veski's portraits of innovation

Setting his own path

On his way home from tending bar in the MCG Long Room, Luke Connal created his own, unique path through Melbournes Carlton Gardens. The aspiring scientist, undergraduate and aesthete timed and tracked his walk each evening at sunset so he could admire the Royal Exhibition Building from what he determined was the perfect vantage point.

“The way it caught the light was so spectacular,” Luke says. “I like things that look good and I appreciate good design. It may have something to do with the fact my dad is a civil engineer who builds bridges,” Luke says.

In 2013, Luke and his wife Katia packed up their lives in Santa Barbara, California, and returned to his alma mater – the University of Melbourne and a veski innovation fellowship.

Luke took up a Senior Lecturer position in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, to research mimicry of natural enzymes to develop new materials to improve Victorian lives.

“I’m not daunted by big moves,” he says. “I’ve done a few in my time. I usually take things in my stride and just do them but moving back to Australia was pretty stressful because it was around the time of the birth of our first child Clio and we had some passport challenges.”

Fortunately, as the relatively new member of the veski family recalls, the welcome he and his young family received was very warm. Luke was travelling in China when his veski innovation fellowship was announced so he was invited to speak at a later date in Queen’s Hall at Parliament House, at the announcement of the Victoria Prize and Victoria Fellowships – also administered by veski.

Luke had been awarded a Victoria Fellowship at the end of his PhD and travelled to Spain, then on to the USA “so there was a nice synchronicity about it all”, he says.

What also interested Luke about the Queen’s Hall event was the opportunity for secondary students from Victorian regional schools taking part in veski’s inspiring students (& teachers) program to attend.

“I am very interested in the veski schools program because in Santa Barbara I was involved in an initiative with primary schools funded through a grant scheme for academics to do outreach to promote science,” he says.

“I’m glad veski is doing interaction here because it’s very important for people to try and inspire the next generation of scientists.

“Science doesn’t always get the best or most press and if we can’t sell it to them then no-one else can.”

Luke believes science is a very rewarding career if you set your own path and come up with your own ideas to create new science that no-one’s ever thought of before.

“If you’re passionate about it, something good comes out of it.”