Frankenstein on the Nanoscale
Vice Chancellor's Research Fellow
Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology
Please explain your research in simple words
I study how stem cells respond to external physical stimuli using both single cell and high throughput approaches, in order to control stem cell fate. The aim is to deliver new platforms for individualised patient tissue engineering, and I use a very multidisciplinary approach to my science combining material chemistry, biology, and engineering.
I want to tweet about the pathway I took to reach this point - it's a fairly standard academic pathway, but I went from a Bachelor's in Science (Nanotechnology) to running my own group in the field of tissue engineering without ever taking a single bio class. Your BSc (or even PhD) doesn't set your future in stone! I'll also take a day to run through how I set up my experiments, bringing together the biology, instruments, and custom fabricated devices. Finally, I'd like to talk about balancing (or trying to!) a young family with an academic career, retention of women in science, and the steps I'm taking within my own institution to help in both these areas.
What can the followers expect in your curation week?
How did you end up in your current research field?
A slippery slope from my PhD in biomaterials and nanoscale characterisation into postdocs focusing more on the stem cell side of things.
One of my primary areas of research is using an atomic force microscope to probe both living cells, and the interesting biomaterials we grow them on (occasionally). AFM allows us to peer into the changes living cells undergo in real time, without conventional fixatives or dyes, and measure nanoscale cellular responses in viscoelasticity or membrane topography.
How and where does your research fall in the domain of materials/nano science?
Which research project are you most proud of and could you explain it in simple words in the section we call #InOtherwords?
We were trying to measure the Raman spectra of living stem cells, in order to measure intracellular molecular changes. However, we were doing this on a black biomaterial, and we need a fairly stronglaser to get enough of a signal from our cells. So when we turned out laser beam onto a cell to measure the spectra, in 10 sec we found we had completely obliterated the cell Death Star style, due to the heat caused by the laser as it focused on the cell and black material below.
Personally I want a barcoding system for the lab - for labelling samples cells, everything! And to coordinate into an electronic lab book. Retrospectively I wish I had gotten more advice before taking my first postdoc on - not that I didn't enjoy it, I just could have been possibly more strategic thinking ahead. I also wish I had done more coding, but it wasn't common to couple that with a science degree back in my day!
If you had 3 wishes to improve your research experience, what would you ask for (not promising anything here!)?
What are you most looking forward to in the next 3 months?
Starting with my new PhD and honours students- the PhD student is joining the newly funded project I have and I'm really excited for it to all kick off.
One of the challenges is making sure the one is getting input from all sides. I have been really lucky as my research environment so far has been multidisciplinary. Chemists, biologists and engineers working side by side gives you a different perspective. Sometimes taking a non conventinal apparoach gives you interesting results. Especially in the fields of nanomedicine, the fresh look and ideas are essential. I challenge people to build up diverse research groups.