New head of synchrotron science hits the spot

Media releases

Queenslander scores top science job at the Australian Synchrotron

University of Queensland researcher Prof. Ian Gentle has today been appointed the Australian Synchrotron’s Head of Science. His own research includes plans to use the facility to study and improve the effectiveness of drugs treating acne and other skin diseases.

The small angle x-ray scattering (SAXS) beamline will allow him to observe the interactions of proteins in fine emulsions with the membranes of skin cells. The proteins assist transport of compounds across membranes. Understanding how they do so should help researchers to design preparations which are more efficient at delivering drugs to their site of action inside cells.

Gentle, currently an associate professor in the School of Molecular and Microbial Sciences at the University of Queensland and Deputy Director of the Centre for Microscopy and Microanalysis, will oversee the scientific program of the Australian Synchrotron in Melbourne. A seasoned user of synchrotrons overseas, he wants to harness his experience to help staff build and provide the best possible facilities, and to assist users to gain access and produce science of the highest quality.

“We have gathered first rate people from all over the world at the Australian Synchrotron – both in terms of staff and research partners – and have the opportunity to create our own Australian brand of scientific excellence,” he says. “We need to make researchers aware of what’s available, ensure that the best projects are selected, and provide them with highest level of support.”

There is no doubt, Gentle says, that the Australian Synchrotron has some of the best facilities in the world. “The combination of great scientists, light source and instruments all add up to a first rate facility.”

In his own field of chemistry, in addition to the delivery of drugs through the skin, Gentle also works on understanding how our lungs work. In particular, the role of proteins in lung surfactants, complex mixtures of biomolecules which lower surface tension and allow the lungs to inflate more easily. The development of synthetic surfactants has revolutionised the care of premature babies who often have trouble breathing because of a lack of natural surfactant – but there’s still more to do. Gentle is also interested in constructing films, one molecule thick, which have very precisely defined physical and chemical properties.

Synchrotron Director Rob Lamb welcomes the new Head of Science and says:  “Ian is an excellent choice as Head of Science and brings with him a wealth of experience and knowledge to drive our science programs. His appointment is another example of how the Australian Synchrotron is becoming a key focus for the Australian scientific community- drawing in the brightest and best.