Professor Michelle Coote

Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Research
22 November 2019

Professor Michelle Coote is an ARC Laureate Fellow who has made sustained contributions to chemistry at the highest level, and is also recognised for her contributions to the profession and to advancing equity and diversity in STEM.

Her research, which spans both computational and experimental chemistry, can be summarised in two broad areas: polymer chemistry and synthetic method development.

She is a fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, has received numerous national and international numerous awards including every major research award of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute, and has published 270 research publications (1/3 in the last 5 years) that have attracted over 8500 citations at an h-index of 52.

She is best known for her contributions to the polymer field; materials which now dominate every aspect of our lives.

Her more recent research has focussed on changing the way in which chemical reactions are triggered. They are usually driven by heat in conjunction with expensive (and often toxic) catalysts to lower the energy requirements.

Michelle's recent work has focussed on harnessing alternative drivers of chemical reactions (electricity, light and mechanical force). For instance, she has recently shown that charged groups can be used to selectively manipulate photochemical processes, developed a new safe methylation technique based on electrochemistry, and provided the first demonstration that electric fields can catalyse chemical reactions. In the latter case, her 2016 Nature paper is already cited more than 160 times and has sparked a new field of research.

Prior to the team receiving the award, Michelle was sent a series of questions. Her responses are below.

Q: Congratulations on being nominated a finalist for the 2019 Vice-Chancellor's Annual Awards. Can you briefly tell us what this honour means to you?

A: To be honoured by my own university is particularly valuable to me.

Q: Tell us a little about the behind-the-scenes work involved in the project you worked on. What was a challenging aspect of the work? How did you overcome this?

A: Keeping a stable funding base to support my research group.

Q: Why Canberra? Why ANU?

A: I was offered a postdoc here 18 years ago and my family has since put down roots.

Q: Can you tell us a little about why you are so passionate about what you do?

A: I have always been interested in finding new ways to manipulate chemical reactions - whether that was using new tools to study them, which was how I started out, or in this case using alternative energy sources to trigger them. If we can make chemical reactions more efficient, it is a first step to sustainability.

Q: Is there anyone you would like to recognise for helping you become a finalist for the 2019 Vice-Chancellor's Annual Awards?

A: I'd like to thank Penny Brothers for nominating me and my research group who did all the hard work.