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Interview: Science down under
01 July 2010
Justin Gooding is a chemistry professor at the University of New South Wales, Australia. His current research interests focus on surface modification of nanoparticles and nanoporous photonic crystals with self-assembled monolayers for the development of biointerfaces, biosensors and molecular electronics of application in sensing and cell biology.
How did you get into chemistry?
When young I wanted to be a palaeontologist and discover dinosaurs - like many young children, I suppose. At university I started doing chemistry and geology. But, I realised that I didn't like the imprecise nature of geology that much and I was really doing very well in chemistry so I chose that to continue with that.
What are you currently working on?
Our group specialises in modifying surfaces with monolayers and what we are striving for is controlling every modified surface to give it the functionality we want, which is mainly to make biosensors. We also work on molecular electronic-type devices and cell surface interactions to take us onto a new generation of biomaterials.
What's hot in the field of biosensors and biodevices?
Nanotechnology is hot still and graphene is super hot everywhere including in biosensors. The small size scales of nanotechnology provide for some really unique sensor opportunities because you can probe smaller numbers of binding events say between antibodies and antigens. This allows us to monitor the antigen-antibody associating and disassociating, which gives us amazing sensitivity potential.
How well funded is science research in Australia?
About five years ago it was really well funded but now the amount of money going into the funding pool is not increasing much. The Australian Research Council, in particular, and the Medical Council are struggling to keep success rates up. So it is getting a little bit tougher but successful people and people doing good science are still getting well funded.
There also seems to be a trend towards bigger collectives in Australia and funding bigger collectives, so bodies that are already successful are getting access to more money but those that are new to the system are certainly finding it more difficult than 5 years ago.
How much of a player is Australia internationally?
I think Australia punches above her weight but we are not big enough to be a big player. There are many good - some great - scientists in Australia that make excellent contributions but we just haven't got the volume.
What would you say to a chemist that is thinking of moving to Australia to work or do research?
I'd say go ahead. One of Australia's great assets is that we welcome anybody, for example my wife is German and she has been very well funded straight away in Australia because we'll take and support anybody that is doing good things. So it is actually a great place to start.
How do you compare it with Europe as you have experience of working, for example, in the UK?
I think good scientists get funding anywhere but in the US and the UK in recent times it is getting pretty tough for certain areas of research. Also, I think we are perhaps less hierarchical in Australia and we are really good at taking people from anywhere and supporting them.
What do you feel have been your key achievements?
Our achievements have been to show some aspects of the sensing community the powers of the monolayer approaches to making sensing interfaces. Our philosophy has always been that a sensor works via an interfacial reaction so let's have maximum control over how we design an interface. And I think we've been one of the groups that have inspired people to go in that direction.
In terms of pure citations, my most well cited work has been working on the interface of carbon nanotubes and proteins that was done a few years ago and most certainly helped forge the group's reputation.
The work I'm most proud of is some of the more recent work we've done where we have modified porous silicate photonic crystals and captured cells and showed that we can monitor the release of proteins and enzymes from a few cells down to 1,500 cells. We think we'll be able to take it down to a single cell and are really excited about that at the moment.
Where would you like to be in 10 year's time?
I'd quite like to live in Europe again. But my wife is also a successful scientist so it is very hard to find the right positions at the right time for both people. But Australia has been wonderful to both of us in our scientific careers and I'm really focusing more energy to try and give a little back to Australia in return for all the support they have given us.
What do you do in your spare time?
We like to do a lot of hikes and get away from it all, go somewhere with no emails and no mobile phones. If nobody can reach you out in the wilderness for 3 or 4 days you start to relax quite well.
I also do a lot of running and love sports. I'm a big fan of modern art and we go to as many exhibitions as we can. I also am a bit of a movie buff so I'm teaching a course that uses films to teach non-scientists a little bit of science.
If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?
When I was a child I loved sports and worried about how I could become a professional footballer and a professional cricketer at the same time! If only I could do that.
Justin Gooding's homepage
University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
External links will open in a new browser window
Wet chemical routes to the assembly of organic monolayers on silicon surfaces via the formation of Si–C bonds: surface preparation, passivation and functionalization
Simone Ciampi, Jason B. Harper and J. Justin Gooding, Chem. Soc. Rev., 2010, 39, 2158
The importance of surface chemistry in mesoporous materials: lessons from porous silicon biosensors
Kristopher A. Kilian, Till Böcking and J. Justin Gooding, Chem. Commun., 2009, 630
Protein modulation of electrochemical signals: application to immunobiosensing
Guozhen Liu, Michael N. Paddon-Row and J. Justin Gooding, Chem. Commun., 2008, 3870
Multi-analyte sensing: a chemometrics approach to understanding the merits of electrode arrays versus single electrodes
Diako Ebrahimi, Edith Chow, Justin J. Gooding and David B. Hibbert, Analyst, 2008, 133, 1090
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