Humans of SparkLab – Jesse

SparkLab Learning Officer
Queensland Museum

With a background in chemistry at Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Jesse loves learning and studying so much that he went on to obtain a first class Honours and is currently writing up his PhD thesis.

What first sparked your interest in science?

I always looked forward to chemistry class because of how experimental and hands on it was. It was much easier to bounce out of bed to face a day of school when I knew I had chemistry. What was Mr Swords going to show us today?  Would he be smashing tennis balls that had been dipped into liquid nitrogen, reacting metals with acids or perhaps a classic colour-changing titration to work out the concentration of a mystery solution? How could you not love this stuff?!

This was where my love of science began and it has only grown since. Thankfully, SparkLab has provided an opportunity for me to share this passion, so I can help others discover the wonders of science too.

What’s the most interesting research/experiment you’ve conducted?

The most enjoyable part of my research journey has been developing a range of novel fluorescent imaging agents with potential for imaging oxidative stress in biological systems. By modifying the molecules, different fluorescent colours were produced, from green to orange to red and even near-infrared, resulting in multiple imaging agents with various potential applications. The beauty of these imaging agents is the inclusion of a special chemical group known as nitroxides, which allow the fluorescence to be switched on and off depending on the chemical environment. Find out more here.

What’s your favourite space/exhibit in SparkLab and why?

The Science Bar is definitely my favourite area to hang out in SparkLab. There is a common misconception that the scientific method is akin to the process of following a stepwise recipe to bake a cake. This couldn’t be any further from the truth. The real scientific method is more similar to the process of creating the recipe as you go, and making a new cake that no one has ever made before. Sure your cake could turn out as tough as a rock, or it could crumble to pieces, but you will have learnt far more by this process than you would from just following a recipe. At the Science Bar, visitors get to create the experiment, deciding what they want to investigate and how they want to conduct tests. This process more genuinely reflects the true scientific method utilised by researchers who hardly ever have the experimental steps already laid out for them.

SparkLab Learning Officer, Jesse presenting at the Science Bar.

As you develop new programs and experiences in SparkLab, what is one of the most interesting concepts or discoveries/experiments you have come across?

Throughout my years as a research student and educator, I’ve always been intrigued by the science of colour and light. The large number of different exhibits in SparkLab based around light provided a great opportunity to explore new ways to encourage investigation of these concepts with visitors. These experiments have since been incorporated into the “Lights, Colour, Action!” Science Bar program, which I developed to allow visitors to explore how we can change the way things look using colour and light. The special dichroic prisms used in this Science Bar are one of the most interesting ways to explore colour that I’ve come across.

Dichroic prisms exploring the changing colour and light

Which scientist/engineer/ designer (living or deceased) would you most like to have dinner with and why?

If I had the chance to pick any scientist as a dinner guest it would be the legendary astronomer and science communicator Carl Sagan, whom I also happen to share a birthday with. The documentary series Cosmos, is my favourite of all time as it helped expand my interests in science beyond chemistry into the areas of space and planetary science. We could catch up over a slice of birthday cake on what would have been Carl’s 86th birthday, maybe even in SparkLab around the Science on a Sphere. I could update Carl on all the amazing discoveries about our Solar System that have happened in the time he’s been gone, I bet he’d love to see the icy volcanoes of Enceladus.

Find out more about SparkLab here.

If Jesse is working the next time you are in SparkLab be sure to say ‘hi!’ and ask him to help you explore your favourite planet on the Science on a Sphere.

SparkLab Learning Officer, Jesse exploring the planet Mars on Science on a Sphere.

SparkLab is proudly supported by Academic Partner The University of Queensland.