School of Chemistry
April 2017
Issue 30, 2017
Welcome to Issue 30 of the chemistry alumni newsletter.  

I am delighted to begin my first Head of School column by thanking Professor Kate Jolliffe for her leadership of the School of Chemistry over the last four years.  I’ve seen first-hand over the last three months how hard Kate has worked on our behalf and I’m very pleased she will now be able to take a well-deserved sabbatical to focus on her research programme.

I’d also like to thank everyone in the School who have made me feel so welcome since I joined the University of Sydney in January.  Having been a member of staff at my previous university for 17 years this move has been a big change for me but it has been made much easier by having such great colleagues in Sydney.

I’d like to welcome Drs Ivan Kassel, Shelley Wickham and Junming Ho to the School.  Ivan is a theorist whose research concerns the simulation of energy and charge transport in disordered materials, including next-general solar cells and photosynthetic complexes. He is also interested in the interface between chemistry and quantum engineering, working on engineering quantum effects into molecular systems and developing algorithms for the simulation of chemical processes on quantum computers.  Shelley is the Professor Harry Messel Research Fellow and Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the School of Chemistry and the School of Physics and has research interests in the self-assembly of matter on the nanoscale, and in particular in the design and assembly of programmable nanostructures out of DNA, with applications in cell biology, materials science and nanomedicine. Following the completion of her Professor Harry Messel Research Fellowship, Shelley will continue as a Lecturer in Physics and Chemistry beginning in 2019.  Junming is a computational chemist with interests in molecular dynamics simulations, hybrid quantum mechanics/ molecular mechanics methods, solvent effects and physical organic chemistry.  Junming joins us as a DECRA fellow.

I am excited to start my term as Head of School.  The higher education landscape is evolving across the world.  Significant funding is increasingly being directed to groups of researchers and consortia rather than individual academics.  I’ve asked the research leaders in the School to look at our strategy to make sure that we are well placed to take advantage of future funding opportunities.  This will involve a reorganisation of the research structure in the School and my aim is to have this process completed by the second half of this year.  We will also begin to prepare for our next ERA submission and I have asked Prof Lou Rendina to take overall charge of this process as our ERA champion.  Consequently, Lou will step down as Associate Head Research and I am pleased that A/Prof Chris Ling will succeed him in this role in April.  A/Prof Peter Rutledge has kindly agreed to continue as Associate Head Education and I am very pleased that A/Prof Deanna D’Alessandro has agreed to take on the role of Deputy Head of School.  The management team will be focusing on our revised curriculum, equity and diversity in Chemistry and improving our infrastructure over the coming year. 

Professor Phil Gale
Head of School

About Phil Gale
Philip A. Gale received his BA (Hons) in 1992 and his MA and DPhil in 1995 from the University of Oxford before moving to the University of Texas at Austin where he spent two years as a Fulbright Scholar. In 1997, he was awarded a Royal Society University Research Fellowship and returned to the Department of Chemistry at Oxford. In 1999, he moved as a Lecturer to the University of Southampton and was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2002, Reader in 2005 and to a Personal Chair in Supramolecular Chemistry in 2007. In 2014, he was awarded a Doctor of Science degree by the University of Oxford. In January 2017, he moved to the University of Sydney to take up the position of Professor of Chemistry and Head of the School of Chemistry.

From 2010 to 2016 Phil was the Head of Chemistry at the University of Southampton. During this period, he successfully led the department through a period of change and growth, working with colleagues to restore Southampton Chemistry to its place amongst the best chemistry departments in the UK.

Phil is the author or co-author of over 250 publications including an Oxford Chemistry Primer on Supramolecular Chemistry (1999) and an RSC Monograph in Supramolecular Chemistry entitled Anion Receptor Chemistry (2006). He is the Editor-in-Chief of Coordination Chemistry Reviews and Supramolecular Chemistry and also serves on the Editorial Board of Chem from Cell Press. He is a member of the Advisory Board of the RSC flagship journal Chemical Science.
Illuminating human health and disease
Molecular imaging tools enable us to see inside human tissues and even cells, to understand the chemical factors underpinning biological processes. Read more.
Students make $750 drug cheaply with open source malaria team
Sydney Grammar students, under the guidance of Dr Alice Williamson and Associate Professor Matthew Todd, have shown how simple it is to make a version of the life-saving medicine Daraprim, whose price was the subject of controversy last year when it jumped more than 5000 percent. Read more.
Reunion dinner of the organic chemistry department
On a sweltering night on Tuesday 17 January 2017, former members of the Organic Chemistry Department met for a very pleasant evening of good food, even better company and many reminiscences which included after dinner speeches from Malcom Rasmussen and Robert Norris at a Thai restaurant in Cammeray.  Read more.
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Nature works with nanotechnology to extract water from thin air
A team of chemical researchers, including School of Chemistry's Associate Profess Chiara Neto, from the University of Sydney has honed in on a new technology that could lead to the ability to capture water from moist air.  Read more.
Drug lead identified in fight against TB
Antibacterial compounds found in soil could spell the beginnings of a new treatment for tuberculosis.  New findings lead the way to a much-needed treatment for the world's most deadly infectious disease.  Professor Richard Payne talks about his work and passion for finding a cure for highly infectious diseases such as tuberculosis. Read more.
Research spotlights early signs of disease using infrared light
University of Sydney researchers, including Professor Peter Lay, have used infrared spectroscopy to spotlight changes in tiny cell fragments called microvesicles to probe their role in a model of the body’s immunological response to bacterial infection. Read more.

Brain cancer patent licensed by University of Sydney
A new brain cancer-fighting molecule developed by Sydney researchers Associate Professor Lenka Munoz (Sydney Medical School) and Professor Michael Kassiou (School of Chemistry) has been licensed by drug development company Lin BioScience.  Read more.

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Grants and Fellowships
Inaugural Sydney Research Accelerator (SOAR) fellowships
  • A/Prof Chris Ling was awarded one of ten inaugural Sydney Research Accelerator (SOAR) fellowships for mid-career researchers. In its first year, the program will enable 10 mid-career researchers to further their research. Chris' research into the power-to-weight ratio of lithium-ion batteries has led them to dominate consumer electronics and early electric vehicles. As part of his fellowship, Chris hopes to design and build new materials into these batteries that will improve their performance – making them smaller, safer and more powerful – with a particular focus on large-scale automotive and renewable energy storage applications.

  • A/Prof Deanna D'Alessandro was also awarded one of ten inaugural Sydney Research Accelerator (SOAR) fellowships for early-career researchers. In its first year, the program will enable 10 early-career researchers to further their research. Deanna is at the forefront of developing new materials that have enormous potential to further sensing technologies and energy conversion and storage, as well as creating new electrochromic devices that change colour with electricity. Her fellowship will allow her to build her international profile in the field of materials science.

NHMRC Program Grant
  • Professor Michael Kassiou was one of 8 Chief Investigators in receiving a $17M NHMRC program grant over the next 5 years.

    The research project aims to study frontotemporal degeneration of the brain which is a leading cause of morbidity due to a pathologically heterogeneous, rapidly-progressive group of disorders with behavioural, language and motor deficits. The NHMRC Program Grant will continue to develop the necessary tools and therapies to effectively diagnose, manage and treat these disorders, with particular focus on understanding the unusual genetics underpinning these disorders, and fast-tracking any potential treatments.  Total funding: $17M.
ARC Discovery Grant
  • A/Prof Ronald Clarke (School of Chemistry); Professor Toby Allen and Professor Flemming Cornelius were awarded a 2017 ARC Discovery Grant (Round 1). Their project aims to determine how cholesterol optimises ion pump function in animal membranes and to identify the major effects of cholesterol and its derivatives on membranes’ physical properties. All animal cells need high levels of cholesterol in the plasma membrane for survival. Insufficient cholesterol biosynthesis leads to severe birth defects. The need for cholesterol is likely linked to its acceleration of sodium pump activity, essential to physiological processes including cell division, nerve, muscle and kidney activity. An expected benefit of the project is knowledge on the molecular origin of diseases associated with inhibition of cholesterol production, and a more complete understanding of the crucial role played by cholesterol via its effect on ion pumping towards the healthy functioning of vital organs, particularly in heart muscle and nerves. Total funding: $399,500.

  • Professor Kate Jolliffe and Professor Philip Gale from the School of Chemistry were awarded a 2017 ARC Discovery Grant (Round 1).  Their project aims to develop neutral anion receptors that can bind to anions such as chloride and sulphate both selectively and strongly in water and transport them across membranes. These receptors have uses in the environment and medicine. Available receptors are limited to organic solvents or cannot discriminate between anions. This project will design hydrogen bonding motifs and incorporate them into water-soluble macrocycles tailored to complement the size and shape of target anions. This project will provide innovative technologies for the detection of anionic species in areas including environmental (e.g. monitoring of sulphate levels in wastewater) and biomedical applications (e.g. detection of chloride concentrations in blood).  Total funding: $392,500.

  • Professor Cameron Kepert (School of Chemistry); Eminent Professor Keith Murray; Dr Suzanne Neville (School of Chemistry) and Dr Rodolphe Clérac were awarded a 2017 ARC Discovery Grant (Round 1). Their project aims to develop ‘intelligent’ materials in which emergent properties arise due to the strategic combination of spin switching with other functionalities. Spin crossover is a versatile form of molecular switch which can reversibly change structure, colour and magnetism using convenient external stimuli. In probing new and interesting forms of interplay between technologically relevant properties, this work addresses the science of host-guest and electronic/magnetic systems and could lead to materials worthy of commercial development to underpin a range of future high-level technologies spanning low energy separations, molecular sensing, data storage, and electronic/magnetic/optical device componentry. Total funding: $612,500.

  • Dr Neeraj Sharma; A/Prof Chris Ling (School of Chemistry at USYD) and Dr Maxim Avdeev were awarded a 2017 ARC Discovery Grant (Round 1).  Their project aims to change how positive electrodes are designed and improve battery performance. The positive electrode is arguably the largest bottleneck in battery performance. Modifying layered electrodes to produce better batteries has ramifications ranging from longer-lasting portable power for everyday devices and vehicles to energy storage solutions for intermittent power generation sources (i.e., renewables). This project will develop scaffolded layered crystal structures to improve the ease, speed and amount of ion insertion/extraction. These structures will be incorporated into lithium and sodium ion batteries, resulting in better battery lifetime, energy density and charge/discharge speed (capability). This is expected to improve batteries for the future and decrease reliance on fossil fuels for energy. This project is being led by The University of New South Wales. Total funding: $313,500.

Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities (LIEF) Grants
  • Dr Nicholas Cox; Professor Joel Mackay; Dr Dane McCamey; Professor Nicholas Dixon; Professor Gerhard Swiegers; Professor Gottfried Otting; Professor Glenn King; Professor Murray Badger; Professor Michelle Coote; Associate Professor Jeffrey Harmer; A/Prof Deanna D'Alessandro (School of Chemistry at USYD); Professor Peter Lay (School of Chemistry at USYD) and Professor Dr Wolfgang Lubitz were awarded a 2017 ARC LIEF grant. Their project aims to establish Australia’s first a high-field (3 T, 94 GHz) high-field pulse electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) facility. EPR is a powerful technique to study chemical, biological and materials systems. It represents a sensitive, non-invasive, site-selective spectroscopy for the analysis of both molecular and macroscopic properties. This facility will allow the further development and implementation of new multidimensional pulse EPR techniques, enabling domestic and international collaborations with diverse applications in structural biology, solvation science and catalysis. This project is led by The Australian National University.  Funding total: $650,000.

  • Professor Brendan Kennedy (School of Chemistry); Dr Neeraj Sharma; Professor Erich Kisi; Professor Zai Guo; Professor Cameron Kepert (School of Chemistry); A/Prof Chris Ling (School of Chemistry); Dr John Daniels; Dr Da-Wei Wang; Professor John O'Connor; Professor Scott Donne; Professor Jiazhao Wang and A/Prof Siegbert Schmid (School of Chemistry) were awarded a 2017 ARC LIEF grant. Their project aims to enable high quality materials science through the installation of powder X-ray diffraction facilities in the Sydney region. The instrumentation will allow rapid X-ray diffraction studies over a wide temperature range using monochromated high energy beams. This instrumentation is expected to improve condensed matter research from hard condensed materials to coordination polymers, including materials engineering, nanoscience and thin films, and energy storage and conversion. Total funding: $295,000.

  • Congratulations to Professor Gregory Warr (School of Chemistry); Professor Dr Thomas Maschmeyer (School of Chemistry); Associate Professor Patrick Spicer; A/Prof Chiara Neto; Professor Jill Trewhella; Dr Stuart Prescott; Professor Erica Wanless; Professor Rob Atkin; Associate Professor Grant Webber; Associate Professor Margaret Sunde and Dr Adam Martin were awarded a 2017 ARC LIEF grant. Their project aims to establish an integrated, three-beamline facility for small- and wide-angle x-ray scattering (SWAXS) investigations of nanostructured materials in the bulk phase and at surfaces, focussed on soft and self-assembled materials such as polymers, biomaterials and molecular gels. This facility will act as a node for researchers in and around Sydney, providing research tools and training in small-angle scattering. It will provide cutting-edge research tools and advanced training in small-angle scattering. It is expected to yield important science in its own right, and enable researchers to more effectively use beamlines at Australian and international major research facilities. Total funding: $300,000.

ARTICLE: Taking the next step
The following article appeared in the April 2017 issue of "Chemistry in Australia".

Molecule-based switching materials are actively pursued in data storage, sensory and optical device technologies. Exemplifying such materials are spin crossover (SCO) complexes, which can switch between high-spin (HS) and low-spin (LS) states with external stimulus (e.g. temperature, pressure, light). 

Mechanically, the SCO process is mediated by elastic interactions, which when strong can result in abrupt and hysteretic transitions (i.e. bistability). When such interactions are frustrated, such as through the presence of antagonistic lattice interactions, the reversible HS to LS transition can occur via multiple steps that proceed through various stable fractional spin states (HSnLS1-n). Aside from fundamental interest, multi-step switching materials are desirable because they lead to higher order data storage possibilities, such as ternary and quaternary processing.

Researchers at the University of Sydney have discovered a rare example of a four-step SCO process and confirmed that elastic frustration underlies the spin-state cascade (Sciortino N.F., Zenere K.A, Corrigan M.E., Halder G.J., Chastanet G., Létard J.-F., Kepert C.J., Neville S.M. Chem. Sci. 2017, 8, 701-7). Alongside this, the same group has shown that multi-step switching can be manipulated by more subtle means than predicted, showing that weak host–guest interactions can tune one-, two- and three-step SCO characters in a single porous framework material (Murphy M.J., Zenere K.A., Ragon F., Southon P.D., Kepert C.J., Neville S.M. J. Am Chem. Soc. 2017, 139, 1330-5). These works open new avenues for strategically producing higher-order multi-step spin transitions through structural design that exploits antagonistic interactions and host-guest chemistry.

Visit the Kepert Research Group for more information.
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Awards and Prizes
  • Congratulations to Professor Michael Kassiou, who has been elected to the position of Director for the Society of Radiopharmaceutical Sciences. This is the peak international body that plays a key role in the advancement of radiopharmaceutical sciences. This enabling science provides the means for technological growth and the probes required to advance our understanding of normal human functioning and disease.

  • Congratulations to Dr Alice Williamson who has been accepted as an Associate Fellow of The Higher Education Academy (HEA).  The Higher Education Academy (HEA) is a UK-based organisation responsible for enhancing teaching and supporting learning in higher education. They work with governments, universities and other higher education providers to help and achieve change in learning and teaching. HEA work to improve the experience that students have while they are studying, and we support and develop those who teach them.  Alice was part of a pilot group who applied from The University of Sydney in 2016.  Well done!

  • We are delighted to announce that A/Prof Deanna D’Alessandro  has been selected from a strong field of applicants as the winner of the RACI Inorganic Chemistry Division's Alan Sargeson Lectureship for 2017. Deanna obtained her BSc(Hons) (2001) and PhD (2006) degrees at James Cook University under the supervision of E/Prof. Richard Keene, followed by postdoctoral research (2007-9) with Prof. Jeff Long at the University of California, Berkeley. Since 2010, she has been based at the University of Sydney where her group works on fundamental and applied aspects of electroactive microporous materials. This award assists the recipient to undertake a lecture tour of Australia and New Zealand.

  • E/Prof Leo Radom whose 1996 paper entitled "Harmonic Vibrational Frequencies: An Evaluation of Hartee-Fock, Møller-Plesset, Quadratic Configuration Interaction, Density Functional Theory, and Semiempirical Scale Factors", by Anthony P. Scott and Leo Radom, has just been listed as the fifth most cited article in the 120 year history of the American Chemical Society's Journal of Physical ChemistryDOI:

  • A/Prof Ron Clarke has been awarded the 2016 Royal Australian Chemical Institute (RACI) Archibald D. Ollé Prize for publication of Pumps, channels and transporters: methods of functional analysis. This book is volume 183 of Chemical Analysis: a series of monographs on analytical chemistry and its applications. Ron and Mohammed Khalid (University of Taif, Saudi Arabia) were co-editors for this volume; review for which can be found in the July issue of Chemistry in Australia. Archibald Ollé was very active in the chemical and scientific life of NSW in the first 40 years of the twentieth century, and his wife, who outlived him, left a bequest to the RACI to his name with an annual prize. The Ollé Prize is awarded to a member of the institute who submits the “best treatise, writing or paper” on any subject relevant to the Institute’s interests.

  • Congratulations to A/Prof Deanna D’Alessandro who has been awarded the 2017 Le Févre Memorial Prize by the Australian Academy of Science.  Deanna's research is delivering insights into an exciting area in nanoporous molecular materials, namely, their electronic and conducting properties. These fundamental advances have enormous potential as the basis of new devices for applications including electrocatalysis, sensing and solar energy conversion.In addition to her work in the area of theoretical and experimental aspects of electron transfer, for which Deanna has gained international recognition, she has also played a role in the development of new nanoporous materials for the capture of greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide. A common theme of her research has been a desire to tackle significant scientific challenges by probing fundamental chemical questions.
Promotions and our newest arrivals

Congratulations to the following staff:

The School of Chemistry welcomes the following new academic staff members:

Academic staff:

  • Dr Shelley Wickham
    Shelley is the Professor Harry Messel Research Fellow and Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the School of Chemistry and the School of Physics and has research interests in the self-assembly of matter on the nanoscale, and in particular in the design and assembly of programmable nanostructures out of DNA, with applications in cell biology, materials science and nanomedicine. Following the completion of her Professor Harry Messel Research Fellowship, Shelley will continue as a Lecturer in Physics and Chemistry beginning in 2019.

  • Dr Ivan Kassal
    Dr Ivan Kassal joined the School in January this year as a Senior Lecturer and Westpac Research Fellow.   He earned bachelor degrees in chemistry and philosophy at Stanford University, and completed a PhD in chemical physics at Harvard University. He moved to Australia in 2011, when he took up a postdoctoral research fellowship at the University of Queensland, followed by a DECRA fellowship, also at UQ. Ivan is a theorist whose research concerns the simulation of energy and charge transport in disordered materials, including next-general solar cells and photosynthetic complexes. He is also interested in the interface between chemistry and quantum engineering, working on engineering quantum effects into molecular systems and developing algorithms for the simulation of chemical processes on quantum computers.

  • Dr Junming Ho
    Dr Junming Ho joined the School in March this year as a ARC DECRA Fellow. He is a graduate of the University of Western Australia and the Australian National University. After completing his PhD, he moved to a postdoctoral position at Yale University, USA, based in the Department of Chemistry before moving to the Institute of High Performance Computing in Singapore where he was a research scientist.  Junming’s research interests lie in the fields of physical organic chemistry and biophysics. He develops computational models for understanding organocatalysis, chemistry at interfaces, and biomolecular structure, function and dynamics. His DECRA research aims to develop multi-scale models to accelerate the design and discovery of novel therapeutic agents and catalysts.
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Awards and Prizes
  • Congratulations to PhD candidate, Mr Liam Scarratt, who has been awarded the "Postgraduate Research Prize for Outstanding Academic Achievement" for a paper published in 2016 entitled "Durable superhydrophobic surfaces via spontaneous wrinkling of Teflon AF".

    Liam completed his Bachelor of Science majoring in Chemistry and Physics at The University of Sydney in 2013. During this time, he spent a year working as an Industrial Chemist at NICNAS as part of the Year In Industry Program provided by the School of Chemistry. He commenced his PhD candidature in 2015 on the fabrication of superhydrophobic surfaces for anti-drag and anti-fouling applications. He has since begun working on liquid infused surfaces, which display enhanced versatility for different applications and greater robustness, despite relying on similar nano-scale surface properties. Using colloid probe atomic force microscopy, he now studies the flow of liquids over these surfaces at the nano-scale, with the aim to understand how to minimise hydrodynamic drag.

    Liam plans to visit the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research in Mainz later this year to work under Professor Doris Vollmer and gain further insight into the fluid dynamics on these surfaces at the micro-scale.

  • Congratulations to Ms Katrina Zenere who was awarded the Murray Student Talk Prize (named in honour of Emeritus Professor Keith Murray from Monash University) for the best student research seminar at the 2017 SANZ-O-MAG2 workshop.

    The second Southampton-Australia-New Zealand workshop on molecular magnetism was held at The University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, on 8th-10th February 2017. With the aim of bringing together researchers who have an interest in molecular magnetism, the workshop featured a range of tutorials given by international experts in the field, as well as numerous high quality student talks and posters.

    Katrina is a third year PhD student in the Molecular Materials Group working on porous spin crossover framework materials. Her work involves exploring the magnetic and structural properties of these materials by investigating the effects of various external stimuli upon these systems, including variable temperature, guest exchange, photo-active spin state switching, and high pressure studies.

  • Congratulations to Dr Carol Hua (MRACI CChem) on receiving the Royal Australian Chemical Institute's 2016 Cornforth Medal for the best PhD thesis in Australia.

    Carol completed her PhD in 2016 in the Molecular Materials Group working on the development of electroactive nanoporous materials (molecular complexes, metal-organic frameworks and porous organic polymers). She is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Limerick, Ireland, with Professor Mike Zaworotko, working on the development of nanoporous materials as carbon dioxide sensors and for the storage and delivery of NO in biomedical applications.

    Carol was recently awarded two prestigious postdoctoral fellowships including the a Dow Chemical Company Fellowship of the American-Australian Association and an Endeavour Fellowship which she will commence in May 2017 at Northwestern University with Associate Professor David Harris, focusing on stimuli-responsive magnetic materials.}

  • Congratulations to PhD candidates, Ms Haihui Joy Jiang and Mr Andrew Giltrap, who have been invited to attend the 67th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in Germany. This is an unique opportunity to interact with over 30 Nobel Laureates and 400 most qualified early career researchers around the world. NB: Joy and Andrew will share their experiences in Lindau, Germany when they get back in late June.
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  • A delightful group of year 11 and 12 students visited the University of Sydney to participate in our chemistry, physics and biology Kickstart Workshops earlier this year. This new high school initiative enables students to remain in their local communities.  Article appeared in Sydney Morning Herald on 5 March 2017.
  • The University of Sydney remains in the top 50 Universities for Chemistry in the QS rankings. Given the strong competition from across the globe, this is a great achievement. Well done everyone! Read more.
  • Australia Day honours recipient 2017.   Congratulations to Dr Donald Charles Hector, President of The Foundation for Inorganic Chemistry at The University of Sydney, for significant service to science in the field of chemical engineering, and to business.
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