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Minister for Education
Leader of the House


15 new Australian Laureate Fellows announced

23 June 2015

Minister for Education and Training, the Hon. Christopher Pyne MP, today announced 15 outstanding recipients of new Australian Laureate Fellowships, funded through the Australian Research Council (ARC).

The Fellows will receive a total of $42 million over the next five years and will commence research programs exploring fields including: harnessing intellectual property to build food security; translating ‘big data’ to meet challenges in industry, environment and health; and exploring a new ‘Pharming’ industry that uses plants to deliver medicine.

Minister Pyne said Australian Laureate Fellowships are highly sought after and recognised as prestigious in the Australian research sector.

“Competition for Laureate Fellowships was especially high this year, with an increase in applications of almost 30 per cent.

“The research programmes of the 15 Laureate Fellows announced today will deliver outcomes that will benefit our nation, its economy and our people,” Mr Pyne said.

Since 2011 the ARC has also awarded two special female Laureate Fellowships. Recipients of these awards undertake an ambassadorial role to promote women in research, in addition to their research programme.

The 2015 awardees are:

  • Professor Leann TilleyGeorgina Sweet Australian Laureate Fellowship—will conduct research on the malaria parasite to deliver new biotechnology and biomedical outcomes that may combat disease in livestock and humans.
  • Professor Anne OrfordKathleen Fitzpatrick Australian Laureate Fellowship—will investigate legal issues involved in decisions about intervention in civil war.

A full list of new Australian Laureate Fellows and their project details are available below and further details are also available from the ARC’s Funding Announcements web page.

For more information about the Australian Laureate Fellowships scheme please visit the ARC website.

Mr Pyne's media: 0407 691 050 or pynemedia[@]  
ARC Media: 0412 623 056 or communications[@]


Laureate Fellow

Administering Organisation

Project Title

Project summary

Total Funding

Zheng-Xiang Li

Curtin University of Technology How the Earth works—toward building a new tectonic paradigm This fellowship project aims to build on the latest technological and conceptual advances to establish the patterns of Earth evolution, and use this information to examine a ground-breaking geodynamic hypothesis which links cyclic plate aggregation and dispersion to deep Earth processes. Half a century after the inception of plate tectonics theory, we are still unsure how the Earth 'engine' works, particularly the forces that drive plate tectonics. The project involves extensive national and international collaboration to potentially create a paradigm shift in our understanding of global tectonics, and hopes to contribute to an understanding of the formation and distribution of Earth resources to provide a conceptual framework for their exploration. $2,917,436
Ronald Rapee
Macquarie University Development of emotional functioning during adolescence This fellowship project aims to understand factors that increase risk and provide protection from the development of emotional distress during the adolescent years. Adolescence is a critical stage in the development of emotional functioning, and behaviours developed at this time can influence the entire life course. The research plans to follow a large group of teenagers over many years and will focus on risk and protective factors that are open to possible modification. The intended outcomes seek to support the development of prevention and promotion programs and public health initiatives to maximise positive emotional development in young people. It is hoped that these will lead to increased productivity and better quality of life.  $3,030,714
Kerrie Mengersen
Queensland University of Technology Bayesian learning for decision making in the big data era This fellowship project aims to develop new techniques in evidence-based learning and decision-making in the big data era. Big data has arrived, and with it a huge global demand for statistical knowledge and skills to analyse these data for improved learning and decision-making. This project will seek to address this need by creating a step-change in knowledge in Bayesian statistics and translating this knowledge to real-world challenges in industry, environment and health. The new big data statistical analysts trained through the project could also create much needed capacity at national and international levels. $2,413,112
Matthew Bailes
Swinburne University of Technology Exascale astronomy: real-time analysis of the transient radio universe This fellowship project aims to develop and deploy a generic supercomputing solution for the powerful square kilometre array precursor telescopes in Australia and South Africa. ‘Fast radio bursts’ are a new astronomical phenomenon of as yet unknown origin, with enormous potential to probe the cosmos in new ways — but only a handful are known. Concurrently, advances in computer graphics have enabled very low-cost parallel processors to be constructed that are revolutionising radio astronomy signal processing. The telescopes in Australia and South Africa will be used to discover new fast radio bursts, and will also be pursuing a pulsar timing program which seeks to probe the interior of neutron stars, search for gravitational waves and make new tests of general relativity. $2,840,752
Benjamin Andrews
The Australian National University Geometric analysis of eigenvalues and heat flows This fellowship project aims to build on Australia's leading position in the areas of nonlinear partial differential equations and geometric analysis to exploit new and highly innovative mathematical methods. It is expected that the methods will affect a range of related fields including stochastic modelling and finance, image processing, and the basic sciences. The project seeks to serve as a focal point for a developing community of Australian researchers in this field, providing a training ground for young researchers and students at the forefront of a vigorous and internationally active area of research, and bringing top international researchers to Australia to interact with the local research community.  $2,080,100
Lisa Kewley
The Australian National University The building blocks of life over 12 billion years This fellowship project aims to develop new theoretical models and combine them with innovative observations from new Australian 3D technology to trace how the building blocks of life — carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen — formed and assembled from the infant universe to the present day. The elements transform the way new stars are born, the way planets are formed, the way stars explode and die, and the way stars assemble into new galaxies. The origin of the elements is an outstanding problem which is driving the establishment of new international telescopes; Australia alone has invested over $480 million in astronomical infrastructure over the past 8 years. This project aims to provide the critical mentoring and training to the next generation of astronomers required to fully exploit Australia's major investment in astronomical infrastructure.  $3,039,610
Ping Koy Lam
The Australian National University Precision laser levitation for quantum metrology and gravitational sensing This fellowship project aims to levitate macroscopic objects using only laser beams, to provide a new tool to test physics theories. Strong laser beams can exert sufficient force to counteract gravity and make an object levitate. In contrast to other forms of levitation, laser levitation is scatter-free and can preserve system coherence. It has superior optical and mechanical quality factors and complete information of the system dynamics is retained. This allows laser levitation to be turned into a highly controllable and ultra-sensitive device capable of detecting minute environmental changes. This research aims to probe the relationship between quantum and gravitational physics and develop laser levitation into a precision instrument for the sensing of gravity. Laser levitation has the potential to be developed into technology for mineral exploration and environmental sensing. $3,041,282

Professor Anne Orford

** Kathleen Fitzpatrick Australian Laureate Fellow

The University of Melbourne Civil war, intervention and international law This fellowship project aims to answer the question of whether and if so when it is lawful for external actors to intervene in support of parties to a civil war. The urgency of this question and the difficulty of finding general principles to address it are illustrated by the intensity of debates about the legality of American intervention in Iraq and Syria and of Russian intervention in Ukraine. This project expects to build an interdisciplinary team to develop new legal concepts to make sense of the responsibilities of external actors in civil war, taking into account new norms and practices developed to protect civilians and to fight terrorism. It aims to provide governments, parliaments, and the public, with a framework for understanding the legal issues involved in decisions about intervention. $2,574,623

Professor Leann Tilley

** Georgina Sweet Australian Laureate Fellow

The University of Melbourne Bio-metrology and modelling of a complex system: the malaria parasite This fellowship project aims to develop a cross-disciplinary program to measure, model and manipulate a complex cellular system — sexual differentiation of the human malaria parasite. Combining life and physical sciences with powerful imaging techniques, the project seeks to develop quantitative biochemical, biophysical and modelling techniques to probe a complex system in a way previously not possible. It expects to integrate and correlate thousands of measurements of the dynamic processes inside cells and use these datasets to generate rigorous and sophisticated mathematical models that can predict drivers of commitment for transformation of the parasite to a sexual phase in preparation for transmission to mosquitoes. This holistic approach hopes to deliver new biotechnology and biomedical outcomes, including new ways to combat disease in livestock and humans. $2,951,945
John Gooding
The University of New South Wales The first generation of single entity measurement tools for analysis This fellowship project aims to develop a new type of diagnostic device that measures single molecules or single cells. Such measurements seek to revolutionise analysis by allowing heterogeneity and rare events in samples to be identified, rather than the average information provided by existing tools. With single molecule devices, the heterogeneity in response enables the development of multiplexed, calibration free sensors. The outcomes of the project are hoped to be completely new thinking on performing measurements, new knowledge regarding heterogeneity in biology and the potential for novel commercialised sensors. It is expected that this will be important not only in biological discovery, but also in providing far more robust sensors for applications such as environmental monitoring, disease prediction, personalised medicine or drug discovery. $2,875,097
Steven Sherwood
The University of New South Wales Revisiting the physics of clouds This fellowship project aims to bring new rigour to climate modelling by improving our understanding of key phenomena like clouds and storms. Earth’s climate has taken a number of turns in the recent and geologic past that so far cannot be reproduced in models. Clouds and atmospheric turbulence are also a problem for weather and climate prediction, the conceptual understanding of which now has evident flaws. The hypothesis of this project is that these two problems are strongly linked, and that this link may be exploited to solve problems across disciplines. This project aims to systematically re-evaluate our conceptual understanding of cloud physics, and investigate how this affects our understanding of climate phenomena in Earth’s past and future.  $2,765,281
Trevor McDougall
The University of New South Wales Ocean mixing processes and innovation in oceanographic models This fellowship project aims to develop new oceanographic tools and thermodynamic variables to support a new generation of accurate ocean models more suitable for the prediction of changes in a warming world. The ocean’s role in the climate system is predominantly to store and to transport heat and carbon dioxide, and the ocean’s ability to do this is sensitive to the strength of mixing processes, which are quite uncertain. This project hopes to distinguish the vital role of vertical mixing from that of horizontal mixing by (i) developing algorithms to construct neutral density surfaces in climate models, (ii) formulating new inverse techniques to deduce the amount of vertical mixing in various ocean regions, and (iii) incorporating new approaches to ocean mixing processes and thermodynamics into ocean models. $2,770,434
Bradley Sherman
The University of Queensland Harnessing intellectual property to build food security This fellowship project aims to maximise the benefits and minimise the costs of using intellectual property protection to improve agricultural productivity and food security in Australia and the Asia Pacific. Food security is a problem in many Asian Pacific countries, and in Australia there is an urgent need to improve agricultural yields, increase sustainability, enhance the breeding of new plant varieties, and to adapt to climatic and environmental changes. In addition, an unmet demand for food in the region provides an important opportunity for Australian agriculture. If a food-secure future for Australia and the Asia Pacific is to be achieved, higher agricultural yields must be produced from increasingly limited or degraded inputs. This project seeks to critically examine the role that intellectual property is able to play in meeting these interrelated challenges and opportunities. $2,764,590
David Craik
The University of Queensland Taking Australia from the farm to the pharm This fellowship project aims to design novel drugs based on cyclic peptides that will be expressed in the seeds of plants to produce bio-pills — saving money for patients and the health care system. Plants produce unique cyclic peptides (mini-proteins) to protect themselves from pests and pathogens. This project aims to chemically redesign these peptides to produce stable protein-based pharmaceuticals that can be eaten. It is hoped that these designer pharmaceuticals will be inexpensive, effective, easy to ingest and without the side effects of traditional drugs. The outcomes of this project are anticipated  to be high-value drugs and agri-chemicals which will open up new high-value crops for Australian farmers and a new Australian ‘pharming’ industry. $2,977,310
Philip Hugenholtz
The University of Queensland Reconstructing the universal tree and network of life This fellowship project aims to obtain 100 000 genome sequences and systematically organise these into natural phylogenetic relationships comprising both vertical inheritance and lateral transfers. One of the challenges in biology today is to reconstruct the complete evolutionary history of life on Earth. A major hurdle to this goal is our inability to culture most microbial species which comprise the bulk of evolutionary diversity. The framework developed in this project seeks to replace the current incomplete classification of microorganisms to provide fundamental insights into ecology and evolution. It is hoped that the outcomes of the project can be applied to manage risk and capture opportunities in important Australian industries including agriculture, mining and biotechnology. $2,982,714