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Medicinal chemistry graduate receives prestigious student award

Annual Leon Kane-Maguire Student Prize recipient to pursue future in pharmaceutical discovery

A University of Wollongong graduate who is building a career in developing pharmaceuticals that will make a difference in the lives of others was this week awarded the prestigious Leon Kane-Maguire Student Prize.

Laura Hallam, who graduated from UOW in December with a Bachelor of Medicinal Chemistry (Honours) (Dean’s Scholar), said she was “surprised” to receive the award on Monday evening (4 February).

“It was very exciting,” Laura said. “As a female, it was great to be receiving that award in an area of research that is traditionally quite male dominated.

“The list of past recipients is impressive, so I’m really happy to be included.”

The Leon Kane-Maguire Student Prize is awarded to the student with 1st Class Honours who receives the highest Weighted Average Mark for Chemistry and Nanotechnology subjects over the course of their degree.

Professor Leon Kane-Maguire was one of Australia’s leading research scientists and was made an Emeritus Professor at UOW in 2010. He passed away in 2011.

Professor Kane-Maguire’s wife, Barbara, presented the award to Laura on Monday evening.

The annual Leon Kane-Maguire Address was delivered by Professor Margaret Sheil, Vice-Chancellor of Queensland University of Technology and former Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) at UOW.

Laura said she became interested in chemistry at an early age, thanks to an imaginative teacher who showed her opportunities available in the world of science.

“I had an amazing teacher when I was in Year 5, and he created all these weird and wonderful experiments that were really fun,” she said. “I think from that moment, I was hooked.”

Although she was interested in health, Laura did not want to pursue a future in medicine. However, her degree enabled her to combine this interest with her love of science.

“It was the perfect mix of the two,” Laura said. “I became interested in drug discovery and development, and how that process begins from the ground up.”

During her degree, she spent six months on exchange at Frederich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nuremberg, one of the largest research universities in Germany, which she describes as one of the highlights of her UOW experience.

Laura thanked her supervisor, Associate Professor Danielle Skropeta, whose research focuses on developing anti-metastatic cancer drugs, for mentoring her throughout her Honours year.

“Danielle was incredible, she was an amazing mentor,” Laura said. “I learnt so much from working with her.”

Laura has accepted a graduate position at Australia’s Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, where she is hoping to work in the field of radiopharmaceuticals.