Interview with Martina Stenzel

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Martina Stenzel studied chemistry at the University of Bayreuth, Germany, before completing her PhD in 1999 at the Institute of Applied Macromolecular Chemistry, University of Stuttgart, Germany. She started working as a DAAD Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), Sydney, Australia, where she currently holds the position of full professor. Her research interests encompass the synthesis of functional polymers with complex architectures such as glycopolymers and other polymers for biomedical applications, especially polymers with in-build metal complexes for the delivery of metal-based anti-cancer drugs. Martina Stenzel has published more than 200 peer reviewed papers and 8 book chapters and has attracted more than 9000 citations so far. She is active in the Royal Australian Chemical Institute (RACI) where she held the position of Honorary General Secretary and Chair of the Polymer Division. She is currently a member of the Australian Research Council (ARC) College of Experts and serves on the National Chemistry Committee of the Australian Academy of Science. She has been Associate Editor of the Australian Journal of Chemistry and is now Scientific Editor of RSC Materials Horizons. In addition she serves on several editorial boards. She has received a range of awards including the 2011 Le Fèvre Memorial Prize of the Australian Academy of Science.

Do you remember what it felt like to publish your first ChemComm article?

My first ChemComm paper appeared in 2004 and described the synthesis of poly(vinyl alcohol) star polymers. It was the first time that I published a polymer synthesis article in a general chemistry journal. I remember that we were all very excited that the reviewers really liked the work and felt it had a broad appeal to a wider audience and not just to polymer scientists.

How has your research evolved from your first to your most recent article?

The last 10 years my work moved from pure polymer synthesis to the application of polymer nanoparticles in drug delivery. Although the work is now very application oriented, I have not forgotten my roots and I am still very concerned with good polymer synthesis and analysis. I always found that this is the cornerstone to good materials. We now use our basic knowledge to create interesting materials with conjugated drugs, such as metal complexes, to create good drug delivery systems. I work very closely with researchers from hospitals who have often very challenging drug delivery problems and we try to design efficient drug carriers for their drugs. This has also meant that I have had to learn a bit about biology. I have now my own biological facilities and my students test their polymer nanoparticles on various cancer cells themselves.

What do you like most about publishing in ChemComm?

Usually, there is an efficient turnaround of the manuscript, but what I appreciate most is that my articles are read by a broad audience. I always thought that this is the most important aspect of publishing: reaching a lot of researchers and getting others interested in what we are doing. I personally also like the templates because I know exactly how much space I have and therefore they force me to be precise and brief.

What aspect of your research are you most excited about at the moment?

I am really excited about combining synthetic polymers with nature's building blocks such as proteins, peptides and sugars. The materials found in nature is great already with the high bioactivity and selectivity. Attaching polymer chains can introduce further functionalities such as stimuli-responsive features, which creates really interesting materials for biomedical applications. We have been working a lot with glycopolymers over the years, but we discovered recently that the combination of synthetic polymers with albumin can lead to interesting nanoparticles (our recent ChemComm article).

What is the best part of your job?

Remember when we were kids and we tested all sorts of ideas at home, often to the horror of our parents? This is exactly what I do now and I get paid for it. I still sometimes have crazy ideas, but now I get my PhD students to try them. I really enjoy working with my students. I see their transformation in the three years of their PhD from somebody who does not really know what they are doing in the lab to independent scientists with their own ideas. It is like bringing up a child in a good way and getting them ready for the science world.

What is the secret to success in scientific publishing?

There are of course a few things that are paramount such as attention to detail and formatting, being up to date with the literature and having well-presented graphs. Beyond that, it is difficult to say what makes a good paper. I suppose it helps to write a paper when you have interesting and exciting results that you can explain. I always tell my students to write the manuscript like a story about a journey.

What is your advice to young emerging scientists?

It is very tough at the moment to become an academic. Hard work is just one part. I think it is very important to go out into the scientific community and talk to your peers. If you can, attend conferences and maybe get active in your chemical society. I would also recommend trying to find somebody, maybe in your area of research, who can be a mentor and give you some good advice.

What do you do in your spare time?

I have two small kids so opera, bushwalking and dinner with friends, all the things I loved doing in the past, are replaced by soccer with the under 5's and ballet in a pink tutu (my daughter, not me!).

By the time I'm 100 I would like to have…

Made a difference. I would like to have created something that is useful or helped the understanding of important aspects about drug delivery and materials design… and I would like to have some (great) grandchildren.

This journal is © The Royal Society of Chemistry 2014