Dr Leah Frenette is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in Prof Molly Stevens group at Imperial College London. Her research area and insterests cover nanomaterials chemistry, developing new nanoparticles and investigating how they can be used in infectious disease diagnostics. In this short interview, Leah shares with us her career so far and how she's adapted her research during the COVID-19 lockdown period.
How did you get into a career in research?
I’ve had excellent and incredibly supportive professors throughout my career that showed me the breadth and depth of chemistry as well as how to make connections across disciplines. Having that foundation, I found that there are always new questions to answer and I became motivated by the bigger picture, leading me to move to the more applied research that I’m doing now.
How does your research contribute to developing point-of-care diagnostics for infectious disease?
My research focuses on developing new nanoparticles and investigating how we can use their properties to signal the detection of biological molecules that indicate infectious disease. Infectious diseases are often endemic in low- to lower middle-income countries that may not have the means for testing facilities with expensive equipment, so we have to be creative and develop tools that will work in those settings. Fluorescent nanoparticles and colour changing chemistries are what I’ve been using in my research developing diagnostic tests for infectious diseases. They are so gratifying because you can see that your test is working just by looking at it, or by flashing a light!
Who do you collaborate with to do your research?
I collaborate with other members of our research group as well as members of other groups within i-sense and at Imperial. Collaborations with biologists and clinicians are so important to ensure that what we are trying to do is relevant and will be useful at the end of the day. We also collaborate with physicists who have the equipment to help us characterise some of the new properties that we observe.
Outside of research skills, what skills have been important to you to develop throughout your career?
Generally, as a researcher, it’s been really important to learn how to communicate my work effectively, whether in writing, in presentations, or generally in conversation. That’s not to say it’s something I think I’ve mastered, but it’s something I’m constantly trying to get better at.
During COVID-19, how has your research evolved to respond to the pandemic?
During lockdown I set my main project aside to join a team that formed within our research group and i-sense, developing a different nanoparticle based detection system for diagnosing SARS-CoV-2. It was a very multidisciplinary team and it was amazing to see everyone come together to achieve a common goal. My research methods have also had to adapt to include a lot more planning to limit the number of trips I take to the lab.
Tell us about something you enjoy outside of your research…
Recently I’ve gotten into gardening and have filled every corner of our little London garden with something green!