Swinburne sends first honours student to Italian synchrotron

Thursday 30 January 2014

A low angle photograph of Swinburne University of Technology signage on the Advanced Technologies Centre building in Hawthorn.

Rebecca Auchettl has become Swinburne University of Technology’s first honours student to travel to the Elettra Sincrotrone in Trieste, Italy, to conduct experiments and discuss her work with Italian synchrotron researchers. 

Since 2010, six Swinburne students have made the trek to the Italian synchrotron supported by the Australian Synchrotron’s International Synchrotron Access Program (ISAP). According to Swinburne’s Professor of Chemistry, Feng Wang, five of these students have been PhD candidates. 

“Synchrotron based experiments, particularly international synchrotron experiments are usually a rare opportunity for even PhD candidates, and it is absolutely an outstanding opportunity for a young woman undergraduate student who is keen in chemical research. 

“The project with Elettra Sincrotrone is related to Ms Auchettl’s honours project and her personal interest in chemistry and synchrotron experimentation,” Professor Wang said. 

“Her project could not be experimented at the Australian Synchrotron, and so the ISAP, through the Federal Government and the Australian Synchrotron, helped fund her research trip.” 

Ms Auchettl is also Swinburne’s first honours student to research a computational and theoretical chemistry project, which is in collaboration with the synchrotron experiment. After completing a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and Chemistry at Monash University, Ms Auchettl sought out Professor Wang as a supervisor. 

“Computational and theoretical chemistry is not a new area of study but it has received more recognition over the years, especially given that the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to three theoretical chemists,” Ms Auchettl said. 

“I specifically came to Swinburne to work with Professor Feng Wang as she is a trend setter in building up this field in Australia and is a credit to Swinburne. So far I have found the area of computational and theoretical chemistry extremely progressive here.” 

In Italy, Ms Auchettl worked for two weeks in Swinburne Adjunct Professor Kevin Prince’s lab, conducting X-Ray photoemission experiments based on her honours thesis. 

“The Elettra Sincrotrone was the experimental component to my theoretical work. I was able to work one-on-one with Professor Prince who ran the experiment.   

“Seeing my research come to life through Synchrotron based experiments was a great learning experience and opportunity to see how science professionals work on an international scale,” she said.     

“I also see this as a positive step for women in physics and chemistry. I found it quite eye opening to work in such a diverse environment considering the hard sciences are generally a male dominated industry. It’s one of the reasons I chose to work with Professor Wang and what drives my professional aspirations.” 

In early February, Ms Auchettl will present her current research at the M^4 – the 4th Melbourne meeting of the Association of Molecular Modellers of Australasia (AMMA). The event aims to showcase emerging research from the Melbourne region. 

Ms Auchettl plans to submit her honours thesis early this year and continue with Professor Wang as supervisor for her PhD studies.