One student’s desire to pursue the (bio)chemistry of success

Science student contributes to creating antibiotics as part of project

Obtaining opportunities to undertake impactful research projects in the laboratory has accelerated the learning experiences for one chemistry and molecular biology student.
Belinda Zhang at the beach

Belinda Zhang always wanted to be a scientist after her high school science teachers inspired her to pursue a career in chemistry and molecular biology. 

Possessing an inquisitive mind and a desire to understand how things work on the molecular level, she decided to pursue a Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Advanced Studies (Advanced) at the University of Sydney. 

Belinda chose to major in Chemistry and Biochemistry and Molecular Biology as part of her science degree, two of over 45 majors available including Environmental StudiesAnimal HealthPsychological Science and Microbiology.

“I chose my majors because having the capability to explain everyday phenomena that most people take for granted, such as the science behind detergents and cooking, is so interesting to me," reflects Belinda.

As part of her two majors, Belinda has been exposed to a variety of interdisciplinary projects including drug design, chemistry projects involving fluorescent molecules and peptide synthesis, as well as a range of laboratory projects spanning organic chemistry and enzyme function. 

These degree-related experiences have been complemented with additional opportunities to volunteer with multiple structural biology research groups on structure-based drug design, including creating antibiotics that target FtsY – a bacterial protein. 

These volunteer projects have seen Belinda learn new biochemical techniques for protein purification and structure determination and have also included a trip to Australia’s Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), the home of Australia’s most significant infrastructure for nuclear research. 

“The opportunities to work on real-world projects with researchers at the university has been priceless and have really complimented and enhanced what I have learnt to date in the classroom,” says Belinda. 

“This is the same with my industry trip to ANSTO, which was to obtain protein labelled with heavy nitrogen, hydrogen and carbon isotopes.

“On that occasion, the experience also supplemented my materials chemistry knowledge, as I learnt about the neutron transmutation doping of crystalline silicon to make better electronics.” 

Belinda Zhang playing the flute

Photographer: Matthew Miceli

Belinda’s exposure to hands-on experiences in the laboratory has not just been limited to her degree or her volunteering.

As a Dalyell scholar, Belinda has earned a competitive edge in her laboratory and research experience, with further individual research projects allowing her to obtain university credit for her work. 

Dalyell scholars are provided with the opportunity to cultivate their scientific acumen and work on real-world problems through tailored units of study and programs. 

“My entire Dalyell scholarship experience has been amazing as it has provided me opportunities to select projects in chemistry that I’m interested in,” says Belinda. 

“This has made the long hours and commitment worthwhile, especially when you’re in a group of supportive expert researchers who are all equally as keen.” 

Outside of her studies, Belinda is involved in both the Sydney University Symphony Orchestra as a flautist and the Science Revue Society (SciRev), soaking up all that student life at the University of Sydney has to offer. 

Belinda’s advice for anyone thinking about studying science is to choose an area that you’re passionate about and to set aside time for societies, hobbies and socialising.

“Studying science certainly opens up a lot of possibilities but it is important to break this up with other activities to get the full university experience.” 

20 August 2021

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