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Four winners at RACI awards

25 November 2019
Our chemistry researchers honoured by Royal Australian Chemical Institute
Presented on 22 November at the awards dinner in Brisbane, the awards recognise outstanding work in chemistry, from student achievement to career excellence.

Four University of Sydney researchers from the School of Chemistry in the Faculty of Science, have received prestigious awards from the Royal Australian Chemical Institute (RACI) this year.

RACI is the professional body for the chemical sciences in Australia, founded in 1917 and granted a Royal Charter in 1932. It acts both as the qualifying body in Australia for professional chemists, and as a learned society promoting the science and practice of chemistry.

Our award winners are:

Dr Emma Watson

Dr Emma Watson, Cornforth Medal

Dr Emma Watson won the Cornforth Medal for her outstanding achievements in chemistry during her PhD studies, which she graduated from in April 2019. Working with Professor Richard Payne for her PhD studies, Dr Watson is now a postdoctoral staff member in the Payne laboratory.

Her PhD studies were on ‘Synthesis of anticoagulant sulfoproteins from hematophagous organisms’, which is producing proteins that stop blood from clotting, that occur naturally in bloodsucking animals, like mosquitos.     

“My research gives us insights into human health and disease through chemistry. Proteins are responsible for all biological processes, so by gaining insights into their function, we can better understand disease,” said Dr Watson.

In her PhD studies and now in her job, Dr Watson develops methods to rapidly synthesise proteins for evaluation of their biological activity. This fast generation of protein libraries enables protein-based drug discovery.

“Since I was 12 years old, my dream has been to get my PhD and work as a research scientist. I’m so happy and proud to have finally achieved this goal, through a combination of perseverance, passion, and learning to manage my own expectations!”

Associate Professor Siggi Schmid

Associate Professor Siegbert Schmid, Fensham Medal

Associate Professor Siegbert Schmid won the Fensham Medal for his many outstanding contributions to chemistry education over an extended period. He is working to provide a better chemistry education experience for all.

"Based on rigorous chemistry education research, I’m striving to give students a better learning experience in chemistry. I’m particularly passionate about making chemistry education more inclusive and improving access for students from underrepresented groups," said Associate Professor Schmid.

He believes this will help ignite students’ passion for the many STEM-related jobs that will underpin Australia’s future prosperity.

As a dedicated educator, Associate Professor Schmid sees his students’ success as his greatest achievement: "Being able to make a positive impact on someone’s life through teaching is a great privilege."

One of his chief goals is to raise the standing of chemistry education research in Australia to equal that of other areas of chemistry research.

With that goal in mind, he leads the newly established Chemistry Education and Communication Research (CECR) theme at the University of Sydney. He has served as Chair for many chemistry education conferences and symposia organised in Australia in the last 15 years, including the 25th IUPAC International Conference on Chemistry Education 2018. He has held senior offices on the RACI Chemistry Education Division and the NSW Branch Chemistry Education Group and has been a member of the RACI since 1998.

Professor Richard Payne

Professor Richard Payne, HG Smith Medal

Professor Richard Payne won the H G Smith Medal for being the chemist who, in the opinion of the RACI Board, has most contributed to the development of a branch of chemical science.

Professor Richard Payne creates complex biological molecules, and uses these tailored small molecules or proteins to tackle problems in biology and medicine.

“The biological activity of molecules is linked to their structure. Drug discovery often involves establishing this relationship through testing libraries of structurally similar compounds for their biological activity,” said Professor Payne.

To be efficient, this approach requires this library to be generated rapidly, which is easier to do for small molecules, but difficult to do for complex biological molecules like proteins. 

“Our lab has developed synthetic technologies that allows our research group to rapidly generate and analyse bioactive proteins. Through this process, we can also modify these proteins to improve their activity and stability.”

“My dream is for my team’s research to contribute to the development of a drug that is used to improve human health. Of equal importance to me is training and mentoring the next generation of interdisciplinary chemists.”

Professor Payne is involved in RACI through holding office as Secretary of the NSW Organic Chemistry group, and in 2018 he won the prestigious A J Birch Medal awarded by the RACI Organic Chemistry Division.

Emeritus Professor Leo Radom

Emeritus Professor Leo Radom, Leighton Memorial Medal

Emeritus Professor Leo Radom won the Leighton Memorial Medal in recognition of his eminent services to chemistry in Australia in the broadest sense, including his research, development of technology, public service and national leadership.

By using the laws of quantum mechanics and a powerful supercomputer, Emeritus Professor Leo Radom aims to improve our understanding of chemistry.

"Along with my collaborators, I am currently investigating how amino acids and proteins can be damaged by radicals. Understanding this chemistry will give us valuable insights, for example, into the potential value of antioxidants," said Emeritus Professor Radom.

"In my career, I was particularly fortunate to work from 1969 to 1972 as a postdoctoral researcher with Professor John Pople at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Professor Pople was one of the key figures in establishing the – at that stage – brand-new field of computational quantum chemistry. One of the highlights of my scientific life was attending the Nobel Prize ceremony in Stockholm in 1998 when Professor Pople received his prize.

"My involvement in this field since its early days has provided the foundation for my career. I was able to participate as computers became increasingly powerful, thus hugely broadening the possibilities and allowing the field to flourish."

One of Emeritus Professor Radom’s passions is to encourage the development and use of the computational approach to chemistry. In this connection, he was the Chair of the 9th Conference of the Asia-Pacific Association of Theoretical and Computational Chemists, which took place in October 2019 at the University of Sydney. The conference attracted more participants than any of the previous conferences in the series.

Emeritus Professor Radom has received several RACI awards in the past, including the Rennie Memorial Medal in 1977 and the H G Smith Medal in 1988. In 2018, he was made a Distinguished Fellow of the RACI.

Katynna Parry

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