Professor Dennis Matthews is one of CNBP’s oldest friends, having been coming to Australia from his home in California each year for nearly seven years as a member of its International Science Committee.
“I’ve actually been coming here since before the CNBP inception. They were just getting their act together for the initial grant when I first visited,” he says.
Professor Matthews was trained as physicist, but for most of his working life he has been involved in the development of medical devices.
His multidisciplinary life is reflected in his position as professor at University of California Davis in both the Department of Neurological Surgery and the College of Engineering. He was at one time also director of UC Davis’ Center for Biophotonics, Science, and Technology.
“I was hired into the neurological department not because I knew anything about neurosurgery but because they wanted their physicians to have more opportunity to do early stage research, even before it could be translated to the clinic,” he says.
He “abandoned physics 30 or 40 years ago”, drawn to things that were more hands-on and, around that time, he met a medical doctor who wanted to develop better instrumentation.
“I told him I didn’t know anything about medicine so he should go away. But he didn’t.”
That started a long history of working with doctors and bioscientists to develop technology that helped in their work.
“Biological scientists are incredibly smart at what they do but they are not so smart at measuring it,” he says.
“I don’t know what their problems are, of course, so they tell me what they are trying to achieve and I tell them ways to get at the solutions to their problems – and we help each other along the way.
“What I like about it, and CNBP works very nicely in this respect, is that you ‘bootstrap’ it. I tell the bioscientists I can do something but I’m not quite sure I know how to do it. So they challenge me to make technology progress at the same time.”
He believes CNBP has some unique strengths – “I wouldn’t travel around 13,000km to come here otherwise”.
He was first introduced to the centre by the inaugural director, Professor Tanya Munro. “I thought she had an extremely good vision of where all this could go and perhaps an even better way of communicating that vision.” Since then, he says, current director Professor Mark Hutchinson has emerged as an incredible thought leader as well.
Professor Matthews says he likes the way the CNBP brings themes together and its “Mission Impossible” approach to throwing multidisciplinary teams of experts at problems.
As a technologist he was also drawn to the IPAS fibre optics group, and the way it was developing fibre sensors to interrogate places that might otherwise be invisible.
Two biological research themes particularly interested him.
“Many of the things here are important to me but there were two that were exceptional and that was Mark’s [Hutchinson] work on neuroscience applied to pain, and particularly his interest in developing a “painometer”.
He was also attracted to the IVF research under Chief Investigator Professor Jeremy Thompson.
“My daughter had two children by IVF and so my interests were already a bit piqued. But I was also interested to see if we could make the whole thing work better.”
Secondly was the possibility of making sure the highest quality embryos were developed and then implanted.
“That whole notion was extremely fascinating and provocative to me,” he says. “I think that we are going to learn how to make embryos healthier in normal conception. And if we can make the healthiest baby possible it can lead to a lifetime of good health.”
Personal experience also lay at the heart of his interest in Professor Hutchinson’s work on pain, which, while important to help people cope at a personal level, he sees as a potential solution to the opiate crisis.
“At the moment we are only delivering pain-masking drugs,” he says. “These powerful drugs don’t do anything except make people not care if they hurt – they still hurt.”
He is helping with the task of looking for biomarkers that might underpin such a measuring device.
“I think it’s possible, but I don’t know yet what the right measurements are,” Professor Matthews says. “And the problem with humans is there is no single recipe, so if we do get a panel of biomarkers that said my pain level was 6 it could be completely wrong for you.
“So we need some way to normalise it so we can say this is a baseline for an individual.”
Professor Matthews is particularly drawn to the CNBP’s focus on envisioning the ultimate translation of the technology.
“So instead of just filling the journals with more manuscripts it is also important in biosciences that you keep in mind that your work will, in the end, actually affect patients.
“The question we should always be asking is ‘how do we get doctors to have the latest technologies to work with?’.”
‘Ingenuity’, a public facing event run by the Faculty of Engineering, Computer and Mathematical Sciences (University of Adelaide) was recently held at the Adelaide Convention Centre and CNBP science was represented!
The University event, showcasing final year student projects and achievements, was attended by thousands of school students, industry representatives and members of the general public, with the goal of encouraging and fostering an ongoing interest in STEM related subject areas (science, technology, engineering and maths).
This year saw CNBP PhD student Kathryn Palasis participate at the event, giving two presentations to approximately 300 school students on her research (the design and development of photoswitchable drugs) and describing her time at the University, with the aim of encouraging students to pursue a career in STEM.
“It was fantastic seeing the energy and interest in the room,” said Miss Palasis. “The feedback from staff and students was extremely positive and it was great to share my research and scientific passion with them all.”
“Hopefully we’ll see some of these young scientists studying at the University and then showcasing their own exciting areas of research in the years to come,” she said.
Below – CNBP PhD student Kathryn Palasis delivers her talk.
It was a fantastic evening of outreach by the CNBP-RMIT team at the annual AstroLight Festival, at Scienceworks in Melbourne, 8th September, 2018.
A wide range of demonstrations, talks and hands-on activities from volunteers from Observatories, Universities and Research Centres brought science to life to over 600 members of the public at this annual astronomy and optics event.
CNBP highlights included public talks from Center Chief Investigator Prof Andrew Greentree (The wonders and delights of bees and how they see colour) and Centre Associate Investigator Dr Kate Fox (Fluorescent Implants: 3D printing for the future).
Also popular was the CNBP interactive stall where there was a number of light based giveaways as well as a room of CNBP light experiments showcasing the properties of lasers, fluorescence, imaging and more.
“Taking science to the public is always extremely satisfying,” said CNBP Node Leader at RMIT University, A/Prof Brant Gibson.
“It’s great to be able to excite and enthuse people about what we do and to explain the relevance that science has in our community more generally.”
“The team came together with a huge amount of energy and positivity which helped make the evening a great success!”
Below – Big smiles from the CNBP-RMIT team at AstroLight 2018!
Prof Jeremy Thompson, CNBP Chief Investigator at the University of Adelaide was a panelist at a ‘Science in the Pub’ outreach event where he presented a talk titled ‘Life outside the womb’ at the Rob Roy Hotel, Adelaide, September 7th, 2018.
Light-based demos ranging from optical fibre lamps, to infinity LED light boxes, to UV light and a fluorescing scorpion were all on show to the general public and potential new students at the CNBP stand at Macquarie University’s Open Day.
At the stand, CNBP researchers took the opportunity to talk-up science and more specifically to explain the field of biophotonics, as well as discuss the value to society that CNBP research provides. Many potential students seemed to be particularly interested in possible career opportunities following a successful under-graduate science degree and were keen to find out more about jobs in the med-tech and general health and diagnosis arena.
In addition to the demonstrations and the informative CNBP science stand, the Centre was also represented at the Open Day science speed dating event. At this session, CNBP laboratory manager Dr Ayad Anwer discussed his science (hyper-spectral imaging work focused on exploring the inner workings of cells), to interested members of the public who had the opportunity to speak directly and in-turn with a room full of MQ University researchers.
Feedback from the Centre team who volunteered for the Open Day was that they had experienced an enjoyable time with many positive interactions, discussing their science and their life as a scientist more generally, to interested and engaged members of the public.
Below – The CNBP team get ready and prepped for Open Day!
Year 12 chemistry/biology students from Temple Christian College were given a tour around the Braggs building and CNBP laboratories at the University of Adelaide by Centre PhD student Kathryn Palasis.
As a part of the tour students were shown the chemistry and laser laboratories and were also shown the glass and fibre fabrication facilities to aid understanding of the type of research that is undertaken by CNBP and others in the research space.
Approximately 100 patrons at the Belgian Beer Cafe in Melbourne were treated to ten researchers showcasing their science as part of the ‘Fresh Science’ initiative (Victoria), June 20th, 2018.
One of those ten researchers was CNBP student Marco Capelli from RMIT University who was a successful applicant to Fresh Science – a program that trains early career scientists on how to best communicate and present their activity to the media and to the wider general public at large.
Studying the brain using ulta-small diamonds was the scientific narrative practiced and delivered by Marco as part of his public presentation at the Cafe.
“Fresh Science was an amazing experience,” says Marco.
“Over the course of two days, I had the chance to interact with journalists from different media (including television, radio and newspaper) as well as representatives from industry and policymakers. From each of them, I learned how to tailor my scientific exposition to a variety of audiences, how to highlight my research and how to successfully pitch my ideas.”
“I particularly enjoyed testing myself in front of professionals from each field as well as receiving immediate feedback on my presentation skills. Fresh Science is an experience I strongly endorse to any ECR researcher (PhD students included) looking to improve their communication skills.”
Below: CNBP PhD student Marco Capelli talks nano materials at the Belgian Beer Cafe in Melbourne. Image courtesy of Science in Public (Fresh Science).
CNBP researcher Dr Annemarie Nadort has participated in ‘Fresh Science’, a national competition helping early-career researchers find, and then share, their stories of discovery. The program takes up-and-coming researchers with no media experience and turns them into spokespeople for science, giving them media training and a public event to present their science to the community. Ten researchers took part in the Fresh Science event for NSW.
Dr Nadort reports on her experience below.
“Fresh Science was an intense, colourful, and informative workshop ranging between fun and hard work. The first day consisted of a Q&A and mock interviews with journalists from television, radio and written news. The participants all had very interesting and new science to pitch and I definitely enhanced my network of Sydney researchers.”
“I also was impressed by the skills of the journalists. They said that society viewed them as the least trusted people, but their professionalism and ability to pick up the most important parts of our complicated science made me think the opposite!”
“The second morning consisted of a Q&A with commercialisation experts, the NSW Chief Scientist and collaboration experts, followed by a 1 minute pitch to stakeholders.”
“The workshop concluded with a final event at the Three Wise Monkeys Hotel: every Fresh Scientist presented their research for as long as their sparkler was still sparkling.”
“I was awarded the ‘highly commended’ distinction for my ‘bright sparks’ presentation which detailed the development of optical methods to improve the detection and therapy of high-grade brain cancer.”
Below – Dr Annemarie Nadort presents her science to an interested and engaged audience at the Three Wise Monkeys Hotel, Sydney.