Following his passion for science, Ben Corry graduated with a PhD in Physics from ANU and is now a senior lecturer in the Research School of Biology, focusing his reach on biophysics.
Ben grew up on a farm just outside of Canberra. It was here with very dark skies and very beautiful stars that Ben knew he was interested in science, particularly astronomy. During his undergraduate degree he continued to be interested in astronomy and astrophysics “a couple of inspiring lecturers made a difference, and made me want to learn more and get involved.” In his final year he took a course in biophysics, which uses physics to understand how the body works, and found it really fascinating. Ben went from studying the biggest things, the stars, to the smallest things, “I ended up studying how the atoms and molecules in your cells work.”
“I’m always amazed about how little we know about how our bodies actually work. If you look down at the cellular scale, and then the individual proteins and different molecules working inside your cells, we have an idea about how some of it works but there is lots we just don’t understand.”
That is what Ben thinks is great about science and why he chose to study it.
When you study science at university you realise we don’t know all the answers. Science teaches you how to work out the answer or what the best approach is to solving problems.
Ben and his research group are looking at ways to design new pain medication that can block off unwanted pain signals in nerves, making pain medication more targeted and reducing side effects. Although this is still a fair way off, Ben suggests the potential benefits of these targeted medications could be hugely beneficial to a large number of people suffering from chronic and ongoing pain.
There are also unexpected technological applications from these discoveries. Ben started looking to copy how membranes around your cells let things in and out. He designed a synthetic membrane made from carbon nanotubes that can separate salt from water.
That’s another thing that can excite you, you can be studying some fundamentals of biology and suddenly find it’s got great technological applications as well. The future for this technology is to look at ways of removing other contaminates like arsenic, which is a problem in South Asian countries, or Boron in Australia’s desalinated waters.
Ben won the 2005 Young Biophysicist Award from the Australian Society of Biophysics and in 2008 was awarded Young Scientist of the Year at the WA Premier’s Science Awards. In 2011 he won a Young Tall Poppy Science Award.
He was a finalist in the Eureka Science Awards before coming full circle, taking up his post as Senior Lecturer at the ANU College of Medicine, Biology and Environment in 2012.
Ben’s achievements are not limited to academia. The outdoors has always been a part of Ben’s life, from looking at the stars to motor biking and sailing on Lake George. When Ben came back to Canberra one of the big drawing cards was the outdoors. “I love to get outside, whether it is running around in the bush, cycling or going skiing on the weekends. It’s so easy in Canberra. If you like being outside, I think it’s a great place to be.” He has represented the ACT in Hockey, WA in orienteering, and more recently won both the 2012 Australian and 2014 ACT Rogaine Championships (long distance cross country navigation).