Honours student profiles
2013 Honours student: James Caddy
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: Marlowe Graham
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 will continue to a PhD in the School of Chemistry at The University of Sydney. 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!