One morning as I stumbled into an 8am chemistry lecture I sat next to a friend, slightly blurry eyed, when they whispered to me ‘hey, have you applied for a Summer Scholarship yet?’ I had heard of these, but hadn’t really looked into them. So that afternoon I sat in my window seat overlooking the Menzies Courtyard at Women’s and researched all about Summer Scholarships. I was amazed and completely sold about applying. There were so many areas to work in, with some amazing scientists doing innovative and developing research. To possibly be an undergraduate who had real world research experience was an opportunity too good to let pass by. After much encouragement and help from my wonderful college tutor, I began writing my application. I didn’t realise how difficult this task would be, and constantly asked myself why I was good enough to deserve this Scholarship? Upon much self-reflection, friendly advice and some serious editing, I handed my application in with enthusiasm and hope.
The project I ended up working on was investigating the link between neurodegeneration and heavy metal accumulation in various parts of the brain.
The Brain and Mind Research Institute was collaborating with The School of Chemistry, who in turn had to work with people at the Synchrotron, in both Australia and overseas. It was incredible to see how many people worked together to create ideas and then carry out research. Prior to my arrival the team had gathered X-Ray Fluorescence Microscopy images of brain sections from patients with MS to determine the elemental mapping and concentrations of metal within the brain. I learned how to use the program that generated images from the raw Synchrotron data that allowed for analysis. I also learned how to use a Fourier Transform Infrared Microscope, which is used to gather information about the organic composition of a sample by analysing the absorbance of infrared light. This technique was used to determine if the presence of metal and inorganic elements correlated with any changes in organic structure, such as proteins and lipids. As these two organic components are extremely vital in the human body, any changes would be seen as significant. I was very sad to leave this project, but I am looking forward to seeing what this exciting research discovers.
I am so happy that I applied to do a Summer Research Scholarship, and grateful that I got to work with a team of dedicated, incredibly intelligent and, most importantly, fun people. I learnt so much and am so thankful for the amazing opportunity, and would encourage anyone to apply for similar experiences. My six weeks has not only solidified my love for chemistry and neuroscience, but also my desire to enter the field of research. I can’t wait to see where this future leads.