Name: Dr Lu Shin Wong
Age range: 36-40
Research institution: Manchester Institute of Biotechnology and School of Chemistry University of Manchester
Research career length: 12 years
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
Location: Manchester, England
A-levels: Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics and General Studies
BPharm at the University of Nottingham
MRPharmS - registered pharmacist (until 2010)
Postgraduate diploma in clinical pharmacy, University of Bradford (distance learning)
PhD in organic and analytical chemistry in the School of Chemistry at the University of Southampton
Pharmacy pre-registration in Glan Clwyd Hospital, North Wales
Pharmacist at Derriford Hospital, Plymouth and Doncaster Royal Infirmary
PhD at the University of Southampton
Postdoctoral researcher in biological chemistry and nanotechnology in Manchester Institute of Biotechnology, University of Manchester
EPSRC research fellow, including nanotechnology research at Northwestern University, Chicago, USA
Lecturer, School of Chemistry University of Manchester
Innovation often occurs when combining two areas of research. Though he first expected to become a pharmacist, Lu Shin Wong now carries out research that brings together molecular biology and nanotechnology to produce ingenious new materials with wide-ranging applications.
I was born and brought up in Malaysia, and studied my A-levels there. To my parents' and my own surprise, I did very well in my exams and was fortunate to be able to come to Britain to study for a degree in pharmacy at the University of Nottingham. For me it started young - my Dad never discouraged my curiosity and always tried to respond when I asked questions like “Why does the sun come up?” In primary school I had a series of inspiring teachers who were excellent storytellers, so together with my parents, generated a real spark in me for science – wanting to understand how things worked.
When I came to the UK, I’d planned on becoming a pharmacist, and took my professional qualifications after graduation while working in a hospital in North Wales. Next I was offered a junior pharmacist post in Plymouth, which I didn’t much enjoy, and shortly afterwards moved to become a resident pharmacist in Doncaster - which I did (it is a dynamic and innovative department and there were lots of young colleagues working with me). During this time, I was funded to do a part-time diploma in clinical pharmacy. It was at this stage that I wanted to return to what I enjoyed most - doing science - and made the decision to go back to university and study for a PhD at the University of Southampton. This was a big change of direction in my career, and it eventually led me to my current post as a lecturer in chemistry at the University of Manchester.
My research splits into two. One half is to do with biocatalysis, where we make use of naturally occurring enzymes in microorganisms to perform chemical reactions. You probably know that these are used in ‘biological’ washing powders, though my work has more to do with the production of materials like polymers. Naturally occurring enzymes don’t actually work particularly well in the manufacturing process, so we modify these enzymes to make the process more efficient. The other part of my research is in nanotechnology, in which we are increasingly employing our understanding of how materials behave at the tiniest scale (millionths of a millimetre). You’d be surprised how differently substances behave at this scale...gold looks red, and other structures divert light in such a way, that one day we may be able to use nanostructures to make objects appear invisible. I’ve combined these two research areas, to study how enzymes arranged as nanometre-sized dots on surfaces behave differently at these size scales.
As a university Lecturer, I carry out all the normal duties such as teaching, running tutorials, assessing work, developing undergraduate laboratory experiments, and of course, administration - which is necessary but not always exciting (actually never exciting). I direct the activities of my research group, through guiding which experiments are worth doing and helping to analyse the data. Some of this is through scheduled meetings, but much takes place informally. My supervision also includes helping group members with their career development, suggesting ideas for training and encouraging them to participate in scientific meetings and broaden their horizons.
I’ve been inspired in my career by a number of people and experiences. Before my current job, I was a awarded a 3-year EPSRC Fellowship that meant I spent half of that time in Chicago, USA, developing my knowledge and expertise in one of the leading nanotechnology research groups, and meeting many very talented and enthusiastic people. Equally I have to thank the very patient (also talented) PhD student who helped me with my undergraduate degree research project, and my PhD supervisor whose academic brilliance, principles and professionalism remain aspirations for my own career.
In terms of my future career, I made a conscious decision to become an academic, so would want to take it as far as possible. I hope some day both to make a major discovery and to become a professor. Meanwhile I simply feel privileged in my work and wish to continue to discover lots of interesting things.