Her scientist husband’s struggle to support himself as a student prompted Dorothy Lamberton to endow annual scholarships to promising chemistry PhD students. She found much in common with one grateful recipient, Amanda Scopelliti. Margaret Rice reports.
Dorothy Lamberton is the first to agree that her life has been enriched by the relationship with science she developed through the love of her late husband, John.
Dorothy has reached that stage in life where she can sit back in her garden, enjoying the sun and a good book. She believes it is also time to give something back to the scientific world her husband was so passionate about.
In his honour, Dorothy established the John A Lamberton Research Scholarships. The scholarships have been awarded annually since 2005 to University of Sydney PhD students who are either working in an area of John’s interests – the chemistry of many classes of natural products, especially alkaloids, and developing a greater understanding of the relationships between chemical structure and biological activity – or researching the chemical understanding of brain function and malfunction.
In a typical year Dorothy supports six PhD students. “It just occurred to me as the best way to remember John [who passed away in 2002] and to honour him in my own way. John’s intellect was his outstanding feature and he was such an impassioned scholar. He just really loved to learn about the relationships between chemistry and natural phenomena,” Dorothy explains.
Making the scholarships available has created a tangible as well as symbolic connection to the University, and it’s something Dorothy treasures. “The Chemistry Department has been very generous in the past several years, inviting me to their prizes luncheons each year, and I’ve had the pleasure of meeting most of the current crop of ‘my’ students,” she says.
Until recently, one of those she had not met was pharmacology PhD student Amanda Scopelliti, who is researching the regulation of glutamate, one of the major chemicals of the brain. “Glutamate disregulation is implicated in multiple neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia and epilepsy. I specifically look at glutamate transporters, which are the machinery responsible for regulating glutamate,” Amanda says. Her aim is to discover how these transporters are malfunctioning in many neurological disorders.
Dorothy and Amanda met for the first time at the Blackburn Building late last year. They found that they were both drawn to science through the influence of a loved one, in Amanda’s case her mother, a student at the University who sometimes brought Amanda along to nursing lectures when she was a small child.
The highlight of John’s career as a chemist was analysing the flora of Papua New Guinea in an era of Australian scientific discovery inspired by similar American successes in the Amazon.
Amanda’s face lit up as she listened: “It’s huge to be able to discover something new and a class of alkaloids. Your name is in history, you’ve changed the world from that moment. He’s made a difference. Without him a whole area of chemistry would not exist and that’s amazing, absolutely amazing. That’s what every scientist really wants to achieve, to discover something new. It’s that Eureka moment.”
The scholarships are worth $5000 per year for each year, for the extent of their PhD, and having one means Amanda can focus more effectively on her science. “I can now support myself going to conferences and workshops. So what Dorothy is providing for so many students actually helps our career path in a big way.”