Five Young Tall Poppy Science Award winners

21 August 2020
Five of our scientists recognised for research and outreach
The Young Tall Poppy Science Awards recognise scientific research excellence and public outreach in early career researchers.

Awarded annually by the Australian Institute of Policy and Science, the Young Tall Poppy Science Awards give winners the opportunity to speak about their research and engage in outreach activities over the following year, to promote interest in science in school students, teachers, and the broader community.

All winners across NSW will be celebrated in an online awards ceremony on 22 September 2020. 

Of the twelve NSW winners, the University of Sydney has five winners, and is the only university or organisation in NSW to have more than one winner this year. 

Our five University of Sydney winners are:

Dr Lining Arnold Ju

Dr Lining Arnold Ju
School of Biomedical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering

Each year, about 55,000 Australians have a heart attack – about one every 10 minutes. Many of these tragically occur as a result of blood clots that obstruct and block blood flow back to the heart.

Dr Lining Arnold Ju conducts research to look for solutions to better diagnose, treat and control heart disease, by analysing the mechanical forces in molecules and cells that drive blood flow, so that we can better understand how this affects our health. This field of work is called mechanobiology and Arnold applies these engineering principles to understanding cardiovascular system at the molecular and cellular scales.

Arnold invented a new biomechanical nanotool that allowed him to discover that disturbed blood flow in a person’s veins and arteries generates mechanical forces that can rapidly trigger blood clotting, which can lead to a heart attack. Through his discovery of these mechanosensory proteins, he can efficiently prevent disease-forming clots.

Associate Professor Alice Motion

Associate Professor Alice Motion
School of Chemistry, Faculty of Science, and Sydney Nano

Making science and scientific research accessible for everyone has never been more important. Open science, science communication and citizen science projects are just some of the ways we can make the research in our institutions more widely available and understandable. 

Associate Professor Alice Motion is a chemistry researcher, educator and public communicator of science. She is the leader of the Science Communication, Outreach, Participation and Education (SCOPE) research group in the School of Chemistry at the University of Sydney. Alice’s research explores open source drug discovery and innovations in science communication, education and outreach. As a leader in the field of open science, Alice’s team aims to share all data and scientific information freely with the public and scientific community. 

Alice’s extensive public engagement spans original ABC science podcasts, a weekly science segment on FBi Radio, TV appearances, school visits, and a plethora of public performances at events in Australia and internationally. Alice completed her PhD at the University of Cambridge in 2012 and is currently a Westpac Research Fellow at the University of Sydney. 

Dr Caroline Moul

Dr Caroline Moul
School of Psychology, Faculty of Science

Child development is much like building a tower of blocks: new skills and abilities often rely on those already acquired. This enables rapid progression but also means that cracks in the foundations can put typical development at risk.

Dr Caroline Moul investigates the cognitive mechanisms underlying abnormal development, with a focus on the roles of attention and associative learning. Her research uses computer-based tasks with eye-tracking technology alongside clinical measures to understand how subtle differences in these fundamental processes can interact with normal development to put a child at risk for mental illness.

In order to understand abnormal development, you first need to understand typical development. Caroline’s community engagement has focussed on increasing the general public’s understanding in this area. She has featured on many popular media outlets, including Studio10, 2dayFM, and Sydney Morning Herald. In 2018, she provided commentary for the Channel 10 documentary series, ‘The Secret Life of 4 Year Olds’.

Dr Mac Shine

Dr Mac Shine
Faculty of Medicine and Health, and Brain and Mind Centre

The human brain can seem almost immeasurably complex, however if we look at it with the right lens, we can start to understand the rules that govern its function.

Dr Mac Shine’s research uses functional neuroimaging to better understand the fundamental principles that underlie the coordinated interactions between regions of the brain that form the basis of our attention, cognition and awareness. He has demonstrated that fluctuations in the amount of cooperative brain activity over time relate to our ability to solve complex, cognitive challenges.

Mac’s public outreach has involved numerous interviews with popular media. He regularly takes part in the Skype a Scientist program, which connects real scientists with children in classrooms across the world. His research ideas have been published in a popular science magazine, Australasian Science, and on The Conversation. He has also been invited to present his work as part of multiple Brain Twitter conferences, wherein scientific results are broadcast to the online community.

Dr Sabin Zahirovic

Dr Sabin Zahirovic
School of Geosciences, Faculty of Science

The changing arrangement of continents and oceans is driven by the churning interior of our planet, driving natural shifts in Earth’s climate and providing a unique planetary life support system. Dr Sabin Zahirovic builds numerical representations of Earth’s geological and tectonic evolution over hundreds of millions of years.

As the unifying theory in Earth sciences, plate tectonic principles are used by Sabin to construct community numerical models that explain the tremendous physiographic changes to our planet’s surface. These processes are responsible for ocean circulation patterns, long-term sea level changes, and the biogeographic dispersal of plants and animals. For example, Sabin’s research shows why tectonic plates with large continents move more slowly, and provides unprecedented insights into our planet’s ‘deep carbon cycle’ thermostat.

Sabin’s deep-time models also help track geological processes that are responsible for focusing precious materials, providing a framework for more targeted mineral exploration needed for a low-carbon future.

Sabin received his PhD in 2015, and was recently awarded a Robinson Fellowship to continue his research in the School of Geosciences at the University of Sydney.  

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