Joe Brophy

BSc (Hons) 1965, PhD 1968, DSc 2001 (all from UNSW), Dip.Ed (Monash) 1976, FRACI, C.Chem

What is your current position, and what do you do?
As an Honorary Fellow in the School of Chemistry UNSW, a position I have enjoyed for the past 14 years, I have been able to continue my research in the field of essential oils chemistry, combining this passion with tutoring and working on practical classes within the School.

Describe your study/employment pathway.
I commenced a Science degree at the University of New South Wales in 1961. At that time, chemistry was still being taught at the old Sydney Technical College at Ultimo. I was awarded my BSc, with first class honours researching natural products. In 1968, I was awarded a PhD in organophosphorus chemistry, also at UNSW.

I then did postdoctoral research in insect chemistry at UNSW, in photochemistry at the university now known as the University of New Orleans, and back at UNSW, where I helped set up the second gas chromatography mass spectrometer in Australia.

In 1971, I moved to Monash University as a Senior Tutor, where I remained for 5 years. Apart from teaching (which I really enjoyed) I was involved in mass spectrometry, photochemistry and synthetic chemistry. Following this period, I took a Diploma in Education at Monash University, and I returned to UNSW as a Professional Officer, and have remained here ever since.

The techniques involved in insect chemistry also apply to essential oils analyses, and as time went on I did more collaborative projects in essential oils chemistry. I have collaborated on essential oils projects with botanists and foresters at CSIRO and botanists at various herbaria around Australia, as well as with chemists and botanists overseas, mostly in South East Asia.

I retired in 2003 as a Senior Project Scientist, and became an Honorary Visiting Fellow to complete unfinished parts of the overall work. As the amount of bench work lessened I have been able to do more teaching.

My first paper was published in 1966 during my PhD, and in 2016 my 300th paper was published. During these 50 years, there have been 3 books, the award of a Churchill Fellowship in 1983 to study insect chemistry in USA and UK, the award of a DSc in 2001, and the RACI Archibald Ollé prize in 2015 for my part in the book on the genus Melaleuca. I have been a NATA (National Association of Testing Authorities) laboratory examiner, and am still on the editorial board of the Journal of Essential Oil Research.
What achievement are you most proud of?
The more than 30 years work on essential oils research. I like to think that we know much more about some of the plant families and their economic potential as a result of this work.

What do you believe are the greatest attributes of a successful scientist?
Being able to adapt. A lot of the techniques that I have used in my research career I acquired more or less by accident in the course of other work. As I have told the students – there is nothing that a trained organic chemist cannot do.

What are your interests outside of work?
The family, even if they are mostly all adults now. I like reading, and music, and used to play in the Sydney Flute Choir. We always had a dog (mostly a golden retriever), and I used to enter obedience trials, more or less for relaxation. I met my wife at these competitions. These days it is just fun to take the dog (still a golden retriever) for walks.

What advice would you give to students starting their science careers?
In my essential oils work, none of the areas of expertise needed did I formally study at university but picked them up along the way (e.g. mass spectrometry, gas chromatography and botany). So, if you are really interested in an area of science don't be put off by a lack of formal training, if you work at it you can acquire the skills as you work in the area.

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