Three RACI awards for our chemistry researchers

17 December 2018
Three RACI awards for the School of Chemistry reflect strong tradition and emerging strength across the chemical sciences at the University of Sydney.
Dr Andrew Giltrap (left), Professor Kate Jolliffe (centre) and Emeritus Professor Leo Radom.

Dr Andrew Giltrap (left), Professor Kate Jolliffe and Emeritus Professor Leo Radom.

Emeritus Professor Leo Radom, Professor Kate Jolliffe and Dr Andrew Giltrap, from the School of Chemistry in the Faculty of Science, have won awards from the Royal Australian Chemical Institute (RACI).

Emeritus Professor Leo Radom won the Distinguished Fellowship for his highly distinguished contributions to the chemistry profession in academia and the Royal Australian Chemical Institute.

“I feel that the award reflects the contributions of the many fine people with whom I have had the good fortune to work. Specifically, I have benefited greatly from having been associated with some outstanding students and postdocs and some wonderful senior colleagues and mentors, and I owe all of them a great debt,” Emeritus Professor Radom said.

Emeritus Professor Leo Radom.

Emeritus Professor Leo Radom.

Rather than using traditional laboratory-based techniques, Emeritus Professor Radom studies molecules and their reactions by computer calculations. His computational quantum chemistry approach can describe and predict the structures of molecules and the mechanisms of chemical reactions.

Having entered computational quantum chemistry in its infancy, he has had the pleasure of watching the field blossom. A prominent contribution to the field is his co-authorship of the defining text "Ab Initio Molecular Orbital Theory", together with (among others) Nobel Laureate John Pople. Emeritus Professor Radom was also instrumental in bringing to Australia in 2008 the Eighth Triennial Congress of the World Association of Theoretical and Computational Chemists (WATOC 2008), placing Australia on the map as an international centre of excellence in theoretical and computational chemistry.

Beyond his contributions to the field, Emeritus Professor Radom holds an eminent position in the community. A Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, the Royal Society of Chemistry (UK), the Royal Society of NSW, member of the International Academy of Quantum Molecular Science and now Distinguished Fellow of the RACI, he is President of both the Asia-Pacific and Australian Associations of Theoretical and Computational Chemists, having also served in the past as President of WATOC and the ACT Branch of the RACI.

Professor Kate Jolliffe.

Professor Kate Jolliffe.

Professor Kate Jolliffe won the HG Smith Memorial Award for being the chemist who, in the opinion of the RACI Board, has most contributed to the development of a branch of chemical science.

"The HG Smith Memorial Award is a great honour and it means a lot to me that I have been awarded this; it is fantastic to know that others value my contributions to chemistry. Importantly, I want to acknowledge that this isn’t my award alone – it also belongs to all of my coworkers both past and present. Without their contributions I wouldn’t have gotten very far at all,” Professor Jolliffe said.

Like a molecular architect, Professor Jolliffe directs the design of complex molecular structures. Her target molecules are designed for functions ranging from the self-assembly of nanotubes to therapeutic applications and the transport of anions to sensing. A recent focus in her research has been the synthesis of molecular receptors for the biologically important pyrophosphate and sulfate anions. Her synthetic peptide-like receptor is capable of binding sulfate with better selectivity over competing anions than the sulfate-binding protein.

She is deeply committed to mentoring other researchers, whose successes give her a great deal of joy. As Fellow of the RACI, the Royal Society of Chemistry (UK) and as member of the American Chemical Society, she is also widely involved in the international chemistry community. Since joining the RACI in 1992, she has helped found the NSW Women in Chemistry group and chaired the Organic Chemistry Division.

Although like many other organic chemists she idly dreams of a reaction named after her, what Professor Jolliffe really wants is to see one of her molecular constructions used in the real world.

Her medal depicts and commemorates Henry George Smith, who made significant contributions to organic chemistry in Australia with his work on natural products. From 1914 onwards, he did some work in the organic chemistry department of the University of Sydney.

“We actually still have a collection of samples from HG Smith in a display cabinet on level 5 of the chemistry building,” Professor Jolliffe said.

Dr Andrew Giltrap.

Dr Andrew Giltrap.

Dr Andrew Giltrap won the Cornforth Medal for being judged to have completed the most outstanding PhD thesis in a branch of chemistry at an Australian university in the past 13 months.

"I feel very honoured to have received the medal. Sir John Cornforth was a true pioneer in organic chemistry and to be given an award named in his honour is very special. This is especially true considering I spent most of my time working in the Cornforth Lab in the School of Chemistry here during my PhD. I also feel very lucky to be added to such a distinguished list of researchers who have received the award," Dr Giltrap said.

"It is also a reflection on my supervisor, Professor Richard Payne, who was a wonderful mentor and extremely supportive throughout my PhD studies, as well as the great colleagues I had the pleasure of working with during my PhD.”

Dr Giltrap designs pathways to synthesise complex organic molecules found in nature. During his PhD studies, he completed the first total synthesis of teixobactin, a molecule of great interest – especially at this time of increasing antibiotic resistance – due to its potential as a treatment for tuberculosis and methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), among other bacterial infections.

Highlights from Dr Giltrap’s career so far involve a great concentration of Nobel Laureates. Having been selected to represent Australia at the 2017 Lindau Nobel Laureate meeting, he was one of 300 young scientists who gathered from around the world to meet and learn from 35 Nobel Laureates. He is elated to receive a medal bearing the likeness and name of great Australian-British organic chemist and Nobel Laureate, Sir John Cornforth.

Having completed his PhD in September 2017, Andrew continues to pursue total synthesis as a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Sydney. Dr Giltrap aims to one day establish his own research group, which he hopes to direct to gain a better understanding of disease through chemistry.

His medal bears the words "For a Thesis on Chemical Research" and commemorates the work of Sir John Cornforth, who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1975. Cornforth studied at the University of Sydney in the Bachelor of Science, majored in Chemistry and won the University medal in Chemistry in 1937.

Winners were presented with their awards at a gala dinner on 23 November in Melbourne.  

Story by Katynna Parry.