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16 new Australian Laureate Fellows to push the boundaries of research

16 new Australian Laureate Fellows to push the boundaries of research

Image: 2014 ARC Australian Laureate Fellows Announcement. Image  credit: Russell Millard Photography.

The 2014 cohort of ARC Australian Laureate Fellows was announced by Minister for  Education, the Hon. Christopher Pyne MP, in August at a ceremony in Adelaide.

The 16  new fellows awarded this year will undertake research programmes covering a  broad range of disciplines tackling various challenges, including: transforming carbon dioxide into sustainable fuels; exploring how marine animals see for application in machines; and developing custom-design plant proteins.

Of the 16 Fellowships awarded, three will specifically undertake an ambassadorial role to promote women in research in addition to their research project.

This year, two Georgina Sweet Australian Laureate Fellowships were awarded—Professor Veena Sahajwalla from The University of New South Wales and Professor Kate  Smith-Miles from Monash University. The recipient of the Kathleen Fitzpatrick  Australian Laureate Fellowship was Professor Joy Damousi from The University of  Melbourne.

During the ceremony Minster Pyne said the 16 Laureate Fellowships, worth a total of $42 million, were an important investment in the nation's future.

"This funding scheme supports researchers of international repute and these  fellowships will play an important role in meeting the Australian Government's commitment to ensure Australia successfully competes on the international research stage.

"The outcomes of these fellowships will make a valuable contribution to Australia's  knowledge base and prosperity. Fellows will also mentor our young researchers, which is vital if we are to continue to produce world-class research."

Professor Alan Cooper from The University of Adelaide, spoke at the ceremony, and will use his $2.7 million fellowship to study ancient bacteria and genetic material to reconstruct human history.

The project will use a combination of bacterial, genomic and climate data to reconstruct the impacts of migrations, changes in diet, environment, and health in different parts of the world.

A key aspect of his research will be the creation of a programme to map the genetic history of Indigenous Australia, and the  impacts of colonisation on Indigenous people around the world.

Professor Cooper’s project will also transfer research advances to early-career researchers through an innovative programme of workshops.

“It is clear that our future is going to be based around a knowledge economy,” he said.

“It’s critical that we get the excitement and importance of science into schools, into our undergraduates now, and to  stimulate our next generation of scientists.

“I’m particularly pleased that the Laureate Fellowship award allows us to construct a major programme in human evolution at  The University of Adelaide. We’ll be using the facilities already constructed  at the Ancient DNA Centre to recover DNA from bones, teeth and calcified tartar  from ancient skeletons.

“We’re going to use that information to study how our genomes and microbiomes—all the bacteria that you carry around with you—have  changed as we’ve moved around the world and started farming, eating far too  much flour and sugar, and sitting down a lot in towns and citites.

“These changes have caused massive disruptions to our bacteria, which we’re starting to work out are key to nearly all of the  western diseases which are becoming endemic today,” Professor Cooper said.

“We’re going to use the ancient information from these skeletons to identify exactly how the bacteria and how our genomes have  changed, and how we might possibly counteract some of these consequences,”  Professor Cooper said.

A key component of Professor Cooper’s project will be working with indigenous groups around the world, but particularly in Australia with aboriginal communities, to understand the effects of  colonisation on these groups.

“Our aim is to create the first genetic map of indigenous Australia, reconstructing Australia’s lost heritage and, for example, allowing members of the stolen generation, or others, to reconnect to their  family and country.”

Professor  Veena Sahajwalla, who also spoke at the event, will work to transform toxic electronic waste (e-waste) into value-added metals and alloys using atomic-level simulations, rapid heating,  and high temperatures, to help solve a fast-growing waste problem.

“This is all about how we deal with electronic waste in a way that can meet and fulfil requirements from both an environmental and economic point of view.

“We aim to deliver the scientific foundation to enable the transformation of e-waste into high-value products. We will create a platform whereby new discoveries, technological and scientific, will  continue to be made.

“Electronics are part of our lives and if anything  production will keep increasing; so we can see this as an environmental burden or a tremendous opportunity.”

Professor Sajwahalla went onto explain that the  conversion of e-waste into high-value resources, through innovative solutions, would create economic as well as environmental benefits.

“From my point of view it means Australia can play a lead role in manufacturing high-value products from electronic waste. That is a world-first; we are providing cutting edge scientific and technological solutions.

“If we can do that in a way that creates economic opportunity in Australia it is quite an exciting prospect. Taking end-of-life  material,a global environmental challenge, creating new resources and  potentially teaching the world how to transform e-waste into high-value economic  opportunities is perhaps a brand new export opportunity.

“We are bringing together manufacturing and the environment to create new resources for our country.”

ARC CEO Professor Aidan Byrne congratulated the 16 new Laureate Fellows and said he looked forward to hearing about their research outcomes moving forward.

The Australian Laureate Fellowships scheme  supports excellence in research by attracting researchers of international  repute, and creating new rewards and incentives for the application of their  talents in Australia.

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

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