Associate Professor Luke Connal was awarded the 3-year veski innovation fellowship in 2013.

Associate Professor Connal took up a senior research position at the University of Melbourne in the department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. Prior to returning to Victoria, he was a post doctorial researcher at the University of California Santa Barbara.

In 2017, Luke moved his group to the Research School of Chemistry at the Australian National University. His research interests lie in the development of biomimicry materials using advanced polymer design, self-assembly and catalysis.

Research project: Design and synthesis of enzyme mimics: Materials of the future

Nature’s complex and detailed systems which support the production of energy or immune defences, among other things, demonstrate amazing control of chemistry.

This elegant control of biochemical processes relies on the efficiency and specificity of biology’s catalysts, known as enzymes. Enzymes are amazing biomolecules that control complex functions, from digestion in mammals, to photosynthesis in plants. If even a small portion of these remarkable macromolecules can be replicated, the result will be new and paradigm-shifting technologies.

Luke’s project will develop enzyme mimicry technologies with a number of potential applications including low temperature detergents, renewable production of biodiesel, and anti-bacterial coatings that stem the spread of disease.

Luke’s group will engineer, synthesize and evaluate molecules for enzyme mimicry. Initially, he will focus research efforts on one specific class of enzymes – protease mimics – and he will develop methods similar to nature to control their primary, secondary and tertiary structure.

The main avenue he will be investigating is the application of enzyme mimics in detergents. In the near future, he aims to further develop the chemistry with regard to many other diverse applications.

He will also endeavour to provide proof-of-concept experiments to attract, for this avenue of research, supporting funding from commercial and government sources.

In addition, he will apply this chemistry to develop antibacterial coatings that could stem the flow of diseases.
The chemistry Luke is developing will be a platform for a range of applications, from pharmaceutical synthesis to energy production.

He will also continue to draw on his connections with large multinational chemical companies, including DOW Chemical and Unilever.

There are many great challenges for a new academic … finding the right people, finding the right infrastructure and obviously funding as well to get your research done and veski has really been able to help out on all of those counts

Associate Professor Luke Connal