Nick – Senior Radiochemist and Validation Associate

Who are you?

Hey, I’m Nick Aslin. I work as a Senior Radiochemist and Validation Associate at Global Medical Solutions.

 

How did you get into this job?

I have a Bachelor of Science majoring in genetics and neuroscience, but where I work now is a fairly niche field, so I have had a lot of on the job training.

What do you actually do?

I take molecules that mimic those made in the body in specific organs and bind them to different radioisotopes (radioactive versions of normal elements). We send these off to hospitals to be injected into patients.  Once injected, the body will think that the molecule is one that it has made and send it to a specific organ. Using the radiation emitted from the radioisotope, the doctors can track the molecule through the body to see if there is something wrong with the patient. Depending on how strong the radiation is, this can even be used to treat cancers in certain organs.

I also experiment with our equipment and processes to make sure everything works the way it should. This means we can say that everything that goes into a patient is safe and won’t hurt anyone—especially those who are already sick.

If I were to explain my job to other scientists, I would ask “what flavour” of scientist they are before I’d tell them. Science is highly specialised, so even with a good understanding of science there’s no saying they will easily understand what I do. Unless they’re in a related field, it’s probably the same answer I would give a non-scientist!

What type of building (or otherwise) do you work in?

We have a clean room for producing radioisotope compounds. This has air that is filtered before it gets into the room so there are no germs present, and we clean with heavy duty disinfectants daily. We need to wear clean room suits that cover everything except our face, face masks, and two sets of gloves. It takes between 5 and 10 minutes to get changed into our clean suits!

We also have an office where the planning, paperwork, and order taking happens.

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Part of the clean room where we do the lab work. The picture is blurry because the camera was in a zip-lock bag – the clean room needs to remain medically clean at all times!

 

What STEM disciplines are involved with your work?

We work across biology, chemistry, and physics. Biology lets us know how our products will work and affect the patients, and how clean our lab is. We use chemistry when we are making the products to ensure everything works as it should. All radiation work is modelled and understood through physics.

What other STEM People do you work with?

Because we cross a few different fields, my colleagues also come from different fields. We have chemists, biologists, physicists, and even engineers. Having a wide variety of disciplines allows us to ensure we are doing everything right.

What does a typical day for you look like?

Every day is very different, and it depends when you start! Our production shifts start at midnight each night to make the radioisotopes to send to hospitals during the day. There’s a morning shift which covers things that can’t get made early and any emergency doses for hospitals. Afternoon shifts organise things for the next night.

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When we’re not in the lab, there is a lot of paperwork and computer work to keep up with regulatory standards.

What do you like best about your work?

Being in the medical industry means I get to make a positive difference in the world and help people who are sick and in need. It’s nice to go home each day thinking I may have played a part in saving a life.

What do you like least about your work?

We have to be available 24/7, just in case someone needs us. Sometimes you can be sitting down for dinner and your phone will go off because someone needs a dose. Even when you know you’re helping, sometimes it’s hard to go back to work.

What advice would you have for a high school student considering a career in the STEM field?

Get as much exposure as you can: there’s so much knowledge out there and so many different fields. Find something interesting. Find your passion. It’s probably a bit of a cliché thing to say, but it’s true. There’s so much variety within science there really is something for everyone. Some days I feel like a tradie, some days like a retail assistant, and some days like a movie scientist depending on what I’m doing.

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This is the inside of a cyclotron – it accelerates protons to make things radioactive.

 


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