Posgraduate student: 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.
To read more about Jessica please visit here.
Postgraduate student: 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".