Flinders chemist Dr Justin Chalker – who accidentally discovered a polymer which reduces mercury pollution – has become the 2016 Young Tall Poppy Scientist of the Year in South Australia.
Dr Chalker said the goal of his work “is to illustrate how science is fascinating and essential to solving global problems”.
He was presented with his award at Friday’s annual Science Excellence Awards SA after becoming one of nine leading young scientists in the Australian Institute of Policy and Science (AIPS) Tall Poppy Awards. The other finalists for overall winner were Dr Luke Bennetts, Dr Camille Short and Dr Lyndsey Collins-Praino, from the University of Adelaide.
The Tall Poppy judges said Dr Chalker, from Flinders’ School of Chemical and Physical Sciences, was the standout candidate with his research in organic chemistry exploring the “use of innovative chemistry to solve grand challenges in sustainability and biomedical technology”.
American-educated and Oxford Rhodes Scholar Dr Chalker came to Flinders University last year as Lecturer in Synthetic Chemistry and recipient of an ARC Discovery Early Career Research Award.
“Research in our laboratory falls under the general purview of organic chemistry and its application to problems in chemical synthesis, chemical biology, and material science,” he says.
“One goal in our lab is to design reactions, reagents, and catalysts that streamline the synthesis of valuable materials such as pharmaceuticals and polymers.
“These efforts are closely linked to our commitment to develop sustainable and environmentally benign chemistry.
“A second goal in our laboratory is to invent chemical tools that are useful in the interrogation of biological systems.
“This research provides insight to fundamental biomolecular processes and also provides a foundation for novel therapeutic and diagnostic strategies.”
Five other 2016 SA Tall Poppies were commended this year, including Flinders University sleep researcher Dr Nicole Lovato, Dr Tom Raimondo and Dr John Arnold (University of South Australia), Dr Heidi Alleway (Primary Industries and Regions SA) and Dr Susan Wood (University of Adelaide and SAHMRI).