Exciting Molecules: Annette Dowd joins Real Scientists!

This week we are excited to have Annette Dowd (@AnnetteRDowd), a Lecturer in Biomedical Physics and Optics at The University of Technology Sydney, Australia. We asked her some questions, and she gave us some very interesting answers:


What brought you to a career in science?

I fell in love with knowing how things work as a kid. After doing an eye-opening (boring) work experience at a veterinary surgery I decided on a career in science. Neither myself nor my parents (who had no uni education) knew what that meant but it sounded satisfying and important. My first year at uni was miserable. But I found to my surprise I was actually doing quite well in my degree. I then kept on following other people’s suggestions about what to do next and here I am!

How did you get into optics?

Although I was (and still am) fascinated by living systems, the elegance and power of physics and maths inspired me. It’s not at all straightforward to apply it to biological systems but I’m doing something very few people can do and even fewer dare. Besides, I earn the admiration of biologists :) It was an insightful professor of optics who saw my potential (strengths and weaknesses) and encouraged me to learn more about this rapidly developing field. It is now my go-to for developing techniques to probe nano-things.

The other reason I am into experimental science? Basically, I love using enormous expensive equipment! Who needs power tools or sports cars?!

And what exactly are you working on now?

The two major parts of my work are teaching physics and using physics to research interesting problems in biology. Both of these jobs require a deep understanding of my speciality, creativity and loads of energy (or coffee).

My current research projects involve using lasers or synchrotrons to excite biomolecules. What they do when they relax gives away a lot of information about the molecules if you know how to look! My current projects involve using this approach to find out about: the behaviour of lipid molecules that make up the cell membrane (the cell’s “skin”), the molecular scale bioengineering in a snail’s shell, and improved design for biomolecular sensor surfaces.

And the teaching? I teach physics at all undergraduate levels but I specialise in optics and biomedical physics. My approach is to make the learning experience as authentic as possible, in essence I try to run classes that are like the normal activities of scientists.

Please welcome Annette to Real Scientists!

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