Feature story: Cool spaces in Chemistry

As with every school in the Faculty of Science, the School of Chemistry represents a hub of exciting research, as students and academics alike seek to push the boundaries of our knowledge. Certainly not exceptions to this rule are PhD student, Jeanette McConnell, and third year chemistry students, Laura Buckton and Flora Marlin.

Chemistry students
Flora, Laura and Jeanette

These students are currently involved in synthesising a class of molecules in the hope that they can be used in the fight against cancer. The development of these molecules, all of which are derivatives of ‘Sansalvamide A’, are being aided by a range of instruments that call the Chemical Sciences Building their home.


Whilst most of us are familiar with the likes of the simple microscope, these students also make use of lesser-known instruments such as the ‘rotovap’. A core piece of technology used in their research, the rotovap is used to evaporate solvents, before they are condensed and removed from mixtures. Jeanette explains that it is this instrument that is used most in their lab.

The students are also required to grow a number of cancer line cells on which they can test the effectiveness of the molecules they have synthesised. These cells are grown inside a tissue culture hood, which prevents them from becoming contaminated.

‘We grow different types of cancer cell lines. At the moment, we have cervical, colon and pancreatic cancer cells,’ explains Jeanette. ‘We also have two normal cell lines: one that’s derived from skin cells and another one that is a patient sample. These are called primary cell lines. They’re derived directly from a patient who has cancer, but they’re not cancerous – they’re regular cells.’

The research being undertaken by the students also involves the use of a luminescent image analyser. Although relatively simple in appearance, it is, in fact, an impressively priced piece of machinery that enables the students to perform ‘western blots’ – a technique used to image proteins. Its price tag of $40 000 can be almost wholly attributed to the camera contained within the machine. Unlike your average camera, this one is capable of detecting chemiluminescence – light that is released from chemical reactions. It is this feature that enables western blotting to occur.

For Laura and Flora, the project enables them to have a taste of research at the postgraduate level, exposing them to types of syntheses that they otherwise have not encountered. There’s also no denying that being involved in finding a cure against cancer is an exciting prospect. The breathtaking views offered by their Level 10 laboratory are really just an added benefit.

For those students interested in becoming involved in similar research, Flora recommends that they talk to as many academics and students as possible.

‘Just get a feel for what everyone’s doing, not just from the academics’ point of view but also the students’ point of view.’

Photos by Don Rajadurai

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