London Alumni Event showcases Department's achievements
Around 90 Biochemistry alumni and current members gathered recently at the Royal Society for the department's fourth Alumni event.
Alison Woollard, Mark Sansom, Sue Hartley, Phillip Lorenz and Glen-Oliver Gowers – speakers at the Alumni event
The occasion attracted alumni from across a period of more than 50 years – bringing together those who completed their PhDs in the 1950s, with students graduating last year.
Following an introduction by Head of Department Mark Sansom, current students and two Royal Institution Christmas Lecturers entertained guests with their presentations.
Glen-Oliver Gowers and Philipp Lorenz, second-year Biochemistry undergraduates at University College, spoke about the newly formed Oxford University team of 12 undergraduates who will take part in the prestigious science competition iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine) (see http://2014.igem.org/Team:Oxford).
Led by a group of four Biochemistry students, the multidisciplinary team has secured funding to participate in this synthetic biology competition that involves around 250 university teams. The team will spend eight weeks in the summer designing a waste disposal kit from biological components to detect and degrade DCM, a toxic solvent routinely used in the lab.
Even before the project has begun, the team has been promoting Oxford's presence in the competition. It is bringing iGEM teams from across the UK and Europe together to encourage the exchange of ideas and working with the University's Synthetic Biology Society to ensure a legacy beyond the 2014 competition.
Glen and Philipp commented that generous donations from two alumni are supporting the daily stipends of two of the team in Oxford whilst they are working on the project. The students' colleges are also assisting by providing accommodation. Echoing Mark Sansom's comments, they highlighted summer internships, a priority for the department, as a very effective way for students to get a taste for the sharp end of research.
The two talks from Alison Woollard and Sue Hartley highlighted the department's significant contribution to the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures.
Alison, a University Lecturer in the department, and Sue, Director of the York Environmental Sustainability Institute (YESI) and an Oxford Biochemistry undergraduate in the early 1980s, gave the 2013 and 2009 Royal Institution Christmas Lectures respectively. Only 5 women have presented these lectures in its long history since 1825, and the department is proud to have provided two of these.
Alison shared insights into how to go about putting together a TV show about science, relating some of the humorous moments along the journey. Those watching her series on 'Life Fantastic' will recall the staggering array of animals she used to tell her story about development and evolution (www.rigb.org/christmas-lectures/watch).
Sue Hartley spoke about the diverse range of activities that followed her Oxford Biochemistry degree. In her presentation, 'Sustaining a career in Biochemistry from St Hugh's to YESI', she spoke about the importance of her undergraduate training in supporting a successful career in ecology.
From a PhD looking at plant responses to herbivory, to current research on restoring natural plant defences to tackle the impact of climate change on crop production, Sue explained how an understanding of Biochemistry has been central to what she has achieved.
For more details relating to our alumni, go to the Alumni page on our website.