Young researchers present on the global stage (Part 9)

In this ninth edition of the researcher series, three rising stars, competing for Sparrho’s Early Career Researcher Prize tell us about their research and why they chose to become scientists.

Kimberley Finlayson — Queensland, Australia

Kimberley Finlayson

PhD Candidate at Griffith University, Australia

#cellculture #ecotoxicology #marine #turtles #bioassays

Kimberley will speak at SETAC Europe 28th Annual Meeting, Rome, Italy in May 2018

How would you introduce your research to a non-expert? My research focuses on how chemical pollutants affect sea turtles. We can’t expose sea turtles in the lab, so I grow cells obtained from turtle tissues. Then I can expose the cells to contaminants and measure cellular responses.

What can your field of research contribute to the world? Wildlife toxicology is an important field for identifying anthropogenic effects on animals living in the wild. The effects of contaminants can often be sub-lethal and may interact with other threats, such as climate change and disease. These types of effects can ultimately affect species at the population level. In case of threatened or endangered species, this type of research can be crucial to conservation efforts. Furthermore, by establishing cell lines directly from the species of interest, we can now investigate the effects of contaminants in species that were previously too difficult to study, contributing to species’ specific management plans.

“Wildlife toxicology is an important field for identifying anthropogenic effects on animals living in the wild.”

Why are you a scientist and what are you most excited about? I’ve always loved nature and animals. I became a scientist because I wanted to understand how human activities, and my actions, could affect the things I’m so passionate about. I get to go to some beautiful places and interact with some amazing animals during field work. But in the lab, it’s all about problem solving. I love the challenge of trying to figure out why a protocol didn’t work, and nothing beats the satisfaction of finally getting it to work.

“I became a scientist because I wanted to understand how human activities, and my actions, could affect the things I’m so passionate about. I get to go to some beautiful places and interact with some amazing animals during field work.”

I’m most excited about how cell lines can be used to develop new assays [investigative procedures]. Cells can be genetically modified to express particular genes. The effects of contaminants on the expression of these genes can then be assessed easily and quickly using high throughput methods. And again, this can all be species specific. The development of these “reporter gene” assays can vastly increase our ability to assess a broad range of endpoints for a wide variety of species.

What advice would you give to younger students regarding attending a conference? Presenting at conferences puts a face to your research. People may have read your work already, but it really makes a difference when people can put a face to it. One of the biggest benefits comes after the presentation, when people who saw you present approach you to ask questions and discuss collaborations.

Conferences are great for both your research and professional development. There are often a number of training and learning opportunities provided throughout the conference and hearing about emerging research and the latest methodologies can provide inspiration for new research ideas and the incorporation of new technologies.

“Conferences offer a great platform to exhibit your own research to experts within your field, providing an opportunity to obtain feedback that can improve your research. “

Other researchers can hear about techniques you’ve employed which may be useful to them as well.

Finally, conferences are great for networking — whether it’s with the experts or even just other students. Networking with senior researchers can open up opportunities for employment, which can be very valuable as you approach the end of your PhD. More experienced researchers can also provide advice on how to find post-doctoral positions. Talking to other students can be helpful as well, and less intimidating. If you are using similar techniques, you may be able to help each other problem solve. Establishing relationships with researchers of all levels can open up opportunities to collaborate in the future.

Read more about Kimberley’s research here.


Sravya Tekumalla — Singapore

Sravya Tekumalla

Research Scholar (PhD Student) at the National University of Singapore

#nanocomposites #synthesis #strength #ductility #ignitionresistant

Sravya will speak at TMS 2018 Annual Meeting, Phoenix, Arizona in March 2018

How would you introduce your research to a non-expert? Human beings deal with metallic components in their day-to-day life, but only a very small fraction among us can discern and fathom what these components are made of. In an automobile, each component requires materials with properties that befit its application, and currently, components made of metallic materials like aluminium and steel are predominantly used.

My research focuses on tailoring light weight magnesium (33% lighter than aluminium, 75% lighter than steel) materials to cater to these applications and reduce the vehicle weight by manipulating the intrinsic functional parameters.

What can your field of research contribute to the world? This work on magnesium-based materials can suit varied applications from a wide range of industries such as aerospace, automotive, biomedical, electronics, marine & sports industries, all having one common requirement — lightweight.

In the transportation sector, by using lightweight magnesium-based materials, we essentially improve fuel and service efficiency of automobiles and aircrafts, significantly reducing carbon dioxide emissions. For instance, by just replacing the existing aluminium-based seat frames in a single long range commercial aircraft with magnesium, we can achieve a weight reduction of about 4200 kgs. Can you imagine what it would be like if all of the 23,600 aircrafts operating in the world had seats replaced by magnesium?

Similarly, in the biomedical industry, during the osteosynthesis procedure that uses metallic implants in the human body, the currently used steel and titanium implants can be substituted by magnesium-based implants. Apart from lending its lightweight property, these magnesium-based implants would eliminate stress shielding effects and the need for a secondary surgery to remove the metallic implants due to the controlled biodegradation of magnesium in the human body.

“In a world where global warming and climate change are major concerns, I consider it my duty as a researcher to make sure that the solutions I provide, ensure the safety and health of the planet while making the world a better and a more comfortable place for humans.”

Why are you a scientist and what are you most excited about? Ever since I was a child, I was fascinated by science and a scientist is what I always wanted to be. Being a scientist is something that I absolutely love because it gives me the intellectual independence and also the liberty to explore and learn each day.

It is so fascinating and fulfilling to see how a material responds when taken from micron level to nano level and to imagine the kind of advancements that can be achieved by merely altering the structure of a material.

“I consider being a scientist as an opportunity to do something significant in this world. It is the incentive of making millions of lives more comfortable and protecting this planet with environment friendly solutions that spurs me on everyday.”

Identifying the root cause for a problem and being able to solve it gives immense satisfaction that no amount of money can buy. I consider being a scientist as an opportunity to do something significant in this world. It is the incentive of making millions of lives more comfortable and protecting this planet with environment friendly solutions that spurs me on everyday.

It is predicted that, in about a decade, magnesium would replace aluminum like how aluminum replaced steel over the last decade.

Even today, several electronic devices employ magnesium in their panels and casings. However, adapting magnesium in most of the industries is not as easy as it sounds because magnesium is inferior in many of its properties (formability, strength and corrosion resistance to name a few).

Therefore, in order to ensure that magnesium is a viable alternative, an extremely challenging experimental design and implementation is essential. I am certain that with growing advancements in the field, we will be able to overcome these limitations and I am excited to see and use magnesium in day-to-day life.

What advice would you give to younger students regarding attending a conference? In the enormous volume of published data we are enveloped with, it is often possible that, as a student researcher, your work doesn’t reach out to the targeted audience despite making an extremely significant finding. Presenting such work at conferences can be impactful in showcasing your work as well as reaching out to leading researchers in the field.

“Conferences are bridging platforms that unite researchers and industrialists, professors and students, and most importantly collaborators.”

I was one of the lucky few to have attended an international conference very early in my research career and to have learnt immensely from it. I have realised it is very common for students to undermine their work and feel mediocre while presenting to a well learned audience.

So, I would advise the younger students to present their contribution to any field, however minor it may be, confidently in a conference and overcome their fears.

I would also recommend the students to network during the conference with other delegates, for they may actually find their future employers or collaborators in there!

Read more about Sravya’s research here.


Find Geraldine on Twitter @GeraldineAnukwu

Geraldine Anukwu

Doctoral Student at the Universiti Sains Malaysia

#surfacewaves #inversion #microzonation #hazardanalysis

Geraldine will be speaking at International Seminar on Mathematics and Physics in Sciences and Technology 2017 (ISMAP 2017) in October.

How would you introduce your research to a non-expert? The massive development of infrastructure for different purposes and its attendant challenges, such as failures, collapse etc., have brought to the fore the ability of near-surface (approximately top 100m) geological materials to provide the needed support for these structures. The strength of near-surface materials can be determined non-invasively using geophysical techniques, in particular using seismic surface wave analysis. My research is therefore focused on how to effectively determine the strength of near-surface materials in complex geological settings using surface wave analysis.

“Surface Wave Analysis can be used to accurately and rapidly image the subsurface to obtain stiffness and attenuation parameters, which are critical for many geotechnical and environmental engineering problems.”

What can your field of research contribute to the world? Surface Wave Analysis can be used to accurately and rapidly image the subsurface to obtain stiffness and attenuation parameters, which are critical for many geotechnical and environmental engineering problems. As an important component of earthquake engineering, it can be used to determine the shear wave velocity of the earth, a critical parameter for seismic microzonation and site amplification studies. These would ultimately assist in the design/construction of earthquake resilient structures and other infrastructure such as roads, dams, buildings etc., to guide against structural failures.

Why are you a scientist and what are most excited about? As a young girl in secondary school, I had the dream of working in a field that can provide solutions to challenges faced by ordinary people. I am thus particularly driven by the need to serve others and solve problems. As a geoscientist, I live this dream each day, be it in the field, laboratory or library. The ability to explore mother earth for its resources – groundwater, crude oil, mineral resources etc., and proffer possible explanations/solutions to natural and artificial disasters (earthquake, tsunami’s, infrastructural collapse) comes with a feeling of accomplishment that can only be understood by being directly involved in the process.

Recently, the growing application of surface wave analysis in the processing of seismic reflection data, commonly used in the exploration for hydrocarbon, has generated tremendous interest. Prior to now, surface waves have been categorized as noise in seismic reflection data, however, studies have shown that this part of the data can be used to retrieve near-surface S-wave velocity, in order to estimate the static corrections. Static corrections computation is a critical component of seismic reflection data processing. These advances open up a new frontier in the field of surface wave analysis, with exciting discoveries ahead. The ultimate goal would be to improve the accuracy of the processed seismic reflection data, in order to effectively define and appraise hydrocarbon resources.

What advice would you give to younger students regarding attending a conference? A popular saying in my country is ‘If you do not go, you do not know’. This saying adequately captures my response to this question. Attending conferences provides a platform to increase one’s knowledge of his/her field of study, it helps to spark up and realign thoughts/ideas as regards research, provides a very good opportunity to know and interact with other researchers/industry players, and probably get to know a new place (if held outside one’s locality).

“A popular saying in my country is ‘If you do not go, you do not know’… Attending conferences provides a platform to increase one’s knowledge… spark up and realign thoughts/ideas… provides a very good opportunity to know and interact with other researchers/industry players, and probably get to know a new place.”

The gains of a conference are greatly dependent on active participation. Active participation is not limited to making a presentation at the conference only, but also by having a sound grasp of the general theme of the conference and identifying your goal for attending the conference. These would greatly enhance your interactions with other participants and prepare you for possible questions, suggestions and clarifications that might arise. Furthermore, show genuine interest in your interactions with others and if possible explore your surroundings if the conference location is different from your locality.

Read more about Geraldine’s research here.


The above applicants are finalists in Sparrho’s Early Career Researcher Prize that awards £500 to early career scientists who are presenting their work at an academic conference. To apply, follow this link to the 5-minute application form and use the Sparrho platform to share your research. Applications close at the end of each month and are reviewed on a rolling basis.

Sparrho Early Career Researcher Prize now receiving entries!
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