Issue 70 Contents
A Researcher Who Achieved Her Dream
Hilary was as gentle as the sound of snow softly falling and used her unique style to bring people together to achieve research objectives. A week before Hilary passed away in late May 2005 she said “I feel quite comfortable about dying but it seems so unfair. I still have so much to contribute”. Most people know the story of Lance Armstrong beating cancer to win the Tour de France seven times. This is the story of Dr Hilary Booth, a cancer survivor for 35 years, achieving her dream of becoming a researcher.
|Hilary at Kew Gardens after presenting at Imperial College, London.|
Hilary spent her early years growing up in a mud brick house, designed and built by her engineer father, in Eltham, Victoria. Hilary’s mother was a Geophysicist who passed away from cancer when Hilary was a young girl. Shortly after Hilary lost her mother, Hilary was diagnosed with cancer herself. After missing a year of school recuperating from chemotherapy treatment, Hilary impressed her teachers, by returning to school and winning the State Mathematics prize. This pattern of achievement in the face of adversity was to be a characteristic of Hilary’s productive life.
After completing a BSc at the University of Adelaide, with a major in Mathematical Physics, Hilary then chose to be an artist. As part of the surrealist art movement, she exhibited her paintings in five countries. It was during this time that Hilary rode her Ducati motorbike through the streets of Sydney. A determined young lady, with the beauty of long red hair on black leather, riding a fast motorbike. Despite ongoing battles with cancer throughout her life, Hilary liked to live life with much excitement.
During her time as an artist, Hilary was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She used the beauty of nature as her inspiration to maintain her battle and after overcoming the cancer, Hilary then chose a scientific path, graduating with a PhD in Mathematics in 1999. After spending two years managing a demanding lecturing position in Adelaide, whilst also being a mother and dealing with yet another episode of cancer, Hilary moved to Canberra to fulfill her goal of being a researcher at the Australian National University (ANU).
Achieving her dream of becoming a full time researcher gave Hilary many rewards. She described the satisfaction of sitting in a jet about to take off on international trips to present her papers as making her feel as if “the world is my oyster”. Hilary presented Bioinformatics papers at prestigious institutions such as Stanford University, California and Imperial College, London.
As well as using her impressive artistic skills to design covers for journals, proceedings and promotional material, Hilary was passionate in engaging the wider community in science and mathematics. Each year she designed an exhibit for Science Week in Canberra.
In 2001 Hilary designed and organised a project for Australian Science Week titled “Jump into the Gene Pool”. This involved Year six school students from eight schools constructing a 600m long gene
|Hilary relaxing in Arthur Boyd’s art studio at Bundanon, NSW, after BioInfoSummer 2003|
by stringing together pieces of circular coloured foam. It was a replica of a real gene with the four nucleotides of the gene sequence represented by four different colours of foam. With the help of two Australian Olympic swimmers, Sarah Ryan and Siobhan Paton, the children assembled the “gene” in the Australian Institute of Sport swimming pool, renamed the “gene pool”. The children looked for “mutations” where the strand and complimentary strand did not match. The event was used as a media launch for ANU’s contribution to Science Week.
Another project Hilary designed was titled “Voyage (by bicycle) along the Human Genome” for Science Week in 2003. This involved a high quality video representation of a scrolling genome. It was designed to demonstrate the great length and the structure of the genome. The video representation of the gene was linked to a stationary bike. The faster participants pedalled on the bike the faster the genome scrolled. The exhibit gave an accumulative digital readout of how far along the genome the scrolling had progressed. The challenge was for the children to see if they could pedal the full length of the genome by the end of Science Week.
Hilary initiated the highly successful ANU summer symposium, BioInfoSummer, in November 2003. This attracted over 170 attendees. The symposium was again run in 2004 and will be held again in 2005. As part of the symposium Hilary introduced the ANU Postgraduate Course Award in Bioinformatics with students being required to attend lectures and computer tutorials at BioInfoSummer and submit follow-up assignments.
At the end of 2003 Hilary was diagnosed with heart failure. This was a result of the chemotherapy treatment she had received as a young girl. Heart failure is when the heart fails to pump at its full capacity, resulting in a lack of oxygen being supplied to the body. Nonetheless, she continued her research whilst going through a daily struggle with things such as the difficulty of walking across campus to meetings. In the last six months of her life, one of her greatest challenges was the daily walk from the car park to her office.
Hilary had five major episodes of cancer during her life. Let us use the story of Hilary as motivation to strive for goals in life and use her demonstration of courage, dedication, collaboration and teamwork, as inspiration as to how we can all be achievers and contribute to the world.
* Bioinformatics is the application of mathematics, statistics and information technology to the study and analysis of very large biological and genetic data sets. This has been a rapidly expanding area of science since the announcement of the Human Genome in 2001.
Steve Dwight is with the Australian Biological Resources Study, Department of the Environment and Heritage that funds taxonomic and systematics research on Australian biota.
Issue 70 Contents