Good Taste- Associate Professor Robert Shellie

This blog features  A/Prof Robert Shellie an academic in the School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences.

Rob’s research focuses focuses on instrumental analysis of flavour compounds in food and beverages. The overarching aim of his research in new techniques development is to enhance flavour analysis capabilities, by discovering ways to make faster, more effective, and / or more sensitive determination of flavour compounds.


We hope you enjoy reading about Rob’s academic journey…

Every future has a past, so as I sit here excitedly thinking about the future in my new role as Associate Professor of Food Chemistry and Flavour Science, it is a great time to reflect on the journey that brought me to Deakin University.


I did not have ambitions of becoming a chemist growing up. However, I am very thankful for a few guiding lights along my way. The moment I first considered a career in chemistry was during a university lecture. The Prof cleverly showed the class a list of companies which had recently employed graduate chemists. It was a long list, so I considered this was probably a good deal.

My research career in chemistry started quite a few years later, following a gap year which lasted almost half a decade, as well as a change of University. While my peers were interested in making new compounds and going home smelling like malodourous chemicals, I had become very interested in Analytical Chemistry. I worked with Prof Philip Marriott at the end of 1999 as a summer vacation scholar studying essential oils using gas chromatography. In fact I was studying gas chromatography using essential oils. My samples smelled much better than anything my fellow vacation scholars were working with, and I grew to love the technical aspects of instrumental analysis. On 23rd December I shared my project results with Prof Marriott and to my surprise, he drafted a manuscript before returning to the lab in the New Year. My first peer-reviewed journal article!

I hope you have a passport

As a chemistry honours student at RMIT University in 2000 I continued to work in the same general area of essential oil analysis. Prof Marriott infected me with a travel bug by sending me to an Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program Symposium in Singapore, and later to University of Messina in Sicily, where I worked in the Food Chemistry group with Prof Luigi Mondello for a couple of months. I learnt the proper way to identify flavour compounds using mass spectrometry, and I fell in love with Italian coffee. Prof Mondello invited me to stay to undertake a PhD in Sicily, but I returned to Melbourne to start my PhD research at RMIT. I have since made the 30,000 km round trip to Messina many times for coffee, science, gelato, pizza, etc. (in moderation of course).

I presented a poster at the 24th International Symposium on Capillary Chromatography in Las Vegas Nevada in 2001 and travelled to Freeport Texas shortly after. Here I spent two weeks in an analytical laboratory of one of the world’s largest chemical producers, introducing some of their key scientists to the RMIT way of analysis. Later a similar opportunity arose for me to spend a month in Switzerland at one of the world’s largest flavour and fragrance companies for the same kind of introduction.

Life after PhD

Prof Kevin Schug recently wrote “Analytical Chemistry is Central to All Modern Research”. He is 100% correct! I had an opportunity to ply my trade in Germany at the Max-Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology as a Post Doc. Next I moved to University of Tasmania to work in the Australian Centre for Research on Separation Science. Through hard work and (I am sure) a little luck, I secured two Fellowships and several grants from the Australian Research Council to support my research. I had the great privilege to supervise many PhD students from all parts of the world. Technology development has been the primary theme running through my research which touches a number of disciplines and several industries. We have studied plant essential oils and flavour extracts, flavour chemistry in beer and hop, whisky, and wine, explosive residues, environmental analysis, Antarctic Science, industrial chemistry, Tasmanian devil facial tumour disease, chronic kidney disease, and more. Learning to teach gave me another hugely rewarding opportunity in Tasmania.

The roads that beckoned

I had always wanted to try working in industry. In 2015 I landed a role at Trajan Scientific and Medical, back in my hometown of Melbourne. I worked in Research and Development associated with manufacturing critical components for analytical chemistry instruments. I got to work with some truly wonderful people and learnt to think a little differently. These are experiences I carry with me as Associate Professor 2.0.

It is important to have good taste

Many people might think my music tastes and choice of hairstyle are strange, I know we can all agree that great tasting food tastes great. Now tightly focused on food chemistry and flavour science I am using all of the tricks and skills acquired over close to 20 years as an analytical scientist to discover relationships between edibility and deliciousness. I can’t wait to see what we discover next.   

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