Honours at LIMS: a day in the life

Have you ever wondered what a day in the life of a Chemistry Honours student looks like at LIMS / La Trobe University? Lily Kenchington-Evans from the Barnard Laboratory at LIMS is here to walk you through it…

As most of my day at LIMS is spent in the lab, I take the time to clear administrative tasks like running data checks and writing up a ‘to-do list’ first thing in the morning.

Then it’s into the lab. I begin by checking any reactions that ran overnight, completing my tasks for the lab group (like dropping off the waste) and preparing my chemicals for the day's reactions.

Next, as my experiments normally run overnight, I ‘work up’ (purify) the reaction as there is usually a mixture that I need to separate in order to isolate my desired product. For example, there may be a by-product I need to remove. I can visualise what is in the mixture through thin-layer chromatography (TLC – seeing the number of components and how they separate); or by nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (HNMR – visualising different hydrogen environments).

Once I have an idea of what is in the mixture I can think about the properties of each component and how to get the best separation.

This usually involves running a column (like a big 3D TLC plate) and this can take anywhere between one hour to all day, depending on what I’m working with! Once the compound is pure I can use it for subsequent syntheses.

Honours in Chemistry at La Trobe University requires the completion of a research project with accompanying thesis as well as coursework. I chose the Barnard Lab as it employs a range of organic and inorganic chemical techniques. My project involved making metal complexes that were hypothesised to have an antibacterial effect. I was really interested in this avenue and finding ways to combat the concerning trend to antibiotic resistance.

During the day, if I’m waiting for a reaction to run, a product to dry, or an analysis to finish, I’ll study and work on assignments. I’ll also do any extra-curricular work like volunteering, attending student representative meetings, and preparing for lab meeting presentations.

One of my favourite things about being at La Trobe’s Bundoora campus is the immediate access to nature. Whilst I love being in the lab, I always make time to go outside to enjoy some fresh air, sitting down on the grass, or chatting to friends in the Agora.

Later in the afternoon I run some more analyses, calculations and prepare for the next day.

Being a chemistry student means no two days are the same. It’s an incredibly creative field and I am always problem-solving. I particularly love how chemistry helps us understand the atomic world, including the molecular underpinnings of disease.

And congratulations to Lily, who received the 2021 Mentor Dedication award from the In2Science STEM peer mentoring program in schools (pictured above with former Premier and La Trobe University Chancellor John Brumby AO). Lily has also recently been awarded an IMB Global Challenges PhD Scholarship.

A specialisation in chemistry can be taken as part of La Trobe University's Bachelor of Science (Honours) degree.