Two chemistry researchers win Westpac Research Fellowships

18 March 2020
Early career researchers recognised with prestigious fellowships
Associate Professor Alice Motion and Dr Yu Heng Lau, both from the School of Chemistry in the Faculty of Science, have won Westpac Research Fellowships.

With only three Westpac Research Fellowships given out across Australia this year, our two winners are truly outstanding researchers.

The early-career researchers will each receive over $500,000 to further their research over the next three years, covering their salary and research costs, as well as leadership development opportunities.

The Westpac Research Fellowship was established in 2016 and has been co-created with Australia’s leading research universities to focus on the specific needs of early career researchers to cover their full-time salary, research costs, professional development and global experiences. The Fellowship is co-funded in partnership with the Australian National University, the University of Sydney, the University of Melbourne and the University of Queensland.

Associate Professor Alice Motion

Associate Professor Alice Motion, a chemist, lecturer and science communicator in the School of Chemistry, will use her fellowship to build greater awareness of science and the power of collaboration between researchers and the community.

Extremely passionate about making scientific information and research more accessible, Alice leads projects that seek to connect people with science, including one that focuses on open source drug discovery known as Breaking Good. This international citizen science project unites undergraduates, researchers and school students to work together to find new medicines for diseases that disproportionately affect the world’s poor. In 2019, the Breaking Good team received $250,000 to further their work through the Google Impact Challenge.

Alice is also part of the Open Source Malaria (OSM) consortium, consisting of a team of researchers who do not patent any of their findings. Instead they publish all their work online in real time so that anyone can access their research.

"I feel extremely lucky to have been awarded a prestigious Westpac Research Fellowship to support the interdisciplinary research within our team and the opportunity to interact with an extraordinary network of past and present scholars and fellows,” said Associate Professor Motion.

Dr Yu Heng Lau

Dr Yu Heng Lau is a synthetic chemist and bioengineer. After completing his Bachelor of Science at the University of Sydney, his PhD at the University of Cambridge, in the UK, and a research fellowship at Harvard University, in the US, he returned to the University of Sydney with a strong desire to give back to the Australian community through his leadership in research and higher education.

Using synthetic biology – the process of redesigning organisms by engineering them to have new abilities – Yu Heng’s research seeks to enhance the relatively inefficient natural biological process whereby carbon dioxide (CO2) is converted into useful organic compounds. Increasing CO2 conversion efficiency will ultimately help address issues around renewable energy production and climate change.

"The Westpac scholars network is full of diverse and talented individuals, and it is a real privilege to be part of this amazing community,” Yu Heng says.

The third fellowship winner was Dr Lou Bennett, from the University of Melbourne.

Susan Bannigan, CEO of Westpac Scholars Trust, said: "This Fellowship program is designed to support outstanding early-career researchers across a diverse range of fields who share a common goal, to help Australia prosper and grow. Alice, Yu Heng and Lou are all working on such different, yet extraordinary research projects that we believe will have a lasting impact in years to come."

"This is a unique development opportunity for early career researchers in Australia. Partnering with the University of Sydney and the University of Melbourne to support these individuals gives them access to development and networking opportunities in both academia and the corporate sector," said Susan.

Beyond the financial investment of the scholarship, the Westpac Research Fellows gain lifelong access to the Westpac 100 Scholars Network. Growing by 100 scholars a year across the Westpac Scholars Trust’s five scholarship programs, the network connects a community of people from all walks of life with the ideas and drive to help shape a better future for all Australians.

Katynna Parry

Marketing Communications Senior Specialist (Science)