Posted by Oliphant Science Awards

on 06/04/2022

by Sienna Hill

My name is Sienna Hill, and I am a Year 10 student at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart College. Through the Tall Poppy Award that I was awarded last year, I was gifted with a Science mentor – Professor Justin Chalker.  Professor Chalker serves as the research leader for the Molecular Science and Technology division at Flinders University. On Thursday, 17th of March, I met Professor Chalker along with other science researchers who work in his laboratory. I was in awe of the researchers’ level of expertise and knowledge, along with the expensive and complex equipment that they use for their research. I found this visit to be an extraordinary experience and it has sparked some ideas for my 2022 Oliphant Science Awards entry.

My day began with Dr Max Mann, who introduced me to the scanning electron microscope (SEM). This extraordinary microscope uses a beam of high energy electrons to provide an image of the surface of the sample. Max was examining samples of e-waste to identify and determine the types of metals that are contained in e-waste. An energy dispersive x-ray (EDX) spectroscope was also used for elemental identification. Max was extremely knowledgeable about this special machine, and shared his wisdom about how the machine operates, and how to read the EDX spectrum. After this enlightening experience, I was taken through the maze of corridors to Professor Chalker’s office. There, I learnt about the exciting projects across the lab and grasped a better idea of the Chalker Research Lab’s overarching objective – to use innovative chemistry to address global challenges in sustainability and human wellbeing.  

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Following that, I met Dr Lynn Lisboa, who taught me about synthetic and organic chemistry. She shared the background on her PhD, which completely blew my mind! Dr Lynn completed her PhD looking at the synthesis of stimuli responsive heterometallic cages. She showed me around one of the research labs and gave me a run down of her journey as a scientist. Dr Lisboa is an experienced researcher and is an important female figure in Chemistry research. After lunch, I met Sam Tonkin who led me to a room brimming with fascinating equipment relating to polymer production. He introduced me to an STA machine (simultaneous thermal analysis), which is used to analyse the time and temperature at which the substance physically changes state, a Dynamic Mechanical Analyser (DMA) machine, which measure the viscoelastic properties of materials when deformed under strain, and finally a piece of equipment that measures the molecular weight and length of polymer chain. He was an inspiring scientist, with the equipment providing me much inspiration for my project.

Then, I met Dr Harshal Patel who discussed some of his research and current projects with me, before getting in the practical component of my visit. I put on a lab coat, safety glasses and with the guidance of Dr Patel, I made a polymer consisting of Sulfur, Canola Oil, and dicyclopentadiene. It was a surreal experience being in a research lab, surrounded by exciting experiments and such knowledgeable scientists! To conclude my time in the chemical sciences building, Dr Mann took me for a tour of the labs, whereby I was able to see what other scientists were working on. I got to see a nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR) machine! Then, I attended a seminar about metal ion homeostasis in A.baumanni. I loved the university atmosphere, overall, it was a very inspiring, eye-opening experience!

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