Science

Award: Honour for UNSW chemist

Dr Alex Donald
Thursday, 23 July, 2015

UNSW chemist Alex Donald has won the inaugural Michael Guilhaus Research Award – a national prize for research in mass spectrometry that honours the memory of the late innovative UNSW instrument designer.

Dr Donald, who uses this analytical technique to study proteins, received the $10,000 award from the Australian and New Zealand Society for Mass Spectrometry at the Society’s conference in Brisbane on Wednesday night.

Michael Guilhaus was a Professor in the UNSW School of Chemistry and Director of the UNSW Biomedical Mass Spectrometry Facility before his premature death from cancer in October 2009 at the age of 57.

A UNSW alumnus, he made an enormous contribution to the field by developing an instrument called an orthogonal-acceleration time-of-flight mass spectrometer. It was commercialised by VG Analytical, now Waters – a world-leading manufacturer and supplier of mass spectrometers and the sponsor of the prize.

Professor Guilhaus’s new technique was critical for the rapid advances achieved in using mass spectrometry to determine the amount and type of molecules present in biologically important samples.

In 1997, he became the only Australian to win the prestigious Curt Bruneé Prize from the International Society for Mass Spectrometry.

Dr Donald said it was an honour to have been selected as the inaugural recipient of the Michael Guilhaus Research Award. “Professor Guilhaus is a legend of mass spectrometry. To be in any way associated with him is a huge honour.”

Last year Dr Donald’s team smashed a decade-old record for packing positive charges onto proteins – a development that improved the detection and identification of these molecules that perform a vast array of functions inside living cells.

This year he was also selected by the Royal Society of Chemistry’s journal Analytical Methods as an Emerging Investigator whose work has the potential to influence the future direction of his field.

His team set a new benchmark in analysis, making it possible to obtain a nearly complete sequence of the amino acids in proteins which are of the large size usually targeted by medicinal drugs.

“Previously, complete characterisation was limited to significantly smaller proteins,” Dr Donald said.

Scientia Professor Justin Gooding said that members of the UNSW School of Chemistry were very pleased Dr Donald was the inaugural winner of the prize named in honour of their former colleague.

“We are thrilled for Alex. And as one of Mike’s former friends, I am also delighted that his legacy in UNSW Chemistry is being continued by Alex, who is also an extraordinarily talented scientist.”

Media contacts:

Dr Alex Donald: w.donald@unsw.edu.au

UNSW Science media: Deborah Smith: 9385 7307, 0478 492 060, deborah.smith@unsw.edu.au