Talented student program

TSP students, Ms Inga Topolnicki and Ms Carmen Tran

TSP students, Ms Inga Topolnicki and Ms Carmen Tran, photo courtesy of Ms Dimetra Skondras-Silva

What is the talented student program

The Talented Student Program (TSP) is a special program of study intended for students of exceptional merit who are enrolled in degrees administered by the Faculty of Science. Entry to the Talented Student Program is by invitation from the Dean. For more information, visit the TSP page on the Faculty of Science website.

There are many opportunities for chemistry TSP students to get involved in research in the School, and to learn from more experienced researchers. For more information about any of the opportunities below, please contact the TSP coordinator, .

TSP showcase

The TSP showcase is the first opportunity for first year students to become involved in research at the university, and is a chance for third year students to experience mentoring. The TSP showcase is organised by the Faculty of Science, and more information will be available early in first semester.

TSP projects

As a Talented Student, you have the opportunity to complete a research project within a research group in the School. Students typically perform projects for 3 or 6 credit points. First year students can undertake a research project in Semester 2. Second and third year students can undertake projects in both Semesters 1 and 2.


Computational and theoretical chemistry
  • Computer simulations of nanomaterials assembly. In this project, you will use computer simulations (Monte Carlo) to study how intermolecular and surface forces can be manipulated to control the self-assembly (including orientation) of rod-shaped Au and CdS particles in order to create printable nano-structured electronic devices (e.g. solar cells). (Dr Asaph Widmer-Cooper)
  • Device physics of organic solar cells. This project involves solving analytical equations to simulate flow of current in organic solar cells to figure out bottlenecks in charge transport that affect the device performance. (Dr Girish Lakhwani)
  • Energy transfer in single molecules. This project involves solving master equation to simulate energy transfer in conjugated polymers and determine efficiency of solar energy harvesting. (Dr Girish Lakhwani)
  • Metallic glasses meet the four colour theorem. Bulk metallic glasses are usually formed by alloying at least three, and often four different elements into an amorphous structure that has a preference for separating elements of the same type. Why four? This computational project will investigate the possibility of a deep link with the infamous “four colour map theorem” whereby four colours of country are needed to keep countries of the same colour apart. (Dr Toby Hudson)
Molecular design and synthesis
  • Enantioselective catalysis. A project is available in the discovery of new catalysts for an enantioselective reaction. The project will involve synthesis and some kinetics in the analysis of a reaction mechanism. (A/Prof. Mat Todd)
  • Fluorescent assays for metal ions. New fluorophores will be synthesised and used in a fluorescent assay to study metal ions in complex solutions. (Dr Liz New)
  • New boron fluorophores for near-IR biological applications. This project will investigate the synthesis and photophysical properties of new BODIPY fluorophores which have to potential to fluoresce strongly in the near-IR. (A/Prof. Lou Rendina and Dr Liz New)
  • Scientific writing. A non-laboratory project is available in the completion of a review of an organic chemical reaction for publication. (A/Prof. Mat Todd)
  • Synthesis of bioactive cyclic peptides. This project will involve the synthesis of cyclic analogues of the peptide Apelin, which have potential anticancer and cardioprotective activities. (Prof. Kate Jolliffe)
  • Total synthesis of strigolactones. This project involves the application of a contra-biomimetic cascade to access the naturally occurring semiochemical, orobanchol. (Dr Chris McErlean)
  • Total synthesis of bromoallene containing natural products. This project involves the use of an umpolung strategy to access the axially chiral bromoallene, panacene. (Dr Chris McErlean)
  • Nano-bottlebrushes for drug delivery. In this project we will synthesise versions of polymeric bottlebrushes (they look like a nanosized version of Australia’s bottlebrush plants) and use them to deliver drug molecules. The characterisation of these materials involves the use of NMR, GPC and spectroscopy and microscopy methods. (Dr Markus Muellner)
  • pH-responsive materials. In this project, we explore how to synthesis polymers that respond to changes in pH. The characterisation of these materials involves NMR, GPC and light scattering methods. (Dr Markus Muellner)
  • Hybrid materials. In this project you will synthesise and utilise polymer architectures, such as cylindrical polymer brushes, to yield hybrid materials. The characterisation of these materials involves NMR, GPC and various microscopy techniques. (Dr Markus Muellner)
  • Copolymerisation using ATRP or SET-LRP. During this project you will learn how to polymerise block copolymers and analyse them using various techniques, such as NMR and GPC. (Dr Markus Muellner)
Material chemistry
  • Acetone etching of thermopolymers. In this project you will optimise acetone vapour etching of various thermosetting polymers. (Prof. John Canning)
  • Contact angle measurements of doped thermoplastics. In this project you will measure contact angles of various doped thermoplastics fabricated under varying 3D printing parameters to explore potential surface chemistry as a function of fabrication conditions and materials. (Prof. John Canning)
  • Database of materials for 3D printing. In this project you will review the literature and build up a tbale of materials and their properties relevant for a range of applications and whch can be implemented in 3D printing. (Prof. John Canning and Dr Kevin Cook)
  • Magnetism in batteries. This project will study how the magnetic spin interactions among transition metal ions change as mobile species (Li or Na) are moved in and out of solid-state battery cathode materials. (A/Prof. Chris Ling)
  • Micropatterned surfaces for water capture. In this project the student will fabricate polymeric micro- patterned surfaces and characterize their ability to collect water from the atmosphere. (A/Prof. Chiara Neto)
  • Nano-imprinting and diffraction gratings. In this project you will characterise nano-imprinted diffraction gratings and phase masks. (Prof. John Canning and Dr Kevin Cook)
  • Non-stoichiometric oxides. Conductivity in metallic oxides can be enhanced by the formation of vacancies; this work explores the relationship between conductivity, structure and stoichiometry in perovskite type oxides. (Prof. Brendan Kennedy)
  • Radical MOFs: from microporous conductors to CO2 capture materials. This project involves the design, synthesis and characterisation of metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) based on redox-active ligands and metal clusters which exhibit stable radical states that can be reversibly ‘switched’ using chemical, electrical or light stimuli. (Dr Deanna D’Alessandro)
  • Catalytic applications of silver nanoparticles. Silver nanoparticles catalyse the reduction of p-nitrophenol, whereas bulk silver does not. Silver nanoparticles can be prepared in solutions coloured from blue through to red, because of their different sizes and morphologies. This project will examine the effect of nanoparticle size and morphology on the catalytic reaction. (A/Prof. Tony Masters and Prof. Thomas Maschmeyer)
  • New catalysts for producing useful chemicals from biomass. As fossil reserves of hydrocarbons are inevitably depleted, we need to turn to renewable carbon sources for fuels and chemicals. The most abundant renewable source of desirable aromatic derivatives is biomass-derived lignin – an intractable inhomogeneous polymer containing aromatics connected by C C and C O bonds. This project is devoted to the development of novel catalysts, containing earth-abundant metals, for the mild and selective hydrogenolysis of C O bonds in lignin and its derivatives. (A/Prof. Tony Masters and Prof. Thomas Maschmeyer)
  • Catalysis with light and magnetic fields. In this project, we will investigate the use of nanoparticulate catalysts supported on refractory materials to catalyse reactions using energy supplied by light or magnetic fields. The project will involve the synthesis and characterisation of the catalysts and the examination of the catalytic performance. A particular target will be the more selective conversion of biomass (lignin, cellulose, algae, etc.). Some of the research will be carried out in collaboration with the CSIRO. (A/Prof. Tony Masters and Prof. Thomas Maschmeyer)
Molecular spectroscopy and photonics
  • Novel sensor dyes for mobile phone diagnostics. Building on recent work, this project involves synthesising special fluorescent dyes that are tailored for sensing applications using mobile phones as the diagnostic platform. (A/Prof. Peter Rutledge, Prof. John Canning)
  • Optical sensing molecules sensitive to polarised light. The aim of this project is to experimentally study light-matter interactions in optically active organic molecules and study their photosensitive properties (Dr Girish Lakhwani)
  • Heavy metal sensing using a portable smartphone device. In this project we will investigate the applications of a hand-held device that uses a smartphone to capture fluorescence spectra. In particular, we will investigate fluorescent dyes that are responsive to toxic heavy metals, and develop methods for measuring these metals in waterways. (Prof. John Canning and Dr Liz New)
Drug discovery and medicinal chemistry
  • Azaspirocycles as piperazine bioisosteres targeting sigma receptors. A library of spiroazetidine structures will be synthesised for potential use as anxiolytics, antidepressants, and neuroprotective agents with novel modes of action. (Prof. Michael Kassiou)
  • Boron clusters for medicinal chemistry. This project will expand the chemical space of medicinal chemistry by the use of carborane clusters, which possess many desireable chemical properties, and can be readily functionalised for the targeting of biological receptors. (A/Prof. Lou Rendina)
  • Drug discovery. The project will involve primarily organic synthesis of novel molecules along open source principles. See opensourcemalaria.org for more information. (A/Prof. Mat Todd)
  • Enabling aerosol delivery of bacteriophages to defeat antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The aim of this project is to develop methodologies using cutting-edge nano-analytical techniques to study and characterize the molecular interactions between bacteriophages and formulation excipients that could revolutionalise the treatment of bacterial infections. (Prof. Peter Lay in collaboration with Dr Elizabeth Carter, Vibrational Spectroscopy Core Facility and Prof. Kin Chan, Pharmacy)
  • Lanthanide complexes for binary cancer therapies. This project will investigate the use of new mitochondrial agents based upon lanthanides such as gadolinium(III) for application in cutting-edge neutron capture therapy and photon activation therapy of intractable and aggressive cancers such as gliomas. (A/Prof. Lou Rendina)
  • Small molecule oxytocin receptor agonists. This project will involve designing new oxytocin receptor agonists as potential therapeutic agents for psychiatric disorders. (Prof. Michael Kassiou)
  • Synthesis of new drug candidates for tuberculosis. A project is available that will involve organic synthesis in the understanding of the mechanism of action of a newly-identified TB drug candidate (A/Prof. Mat Todd and A/Prof. Peter Rutledge)
  • Synthetic cannabinoids as "designer drugs". Recently identified synthetic cannabinoids will be synthesised, along with their metabolites, which will enable understanding of how these drugs work. (Prof. Michael Kassiou)
  • Tau aggregation inhibitors for Alzheimer’s disease. Aminothienopyridazines (ATPZs) act to inhibit tau aggregation. This project will develop new ATPZ analogues. (Prof. Michael Kassiou)
Supramolecular chemistry
  • Selective sensors for anions. Receptors for biologically important anions (e.g. pyrophosphate) will be synthesised and their ability to selectively bind to those ions will be evaluated using a range of spectroscopic techniques. (Prof. Kate Jolliffe)
  • Self-assembly of organic chromophores. The aim of this project is to experimentally study self-assembly of organic chromophores with the help of circularly polarized light. (Dr Girish Lakhwani)
Biological chemistry | Chemical biology
  • Chemical sensing. Synthesis of new fluorescent nanoparticles for the sensing of ion gradients in the extracellular matrix. (A/Prof. Mat Todd and A/Prof. Peter Rutledge)
  • New fluorescent probes. Fluorescent sensors will be synthesised for use as sensors of redox state or metal ions. This project will involve organic synthesis followed by spectroscopy. (Dr Liz New)
  • Responsive MRI contrast agents. This project will involve synthesis of metal complexes complexes, and assessing their potential for use as MRI contrast agents in NMR experiments. (Dr Liz New)
  • Fluorescently-labelling proteins. In order to understand how proteins function in cells, it is important to be able to watch them over time. One method for achieving this is to fluorescently-label the protein with another small protein that can irreversibly bind to certain substrates. This project will involve developing fluorescently-labelled substrates that can then be applied to the study of proteins. (Dr Liz New)
  • Probing the cause of multiple sclerosis. There is growing evidence to support the hypotheses that the majority of neurodegenerative diseases may be initiated by a combination of pollutant-induced damage to neurons in the locus ceruleus (LC) and dietary factors, such as sugar intake. In the first ever study of this type, we undertook elemental maps from frozen brain sections of patients who had suffered multiple sclerosis to show at least 50% have Hg in specific neurons in the LC and all have a range of heavy metals. This project aims to use chemometrics to mine the information-rich images to learn more about how these metals and others, such as Fe and Cu may have contributed to the disease (Prof. Peter Lay and Dr Rachel Mak, in collaboration with Professor Roger Pamphlett, Brain and Mind Research Institute and Dr Joonsup Lee, Vibrational Spectroscopy Core Facility)
  • Are microparticles released from cancer and normal cells key players in disease pathology? Microparticles (MPs) are microvesicles within the size of 100 nm to one micron that contain RNA, DNA, proteins and lipids and are released from all human cells and function to control cell-cell signaling under normal conditions, however, under disease conditions the number and composition of microparticles released changes and these “disease microparticles” act like human viruses to infect and damage healthy cells or promote cancers. The aim of this project is to use biospectroscopies to probe differences in biochemical content in disease vs normal MPs and to examine how they change the biochemistry of target cells. (Prof. Peter Lay in collaboration with Dr Elizabeth Carter and Dr Joonsup Lee, Vibrational Spectroscopy Core Facility, and Prof. Georges Grau and Prof. Nick King, Pathology, School of Medical Sciences)
Soft matter
  • Chemical exobiology is liquid water really necessary for life? Could alternative biochemical structures and processes have developed in an unearthly environment? In this project we will examine whether prebiotic conditions necessary for lipid bilayer membrane formation and base-pairing occur in molten salts and eutectic mixtures, as models of possible alien biospheres. (Prof. Greg Warr)
  • Nanostructured liquids and solvents. The simple picture of a liquid works ok for atoms or "spherical" molecules with non-specific (van der Waals) intermolecular forces, but most real molecules are much more interesting, and have dipoles or H-bond capacity. In this project we will investigate the structure and properties of liquids and solutions where the solvent organises itself according to strong, anisotropic intermolecular forces. (Prof. Greg Warr)
  • Robust superhydrophobic surfaces. In this project the student will fabricate new polymeric superhydrophobic surfaces that are robust and scalable to real-world applications. (A/Prof. Chiara Neto)
  • Self-assembled monolayers based on non-conventional bonds. In this project the student will explore the stability and ageing of monomolecular layers adhering onto surfaces, based on a mechanism newly discovered in our group. (A/Prof. Chiara Neto)
  • Microplastic infiltration of food webs. This project uses state-of-the-art vibrational spectroscopic techniques to continue development of a database and methodology for high resolution mapping and imaging of microplastics in the tissues of marine organisms, which is becoming a major issue of urban pollution issue in food chains. (Prof. Peter Lay in collaboration with Dr Elizabeth Carter, Vibrational Spectroscopy Core Facility and Prof. Emma Johnston and Dr Mark Browne (UNSW))

Contact details

Dr Elizabeth New


Dr Liz New
TSP Coordinator
Room 543
T: +61 2 9351 1993