Did you have a role-model that influenced your decision to become a scientist?
My role models to become a scientist are my parents who are both chemical engineers. From young age, I have been unveiled to the work of my parents which involved many chemistry-type experiments. Being the head of the R&D lab at the Chemical Engineering plant, my mom would show me her lab and some of the fascinating chemical reactions performed there. During school age, my parents really pushed me forward to study STEMM disciples that eventually brought me to become a scientist.
What is your scientific background?
I have a multi-disciplinary background. I studied Chemical Engineering during BSc and then changed into Materials Engineering for my Masters. My Ph.D. covered Chemical and Biomolecular engineering as well as targeted drug delivery, but after my Ph.D. I moved to Physics to study optical properties of nanomaterials. The common ground out of all areas is nanotechnology.
How did you choose your field of study?
Ever since starting my undergrad studies, I have been fascinated about nanotechnology. I like sci-fi movies and every time when I see the idea of “nanobots” – tiny devices that could be injected into a patient’s body and accomplish multiple functions- gets me excited. That idea is still confined to science fiction, but I hope that one day, I’ll be that person that will create the real nanobots.
Currently, I’m senior lecturer at the UTS Faculty of Science at the Institute for Biomedical Materials and Devices (IBMD). My field of research is hybrid nanoparticles for biomedical applications. Nanoparticles have become important players in modern medicine, with applications ranging from contrast agents in medical imaging to carriers for gene delivery into individual cells. In my research, nanoscale hybrid particles enable an innovative platform for capturing and understanding measurable information on molecular and biological processes. My research goal is to develop novel nanosensors that will enable superior biomedical functionality, including accurate imaging and non-invasive diagnosis of various diseases. I would like to improve the nanotechnology that would be directly translatable for application in diagnostics or theranostics. One of my main goals is to translate innovation in nanoparticle synthesis and their properties control to a mature product that will solve real-life hurdles. For example, in my research, I use several types of nanoparticles, including nanodiamonds, gold, polymer or upconversion nanoparticles to be used as multi-functional nanosensors for earlier detection and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, gastroenterological disorders and some types of cancer.
In ten years, what do you hope to have accomplished in terms of your work?
I would like to see that the nanoparticle technologies that we develop in our lab will be translated into real-life applications. As an example, I hope to see our development in nanoparticle-based diagnostics will be transformed into products that would be available over-the-counter from pharmacies in much the same way as a pregnancy test has been for decades. It will allow a non-invasive fast screening of patients at the privacy of their home. It will, quite simply, be a revolution in the diagnosis of some most spread disorders.
Is it hard to manage both career and private life? How do you manage both?
It is very challenging to balance a career as young academic in science and a family. I’m mum of two young children and I don’t have extended family in Australia. My husband is very supportive of my career and helps a lot around house and children when I’m working late or traveling.
If you had the option to give advice to a younger version of yourself, what would that be?
Do NOT hesitate! Get it done what needs to be done.
What kind of prejudices, if any, did you have to face? How did that make you feel? Were you able to overcome these?
One of the biggest prejudices is that if I get pregnant, it would immediately implicate that I have to leave science. People can’t believe that having children and have a successful career in science is possible. I like to prove people wrong! Nevertheless, I know firsthand how hard to be Women in STEMM and I also passionately believe that a cultural change is required.
Another preconception that I often hear that I look like a student, and some people don’t take me seriously. My message to the world: Please don’t judge people by their looks!
In your opinion, which changes, if any, are needed in the scientific system to be more attractive to female scientists and possible future scientists?
I am passionate about gender equity and Women in STEMM. I believe that the social perception of women staying at home and caring for children is redundant, and it’s wasteful from an economic point of view. Women can perform and even overperform men in certain tasks. In the current climate, women fail to stay in the workforce due to a lack of work flexibility and clear gender pay gaps. Lack of affordable childcare is another reason that many women chose to stay away from the workforce. Some of the changes have already started but there are much more that needs to be done.