National Science Foundation East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes

 Michelle Meighan, Australia 2009

In the months leading up to the summer, a question that I frequently heard was "Tasmania? You're going to spend your summer in Africa?"  Another popular comment was “you realize it's winter down there, right?"  Yes, I was fully aware that I was “giving up” my summer (the 115°F oven that is a Phoenix summer) for a somewhat colder climate, but no, I was not going to Africa.  Tasmania, or “Tassie”, is a heart-shaped island south of mainland Australia.  I was able to study in Tasmania through a fellowship provided by the National Science Foundation.  The NSF, in conjunction with the Australian Academy of Science, funded 20 American students to travel to Australia to facilitate our research here in the US through the East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes program.  Although conducting research with our hosts was a significant part of the fellowship, the NSF also strongly encouraged gaining cultural experience as well.

I worked with Dr. Michael Breadmore in the Australian Centre for Research in Separations Sciences (ACROSS) at the University of Tasmania.  My research combined my dissertation work in counterflow electrophoretic separations with an electrokinetic supercharging project ongoing in Dr. Breadmore's lab.  Whereas my work at Arizona State University entails studying proteins with a device developed in-house, my work with Dr. Breadmore utilized commercial instrumentation to study non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in wastewater.  NSAIDs, or common over the counter drugs such as Aleve and Advil, were chosen because they are hard to eliminate from wastewater, which results in their release into the environment with the potential to cause adverse health effects to both aquatic and terrestrial organisms. 

I begrudgingly fulfilled the NSF's request for cultural experience as well (kidding!!!)  Australia is an amazing country.  I was fortunate enough to sit in on "Question Time" at the House of Representatives in the capital, Canberra, where I gained an appreciation of Australian politics.  I also visited a wildlife reserve where I learned about the facial tumor that is rapidly killing the population of Tasmanian Devils.  (And thanks to television, I had believed that Tasmanian devils were brown, which is incorrect—they’re black!) Furthermore, although they don't spin in circles, they do make a hellish noise when feeding.  Of course, my cultural experience wouldn’t have been complete without enjoying a meat pie at an Australian Rules "Footie" game.

Participating in the East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes program has been a truly remarkable experience for me.  The opportunity to collaborate with Dr. Breadmore in the ACROSS program has enabled me to learn a new method (electrokinetic supercharging), as well as gain a deeper understanding of electrophoretic separations as a whole through various discussions with several researchers in the Chemistry Department at the University of Tasmania.  Additionally, through a presentation of my dissertation work, I was able to engage in many beneficial discussions with my Australian colleagues that have afforded me a fresh perspective on my research.  The experience has been invaluable to my development both on a personal and professional level…..even if it wasn’t in Africa.

Last Updated: July 15, 2010 01:23 PM


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