They’re 2mm long, transparent, and have no bones or heart, but nematode worms can tell us a lot about our own genetics. Analytical chemistry researcher Dr Amy Heffernan is studying these organisms to better understand the progression of neurological diseases such as dementia.
Amy laughingly describes her career in research as incorporating all the “omics”: genomics (the study of the genome), proteomics (the study of proteins) and transcriptomics (the set of RNA transcripts that are produced by the genome).
Her work is completely multifaceted. “There’s no such thing as a typical day”. She wears a biologist’s hat when growing the nematodes, before switching to a wet chemistry role as the worms are digested down to obtain proteins. From here, Amy heads to the mass spectrometer, a device used to identify the specific protein compounds. Amy will then spend several days analysing bucket-loads of data with the use of bioinformatics tools, in order to better understand the roles these proteins play in disease development.
The inspiring young researcher has recently been recognized as a Superstar of STEM by Science and Technology Australia for her work in analytical chemistry. Her goals are to translate her research into the public health sphere, and she’s currently focused on communicating her work to government bodies, industry and the general public. “I’m motivated by the findings of my research being used to improve public health”, she says.
Amy studied science, advanced maths and extension English in high school, and now her job combine all of these passions. She encourages everyone considering a STEM career to “just go for it: know your value and develop your skills”.
– Larissa Fedunik
Amy’s path to becoming an analytical chemist
>> Bachelor of Science (Honours), University of Technology Sydney
>> Ph.D. (Environmental/Analytical Chemistry), University of Queensland
>> Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Queensland
>> Senior Researcher, Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health
“I’m motivated by the findings of my research being used to improve public health”
Author: Heather Catchpole
Heather co-founded Careers with STEM publisher Refraction Media. She loves storytelling, Asian food & dogs and has reported on science stories from live volcanoes and fossil digs