If you want a 3D view of the molecules in a protein, a virus, or some DNA, you’re going to need some specialist technology – and someone to help you use it. That’s where scientists like Eleanor can help. She looks after two pieces of technology at ANSTO’s Australian Synchrotron – a pair of macromolecular X-ray crystallography (or MX) beamlines – and helps visiting scientists use them for their research.
“My job is primarily to keep the X-rays coming smoothly,” she says. “Our day-to-day work is making sure the equipment is working to the highest quality it can, so that other researchers get the best data from their experiments.”
Eleanor first encountered the MX beamlines while working on her PhD in chemistry at the Australian National University (ANU). For a few weeks at a time, she would travel from Canberra to Melbourne and use the machines to map the molecular structures of enzymes to see how they change under different conditions. By manipulating the chemistry of
enzymes, we can engineer them to do useful things – in Eleanor’s case, breaking down harmful pesticides.
After finishing her PhD, Eleanor continued her enzyme research at the University of Cambridge in the UK. Then the job at the Australian Synchrotron came up. Eleanor got the job, moved back to Australia in January 2020 – and then the pandemic hit. Melbourne went into lockdown, and suddenly Eleanor was working from home in a new city.
Equipment at the Synchrotron was also suddenly in high demand for research into the coronavirus. Eleanor has assisted a number of researchers who are trying to develop drugs to combat COVID-19.
Chemistry wasn’t always Eleanor’s first choice – the daughter of an air force pilot,
she always loved physics. Eleanor only signed up for chemistry in first year to keep a friend company in class, and ended up failing her exams. But her interest grew as she went deeper into the subject, and she ended up completing a double major and then a PhD.
“My advice is, don’t feel like anything is a waste of your time,” Eleanor says. “The more diverse your background and interests, the more you’re going to be able to bring to roles.”
Despite the strange start to her new job, Eleanor wouldn’t trade it for the world. “I love everything about my job,” she says.
“I cannot imagine ever being bored here because there’s so much happening all the time.”
Eleanor’s study and career pathway to becoming an ANSTO scientist
- Bachelor of Science (Chemistry) with Honours, ANU
- Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Cambridge
- PhD in Chemistry, ANU
- Beamline Scientist, Australian Synchrotron/ANSTO
This article is brought to you in partnership with ANSTO.
Author: Chloe Walker
Chloe is a freelance writer and editor from Melbourne. She loves talking to people about their passions, whether that’s STEM, arts, business, or something else entirely! www.chloe-walker.com