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Dr Santosh Panjikar

Beamline scientist

ANSTO

Beamline scientist Dr Santosh Panjikar is assisting COVID-19 research at the Australian Synchrotron

Dr Santosh Panjikar has always been interested in understanding the world around him. He studied maths and physics at college but soon realised biology was also useful. Through biology, he developed an interest in bioinformatics and started studying macromolecular crystallography – a method for working out the atomic three-dimensional structures of large biological molecules.

“I needed to use my mathematical background to understand biology,” he says. “Now here I am doing what I love and working at ANSTO’s Australian Synchrotron.”

As a beamline scientist, Santosh works with research groups to help design and conduct synchrotron experiments, providing them with necessary tools and training, and remaining on call for assistance should they need it.

Santosh’s science skills have been put to good use throughout the COVID-19 pandemic too. In one project he worked with researchers who identified drug-like compounds that could block a key COVID-19 protein. Known as PLpro, this protein allows the virus to hijack and then multiply within human cells, as well as disable anti-viral defences.

“Researchers sent frozen crystals of COVID-19 proteins to the Synchrotron and used the instruments remotely,” he explains. “I have assisted by setting up beamlines for remote access and advising them on X-ray data collection on frozen protein crystals as well as helping with data analysis.”

His top tip for those who want to work in science or researching infectious diseases? Explore! “If you’re interested in science, try it in high school,” he says. “Take part in STEM based extracurricular programs, such as the Australian Science Olympiads, as well as science-based competitions like Science Talent Search.”

Santosh also encourages future scientists to do work experience at a research facility such as the Australian Synchrotron, ANSTO, or at a school of biomedical/biological science at a university. “This exposure will give you some insight into what scientists actually do,” says Santosh, “and it will also allow you to find the field of science that interests you the most.”

Dr Santosh’s study and career path

This article was created in partnership with ANSTO and originally appears in Careers with STEM: Science 2022.

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