Catching up with last year’s Bill Wheeler Award winner Chunyan Qin

September 18, 2020
Sam Findlay

The Annual Bill Wheeler Community Symposium and Award is all set for next week, held to celebrate the life and bionics research of the late Bill Wheeler for yet another year.


The Symposium recognises a University of Wollongong (UOW) student each year for their outstanding work, with a prize of $2,000 awarded to the student who best communicates the social impact of their research and how the prize will benefit their work.


Unlike previous Symposiums, where the event would take place at ACES headquarters, this year will be hosted online for the first time due to the current health situation.


Along with the Bill Wheeler Award being announced, the Symposium’s feature presentation will be given by medical oncologist Prof Morteza Aghmesheh. We will also hear from last year’s Bill Wheeler Award winner Chunyan Qin.


In the build-up to the event, we caught up with Chunyan for an interview looking back at her achievement.


Firstly, how have you managed this different time in research due to Covid-19?

COVID-19 has been tough for everyone. We do have some restrictions on the working times and sometimes we do shifts when sharing the lab with others. This has never happened before but it’s not that bad. Due to the restrictions, I must maximise the use of my lab hours on experiments. This, in fact, makes my lab work more efficient. When I stay at home, I can deeply focus on reading papers and making project plans. I don’t need to switch my mind between reading papers and starting and stopping individual experiments or tests.


What is your PhD and research on?

My research project focuses on bioactive and bipolar electroactive conducting polymers to enable wireless stimulation using bipolar electrochemistry. Up to now, I have developed a bipolar electrostimulation (BPES) platform that combines ‘wireless manner’ of bipolar electrochemistry with bioactive Polypyrrole (PPy) to indirect and noncontact nerve cell stimulation.  It has recently been accepted for publication in Applied Materials Today, demonstrating the establishment of the platform and its promising applications. You’re more than welcome to read the paper.


You won last year’s Bill Wheeler Award. What did that mean to you?

I was truly honoured and grateful to be awarded. It is a great recognition of what I’ve done. As a PhD student, I gained confidence in my research. The award also encouraged me to continue with my creativity and made me aware of the long way to go to be a good researcher.


How have you spent the last year and how did you use the funds awarded to you to develop your research?

Part of the funds covered my visit to Prof Shu Wang at the Institute of Chemistry and Prof Qi Gu at the Institute of Zoology last year. Both are researchers in Chinese Academy of Sciences. I shared my findings and learned a lot from their lab research. Now we’re working in collaboration and hoping to discover some interesting things together.


I also used the money to register for the 11th World Biomaterials Conference (WBC) 2020 in Glasgow, Scotland, which was set to take place in May. However, due to COVID-19, it is now a fully virtual congress and will be held in December. It will be a great opportunity to expand my network and learn more about other state-of-art research. I’m looking forward to building some connections and having some inspiring discussions with world-famous scientists in the field.


What would your advice be to this year’s winner?

Firstly, congratulations and well done to the winner! This award is really a recognition of your current work and it is also the start of your future research. Make good use of the funds such as scheduling lab visits and attending conferences, even if they are online. Even though we’re having these COVID-19 restrictions, research will never stop. I’m sure you can find a way to connect with other inspired researchers and help progress science.


What are you looking forward to most at this year’s award and symposium?

I’m looking forward to finding out who wins! It is great to see how Bill Wheeler’s memory brings the community and scientists together. I am also interested in the cancer care field, so it will be inspiring to hear about the guest speaker Prof Morteza Aghmesheh’s vision and passion for science.


It should be a fantastic night yet again. I’m really looking forward to that!


The 2020 Bill Wheeler Award will be held online on Tuesday, 22 September from 5:30pm. Register here.

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