Research on the relations between two glucose polymers, starch and glycogen, whose structure has major impact on nutrition, diabetes and obesity.
After many years in synthetic polymer research, in 2006 I took up a position at UQ to pursue my interests in the relations between human health and the structures of glucose polymers, especially starch and glycogen, which have complex branched structures. For this purpose, I have built on my knowledge of synthetic polymers. This has led to unique combined experiment and theoretical methods for characterizing the complex molecular architecture of these biopolymers; the target is biosynthesis-structure-property-degradation relations important for human health, and also new biomaterials. This research is leading to new methods for the control and mitigation of obesity, diabetes and colo-rectal cancers; these nutrition-related diseases are reaching epidemic proportions.
I am a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, author of 450 papers, 4 patents and 2 books (on unimolecular reactions and on emulsion polymerization). I was President of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) Macromolecular Division (1998-2001), Elected Member of the IUPAC Bureau (2002-5), was Chair (1988-95) of the IUPAC Working Party on polymerization modelling and mechanisms, and was one of eight members of the IUPAC Strategy Development and Implementation Committee which carried out a major reorganization of that body. I was Secretary of the International Polymer Colloids Group until 2001, and former Chair of both the Polymer and Physical Chemistry Divisions of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute. I am a winner of a Sydney University Excellence in Teaching Award, was awarded the RACI Smith Medal in recognition of outstanding research achievements in chemistry over the past decade, the RACI's Polymer Medal, shared the Australian Institute of Nuclear Science and Engineering Medal in 1993 for my work in understanding polymerization mechanisms, the RACI Olle Prize in 1996 for my book on emulsion polymerization, the RACI Physical Chemistry Medal in 1998, the RACI Applied Research Medal in 2005, the RACI Leighton Memorial Medal in 2007 and the Australian Academy of Science Craig Prize (2010). I am a member of the editorial boards of Biomacromolecules, Journal of Polymer Science, and Polymer, and was Chair of the Gordon Research Conference on Polymer Colloids, 2003. I speak fluent French and German as well as my native English.
In 2012, I was one of the first non-Chinese recruited under the Chinese Government's prestigious 1000-Talent scheme to set up a research centre at Biolake, Wuhan, China, and appointed as Professor at the Huazhong University of Science & Technology (HUST) in that city. HUST is one of the top 10 universities in China, and I supervise Chinese research students based there. I am now 50% at each of UQ and HUST + YangZHou University (which has one of the best 5 agirculture faculties in China). My time in China comprises 6 months a year (split into intervals of 1-3 months at a time), and 6 months per year at UQ. This is highly advantageous to Australia. The reasons for this include the creation of a major synergy between my Australian and Chinese research groups, with each spending some time in the other location, providing a unique opportunity for my young Australian researchers to learn first-hand about research practice and culture in our largest trading partner; also, I have outstanding facilities there which are significantly used by my Australian research group and by other groups in Australia.