Next Step … Perth hosted at Water Corporation

Water Corporation hosted students at Perth Next Step 2013

Water Corporation hosted students at              Perth Next Step 2013

Water Corporation (Western Australia)  again hosted a session of the NYSF Next Step program in Perth in July.

Human Resources Manager Jenny Thornton welcomed the group of 15 students and shared her own career journey. Her best advice? Always keep an open mind and seize the opportunities that come your way.

Water Corporation graduates in Civil, Electrical, Mechanical Engineering, Environmental Engineering, and Chemistry all talked with the students on the day. They shared what attracted them to their field of study, what a typical day of work is like and what they enjoy most about what they do.

Graduate Electrical engineer, Eirene Conocono explained the complexity of her field of work and the safety requirements that needed to be followed.

Environmental Engineer Cheng Zhu was able to take the students for a tour of the Operations Centre as part of the visit, showing them the breadth of Water Corporation’s activities.

Besides being a positive learning experience for the visiting students, the graduates were pleased that they could share their experiences and encourage the young visitors to study and work towards a meaningful career.

The long read — Alumnus feature — Professor Michelle Coote, ANU

Professor Michelle Coote, FRSC, ARC Future Fellow, Research School of Chemistry, Australian National University

1990 NYSF Alumnus

Michelle Coote attended the NYSF (then called National Science Summer School (NSSS)) in January 1990.

“I had always had an interest in science and particularly astronomy, and was in the Galileo group at the NYSF. The NYSF experience convinced me to try a career in science but when it came time to choose a university course, industrial chemistry won out over astronomy as it offered good employment prospects and an attractive scholarship.”

Studying at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), Michelle spent 15 months working in the chemical industry, which was a valuable experience. “But it made me realise that my real interest was in a career in pure chemical research. So, I went back to university and ended up graduating in 1995 with the university medal.”

After that, Michelle enrolled in a PhD in polymer chemistry at UNSW where she used a combination of theory and experiment to tackle a long-standing question in copolymerization kinetics. Copolymers are polymers of two or more different types of chemical building blocks (known as monomers). Copolymers are very common as they allow favourable properties of different types of plastics to be combined in the same material. The improved models developed by Michelle can be used to tailor the compositions and microstructures of copolymers, and hence their properties, by changes to the reaction conditions.

Her thesis was awarded the Royal Australian Chemical Institute’s Cornforth medal for the best PhD thesis in chemistry in Australia and the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry prize for the best five (5) theses in chemistry worldwide. This helped to open up opportunities for further research positions.

A post-doctoral position at the University of Durham in the United Kingdom led to research running experiments on beam-lines at big facilities – such as the Rutherford Appleton Laboratories in Oxfordshire. But after a couple of years, she decided to change fields and study quantum chemistry instead. Michelle moved back to Australia and took up an Australian Research Council (ARC) postdoctoral fellowship at the Australian National University (ANU), to learn computational quantum chemistry from one of the greats of the field, Professor Leo Radom.

Late in 2004, Michelle was given the opportunity to start her own research group at the ANU when she was awarded a Rita Cornforth fellowship, which supports the careers of young women in chemistry. She was granted tenure in 2006 and became the first female Professor of chemistry at the ANU in early 2011. She is currently an ARC Future Fellow, and was recently awarded the Le Fevre memorial prize of the Australian Academy of Science and named by the Royal Australian Chemical Institute as a living luminary of Australian chemistry for the international year of chemistry.

“I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of opportunities over the years to pursue fundamental research, and to work with many excellent students, postdocs and collaborators. I always thought academic careers were only for geniuses but actually

it is possible for a normal person to pursue their interest in fundamental science and make brand new discoveries about how the world works

it is possible for a normal person to pursue their interest in fundamental science and make brand new discoveries about how the world works.”

Michelle lives with her husband and their two children, two cats, five chickens, and large garden in country NSW.

About Michelle and her team’s research:

Michelle Coote’s research team uses accurate quantum chemical calculations, supported by experiments, to better understand chemical reactivity and to design improved reagents and catalysts. Her particular interest is radical chemistry, and particularly radical polymerization and autooxidation processes; more recently her group have been working toward a better understanding of enzyme catalysis. However, one of the advantages of computational chemistry is that it is not necessary to specialise and their computer-aided chemical designs include species as diverse as better control agents for free-radical polymerization, improved redox mediators for dye sensitised solar cells, and chiral auxiliaries for the resolution of amino acids. Whilst their focus is on the underlying fundamental chemistry, the team’s work does have direct practical applications and, for instance, Michelle is working with Bluescope Steel to improve the lifetime of the coatings on Colorbond steel, and Evonik Industries to tune the debonding temperature of self-healing polymers and printable networks.

Michelle Coote group_2012

NYSF in the news

Stories run in the last two months about NYSF and its students:

Cassie juggles study and Nobel honour

Broken Hill student to join Australia’s best

Fun with science: Sunraysia celebrates national week

My generation can make a difference

Science experiment sees explosion of talent

National Youth Science Forum for Sarah

NYSF takes a Brain Break for National Science Week

In August, NYSF held a Brain Break morning tea as part of National Science Week. More than 800 workplaces took part across Australia, joining in and celebrating their love of and need for science – whether in their workplaces or at home.

Tegan McNamara and Ashly Vu Anneke runs the Brain Break Quiz

Geoff Burchfield welcomed the guests to the NYSF Brain Break – mainly alumni from ANU’s campus who braved the Monday morning chill – to test their general science knowledge using the quiz provided by the Brain Break organisers (and ably road-tested and delivered by NYSF staffers James and Anneke).

So, just how many elements begin with the letter C?

Science careers in the news

Professor Ian Chubb, NYSF President and Chief Scientist of Australia recently addressed the National Press Club and called for a greater focus on investment in education in science, technology and engineering. Watch his address at the following page:

Science careers under the microscope

Science is more than working in a lab