Associate Professor Oliver Jones received his PhD from Imperial College London and worked at the Universities of Cambridge and Durham before moving to Australia to teach and conduct research at RMIT.
I first became interested in analytical chemistry as a way to measure water pollutants, but I quickly became interested in the methods themselves, as well as their applications.
I realised that analytical chemistry not only underpins a huge range of areas but that developing new ways to better and more efficiently measure samples and analyse the resulting data is both challenging, and a lot of fun.
My current work at RMIT is quite varied; I teach into a range of undergraduate and postgraduate chemistry courses and I lead a research group that aims to develop and apply new analytical methods and technologies to a variety of fields – particularly in biochemistry (chiefly small molecules involved in metabolism, the trace analysis of new environmental pollutants, and a small amount of forensic chemistry (drug synthesis and testing) – the latter carried out in conjunction with the Victorian Police Forensic Services Department. I've also had the chance to get involved in the chemistry community in Australia, by serving on the Academy of Science's National Committee Chemistry for instance.
My approach to teaching is based around allowing students to see themselves as future professionals in the workplace. I don’t want them to just understand the theory, I want them to be able to take that knowledge and apply it to unfamiliar problems and be able to see where the skills they learn at RMIT can be applied in real life. I often illustrate these points by relaying experiences from my research career.
What drives me is the same thing that drives most scientists; the chance to continually do something new and to find out something nobody has ever seen before (and meeting and working with great people from all over the world while doing so). I get a lot of satisfaction knowing that I’m conducting research that gets read around the world.
In analytical chemistry, one of the main challenges is continually pushing the boundaries of what is possible; improving our ability to be able to detect smaller and smaller quantities of a range of substances, faster and with less sample preparation, while maintaining accuracy and reproducibility.
Looking to the future, I think there will be a big focus on the miniaturisation of analytical instrumentation in the next ten years.
Imagine if you had a liquid chromatography system the size of a computer chip and/or a mass spectrometer small enough for you to transport in in your pocket and as easy to operate as your smartphone, perhaps even linked to it?
The ability to get instant information about the chemical make-up of things around us would have incredible potential for a huge range of areas, such as personalised diagnostic medicine or to check the nutrition levels in our food.
Scientific research in general is a demanding job and you are never 100 per cent sure what is going to happen. To do well in this area, students need to be determined and be able to think on the hop and deal with the unexpected. Above all, they must remember not to become disappointed or disillusioned when things don’t work out as expected; that is what research is all about. There is always next time, you just have to be willing to pick yourself up and keep trying. These are the sorts of transferable skills we give our students at RMIT to help them succeed in their future careers.
Teaching is often described as a very rewarding profession and that is certainly true. I always enjoy seeing my students grow and succeed as they move though University and then out into the wider world.