. On top of that, he’d done just as much travel as I had, and had been better paid too. I packed up, came home and called Sydney Uni.

Why the University of Sydney?

There were a few Uni’s to choose from in Sydney and I knew nothing about them. I soon figured out that USYD was the hardest to get into and had the best reputation. After a visit here, I had all but made up my mind. Sydney University is large, well funded and well regarded. But in addition to academic concerns, it’s a vibrant place in one of the most interesting parts of the city. I’d never wanted to go to a 70’s suburban campus. The sandstone and lawns at Sydney reminded me of Europe, where I’d studied arts; the Jacaranda tree in the main quad clinched it.

What are you Studying?

After much agonizing between ecology and chemistry for honours, I chose the chem lab. I’m working on a gas containment system for hydrogen fuel cells. If we can engineer a porous crystal with the right surface energy, we can use it to soak up hydrogen like a sponge. No need for high pressures and super-low temperatures with all the problems and energy costs that go along with them. That means no more exhaust fumes in the future. Maybe. I also thought about joining projects which were aiming to split water using sunlight, make solar cells that work like the leaves on trees and develop new low-energy catalysts for cleaner, greener industry. If any one of the these work out, we’ll all be better off, both here and in the developing world.

Antonia Clarke

(Antonia graduated in 2008)

Why Science?

I had no idea what I wanted to do with my career when I left school, but I knew that I wanted to do something with Science. I enjoyed Science at school – I loved the way that the area was continually developing. There is always the potential for discovering something new which could challenge our preconceptions of the world.

I also think that Science is becoming more and more relevant, with international issues such as global warming highlighting the need for a deeper understanding of the planet. In contrast to the other subjects I had studied, Science looked for this understanding by looking towards the future and embracing new means of practically applying theory to reality. It taught me a different way of thinking – I learnt how to systematically deduce an issue in order to be satisfied with a logical answer. This deductive technique has been invaluable in my everyday life, whether it be in answering an essay question in an exam or applying for jobs.

After three and half years of studying Science at University, my friends refer to me as a ‘mad scientist’, and I’m happy with that tag because I know I made the right choice. Science is engaging, unpredictable and completely different to any other subject I have studied.

Why the University of Sydney?

Sydney University’s reputation is synonymous with distinction and prestige, and as such I saw it as the ultimate place to study. I have friends who go to other universities and absolutely love them but I think that Sydney University’s extensive resources and contacts, its leading academics and its idyllic grounds and historical buildings all combine to create a sense of pride and achievement which really sets it apart from other institutions. In particular, Sydney University’s reputation also means that extracurricular options such as sport and drama are easily accessible and well-resourced.

On the whole, I think that there is no atmosphere more conducive to success than sitting on the grass, underneath a jacaranda tree in the sun, surrounded by the memory of great academics past. There really was no other University in Australia for me.

What are you studying?

I enrolled in a combined Science/Law degree but at the moment have taken some time off Law to complete a research project in Inorganic Chemistry. For my Honours project this year I have been developing fluorescent tags which attach to iron with the overall aim of monitoring the uptake of hypoxia-selective anticancer prodrugs. It’s an interesting area of work and I’ve really enjoyed the year so far!


Joseph Ioppolo

(Joe graduated in 2007)

Why Science?

I’ve heard people speak about science as if it can solve every problem there is. But when I first started my degree I was surprised to find out how much still remains unknown, and how uncertain some things really are. That just made me like it more. I headed in the direction of science because I generally wanted to know how things worked, but mostly because science is part of a bigger theme. It’s about solving problems – about asking “why?” and the specific ways we can go about asking that question. After a tough three years of courses, and out of all the subjects I had tried, I settled on chemistry for honours because it was very practical, it is used in a lot of different fields, and because I liked it the best.

The stereotypical image of a scientist is someone with wacky hair and a white lab-coat who plays with test tubes, and it’s truer for us chemists than for any other. But the fact is there are many different types of chemists - the field is way to general to fit into any box, and everyone has different reasons for liking what they do in whatever field they are in.

Why the University of Sydney?

You can’t deny that Sydney has the name and the prestige. It’s true that you will do well if you put the effort in no matter where you go. But what makes the difference are the resources you have along the way, the people you are with, and the options you can take while you are there. I found Sydney the best for all three. Also, the fact that Sydney offers flexibility in subject choices and degree paths as part of the Talented Students Program (TSP) helped me decide where to study in the end.

What are you Studying?

I am attempting to make a number of boron-containing phosphonium salts that may be used in treating cancerous tumours. This year for me has been very different to previous years of study. A lot of what we are working on has never been done before. There is still a little course work, but most of the time is spent in a research environment where you yourself decide when and what to do. Everyone has their own project that they work on independently, but the other honours students, PhD students and post-docs often band together to tackle problems when they come up. So far it’s been a lot of fun.