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Messel Travel Bursary recipient, Olivia Pabois, reports from Australia

Olivia Pabois

4 Mar 2020

Olivia Pabois was awarded a Messel Travel Bursary to attend a research visit at the Australian nuclear and science technology organisation (ANSTO), in Sydney, Australia. Here she tells us how the research visit enabled her to complement her PhD project and strengthen her knowledge, showcase her research and to increase her network.

‘I am a 4th-year PhD student working under the co-supervision of Drs Cécile Dreiss (King’s College London (KCL), London, UK), Isabelle Grillo and Yuri Gerelli (Institut Laue-Langevin (ILL), Grenoble, France), at both KCL and the ILL. Under the supervision of Prof Elliot Gilbert, I carried out a 2-month research visit, from November to December 2019, at the Australian nuclear and science technology organisation (ANSTO), in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, which is the leading neutron science research centre in Australasia.

‘With this research internship, I got the opportunity to complement the second part of my PhD project, which aims to characterise methylcellulose (MC), a dietary fibre with a demonstrated potential to lower cholesterol levels, and to investigate its ability to slow down the digestion of fats (dietary lipids) in the small intestine, thus addressing the current obesity crisis. MC efficiency to regulate lipid digestion is thought to be due to its ability to entrap bile salts molecules, which play a key role in promoting fat digestion and absorption, and thereby to prevent them from fulfilling their functionalities. My PhD work therefore focuses on assessing how MC interacts with bile salts, and how this, in turn, impacts the digestion of an emulsion stabilised by this polysaccharide. To that end, I performed in vitro lipid digestion studies on a MC-stabilised emulsion, by combining a wide range of scattering techniques, including small-angle neutron scattering (using the QUOKKA instrument available at ANSTO), small-angle X-ray scattering and ultra-small-angle neutron scattering (using the KOOKABURRA instrument available at ANSTO); these measurements - which were the culmination of my PhD project - allowed me to evaluate MC capacity to inhibit enzyme activity and to elucidate the mechanisms underlying delayed fat digestion.

‘In addition to gaining further insight into the processes whereby MC regulates fat digestion, this internship enabled me to strengthen the solid knowledge I have developed at the ILL in neutron scattering, a very powerful technique requiring the very specific expertise of scientists working at large-scale facilities, like the ILL or ANSTO. Indeed, I got the chance to use ANSTO’s additional neutron instruments and techniques, which are not available anywhere else in the world, and thereby acquired a robust knowledge of neutron facilities at a global level. Moreover, while performing neutron measurements, I received the strong expertise of neutron specialists, which furthered my training in neutron data acquisition, treatment and analysis, and allowed me in particular to become an independent neutron user.

‘Furthermore, ANSTO has implemented a ‘neutrons applied to food science’ research programme – which has no equivalent in Europe; this programme aims at tackling food-related issues using neutron scattering, a technique currently under-used in this area. My work is right at the heart of this programme because I use fundamental knowledge, from a colloid and interface science perspective, to address obesity and related cardiometabolic diseases. This 2-month stay at ANSTO therefore gave me the chance to collaborate with researchers working, like me, at the interface between neutrons and food colloids; this was a key advantage because I currently work with neutron scientists having no expertise in food.

‘Working at ANSTO has also been a networking and cultural experience, as I got the chance to experience life abroad, to get a toehold in the Australian neutron and food communities (with which I have only a few links as a European physicochemical scientist) and to interact with scientist peers, thus expanding my network, drawing in particular upon Elliot Gilbert’s extensive network. Additionally, my host supervisor offered me the opportunity to showcase my work at ANSTO by giving a 20-minute talk about my 2-month research project; this oral presentation was a great opportunity for me to gain valuable feedbacks and receive thought-provoking questions that definitely benefited my work, as well as to have in-depth discussions with other researchers about my work. During my stay in Australia, I also took the opportunity to visit other Australian research groups working in my field of research; this allowed me to exchange knowledge, to meet new, potential collaborators and to explore with them avenues for future work and grant applications. This was of great interest to my future career in research, particularly as I am in the final year of my PhD and therefore looking for a postdoctoral position. This research visit played a key part in strengthening my desire to pursue an international professional career and was a first step towards developing an international career as a scientist, starting in Australia, a multi-cultural country where I am considering working in the near future.

‘I am deeply grateful to my home supervisors, Drs Cécile Dreiss, Yuri Gerelli, Isabelle Grillo, for supporting - without any hesitation - my desire to carry out this research visit abroad, as well as to my host supervisor, Prof Elliot Gilbert, for giving me the opportunity to work with him, for his strong involvement in my project and for imparting his expertise. I also want to thank my collaborators for their support and contribution to my project, as well as my colleagues at ANSTO, for making this internship even greater. Finally, I am particularly thankful to the SCI for awarding me the Messel Travel Bursary, which allowed me to undertake this research visit abroad.’

Olivia Pabois
PhD Student
King’s College London

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