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Meeting Nobel prize-winning scientists at a forum in Japan has given Massey University PhD researcher Paulina Hanson-Manful added zest for her own work which she hopes will save lives.
She was selected for a New Zealand delegation of top science PhD researchers to attend the fourth HOPE meeting, held annually to provide the opportunity for high achieving graduate students to meet and talk to Nobel laureates and other distinguished scientists pioneering new knowledge.
Ms Hanson-Manful, who was born in Ghana, came to Massey’s Albany campus via Belgium and the UK on a doctoral scholarship in 2009. She says she is excited by her research on antibiotic resistance that could improve disease treatment in the age of superbugs. But after attending the HOPE meeting earlier this year, she feels even more inspired to do research with the potential to advance scientific knowledge and alleviate suffering.
“The main message I came away with from the HOPE meeting was the importance of doing something you love that will have some purpose, and seeing beyond personal ambition,” says Ms Hanson-Manful. “They [the Nobel scientists] talked to us about looking at science as a whole, and seeing where we could make a difference.”
The Nobel winners also impressed upon the emerging young scientists of the need to challenge scientific orthodoxy at times, and to be open to unexpected findings and phenomena that could lead to an important discovery, she says.
The HOPE meeting, held in Tsukuba, Japan, and themed on “Chemistry for Creating the Future”, brought together ten distinguished lecturers including eight Nobel laureates, and 100 graduate students from 17 countries in the Asia-Pacific region. Among the science stars were Professor Dan Shechtman, awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in Chemistry; Ei-ichi Negishi, a Japanese chemist awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize in Chemistry; Makoto Kobayashi, a Japanese physicist awarded one quarter of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Physics; Professor Robert McKinnon, who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry together with Peter Agre in 2003; and Professor John Walker, an English chemist who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1997.
Ms Hanson-Manful completed a degree in Biomedical Sciences at the University of Durham, followed by a Masters in Biosciences at the University of Leeds (both in the UK). She worked as a research technician on a project investigating how epigenetics can be used to non-invasively diagnose Down’s syndrome. She is now completing her PhD in enzyme promiscuity and its role in the evolution of antibiotic resistance, under the supervision of molecular biologist Dr Wayne Patrick, who was named New Zealand’s Young Biotechnologist of the Year in 2010.