Image of Liz New a research fellow

Emerging research pioneers championed with fellowships

25 January 2018
Twenty-two gifted early and mid-career researchers have been named as the University of Sydney's 2018 Sydney Research Accelerator (SOAR) fellows.

From designing the zoos of 2050 to uncovering the genetics of dementia, the fellows and their projects span diverse disciplines.

The SOAR fellowships, a key initiative in the 2016-20 Strategic Plan, support outstanding up-and-coming research stars to fulfil their potential.

As part of the two-year program, fellows are awarded $50,000 per year to support their research, innovation and development plans. They also benefit from a personalised program of research development support and structured mentoring.

Dr Andrew Black, Director of Research Development and Collaboration in the Research Portfolio, said SOAR is an important part of the University’s strategy to nurture outstanding researchers and spearhead its broader researcher development ambitions.

“SOAR supports our best and most promising researchers to fast-track their career development and position themselves as pioneers in new fields. It helps them build key leadership skills and aids the development of new partnerships with industry, government and community organisations, and other leading academics around the world.”

This year, 60 percent of the fellowships were awarded to women.

Early-career researchers:

Dr Samantha Solon-Biet – Faculty of Science

Samantha’s research is focused on discovering novel nutritional interventions that delay ageing and age-related lifestyle diseases such as obesity, cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Her previous work, the most detailed study of macronutrition ever undertaken in mammals, found that in free-feeding environments, diets low in protein and high in carbohydrates are more beneficial for late-life health and lifespan than reducing total calorie intake. The fellowship will allow her to expand this research at the Charles Perkins Centre and via an exchange to the US.

Dr Marcus Carter – Faculty of Arts and Social Science

How will technology change the design and role of zoos in the next thirty years? Marcus’ research looks at how we can use digital technologies and sensors to improve animal welfare, conservation education, and visitor experience at zoos. He has recently worked with Zoos Victoria to develop digital games for orangutan and gorilla enrichment and as part of his fellowship and will build links with other Australian and international zoos.  

Dr Garner Clancey – Sydney Law School

Crime prevention and criminal justice expert Garner will analyse some of the recent major developments in the NSW criminal justice system, including the ‘once-in-a-generation’ reforms of the NSW Police Force and the $3.8 billion injection of funding that will almost double the number of adult prison beds in NSW.

Dr Melody Ding – Sydney Medical School and Charles Perkins Centre

As a population behavioural scientist, Melody, a 2017 Vice-Chancellor’s Award winner, is studying how to make tweaks to our built environment (such as making our neighbourhoods more ‘walkable’) to prevent chronic diseases, such as obesity and cardiovascular disease. Her fellowship will fund advanced epidemiological training at Harvard and support the translation of her work into public policy.

Dr Agisilaos Kourmatzis – Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies

Agisilaos’ research is focused on understanding and managing multiphase flows, which have far-reaching implications for our environment, our society and our health. His fellowship will spur promising industry relationships, cross-faculty workshops and further his research, which has applications in advanced drug delivery systems for asthma and Alzheimer’s, agricultural sprays, and improving the efficiency of energy conversion systems.

Dr Wendy Lipworth – Sydney Medical School

A bioethicist, Wendy’s research centres on some of the most challenging problems facing frontline clinicians, researchers and policymakers, including access to high cost cancer medicines, therapeutics research using biobanks and big data, and the commercialisation of health and biomedicine. Her fellowship will enable the establishment of the world’s first global pharmaceutical ethics network and support the development of the University's Master of Bioethics program.

Associate Professor Elizabeth New (pictured above) – Faculty of Science

Elizabeth develops fluorescent chemical sensors that help visualise biological processes to better understand Alzheimer’s, obesity and cancer, as well as find toxic metals in soils to improve agriculture in remote communities. Already a leader at the forefront of chemical probe development within Australia, the fellowship will assist with the commercialisation of her research.

Dr Kevin Schnepel – Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Analysing the economics of crime, Kevin’s research addresses major questions in criminal justice policy. Recently, he has been investigating the short- and long-term impacts of a sudden five-fold increase in the price of heroin in 2001 due to a large reduction in the supply using data that links the administrative health and crime records of NSW heroin users in the late 1990s. Another project studies the potential benefits associated with diversion programs in the US that provide drug offenders with an opportunity to clear their criminal records after a period of community supervision.

Dr Mac Shine – Sydney Medical School

Every thought you’ve ever had is intimately linked to the activity of billions of neurons in your brain, yet we still don’t comprehend the basic principles of how the brain works. Mac’s work at the Brain and Mind Centre aims to understand the biological basis of cognition and attention, both in health and disease, to develop new treatments for dementia. 

Dr Sonja Van Wichelen – Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Asian countries are becoming major players in the world of bioscience. Yet the legalities of emerging gene technologies have yet to be explored. As a sociologist, Sonja’s current research examines the socio-legal governance of new gene technologies in Southeast Asian countries, which has important implications for medical tourism and the Australian biotech field. Her fellowship will allow her to conduct interviews with lawyers, bioethicists and judges as part of her pilot studies in Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

Mid-career researchers

Dr Carol Dobson-Stone – Sydney Medical School

By 2050, it is predicted that around 950,000 Australians will have dementia. An expert on the genetics of dementia, Carol has recently discovered a key gene implicated in the neurodegenerative disease. As part of her fellowship, the Brain and Mind Centre researcher will further her research on this gene in the hope that it will provide targets for the development of new treatments and preventative therapies for this debilitating group of disorders.

Associate Professor Jun Huang – Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies 

Materials scientist and 2017 Vice-Chancellor’s Award winner, Jun’s research focuses on developing new catalysts to speed up chemical reactions and ultimately ensure 'greener' and more sustainable fuels and industries. He recently developed a way to convert methane and carbon dioxide (this reaction was thought impossible) to an important chemical acetic acid and will expand this research, to ensure it is industry compatible, as part of his fellowship.

Associate Professor Muireann Irish – Faculty of Science

An expert on the neuroscience of human memory and winner of the 2016 NSW Premier’s Early Career Researcher of the Year, Muireann’s work has transformed how we understand and manage loss of memory in dementia and how this affects the capacity for imagination and thinking about the future. Motivated by her grandmother’s suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, the Brain and Mind Centre researcher will continue her research in this area, building links with industry partners.

Associate Professor Ollie Jay – Faculty of Health Sciences and Charles Perkins Centre

Heatwaves are responsible for more deaths every year than all other natural disasters combined and are only going to increase in frequency with climate change. Ollie’s research looks at cheap and energy efficient solutions to keep us cool and reduce the risk of hyperthermia-related complications during heatwaves and while exercising. As part of his fellowship, Ollie will integrate his research findings into international public health messaging and work with various sports organisations to develop evidence-based extreme heat policies for professional and community summer sports.

Dr Federico Maggi – Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies 

As an environmental engineer, Federico’s work looks at ways to mitigate the overexploitation and contamination of soil and related water quality issues. As part of his fellowship, he will build links with industry partners and investigate fundamentally novel ways to secure drinking water and food production in the future.

Associate Professor Nicole Mockler – Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

With a background in secondary school teaching, Nicole’s current research looks at how we can encourage teachers to use educational data and evidence-informed practice to enhance their students’ learning. The fellowship will fast-track a monograph on how the media portrays education as well as support her studies in applied statistics and data mining.

Associate Professor Chiara Neto – Faculty of Science

Chiara’s research takes inspiration from nature to design slippery nanostructured surface coatings that have a variety of applications, from increasing the energy efficiency of commercial shipping to alleviating water scarcity in arid climates. The fellowship will expand her leadership at Sydney Nano and enable face-to-face collaborations with leading global experts in her field and industry.  

Associate Professor Camille Raynes-Greenow – Sydney Medical School

Camille’s research concentrates on interventions during pregnancy that can improve the health of both mothers and babies, particularly in the developing world. In a world-first study, she will assess the impact of household air pollution from using solid fuels for cooking and heating. The fellowship will also allow Camille to lead the development of a national institute of maternal and child health in Myanmar.

Dr Trudy Rebbeck – Faculty of Health Sciences 

Trudy’s research aims to improve health outcomes and service delivery for people with musculoskeletal disorders, such as back pain, whiplash and osteoarthritis. Through the fellowship, she will follow 1700 people with musculoskeletal injuries after road traffic injury to test and validate risk assessment tools to identify who needs the most care. She will assemble novel clinical networks of primary health care professionals and specialist clinicians to provide pathways of care matched to the care needs.    

Associate Professor Rita Shackel – Sydney Law School

Rita’s research is concerned with giving voice to the lived experiences of survivors of sexual abuse and sexual and gender-based violence to drive improvements in policy and practice. The fellowship will allow her to expand current work on child sexual abuse prosecutions to ensure the needs of Aboriginal victims are heard. She will also investigate the needs and priorities of women impacted by sexual violence after social unrest.

Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis – Sydney Medical School

From dog ownership and sedentary behaviour to drinking alcohol and physical activity patterns – Emmanuel’s research looks at how our lifestyle affects our cardiovascular, metabolic, and mental health. The fellowship will enable the Charles Perkins Centre researcher to develop an ambitious international consortium (the world’s largest of its kind) on bodily movement, sleep, and longitudinal health outcomes.

Dr Myfany Turpin – Sydney Conservatorium of Music

A linguist and musicologist, Myfany’s work examines Aboriginal song-poetry and its relationship to spoken languages. She recently recorded an ancient Aboriginal travelling ceremony known widely amongst elders in central and Western Australia, called wanji-wanji, and as part of her fellowship will ensure this important cultural song lives on.

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