23 July 2013

Senator the Hon. Kim Carr and Professor Tanya Monro 

Image: Senator the Hon. Kim Carr and Professor Tanya Monro

 

Seventeen of Australia's most outstanding researchers have been awarded a total of $47 million in research funding following the announcement of the Australian Research Council’s (ARC) 2013 Australian Laureate Fellowships.

Researchers will use the fellowships to tackle topics ranging from improved child health, language learning, harvesting energy from seabed soils, to gaining a better understanding of bacteria.

The Australian Laureate Fellowships scheme, administered by the ARC, supports outstanding Australian and international researchers to build Australia's ability to make new discoveries, pursue innovative studies as well as mentoring early career researchers.

Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Senator Kim Carr, announced the Fellows and awarded them ceremonial pins at an event at Monash University on Tuesday 9 July.

"This scheme is specifically designed to attract world-class researchers and research leaders who can build and strengthen our ability as a nation to make ground-breaking new discoveries," Senator Kim Carr said.

"All of the 2013 Australian Laureate Fellows have distinguished research careers and these fellowships will help them extend their research efforts and contribute even further to improving the lives of all Australians."

Two of the female Australian Laureate Fellows announced will undertake a particular mentoring role in encouraging women to take up and continue with a career in research.

Professor Glenda Sluga from the University of Sydney received the Kathleen Fitzpatrick Australian Laureate Fellowship and Professor Tanya Monro from the University of Adelaide was awarded the Georgina Sweet Australian Laureate Fellowship.

Speaking at the event Professor Monro said she was honoured to receive the Georgina Sweet award and was very keen to promote the importance of keeping women in research.

“I firmly believe that the biggest single thing we could do to improve Australia's capacity in science and technology is to get more women into the ecosystem,” Professor Monro said.

“I have long been passionate about encouraging capable women to enter and stay in science careers.

“We need to be drawing from the best and brightest minds we have and harnessing our most driven and engaged people. If the talent pool we draw from is restricted due to any reasons then we need to fix this.

“While more girls are entering science degrees, seriously few women are making it through to senior science roles. We need to show young girls the potential they have to make a real difference by studying science, we need to break down stale stereotypes of scientists, and to challenge any cultures and systems that limit women's engagement.

“The Georgina Sweet award gives me the confidence to advocate and engage with the recognition that this is an area where I can make a difference by inspiring young girls (and boys), identifying ways we could do things better, and creating networks and mentoring to keep our talented people contributing to science.”

Professor Monro went on to say that the Fellowship itself was critical for her and driving forward her research programme.

“It gives me support to pursue an ambitious vision for my research, focussed around improving our capacity to control light at the nanoscale.

“More  specifically, we plan to create sub-wavelength-scale optical resonators and nanoscale lasers that can be used to enhance the interaction of light with living systems, creating a suite of new approaches that will allow future  biologists to ask new scientific questions about the systems that they study.

“This ambitious goal requires new theoretical frameworks, as well as advances in fabrication and experimental interrogation techniques. The critical mass of support provided with the fellowship makes it possible to do this.

“The Laureate Fellowship is a real boost—it is a licence to focus on pursuing challenging high-impact science. It is also recognition of the value of transdisciplinary research, and will serve as a fabulous vehicle for training emerging scientists at the intersection of nanoscience, photonics and biology,” Professor Monro said.

Another of the Laureate Fellows, Professor Arthur Lowery from Monash University, who also spoke at the ceremony, said the Fellowship will have a significant impact on his ability to turn ideas into reality.

“I have always had a passion for making things, but a lack of research funds early in my career in the UK meant that I was forced into developing computer models of lasers and optical systems, rather than the systems themselves.

“I founded VPIsystems to commercialise this research after I emigrated to Australia, with a Research Fellow, Phil Gurney, who I was able to hire as part of the Australian Photonics Cooperative Research Centre.

“VPI helped thousands of researchers and developers across the globe test their own innovations in optical systems and develop products. Now, this Fellowship gives me an opportunity to turn my group’s ideas into reality, with potential commercial outcomes.”

The benefits of Professor Lowery’s research and its application in the wider community are manifold.

“Firstly, we are striving to integrate photonic and electronic technologies, to get the best of both worlds—this requires new technologies to perform this integration,  increasing the capabilities of our industry to make unique, hence high-value, products.

“These technologies require new science, such as signal-processing methods optimised to use optics and electronics simultaneously. A primary goal is to reduce the energy required to push and pull signals of optical fibres and switch them to their destination; however, the science we create, and the methods of manufacturing, could support many other applications, such as medical  instrumentation and diagnostics.”

ARC CEO, Professor Aidan Byrne, congratulated all 17 of the Australian Laureate Fellows and said he looked forward to watching their progress in the coming years.

“Competition for the Australian Laureate awards is always very strong—those who have been successful this year will be an inspiration to every researcher who aspires to greatness.

“The ARC is honoured to be able to recognise the great results these researchers have already achieved and enable their future endeavour.”

More information on the Fellows and the scheme is available on the ARC website.

2013 Australian Laureate Fellows recipients

At the anouncementof the 2013 Australian Laureate Fellowship recipients—(L-R) Professor Mark Finnane, Professor Lloyd Hollenberg, Professor Richard Roberts, Senator the Hon. Kim Carr, Professor Tanya Monro, Professor Arthur Lowery, Professor Michelle Simmons, Professor Ian Reid, Professor Trevor Lithgow, Professor Mark Cassidy, Professor Nicholas Evans, Professor Aidan Byrne.