2018 Tall Poppy Winners
The 2018 Young Tall Poppy Award Ceremonies have been held and the winners are listed below.
Dr Anne Bruestle
Australian National University
Research Field: Medical Research/Immunology
Dr Bruestle’s research focuses on a type of adaptive immune cell called T helper 17 (Th17) cells, which are found in multiple sclerosis (MS) lesions and play an important role in disease development.
To study MS, we use a model known as experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), in which various aspects including the role of Th17 cells in MS is replicated. Th17 cells attract an innate immune cell population, known as neutrophil granulocytes, to sites of inflammation. These neutrophils have the extraordinary capability to extrude their DNA in extracellular traps (NETs) to enable them to ensnare and kill bacteria. However, NETs can also damage bystander cells leading to organ pathology.
Dr Bruestle is currently investigating the interaction of Th17 cells and neutrophils and the direct pathological effects of NETs on neurons and the kind of damage seen in MS. She uses genetic- and inhibitor-mediated manipulation of Th17 cell and/or neutrophil function to explore potential drug targets for MS and to identify molecules involved in this process as biomarkers for disease progression and treatment efficacy. Dr Bruestle has established a collaboration with clinicians at the Canberra Hospital to enable her to transfer her findings from the laboratory EAE model directly to people affected by MS.
Dr Vini Gautam
Australian National University
Research Field: Biomedical Engineering
Damage to the brain due to an accident, stroke, tumour, infection, or neurodegenerative diseases results in cognitive, physical and emotional disabilities, which affect millions of people in Australia and the world. Brain damage disrupts the neural circuit connections in the brain. However, unlike other cells in the body, which can regenerate and function after injury, neurons need to establish new connections to regain their circuit function.
Unfortunately, fundamental questions relating to how brain circuits form, regenerate and function remain unanswered. We are hence limited in creating appropriate solutions to guide neural circuits formation and currently there are no drugs available to repair brain damage.
In her research, Dr Gautam has proposed an innovative solution to this challenge. Using latest techniques in nanotechnology, she aims to create scaffolds that closely mimic the structure of the brain at the nano-scale (~1/1000th of the thickness of a human hair). She will then study how neurons grow, form connections and consequently re-attain their physiological circuit functions. These scaffolds will finally aid in designing implants for engineering the formation of neural circuits and hence provide a physiological way to guide the neurons to form the appropriate circuit connections after an injury or damage.
Dr Bryan Lessard
Research Field: Entomology
The classification of Australian horse flies ceased in the 1980s, despite being vectors of disease in Australia. By combining traditional taxonomy with contemporary DNA sequencing and high-resolution photography, Dr Lessard produced the first phylogeny for southern hemisphere horse flies, and described one new tribe, two new genera and 18 new species. Using fossil evidence, he then demonstrated that the current distribution of southern hemisphere horse flies is best explained by the breakup of the supercontinent Gondwana.
This research resulted in seven publications and enabled others to accurately identify specimens from the southern hemisphere to species level. Australian soldier flies are pests of sugar cane and notoriously difficult to identify. Last year Dr Lessard brought Fulbright Specialist Dr Norman Woodley (Smithsonian Institute) to Australia, and together they discovered more than 150 new species after identifying thousands of specimens from every Australian state museum.
Dr Lessard produced the first molecular phylogeny for these agriculturally important flies using anchored hybrid enrichment, a cutting-edge technology generating 600 nuclear markers, which was a first in Australian entomology. Recently he was awarded a $297,000 research grant (ABRS) to describe new species of Australian mosquitoes that will help entomologists identify those that carry diseases like Ross River Fever.
Dr Edward Simpson
Australian National University
Research Field: Nuclear Physics
Nuclear collisions provide a testing ground for fundamental quantum mechanics, with applications in astrophysics, nuclear fusion, new element discovery, and particle beam cancer therapy. Dr Simpson’s research is focussed on the theory and modelling of nuclear collisions, and in understanding how the internal structure of nuclei influences nuclear reaction outcomes. One example is nuclear fusion.
Fusion is one of the most important quantum mechanical phenomenon in the universe – it powers the stars, made the elements we see around us, and is even exploited on Earth to make new elements. His research aims to understand the quantum mechanical effects that influence fusion and can enhance fusion probabilities at low energies by a factor of 1000. He also studies high energy nuclear collisions, with particles travelling at up to 80% of the speed of light. Here, his theoretical models allow us to predict the energy and angle distributions of specific reaction products, giving us a probe of nuclear structure characteristics.
This research has led to numerous experiments at international laboratories to study the nature of very exotic, short-lived isotopes. Dr Simpson is now applying these reaction models to improve our understanding of and dose distributions in particle-beam therapy.
Dr Erin Walsh
Australian National University
Research Field: Population Health
It is well established that ageing is associated with brain atrophy, particularly in adulthood. After age 60, the typical adult brain atrophies ≈0.5% per year. This constitutes substantial cumulative volume loss. In one decade, the brain atrophies approximately 54ml, 5% of total volume. A diagnosis of type 2 diabetes mellitus is associated with a 0.1- 1.5% lower total brain volume, exacerbating this age-associated atrophy and increasing the risk of pathological outcomes.
There is mounting evidence that variation of blood glucose in the normal fasting glucose range may also impact brain structure, and consequently and be associated with cognitive impairment.
Dr Walsh’s research focusses on precisely estimating the magnitude and underlying mechanisms of this effect. In this process she routinely develops new approaches and methodologies (i.e. her recent novel work in shape analysis) to support this. To date, she has found that even subtly higher blood glucose levels in the normal range (e.g. 5.5mmol/L versus 5mmol/L) are associated with an≈0.06% comparatively greater decrease in total brain volume each year. She is currently digging further into the associations between blood glucose and specific sub-regions of the brain (e.g. the hippocampus, implicated in memory), and the role of related factors such as diet, exercise, and adiposity.
Dr Melody Ding
University of Sydney
Research Field: Public Health, Epidemiology, Health Promotion
Dr Ding works at the intersection of epidemiology, behavioural science and chronic disease prevention. She expanded the research paradigm of lifestyle epidemiology by examining the interactions among lifestyle risk factors in their etiological pathways to NCD, such as identification of the combinations of physical activity, not smoking and active social participation as the strongest predictor for longevity. Her research also links behaviours and anifested health outcomes to their social and environmental contexts, through identifying attributes of urban environments that are conducive to healthy living. She endeavours to connect public health research with sustainability and planetary health. This is evidenced by her work in developing urban health indicators for health and sustainability globally.
A highlight of Dr Ding’s research is her leadership in the 2016 Lancet series on physical activity, where she published the first-ever global estimate for the economic burden of physical inactivity ($53 billion in health care cost and $14 billion in productivity losses) and that the economic cost inversely correlated with a country’s income and disease burden, highlighting the importance of equity in disease prevention. This work has become one of the most frequently cited papers in physical activity and was awarded the Most Impactful Publication in 2016 by American Heart Association.
Dr Andrew Gardner
The University of Newcastle
Research Field: Neurotrauma
Concussion is a complex, transient disturbance to the brain induced by biomechanical forces. These forces initiate a neuropathophysiological cascade involving inflammatory, metabolic, neuronal, and axonal abnormalities. Currently there are no reliable markers that indicate when the brain is no longer in this state of increased cerebral vulnerability. Although a single concussion rarely has lasting effects, there is increasing evidence that repeated concussions are associated with cumulative and chronic neurological impairments, including the possible development of dementia.
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy has been postulated as a neurodegenerative condition induced by repetitive concussive and subconcussive blows and has been associated with debilitating clinical symptoms and neuropathological features that encompass brain atrophy, axonal injury, proteopathies, and inflammation. Dr Gardner’s research investigates the longterm effects of sports concussion in retired professional rugby league players with considerable histories of sports concussion, using MRI and neuropsychological assessment. These studies have found evidence of structural brain damage (increased incidence and severity of cavum septum pellucidum), axonal injury (diffusion tensor imaging abnormalities), and decreased neuronal health and oxidative stress (N-Acetylasparate and glutathione using magnetic resonance spectroscopy). These discoveries however, have been identified in the absence of overt neuropsychological deficits and limited self-reported concerns.
Dr Simon Gross
Research Field: Physics
The global Internet traffic is increasing at an exponential rate. In the past, the transmission capacity of optical fibres has been scaled by adding more wavelengths channels and using complex modulation formats. However, this also requires larger optical powers, which cause greater optical nonlinearities. These optical nonlinearities result in an intrinsic capacity limit of common single-mode optical fibres, known as the nonlinear Shannon Limit. A promising approach to scale the transmission capacity is to utilise optical modes as individual, parallel data channels.
These modes are different intensity patterns, similar to the modes of a drum, which can propagate down the fibre. The challenge of this approach lies in generating and detecting the individual modes. Dr Gross has developed optical chips that can perform this task with high efficiency and fidelity. Unlike conventional optical chips that are based on a planar geometry, these chips rely on a 3D architecture, which mimics the transverse symmetry of the fibre modes. Thus a new technique had to be developed to access the third dimension. The technique uses a laser to induce a highly localised, but permanent structural modification inside glass. By moving the glass through the laser focus, arbitrary 3D optical circuits can be inscribed.
Dr Laura Parker
The University of Sydney
Research Field: Marine Science
Ocean acidification (OA) is one of the biggest challenges for marine biodiversity in our time. This ongoing process is caused by oceans absorbing increasingly large amounts of anthropogenic carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and this is decreasing ocean pH at an unprecedented rate. Studies globally show that oysters are extremely vulnerable to OA and will need to undergo acclimation or adaptation to survive. In collaboration with NSW Department of Primary Industries, Dr Parker discovered that oysters can acclimate to OA via transgenerational plasticity. Exposure of parents to OA during reproductive conditioning facilitates the transfer of positive carryover effects to their offspring, which drastically improve their performance in the acidified conditions. These carryover effects persist into adulthood and the next generation and are caused by a heritable increase in standard metabolic rate.
The Australian Research Council has supported this research through the award of one Discovery and two Discovery Indigenous projects, leading to 35 publications (>1500 citations), including in Global Change Biology. In recognition of the success of Dr Parker’s work, she was awarded best presentation at two international conferences, and now, her research is a key part of the Sydney rock oyster breeding program to help ‘climate-proof’ the largest aquaculture industry in NSW, worth $40 million annually.
Dr Jelena Rnjak-Kovacina
University of New South Wales
Research Field: Biomedical engineering
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of mortality worldwide and there are currently no effective treatments for the damage to the heart tissue caused by myocardial infarction or the heart attack. Cardiac patches are cardiac tissue analogues are grown in the lab by populating biomaterials (or materials developed to interface with our body) with appropriate cells and may be a viable long-term alternative to treating myocardial infarction. However, the clinical utility of cardiac patches is limited by insufficient and delayed vascularisation once implanted, resulting in cell death and poor patch integration.
Dr Rnjak-Kovacina’s research aims to understand the physical and biological cues that drive tissue vascularisation and to replicate these in biomaterials, so we can develop viable bioengineered tissues such as cardiac patches. Her vision is a future in which patients can be offered novel treatment solutions for cardiovascular disease by growing replacement tissues in the laboratory. Cardiac patches are not limited to treating only adults following myocardial infarction, but have the potential to repair cardiac muscle of children born with congenital heart defects as well as be used as in vitro models of the human myocardium to study heart development or test new pharmaceuticals.
Dr Samantha Solon-Biet
University of Sydney
Research Field: Nutrition and healthy ageing
Ageing is the number one risk factor for disease, disability and death for humans in the developed world. 70% of people over the age of 65 have two or more, age-related diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, stroke, cancer and dementia. Rather than treating individual diseases, Dr Solon-Biet’s research works towards discovering novel nutritional interventions that slow down the ageing process, delaying the onset of these diseases and extending the length of healthy life.
Dr Solon-Biet’s research has shown that the balance of macronutrients, specifically diets low in protein and high in carbohydrate, extends healthy lifespan in mice. Her research has identified that these diets improved immunity, metabolic health, gut health, increased lifespan and reduced levels of key amino acids (the branched chain amino acids; BCAA) in the blood known to activate the pro-ageing pathway, mTOR. These findings tell us that the balance of macronutrients and levels of the BCAAs play an important role in mediating health and lifespan. She is now exploring exactly how dietary BCAAs influence late-life metabolic health and ageing. Her vision is to develop a novel nutritional strategy that has the potential to delay the onset of disease and extend healthy lifespan in humans at a population level.
Dr Genevieve Steiner
NICM Health Research Institute, Western Sydney University
Research Field: Cognitive Neuroscience
Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is characterised by a decline in cognitive abilities, and is a transitional stage between healthy ageing and dementia. It is estimated that up to 35% of Australians aged 70 years and older have MCI, and 80% will go on to develop dementia within six years. Dementia is now the leading cause of disability and the second leading cause of death in older Australians. Although people with MCI have a significantly increased risk of dementia, it is difficult to determine which individuals are most at risk, and currently, this is usually ascertained from individuals’ symptom profiles using tests of neurocognitive function. However, cognitive test performance does not necessarily have a simple relationship with the extent of neuropathology or the risk of future cognitive decline. Recent evidence suggests that early intervention may improve prognosis for people with MCI by delaying deterioration with prevention-based strategies.
The aim Dr Steiner’s research is to develop urgently needed sensitive and scientifically valid biomarkers to determine which individuals with MCI are most at risk. Her research capitalises on advances in neuroimaging technology and aims to develop an imaging test for MCI, that has the potential to guide changes in policy and clinical practice.
Dr Caragh Threlfall
The University of Melbourne
Research Field: Urban ecology
The overarching theme underpinning Dr Threlfall’s research is understanding the ecology of cities. She uses inter-disciplinary approaches, to look at ways to reduce the environmental impacts of urbanisation and develop environmentally based solutions. Her research examines how urbanisation influences ecological interactions, ways people engage with urban nature, and which management actions are most effective in restoring biodiversity. She employs experimental and modelling techniques, drawing on landscape and spatial ecology, and linking this with the social sciences.
To address these questions, she has worked on a range of taxa including bats, birds, native bees, and butterflies, and is increasingly examining the human dimensions of urban ecology. Her current research focuses on evaluating the success of actions to return urban nature and developing practical guidelines to facilitate improved practice
Returning nature to cities is essential to making them liveable and sustainable. To this end, city governments are engaging in ‘million trees’ programs, backyard wildlife gardening, and installing nest boxes. Whilst these actions can often promote biodiversity, there is growing concern they may also promote aggressive species, parasites, and disease. Dr Threlfall’s research looks to improve understanding of which species benefit from these practices, and guide future management activities.
Dr Michelle Tye
Black Dog Institute, University of New South Wales
Research Field: Suicide prevention and mental health
Suicide is a complex, devastating disease burden and remains the leading cause of death among young people aged 15 to 44 years. Less than 30% of people seek help after a suicide attempt, and suicide has a complex aetiology, which makes prediction difficult. This means that for many, suicide risk remains undetected and untreated. To combat this, improvements are needed in the timing, quality, and reach of prevention initiatives.
Over the past three years Dr Tye has sought to achieve this through: trialling innovative, evidence-based prevention programs that have population reach, and targeting key developmental risks, (e.g. a community-based multi-level “systems” approach in NSW [LifeSpan]; Good Behaviour Game in primary schools; Youth Aware of Mental Health in high schools), and using technology and data to drive prevention efforts forward (i.e. building geographical information systems from suicide data to develop suicide risk profiles for local regions to inform prevention efforts). The significance of this research is reflected in grants awarded to support this work ($15m in the past two years), and its strong, immediate translational impact, given it has influenced suicide prevention policy [NSW proposed suicide prevention framework], and guided improvements in health system responses to suicide [e.g. commissioning guidelines for Primary Health Networks].
Dr Kate Umbers
Western Sydney University
Research Field: Zoology, evolutionary biology, ecology
Dr Kate Umbers is an internationally-recognised evolutionary ecologist interested in behavioural ecology, alpine ecology, physiology and genetics. Given the vulnerability of alpine regions to climate change, and the extreme case of Australia’s low-elevation isolated peaks, Kate’s research fills an urgent need for intense research into the biome’s key vulnerabilities and facilitates a rigorous and meaningful management response.
Kate’s ARC-funded research aims to gain a deep understanding of the life history, vulnerabilities, and genetic refugia of key animal species in the Australian Alps. Her research to date has broken new ground in understanding physiological, behavioural and genetic adaptations in a range of taxa including insects, frogs, plants, and in the future, mammals. Going forward, Kate’s key foci include elucidating expert opinion to predict the plight of our alpine animals using forecasting analyses, communicating the importance of ecosystem services by invertebrate animals to the general public, and describing the genetic refugia for alpine specialists under future climate scenarios.
Dr Aliza Werner-Seidler
Black Dog Institute, University of New South Wales
Research Field: Adolescent mental health, depression, anxiety
Depression is the leading cause of disability among young people aged 10-19 years. Depression prevention programs based on cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) are effective, but are not widely disseminated. Although schools are an ideal setting in which to deliver these programs at scale, offering unparalleled access to a captive audience, they have not been adopted. Dr Werner-Sidler’s research spans clinical psychology, e-health, and implementation science to investigate the implementation of digital evidence-based mental health prevention programs in school environments. She has designed a new approach for preventing depression that appeals to adolescents – by targeting insomnia.
Insomnia is a major risk factor for depression, but unlike depression, it is not associated with stigma. She has also developed a Smartphone application (Sleep Ninja) which is a gamified intervention based on CBT. The app can be completed flexibly and does not rely on internet connection, drain phone battery or require data for download. She recently completed a pre-post pilot trial (N=50) with results showing that app use leads to reduced insomnia and depression symptoms. This intervention is now being taken to trial in 400 schools. If effective, she will use implementation science principles to support the wide-scale role out of this intervention across Australia.
Dr Sze Lin (Serene) Yoong
The University of Newcastle
Research Field: Medical research
The implementation of nutrition guidelines into childcare centres is recommended internationally as a strategy to reduce the prevalence of childhood obesity by facilitating translation of best-practice evidence into practice. Research however, suggests that childcare centres do not implement policies and practices consistent with such guidelines. Childcare staff report a range of knowledge, skill, motivation and resource barriers. Dr Yoong’s research aims to identify cost-effective and scalable strategies to help childcare services implement evidence-based guidelines to improve child nutrition.
Her approach involves the systematic identification of barriers and enablers to guideline implementation using theoretical frameworks, intervention mapping to identify specific behaviour change strategies, and active partnership with stakeholders to ensure acceptability of intervention approaches. She has undertaken eight large scale randomised controlled trials using novel intervention methods such as online, apps and social media strategies. Findings from these trials have improved the provision of healthier foods in line with nutrition guidelines in 400 childcare centres in the Hunter New England area and a corresponding improvement in child diet. Further, this research has resulted in the inclusion of a cooks training program as part of the state-wide ‘Munch & Move program’ to support healthy eating in childcare centres.
Dr James Blinco
Queensland University of Technology
Research Field: Polymer and Organic Chemistry
Dr Blinco is an organic chemist focused on the synthesis and characterisation of complex macromolecules (polymers) with research spanning both fundamental and applied organic polymer science.
The research that he is undertaking has been underpinned by a strong background in free radical, electro- and photo-chemistry. During his career, he has synthesized numerous novel (including an entirely new class of) nitroxide free radicals, reactive nitrogen containing heterocyles (such as tetrazoles, pyrazolines, piperidines, isoindolines and azirines) and polymeric and surface grafted analogues. Many of these molecules are bench stable under ambient conditions but become reactive upon exposure to an external stimuli such as light or electrical current. Utilising these physical stimuli to trigger chemical reactions has allowed translation of these molecules into many applications including as fluorescent sensors of redox change and/or radical generation within environmental, biological and materials systems, as redox-active polymers for next generation energy storage and as useful synthetic intermediates for access to complex polymer structures through only exposure to visible light.
The broad nature of applications of these molecules has also demonstrated my ability to collaborate across many scientific boundaries to achieve specific outcomes – a very important skill with the trans-disciplinary nature of today’s research.
Dr Sean Coakley
University of Queensland
Research Field: Neuroscience
The neurons in our nervous system communicate via electrical signals sent via axons, which are the longest and most susceptible compartment of a neuron. The integrity of these circuits is essential for the preservation of correct neuronal function. A failure of maintenance causes axonal degeneration, which is a key early pathological hallmark of neuronal injury, and of several neurodegenerative conditions, including motor neuron disease, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. Axonal degeneration is an active process, which precedes the death of the neuronal cell body and is a critical determinant of the development and progression of neurodegenerative disorders.
However, a full understanding of the molecular mechanisms and genetic causes of axonal degeneration is still lacking. Recently, using the nematode C. elegans as a model system, Dr Coakley has discovered three genes with previously unknown functions in protecting axons from degeneration. This has revealed that these molecules function in the tissue surrounding the axon where they exert a protective effect against axonal degeneration. This research provides original and important insights into the cellular and molecular mechanisms protecting neurons, with the potential to be translated into knowledge of how damage due to injury or disease can be prevented or delayed.
Dr Jacinda Ginges
University of Queensland
Research Field: Atomic Physics
The standard model of particle physics is the elegant mathematical model that sums up our understanding of particles and their interactions. It combines the weak and electromagnetic forces into one picture. While remarkably successful, it is widely considered to be an approximation to a theory that includes the strong force and possibly gravity. The search for physics beyond the standard model is considered to be one of the most important and challenging problems in modern science.
New physics may be discovered at large-scale colliders by smashing particles together at higher and higher energies. It is less well-known that by keeping atoms intact and going to higher and higher precision, signatures of new physics may be seen. These experiments fit on a table and require ingenuity, finesse, and years of dedicated hard work. They also require atomic calculations, matched to the exquisite precision of measurements, for interpretation in terms of fundamental parameters.
Dr Ginges is an atomic theorist and my research lies in the precision approach for new physics searches. Her work attempts to answer some of the biggest questions in science, including: Why is there more matter than antimatter in our universe? What is the nature of dark matter?
Dr Alana Grech
James Cook University
Research Field: Environmental Science and Management
Dr Grech’s research uses spatial technologies, such as geographic information systems (GIS), geostatistics, network analysis, biophysical models and reserve design software, to inform the conservation of Australia’s coastal environment. Specifically, it develops new methodologies for cumulative impact assessment (CIA), and explores the implications of CIA in environmental decision-making, policy and practice. An example of this would be her early research predicted the risk to dugongs and coastal seagrasses from multiple human activities, paving the way for the improved assessment of cumulative impacts within the Great Barrier Reef and beyond.
Her current research combines advanced biophysical models with network analysis to address two questions: what is the role of connectivity in seagrass replenishment and recovery after disturbance, and what is the cumulative impact of multiple disturbances on seagrass connectivity? She has discovered that seagrasses in the central Great Barrier Reef are densely connected and have a high capacity to recover from multiple disturbances because meadows have a ready supply of propagules from both near and far away. The implication of this discovery is that management should focus on improving environmental conditions, such as water quality, that are vital to supporting natural seagrass recruitment and recovery processes.
Dr Georgina Gurney
James Cook University
Research Field: Environmental Social Science
Dr Gurney’s research interests lie broadly in understanding the factors that influence opportunities for collaborative management of common-pool natural resources (CPRs), and the multiple outcomes of such initiatives. She has taken an interdisciplinary approach to this, drawing on theories and methods from multiple disciplines including psychology, behavioural economics, and geography. Most of this research is undertaken in the context of coral reef resource management in Australia, Indonesia and Fiji.
Her current research program has two themes. The first, opportunities for collaborative CPR management, is concerned with understanding why people engage in collective action to manage coral reefs and other CPRs, and how such cooperative activities are affected by the social-ecological context. Recent research in this theme includes examining how multiscale institutional factors affect people’s participation in community-based management and how socioeconomic and cultural heterogeneity influences the likelihood of collaborative management.
The second research theme relates to outcomes of CPR management, a core focus of which is evaluating how management affects human wellbeing. Recent research has evaluated the impacts of coral reef management on multidimensional poverty, including the social equality of those impacts, and identifying the institutional conditions that facilitate positive social outcomes.
Dr Michelle Langley
Research Field: Archaeological Science
Archaeological science provides multi-disciplinary tools to understand numerous aspects of human evolution — both anatomical and cognitive. In her research Dr Langley uses high-resolution microscopy and experiments to untangle the diverse variables which came together to create the modern human mind. She does this through identifying and understanding to the smallest detail the earliest weapons, tools, and body decorations made by the first human communities in Western Europe, Southeast Asia, and Australia. These data allow for the reconstruction of the kind of society, individual, and mind which produced the studied artefacts.
Currently, she is exploring the bone technology of Indigenous Australia. Occupied for at least 65,000 years, this continent has a rich record of bone tools and ornaments, though this corpus has never been thoroughly analysed owing to the preference of archaeologists for stone tools. This Australian Research Council-funded work is revealing the extraordinarily complex and innovative technologies that were developed on this continent and will change the way we view the material culture of Australia’s First Peoples.
Finally, she is also investigating the role of children in technology innovation during the Pleistocene—an area which the potential to contribute to numerous scientific debates in archaeology, anthropology, psychology, and technology.
Dr Róisín McMahon
Research Field: Biochemistry and structural biology
Dr McMahon’s research ambition is to develop new antimicrobial drugs to treat melioidosis, a tropical bacterial disease resulting from infection with a bacterium called Burkholderia pseudomallei. Melioidosis is endemic in northern Australia and South East Asia, with an estimated ~165,000 cases per year worldwide of which a huge proportion – 89,000 – are fatal. There is no vaccine. Treatment requires 3 months of antibiotics, and yet mortality rates are high, ranging from 10–40% depending on region.
The bacterial DiSulfide Bond (dsb) machinery is a family of folding enzymes that catalyse the formation of disulfide bonds in secreted and membrane proteins, many of which contribute to the ability of the bacteria to cause disease (virulence). Disulfide bonds add “structural bracing” to these virulence proteins so they function properly. Working with a team of microbiologists, she has demonstrated that particular dsb proteins are required for B. pseudomallei virulence in a mouse model of disease. Mice infected with wild-type bacteria die, but those infected with bacteria lacking dsb enzymes all survive. She uses protein crystallography and structure-based drug discovery approaches to characterise these novel drug targets and identify inhibitors that may have the potential to become new drugs for melioidosis.
Dr Amirali Popat
University of Queensland
Research Field: Nanomedicine
1.4 million people in USA, 230,000 Canadians and around 75,000 Australians with an annual net disease burden of approx. $3 billion on Australian economy. A key challenge in current treatment for IBD is achieving localised delivery of drugs and costly biologics, reducing effective systemic dose and side effects associated with non-targeted therapy. This is difficult especially with systemically delivered biologics as oral protein formulations for IBD are non-existent because the harsh environment in the gastrointestinal tract degrades the therapeutic payload before it reaches the site of inflammation.
The side effect profile of systemic therapy can be quite toxic, and despite the introduction of biologic agents, which have greatly increased the cost of therapy, side effects remain a considerable hurdle. Addressing the practical challenges of oral delivery of sensitive protein payloads to the colon without denaturing under the harsh conditions of stomach, my research is developing fundamental knowledge and methods for fabrication of programmable nanoparticles with bio-responsive release properties. This proof-of-concept study with intestinally active therapeutic proteinscan be generalised to many potentially therapeutic proteins and small molecules for better treatment of Diabetes, IBD and Colorectal cancer.
Dr Rajib Kumar Rana
University of Southern Queensland
Research Field: Computer Science, Chronic Disease
The key aims of Dr Rana’s research are two-fold: 1) determine “mood” automatically from spontaneous phone conversations and 2) determine the onset of relapse from mood patterns. To determine the mood of person A, the discrete emotions in a caller’s/callee’s (person B and others) voice will be used as an eliciting probe and the emotional response of A will be used to evaluate A’s mood. When in a positive mood, A should respond appropriately to B’s emotions, i.e., express sympathy/sadness to sorrow, express excitement/happiness to humour, etc. The underlying research challenges are as follows: 1) separate A’s speech from that of B’s , 2) extract emotions (e.g., happiness, sadness etc.) of A and B’s speech, 3) map emotions of A with that of B, 4) quantify the “match/miss match” to label A is in a positive/negative mood, and 5) maintain privacy by not listening/recording the calls.
To predict relapse, Deep Learning algorithms are being developed upon training with information on mood and clinical diagnosis of relapse collected from patients. The end product will be an application on A’s phone that will be able to flag an onset of relapse to A and his/her clinician – just based on day-to-day phone calls.
Dr Jacqui Romero
University of Queensland
Research Field: Quantum photonics, Quantum information
Dr Romero works in quantum photonics: encoding information in the quantum properties of light. If we use the polarisation of light that has two levels, we have a quantum alphabet of two letters–qubits. She is exploring using the transverse shape of light, which has more levels, allowing for many more letters–qudits. This enables incredibly compact messaging: e.g., encoding 1000 words with qubits requires 32 photons; encoding the same 1000 words with 10-level qudits requires only 2 photons.
In addition, since the encoded information is quantum, it exhibits bizarre—but useful!—properties. Using the shape of photons, she has demonstrated entanglement—arguably the most curious quantum phenomenon—in which information is shared between spatially separated particles. The conclusion from such experiments is that quantum objects have indefinite properties, unlike a red ball which is always a red ball regardless of whether someone is looking at it or not. Recently, she has shown that the order of events can be indefinite: “A is before B”, and “B is before A” can be simultaneously true in quantum physics. These phenomena are more than mere curiosities, with potential applications in securely transmitting information and tackling otherwise impossible problems.
Dr Michael Simmonds
Research Field: Physiology; blood rheology; mechanobiology
Life support during cardiothoracic surgical procedures involves a pump for distributing blood, and occasionally an oxygenator to facilitate gas exchange. Short-term lifesupport includes cardiopulmonary bypass, while long-term support is achieved using ventricular assist devices or even complete artificial hearts. These forms of life support are collectively known as “mechanical circulatory support” (MCS) and are essential for facilitating complex surgical procedures and management strategies that were previously unattainable.
An unfortunate consequence of MCS is the accumulation of “blood trauma”, which occurs due to the high shear forces within the blood pump, and free radical production in the oxygenator. Blood trauma is associated with increased morbidity and mortality, due likely to what we have coined the “MCS Paradox”: despite large vessel blood flow being promoted by MCS, flow through the smaller vessels of the body is impaired due to altered cell membrane properties.
We have identified that blood cell mechanics are irreversibly altered by the shear stresses and free radicals produced during MCS, and we are thus now developing novel biophysical approaches to eliminate blood trauma from these devices. Our interdisciplinary approach has had early successes that will have applications in design and manufacturing, leading to improved clinical outcomes following MCS use.
Dr Teresa Ubide
University of Queensland
Research Field: Igneous Petrology, Volcanology, Geochemistry
In Volcanology, as in other Natural Sciences, we use the past as key to the future. Understanding the processes that have triggered the onset of eruptions in highly active volcanoes is key to improve volcano monitoring activities and predict future eruptions.
We have developed a novel laser technology that makes it possible to read volcanic histories on deep crystals carried to the surface by erupting magmas. The compositional information obtained by this method can be used to determine the incubation depths of previous eruptions and the warning times prior to eruption.
We have applied our method to samples from the largest and most active volcano in Europe: Mt Etna (Sicily, Italy). Our data indicate that the increase in volcanic activity in the past decades is related to magma intrusion at around 10 km depth. We have calculated typical time windows between deep intrusion and volcanic eruption of only 2 weeks! This means that emergency planning needs to act promptly under circumstances of deep unrest.
Our innovative approach can be applied to other active volcanoes world-wide and help to better understand the triggers of eruptions in densely populated and visited regions, such as Indonesia and the Philippines.
Dr Qilin Wang
Research Field: Sewage Treatment; Environmental Engineering
Sewage treatment is energy-intensive. Although sewage is rich in energy, the energy recovered from sewage is currently low. Therefore, maximizing energy recovery from sewage has been the goal of global water utilities. However, this goal is currently unachievable, and technologies being tested now incur substantial capital/operating costs.
Dr Wang has developed a cost-effective technology to increase energy recovery from sewage by 4~6 times in the form of biogas. This international award-winning technology relies on sewage waste treatment using free ammonia to enhance the conversion of sewage waste into biogas. A feature of this technology is that the key treatment agent free ammonia, rather than being an externally sourced product, is sourced from the sewage, thus providing a closed-loop technology. The technology only requires installing a small mixing tank. The energy recovered would completely offset the energy consumption for sewage treatment, creating energy-positive sewage treatment. This technology would enable the paradigm shift of sewage treatment from solely pollutant removal to simultaneous pollutant removal and energy recovery. This technology could potentially reduce sewage treatment cost by AUD$70~100 million and greenhouse gas emissions by 700~900 kilotonnes of CO2 every year in Australia. The potential energy generated by this technology would be 2000~2500 Terajoules per year.
Dr Hosam Zowawi
University of Queensland
Research Field: Infectious Diseases, Antimicrobial Resistance
Dr Hosam Zowawi is interested in hospital-acquired infections, particularly those caused by antimicrobial resistant microorganism. As a clinical microbiologist he recognised the need to develop more rapid diagnostic tools aid initial medical management and implementation of stringent infection control precautions.
Dr Zowawi is studying multidrug resistant Gram-negative bacilli isolated from the Gulf countries of the Middle East. A major part of my work is focusing on carbepenem resistance; one of the last-line antibiotics. This project is giving a snapshot about the predominant antibiotic resistance mechanisms associated with Gram-negative bacilli in the region, as well as novel resistance mechanisms. Results generated from this project will highlight the importance of initiating active surveillance on multidrug resistance in the Gulf States.
Dr Zowawi has also developed the innovative diagnostic tool Rapid Superbugs™ to rapidly identify antibiotic resistant bacteria. This application will provide through molecular epidemiology of multidrug resistant pathogens, potentially allow the implementation of targeted treatment in early state of the infection to control the spread of multidrug resistant pathogens.
To limit the inappropriate use of antibiotics, Hosam and his team have launched awareness campaigns to educate the people about the threat of superbugs and the need of using antibiotics wisely.
Dr Catherine Attard
Research Field: Molecular Ecology
Recent advances in DNA sequencing technology let us rapidly sequence whole genomes at relatively low cost, allowing us to answer an unprecedented range of questions. The accessibility of DNA information means that it can now be used to help conservation of endangered species.
Dr Attard’s research has used DNA tools to ensure only unrelated individuals were bred in captive breeding programs of endangered species, thereby maintaining genetic health. Catherine’s research team have bread fish using this methodology, leading to the successful reintroduction of an endangered fish species in the Murray River.
Catherine’s engagement has spanned TV, radio, and print media, including ABC News 24, Scope, and Australiasian Science. She has also advised various governments on the conservation and management of endangered fish and mammal species. Dr Attard was awarded her PhD from Macquarie University in 2014, and she is currently a lecturer at Flinders University.
Dr Ryan Balzan
Research Field: Psychology
People with delusions jump to conclusions, where they make hasty decisions based on very little information. Delusions can cause significant emotional and social distress. People with delusions disregard information that does not support their beliefs, which could explain why delusions are resistant to change.
Dr Balzan’s research focuses on the role that cognitive biases play in the development and maintenance of delusions. His research is currently focused on the study of a metacognitive training programme that targets the underlying cognitive biases that foster and maintain delusions.
Ryan has worked with mental health advocacy organisations to promote greater understanding and acceptance of severe mental illnesses, as well as working with carers to provide up-to-date information on treatment of psychosis. Dr Balzan was awarded his PhD from The University of Adelaide in 2012, and is currently a Vice-Chancellor’s Early Career Research Fellow at Flinders University.
Dr Melanie Macgregor
University of South Australia
Research Field: Material Science and Engineering
The development of clever coatings for modern technologies requires the understanding of wetting at the nanoscale. The extent to which a liquid will interact with a surface will prevent or permit a range of processes on surfaces, such as protein adsorption, biofilm formation, and can even determine stem cell fate.
Dr MacGregor’s research investigates different phenomena occurring at the interface between a nano-engineered substrate and a liquid phase. She has developed a new class of plasma polymer capable of binding irreversibly to functional biomolecules. These coatings can be used to selectively capture targeted cells from complex body fluids.
Melanie’s engagement extends through Science Alive! events, involvement in STEM education grants, and promoting diversity in STEM. Dr MacGregor was awarded her PhD from the University of South Australia in 2013, and is currently a Santos-University College London Research Fellow at the Future Industries Institute.
Dr Rodrigo Praino
Research Field: Political Science
In democracies, citizens are asked to make extremely important decisions on who governs them. These decisions can have an impact on all aspects of life, from whether your country embarks on warfare, to whether you and your family have enough to live on.
Dr Praino’s research uses a cutting-edge combination of experiments, statistical modelling and real-world data to explain how citizens arrive at their voting decisions, and the consequences this process has on our society. His research focuses on how voters make their decisions in a context of low-information.
Rodrigo regularly discusses his research on major media outlets, including the Washington Post, Politico, and SBS, as well as pieces in The Conversation, and he also organises public events to discuss current issues and events that are broadcast online. Dr Praino was awarded his PhD from the University of Connecticut in 2013, and is currently a Senior Lecturer in Politics and Public Policy at Flinders University.
Dr Lewis Mitchell
The University of Adelaide
Research Field: Applied Mathematics and Data Science
Understanding how (mis)information flows over social networks is increasingly important for governments, businesses, and individuals. Statistical tools to summarise online social media and mathematical models of social networks are essential ingredients for making sense of the modern world.
Dr Mitchell’s work focuses on mathematical and statistical techniques for understanding how information moves across social networks. He builds tools to monitor population-level trends in online social media, and to model the spread of ideas over social networks with mathematics. His research sits at the intersection between applied mathematical modelling and data science.
Lewis actively communicates his passion for science through regular science outreach events, media interviews, Fresh Science, and the AMSI CHOOSEMATHS mentorship program. He has also developed open, online tools based on his research into trends in social media. Dr Mitchell was awarded his PhD from the University of Sydney in 2012, and is currently a Lecturer in Applied Mathematics at The University of Adelaide.
Dr Katharina Richter
The University of Adelaide
Research Field: Applied Microbiology and Pharmaceutical Sciences
Superbugs, such as Golden Staph, cause 700,000 deaths globally every year and existing antibiotics cannot effectively kill them. New weapons to fight superbugs are urgently needed.
Dr Richter has developed two treatments for infections with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, specifically for recalcitrant chronic sinus infections, and translated both treatments to pilot studies in humans. The first treatment uses silver nanoparticles as a nasal rinse after sinus surgery to reduce inflammation and destroy residual bacteria. The second treatment was included in a wound-healing gel, and was found to kill even antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Katharina is such an enthusiastic ambassador for science in the public sphere that she has organised the South Australian Pint of Science festival since 2015. She has also presented at Science Alive! annually since 2014, frequently discusses her research in international media, and performs science outreach activities at schools throughout greater Adelaide. Dr Richter received her PhD at The University of Adelaide in 2017, and is currently an Early Career Researcher, Basil Hetzel Institute for Translational Health Research and The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, at The University of Adelaide.
Dr Cameron Shearer
The University of Adelaide
Research Field: Nanotechnology
Solar cells are already widely used on rooftops with great success, but rooftop space is limited. If solar cells were flexible and or transparent they could be utilised in far more domestic and industrial locations.
Dr Shearer’s research in very conductive films of carbon nanotubes may allow solar cells to be placed in many more locations, by making them flexible and transparent. By carefully altering some of the properties of the carbon nanotube films, he has made solar cells with similar efficiency to commercial solar cells, but with both reduced weight and thickness.
Cameron has chronicled his time as a researcher on the fortnightly science podcast Publish, Perish, or Podcast since 2015, and has appeared on the children’s science show Scope, as well as published in The Conversation. Dr Shearer received his PhD from Flinders University in 2011, and is currently a University Research Fellow at The University of Adelaide.
Dr Benjamin Sparkes
The University of Adelaide
Research Field: Photonics
Current encryption methods are likely to be defeated by the impending development of next-generation “quantum” computers. Quantum Key Distribution, a commercially-available technique, can eliminate this risk, however, capacity of this technique is currently constrained to a maximum distance, preventing its widespread adoption.
Dr Sparkes is developing a device that can boost the maximum distance of quantum cryptography. He has developed a quantum memory that is built of exotic atoms that have been cooled to a few millionths of a degree above absolute zero. This device will provide a quantum leap in absolutely-secure global communications for government, defence, business and the broader community.
Ben is a passionate advocate for generating excitement about physics, and has done outreach work including school visits, lab tours, science festivals, social media, and community presentations. To facilitate discussion of his research, he developed a Laser Radio to illustrate how information can be transmitted via light. Dr Sparkes received his PhD from Australian National University in 2013, and is currently an Australian Research Council’s Discovery Early Career Researcher Award Fellow at The University of Adelaide.
A/Prof Emma Thomas
Research Field: Psychology
Certain disasters will promote historically large public responses, while other events will not garner the same levels of support. What are the lessons that can be learnt from successful appeals to promote engagement with long-standing humanitarian disadvantage?
A/Prof’s Thomas’ research focuses on understanding what motivates people to join collective efforts for causes that can positively and negatively affect people or society. She has extended her insights to understand public support for refugees, as well as the underpinnings of political extremism.
Emma communicates her research findings to governments and non-government organisations, has written for The Conversation, and had her research covered on The Washington Post, ABC Local radio, and The Canberra Times. A/Prof Thomas received her PhD from Australian National University in 2009, and is currently an Associate Professor of Psychology at Flinders University.
Dr Harriet Whiley
Research Field: Environmental Health
Water quality and food safety are important for maintaining public health. Diseases from contaminated food and water can be deadly, especially to people with chronic health conditions, infants, and pregnant women.
Dr Whiley’s main areas of research are water quality and food safety. Her water quality research is focused on the presence of opportunistic pathogens in potable and reuse water, while her food safety research utilises a multifocal approach to tackle emerging food safety issues.
Harriet has communicated her science to the media, including ABC News, The Advertiser, and The Sydney Morning Herald, appeared on Scope, and engaged with industry to translate her research into policy. Dr Whiley received her PhD from Flinders University in 2015, and is currently a Lecturer in Environmental Health at Flinders University.
Dr Lila Landowski
University Of Tasmania
Research Field: Neuroscience
Imagine surviving cancer, only to suffer from debilitating pain for the rest of your life? Unfortunately, this is a common reality for many people who have had chemotherapy. Chemotherapy can injure the nerves in the skin, causing a condition called chemotherapy-induced neuropathy.
Dr Landowski has identified a natural protein that regenerates nerves in the skin, and have been investigating whether they may prevent chemotherapy-induced neuropathy. She is now working in the areas of stroke and fatigue research. There have been over 1000 treatments developed for stroke that work in animals, but only one of them works in humans.
Why don’t they work in humans? The problem lies in the way these drugs are tested. She is developing a new model for testing these potential therapies, so that drug development for human stroke can be more successful.
Fatigue is much more than just a sense of tiredness. It is also a debilitating symptom of many diseases and disorders, hampering peoples’ ability to perform the simplest of daily activities. We don’t know what causes fatigue. Just like we need energy to go about our day, our brain needs energy to function efficiently and she is also investigating whether fatigue results from an energy deficit in the brain.
Dr Emily J Flies
University Of Tasmania
Research Field: Ecology, Epidemiology, Public Health
The health of humans and the planet are naturally linked; but humans are currently changing the environment in ways that the planet and its inhabitants have never before seen. Environmental impacts like habitat destruction, pollution, and climate change, all have a negative effect on human health.
Some impacts are clear, such as how air pollution exacerbates asthma. Other impacts, like how habitat fragmentation facilitates the exchange of diseases (e.g. Hendra and Ebola) from animals to humans, are less obvious but equally important.
Dr Flies first began studying how environmental changes impact mosquitoes and ticks, and the viruses and bacteria they carry. That work helped clarify where infection risk is highest and why; information that can reduce human infections. She is now exploring the ways that cities influence human health. Cities are now home to more than half the global population and have physical and cultural differences compared to the surrounding areas.
Some diseases, like asthma and allergies and possibly also auto-immune diseases like type 1 diabetes, appear to be more common in cities. The global urban population is growing by 1 million people every week.
Through her research Dr Flies wishes to help create cities that facilitate a healthy life for all urban residents.
Dr Kathryn Backholer
Research Field: Nutritional Epidemiology & Public Health
We cannot tackle disease and death without tackling food; poor diet is the number one risk or disease burden both in Australia, and globally. The influence of an unhealthy diet is worse for the poor and socially disadvantaged, in Australia the poor can expect to live on average six years less than the rich, and spend much more of their lives with chronic diet-related illnesses.
Dr Backholer’s research uses nutrition science to understand the dietary mechanisms that influence socioeconomic inequalities in health, to unpack the barriers and enablers to healthy eating. Her research has identified effective and equitable intervention leverage points to improve population diets.
Kathryn communicates her passion for science through regular engagement with school children, and the media, including The New York Times and the ABC, through working with government agencies to influence policy, and by participating in public debates on sugary drink regulation. Dr Backholer received her PhD from Monash University in 2009, and is currently a Senior Research Fellow and Head of the ‘Food Policy, Evidence and Equity’ research group at Deakin University.
Dr Bianca Brijnath
National Ageing Research Institute
Research Field: Mental Health, Culture
Timely diagnosis of depression and dementia can positively affect older people and their families, yet timely diagnosis of both conditions remains a challenge among older Australian migrants.
Dr Brijnath’s research has identified key barriers to getting timely diagnoses for these groups, including language barriers, stigma, issues of awareness, and cultural understanding of aging, mental illness and care. Her research currently focuses on increasing awareness and understanding around depression and dementia to improve mental health among older Australian migrants.
Bianca communicates her research findings and works on increasing awareness through regular media appearances on ABC News, Radio National, and SBS Radio, advising and training aged care and Dementia Australia service providers, as well as participation in Think Tanks on federal aged care policies. Dr Brijnath received her PhD from Monash University in 2010, and is currently the Director of Social Gerontology at the National Ageing Research Institute.
Dr Andy Casey
Research Field: Astrophysics & Statistics
Stars live for billions of years, and they can travel huge distances during their lifetime. This can make it difficult to understand the history of our galaxy, because we don’t know where stars were formed or how they have moved through the galaxy.
Dr Casey’s research uses high-resolution spectra of distant stars to ascertain their chemical composition, giving them a chemical ‘fingerprint’. He uses these fingerprints to help understand how stars and gases disperse, which allows him to ‘rewind’ the history of our galaxy.
Andy is an enthusiastic and passionate advocate for science and astronomy, including being involved in public observing nights, school visits for primary and secondary students, as well as participating in Science Meets Parliament. Dr Casey received his PhD from the Australian National University in 2013, and is now a lecturer at Monash University.
Dr Tim Doherty
Research Field: Ecology
Environmental changes, including bushfires, land clearing, and invasive species, all affect the ecosystem in a variety of ways, many of which are not understood.
Dr Doherty’s research looks at the impacts and management of invasive predators, such as feral cats and rats. His research has contributed to the understanding of the extent to which invasive species have contributed to global wildlife extinctions. He is currently examining the effects of habit modification on the population dynamics of reptiles.
Tim actively communicates his passion for science and conservation through many avenues, including through the CSIRO’s Scientist in Schools program, presenting at the National Youth Science Forum, and regular media interviews for local, national, and international audiences. Dr Doherty received his PhD from Edith Cowan University in 2015, and is currently a research fellow at Deakin University.
Dr Scott Griffiths
University of Melbourne
Research Field: Psychology
Eating disorders are a debilitating and potentially lethal category of psychiatric illness. However, an intrinsic assumption in theories of eating disorders is that the attitudes and behaviours that characterise these illnesses are geared toward the pursuit of thinness, rather than muscularity.
Dr Griffith’s research on the new psychiatric disorders of muscle dysmorphia and anabolic-androgenic steroid dependence, which typically affect males, has shown that these are just as deadly as thinness-orientated eating disorders. He is working to uncover and understand the key differences between thinness- and muscularity-oriented eating disorders. His research has shown that muscularity-focused eating disorder psychopathology is the key driving force behind the use of injected anabolic steroids in both Australia and New Zealand.
Scott is committed to engaging with the community to discuss the science of male eating disorders, and has given over 300 media interviews, including live TV interviews on the ABC, SBS, Channels 7, 9, and 10, as well as given two TEDx talks. Dr Griffiths received his PhD from the University of Sydney in 2016, and is currently an NHMRC Early Career Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne.
Dr Nishar Hameed
Swinburne University of Technology
Research Field: Materials Science & Engineering
Carbon fibre composites are stronger than steel and lighter than aluminium, and as such have potential to significantly reduce vehicle weight, which would significantly reduce fuel requirements of those vehicles. These high-end composites are not currently cost-effective, or produced at a high enough rate for use in domestic vehicles.
Dr Hameed is developing techniques and methods that allow the manufacture of higher quality carbon fibres at a lower cost. He is also working to develop new, scalable and ultra-fast curing resins, that can be processed in a few seconds, and the combination of these two technologies has the potential to enable the creation of stronger, lighter domestic vehicles.
Nishar is passionate about science communication and community engagement, participating in veski’s inspiring students (& teachers) program, as well as Famelab and Fresh Science, and giving print and radio media interviews on his research. Dr Hameed received his PhD from Deakin University in 2011, and is currently an ARC DECRA Fellow at Swinburne University of Technology.
Dr Roslyn Hickson
University of Melbourne
Research Field: Applied Mathematics
Infectious diseases can spread rapidly throughout communities, and in an increasingly interconnected world, a local outbreak in one country can easily spread across national borders.
Understanding how diseases spread can help people control outbreaks, and Dr Hickson has worked on models to inform how to best control diseases. Dr Hickson has worked on teams that have modelled the risk of Ebola spreading to the Asia Pacific region, as well as identifying the best response strategies to contain that outbreak. She has also modelled the most efficient strategies for releasing vaccinated mosquitos, with the aim of preventing the spread of mosquito-borne diseases.
Roslyn is an enthusiastic ambassador for the mathematical sciences, she has developed maths-based activities for high school student engagement in maths, spoken at high schools, and she is a mentor and role model for the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute’s Choose Maths: Women in maths Network. Dr Hickson received her PhD from the University of New South Wales in 2010, and is currently a research fellow in the Australian Centre of Research Excellence in Malaria Elimination, at the University of Melbourne.
Dr Megan Lim
Research Field: Public Health
The emergence and expansion of mobile phone technologies and social networking sites has revolutionised how young people communicate. The impacts of the rapid social changes brought about by this new media are poorly understood.
Dr Lim’s research aims to understand the impact of these new technologies on young people’s health and wellbeing. Her research has identified increasing access to potentially harmful phenomena, including; pornography, sexting, dating apps, and alcohol advertising; but has also found that young people’s connections with their peers developed through new media may also offer positive experiences and outcomes.
Megan is passionate about communicating about science and public health, which has led to numerous media appearances, including on The Project, Triple J, ABC and Joy FM radio, working with youth-led community organisations co-design her research, as well as disseminating her results back to young people. Dr Lim received her PhD from Monash University in 2009, and is currently Deputy Program Director at Burnet Institute.
Dr Yen Ying Lim
Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health
Research Field: Alzheimer’s Disease, Cognition, Biomarkers & Genetics
Alzheimer’s disease is a leading cause of death in Australia for which there is no cure. While multiple therapies targeting key Alzheimer’s disease pathologies have been identified, none have shown any cognitive benefit in any clinical trial.
Dr Lim’s research has provided an in-depth understanding of the early cognitive manifestations of Alzheimer’s disease, particularly in genetic and neuroimaging markers. She is currently working on characterising clinicopathological relationships in Alzheimer’s disease, developing novel technologies for the early detection of cognitive abnormalities, and identifying genetic and lifestyle moderators of Alzheimer’s pathogenesis.
Yen Ying’s enthusiasm for science outreach has included many public lectures on aging an Alzheimer’s, has appeared on national TV and radio programs, including the Today Show, ABC News, and Triple M Radio, written for The Conversation, and has recently started a YouTube series. Dr Lim received her PhD from the University of Melbourne in 2013, and is currently a research fellow at the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health.
Dr Erin McGillick
Hudson Institute of Medical Research, Monash University
Research Field: Neonatology/Obstetrics & Gynaecology
In Australia, 1 in 5 babies need assistance to successfully make the transition from fetal to newborn life, including breathing interventions. There is a need to identify the safest and most effective treatments to improve newborn lung function in babies born too soon or with under-developed lungs.
Dr McGillick’s research has determined the effect of preterm birth, gestational diabetes, maternal obesity and intrauterine growth restriction on development of the fetal lung. She is currently working to identify interventions to assist newborns with the transition at birth to improve outcomes for the most vulnerable babies in the neonatal intensive care unit.
Erin’s passion for sharing her love of science has resulted in her involvement in Science Alive! events, discussions of science with school children, and Fresh Science pub nights, where she won an award for best science communication by limerick. Dr McGillick received her PhD from the University of South Australia in 2016, and is currently a Peter Doherty Early Career Research Fellow at Monash University.
Dr Gemma Sharp
Research Field: Psychology and Medicine
Body image issues have increased worldwide in the last few decades, and are affecting people of all ages. To try to fulfil the “ideal” body type, we may restrict the amount we eat, start going to the gym every day or even consider cosmetic surgery. Surprisingly, labiaplasty was the fastest growing type of cosmetic surgery worldwide in 2017.
Dr Sharp’s research has investigated the factors underlying this increased demand for labiaplasty and the outcomes of this procedure. Her research showed that this genital “ideal” is promoted via images shown on the Internet and in pornography, which are likely to have been airbrushed to create a smooth genital surface. Her current research focuses on the treatment of women’s genital appearance concerns using a psychoeducational approach rather than a surgical one, as well as preventing the development of genital appearance concerns in younger girls.
Gemma’s enthusiasm for communication of science and her research has resulted in national television and radio interviews, including ABC Radio National, SBS Insight, and TEDx, she volunteers with mental health organisations, and mentors high school students with their research projects. Dr Sharp received her PhD from Flinders University in 2017, and is currently an NHMRC Early Career Fellow at Monash University, as well as a Clinical Psychologist Registrar.
Dr Michelle Tate
Hudson Institute of Medical Research, Monash University
Research Field: Innate Immunity & Infectious Diseases
Every year, 5-10% of our community will be infected with influenza and become sick with flu. When we have a severe flu season, this can reach 30-50%. The influenza virus can mutate very easily, which makes preventing infection with effective vaccines difficult.
Dr Tate’s research has examined the interactions of influenza with the host, identifying new methods whereby influenza causes severe disease. Her research examines the efficacy of treatments that target host molecules, rather than the virus. Her novel approach is laying the ground work to facilitate new influenza drug development.
Michelle actively communicates her enthusiasm for science widely, including though Girls in Science Breakfasts, a wide range of media, and at the Melbourne Town Hall public event Vaccination Café. Dr Tate received her PhD from the University of Melbourne in 2010, and is currently an NHMRC Career Development Fellow and Research Group Head at Hudson Institute of Medical Research.
Dr Luke Davies
University Of Western Australia
Research Field: Astrophysics
Galaxies in the early Universe were very different to the ones we see today. The first galaxies were relatively simple systems, consisting of similar types of stars and gas. As the Universe evolved, so did these galaxies, changing into the diverse array of structures we observe today, such as our own Milky Way.
There are various factors that drive these evolutionary processes, such as a galaxy’s local environment (where it lives), its available supply of gas to fuel star formation, its structure and the presence or absence of a super massive black hole. It is the varying contribution of these factors over cosmological timescales that determine a galaxy’s properties at the current point in time.
Dr Davies uses some of the world largest telescopes to measure the properties of millions of galaxies over the last 10 billion years of cosmic history. Using these measurements, he explores the factors that affect galaxy evolution and piece together a model for how the simple systems that existed 10 billion years ago have evolved into the complex systems we see today like our own Milky Way.
Dr Ben Jackson
The University of Western Australia
Research Field: Psychology and Health Promotion
Dr Jackson’s research is based within the Psychology of Active, Healthy Living (PAHL) group, which he created in 2013 and co-directs.
The guiding principle of the PAHL group is to do rigorous, innovative, and fundable work that makes a difference to people’s lives; the three main objectives of the group are to (a) conduct basic (e.g. experimental) work that advances our understanding of health and physical activity, (b) develop and implement sustainable and effective health promotion interventions, and (c) translate our research by ensuring the group’s work reaches and involves the community.
His current research projects include experimental and intervention-based work directed toward psychological resilience, self-regulation, confidence, motivation, social support, and interpersonal communication, and he applies this work to the study of weight management, nutrition, physical activity, and mental health.
His focus is on people right across the lifespan, from young children through to seniors, and conduct my work within diverse education, sport/exercise, workplace, family, and healthcare settings. In the last 3 years alone, the PAHL group has been responsible for over 40 research articles and book chapters, a popular book, a number of funded research projects, and several successful community programs.
Dr Ann-Maree Vallence
Research Field: Neuroscience
Until we are faced with a situation in which movement is compromised, for example following stroke, the complexity of our movement control is taken for granted. We know that specific ‘motor areas’ of the brain are important for planning and executing voluntary movements, and that damage to these motor areas results in disordered movement. Indeed, both movement control and brain structure degrade across the lifespan, but there is a mismatch: the age-related decline in movement control manifests much later than the age-related decline in brain structure. This mismatch is a problem because it increases the likelihood of irreversible changes in brain structure before the decline in function is recognised.
Dr Vallence’s research investigates the role of connectivity between motor areas of the brain in movement control and learning across the lifespan. This research increases our understanding of the complex interactions between brain regions that are important for movement control and can determine whether age-related changes in brain network connectivity drive age-related decline in movement control. This understanding is critical for us to develop targeted interventions to improve movement control not only in the aging population, but also in people with disordered movement, such as stroke survivors and people with Parkinson’s disease.
Dr Andrew Guzzomi
The University of Western Australia
Research Field: Agricultural Engineering
Dr Guzzomi is a skilled engineer with practical experience and grounding in kinematics, dynamics, vibration and design and leads the University of Western Australia’s agricultural engineering activities. He sees agricultural engineering as a fundamental tool in combatting the significant challenges that we, the global community, face today; and this is the driving force behind achieving his results. He then applies these skills to devise innovative solutions to challenging global problems.
Current projects include the engineering research and development of a mechanical targeted tillage device for broad-acre cropping and the engineering research and development of native seed flaming technology and mechanisation techniques. The former will help farmers globally overcome their reliance on herbicides and the latter, which is has a patent pending, is rendering it feasible to efficiently restore vast areas of degraded lands using native seeds. To ensure these technologies are adopted, they are currently being commercialised.
He has published over 50 articles, have co-invented a patent, been awarded over $3M in grants and my h-index of 10 from only ~260 total citations (Google Scholar) is 15% above the accepted predicted h-index from citations achieved. He has also won the Faculty Teaching Excellence Awards twice and is currently a nominee for a national award
Dr Verena Schoepf
The University of Western Australia
Research Field: Marine Science
Dr Schoepf’s research explores how reef-building corals are affected by climate and environmental change, with a special interest in Indian Ocean coral reefs. Coral reefs are the most biodiverse marine ecosystems on the planet and of immense socio- economic importance; yet, warming and acidifying oceans severely threaten corals reefs and the ecosystem services they provide. By integrating eco-physiological and novel geochemical analyses, my multidisciplinary research has provided insights into the environmental and biological drivers that enable resistance to ocean change and promote the adaptive capacity of coral, while also advancing the development of coral- based paleo-climate proxies. Her research therefore provides critical information for climate change research, coral reef management and marine conservation.
One of her main research interests lies in understanding how corals may cope with intensifying climate change stressors such as recurrent bleaching events, one of the biggest threats to coral reefs. She is particularly interested in so-called “super corals” that are already adapted to naturally extreme environmental conditions expected under future climate change.
Dr Schoepf has discovered naturally heat-resistant coral populations in WA’s Kimberley region and use them as model organisms to understand if, how and over what time scales corals can acclimatize or adapt to climate change.