We caught up with Elizabeth New, Associate Professor of Chemistry at the University of Sydney, recent recipient of the Malcolm McIntosh Prize, fluorescent sensor researcher and LabArchives user to learn more about her work.
- How did you find yourself in the world of STEM? I had a lot of opportunities in STEM before I got to university so I knew I was interested in those areas. I studied honors chemistry at the University of Sydney. From there I did a PhD in the U.K at Durham University and then did at postdoc at Berkeley. Since then I’ve moved back to the University of Sydney where I’m an Associate Professor. My research group is now in the same lab where I did my honors and Masters work.
- What does your time breakdown look like as an associate professor? I spend about 60% of my time on teaching and admin and 40% of my time researching. My research group uses LabArchives everyday and the School of Chemistry is starting to use it for teaching too.
- What do you and your research group do exactly? My group is made up of 12 PhD students, 3 post docs, 1 honors student and myself. It’s quite a big group to manage but LabArchives helps me stay on top of things.
- What does sensor research entail exactly? Essentially my group makes fluorescent molecules that respond to their environment. These molecules might change in the presence of heavy metal for example, which can be used for many applications.
- Where can this research be applied? There are two main areas of application. One is in bioimaging. So many medical questions these days are actually chemical questions at their core. For example, what chemicals cause disease? We often don’t know or can’t see this happening in the body within cells. Fluorescent molecules give us that sight and help us understand what is going on inside the human body. Environmental science is the other main area of application. Our molecules can be used for detecting heavy metals in water and soil. These can be harmful to human health. If communities don’t know harmful metals are there or where they are exactly, they can’t address the issue.
- What makes your work stand out? All of the research that we do is very purpose driven. We work with many collaborators in other fields around the world. These collaborators are academics and industry experts in the areas where we know our research can have an impact. They tell us what they need and we make it. Once our research is completed it’s immediately applicable and that is not often the case in the world of research. It’s very satisfying to provide people with what they need to do their jobs especially when those jobs have the potential to really change how we live and how well we live, too
- How do you stay in touch with these collaborators? Emails and calls mostly. My students often manage these relationships which is great. They collect all the data for our research in LabArchives which makes it very easy to collaborate within the lab and keep track of everything. Even if a student leaves, I still have access to their data and whatever info was pertinent to the collaborators they were working with. We used to use paper notebooks. Recently, the University of Sydney has embarked on a huge project within the School of Chemistry to scan all past paper notebooks. It’s a HUGE project requiring a lot of people hours. It’ll be great to have those documented, but even once they’re digitized they still won’t be searchable. With LabArchives in place, we don’t have to worry about any of those issues cropping up down the road.
- What do you find most satisfying about your work? Whenever I talk about our work at conferences people come up to me and say “This is exactly what we need” One example of this that stands out to me in particular is a collaboration we have with researchers in Sheffield who study Parkinson’s Disease. A few of our sensors for copper and oxidative stress have enabled them to make new discoveries about how Parkinson’s develops and progresses. They’ve learned about this disease and how to combat it as a direct result of our molecules.
- How do you juggle such a big research group amongst other things? Well, LabArchives has a lot to do with it. It’s been so handy since I’ve been on maternity leave. I can see my group’s work at any time. They create fortnightly reports for me and I comment on everything in LabArchives. It’s been so easy to go over things together even if I’m not in the office. It’s been invaluable actually.