In touch with … Witold Bloch

After a research career in two continents, Dr Witold Bloch joined Flinders in 2022 as a lecturer in Chemistry. We asked Wit about his team’s work to restore drinking water after contamination, and why his adrenaline-filled extracurricular activities are a family pursuit.

What is your role and what does your work focus on?

As a lecturer in Chemistry, I lead an independent research group and am responsible for teaching into several second- and third-year chemistry topics within the College of Science and Engineering. My research group focuses on the design of porous molecules, adsorbents and sensors by exploiting the self-assembly of metal ions and organic ligands. We apply these materials to address challenges in catalysis, sensing and environmental remediation. One example of this is our ongoing work on trapping a toxic class of pollutants, known as PFAS (perfluoroalkyl substances) within hollow molecules called coordination cages. These pollutants are difficult to remove from water and are toxic to humans and animals. My group is using coordination cages and developing approaches to extract these pollutants from water, as a means to restore clean drinking water at sites that are contaminated.

I’m also involved in the Royal Australian Chemical Institute in two capacities: Chair of the SA Synthesis Group, and the SA representative for the Inorganic Chemistry Division.

What journey brought you to this point in your career?

My journey started at the University of Adelaide, where I completed a PhD in 2014 focusing on the chemistry of Metal-organic Frameworks. After a short teaching and post-doctoral stint at the same institution, I received an Alexander Von Humboldt Post-doctoral fellowship to carry out a project on supramolecular cages at the University of Goettingen, Germany. About 6-months into my fellowship, my host, Professor Clever, received a new position at the Technical University of Dortmund, and that’s where I ended up carrying out the remainder of my 24-month fellowship. I returned to Adelaide (which has always been close to my heart) in 2017, funded by a Ramsay fellowship and then soon after, an ARC DECRA. Last year I was appointed as a Lecturer in Chemistry at Flinders, and I’m very glad to be here.

What is something you love most about your work?

The feeling of discovering something new – or even interpreting new data! While I would love to have more time to conduct experiments in the lab, I’m very lucky to be working with (and living vicariously through) an excellent group of bright-minded students.

Flinders PhD student Caroline Andersson with Dr Witold Bloch.

What is something you are most proud of?

When I teach undergraduate students, I try to be as approachable as possible. It’s very rewarding when students feel comfortable asking questions and are even comfortable sharing their struggles. In some sense, I’m proud of cultivating such an inclusive culture at Flinders and hope it helps bring more students back into the lecture theatre.

What does a normal day look like for you?

When time and weather permit, I begin my day by commuting to work on my trusty mountain bike or, more recently, an e-board. After a strong coffee, I usually start answering emails, reading and reviewing manuscripts or grants. Every day I spend some time planning or discussing experiments with students, or preparing for teaching activities.

How do you like to relax or spend your spare time?

I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie and relax through movement – which includes gym, skateboarding, mountain biking and skimboarding (the kind that involves catching waves). Often I try to include my wife and kids in these activities, and we mostly end up happy and unscathed. And when I’m not risking my life, I enjoy taking my wife to Pizzateca.

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