Sally McArthur’s Interview to The Science and Engineering Cafe

In this exclusive interview to The Science and Engineering Café, Sally talks about her mentors and how they influenced her, her current research and sabbatical in Switzerland. She is offering some advice to those now entering the field of Plasma research and extends an invitation to those interested in collaborating with her group.

I think this is a great read to start your work week. Happy Monday!

Daphne Pappas

Sally McArthur, Swinburne University

Dr. Sally McArthur’s exclusive interview to

1)      What made you choose plasma as your field of study?

I guess having worked with Prof Hans Griesser as both a plasma lab technician and PhD Student and then my Post Doc at U Washington and my 1st academic role at Sheffield, all had extensive plasma activity. Plasma coatings were always going to be one of my key tools. It is my go to technique when I need to test a range of different chemistries and I want to be able to apply a coating to a wide variety of substrates. Over the years I have explored a range of ways of integrating these coatings into devices and developing new patterning methods to suit different applications and tried to develop some fundamental insight into how the films form, I don’t think I ever set out to make them my field of study, but they certainly have snuck their way in!

2)      Which of the papers that you authored are you most proud of and why?

I love the work we did when I was at NESAC-Bio that asked some really fundamental questions on the sensitivity of XPS and ToF-SIMS to detecting adsorbed proteins on a wide variety of surfaces. It was a pretty simple set of experiments, but it established a clear way of understanding what the techniques could and could not do.

More recently, our work on developing plasma coatings for electrospun wound dressings and carbon fibre composites has really reinforced to me the broad reaching applications for plasma polymers as a tool in manufacturing.

3)      What advice would you give to someone who is now entering the field?

If you are starting a PhD, be really clear on how you think your studies will contribute to your career. What types of skills do you want to build outside the technical ones, who do you want to connect with or work with to explore those career plans and make sure your supervisor is willing and able to help you get to those goals.

4)      Which is your favorite conference and why?

I love the AVS meeting, it mixes plasma, surface analysis and biointerfaces so there is always things to see and people to talk to, without it being too big. It is my blended science community and it is home to me.

5)  How much did your mentor influence you?

I have been really fortunate to have lots of mentors over the years, many of whom may not have even realized they were mentoring me! Different people have taught me different things, from how to manage people’s expectations in projects through to how to pitch a new project, build a research relationship or manage university politics. I think the most important thing is to be always looking at how people work, pick up tips and tricks and adapt them to suit your needs. Critically, you need to be yourself.

6) Describe your latest research work.

I am just starting an exciting new program in collaboration with CSIRO, Australia’s federal research organization to develop new 3D cell culture systems. Our goal is to develop validatable, reproducible and scalable systems to address challenges in materials testing, drug discovery and fundamental biological processes. This means we will bring together materials, biology, physics and chemistry as well as design skills to make this project work and that is what I love doing – multidisciplinary team-based projects.

7)  In your opinion, which is the most effective way to communicate your research? Journal articles, conference presentations, other?

I suspect it is the personal contact that probably has the greatest impact in terms of research communication, so conference talks, seminars and workshops are key. But being from Australia, travel is not always possible, so social media has become more important and obviously journal articles give you the thing you are seeking to share with the wider group of people. As an associate editor for the journal Biointerphases, I look after the journal Twitter feed, @Biointerphases and it is fascinating to see the reach we can get across the world with our tweets about articles and different research groups.

8) You are currently on sabbatical in Switzerland. Please tell us about your current work. Do you see any benefit in working in other labs?  

Research is a team sport and spending time in other groups opens you up to new ideas, ways of doing things and new opportunities for collaboration. While in Switzerland my hosts arranged a trip to Germany to visit their research partners and I was able to join in and we are now building a 3 lab collaboration.

9)  Several scientists from the Plasma field will read your interview on The Science and Engineering Café. Is there a message that you would like to send to them? Are you interested in new collaborations? Please provide details.

We host the Australian National Fabrication Facilities Biointerface Engineering Hub at Swinburne. The facility offers access to a range of plasma and other surface modification and fabrication tools and expert advice to researchers and industry across Australia and internationally. We are always looking for new opportunities for collaboration, materials supply and partnerships.


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