Lab+Life Scientist Apr 2015

Page 6

Susan Williamson

Emeritus Professor Philip Kuchel reflects on the moving spectrum of a distinguished career in biochemical research.


ab+Life Scientist: What drew you

to become a biochemist? Professor Philip Kuchel: The idea that you could explain life processes with biochemistry was, and still is, really fascinating to me - for example, a defect in one enzyme will produce a multisystem disorder in a patient. I was lucky enough to be admitted into medical school at Adelaide University and by the end of first year I had decided I would pursue medical research in some form; and in second year I took a real liking to biochemistry. Although there was a lot of memory work in the medical subjects, the challenge served a valuable purpose as it forced me to develop strategies for learning - I basically ‘learnt how to learn’ in secondyear medicine. I treated a biochemical pathway like some of the word games that involve transformation of a word from one to the next. And I got the bigger picture. I was able to remember structures sufficiently well to get an overview of whole metabolic systems - once you do that it all falls into place. I took a year off the main course after the thirdyear examinations and worked with Professor Bill Elliot and Dr George Rogers; I was given the run of the lab. I had access to sophisticated instruments like the electron microscope, which was a big deal back in those days. I could even run it myself! Here I was, a mere honours student, and they trusted me with expensive instruments. I think that’s one of the things that drew me in - for the first time I had senior people around me who were enthusiastic about what I was discovering. L+LS: So instead of pursuing medicine you took

Monitoring moving molecules

on a PhD? PK: By the end of my bachelor of medical science I went into fourth-year medicine, but by that stage I had

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