Sydney trailblazers appointed to the Academy of Science

26 May 2022
Researchers recognised for outstanding contributions
World-renowned experts from biology, computer science, mathematics and physics have been elected as fellows of the Australian Academy of Science.

University of Sydney academics have been recognised for their work in the annual awards of the Australian Academy of Science, the country’s premier scientific association.

Professor Kathy Belov, Pro-Vice Chancellor (Global Engagement) and Interim Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) from the School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Professor Marcela Bilek from the School of Biomedical Engineering and School of Physics, Professor John Cannon from the School of Mathematics and Professor Albert Zomaya from the School of Computer Science were all named.

The Academy also appointed highly awarded and world-leading authority in marine science and conservation Professor Emma Johnston, who will be joining the University in July as Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research).

Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Mark Scott said: “Congratulations to the 2022 Academy of Science Fellows who were today recognised for their extensive contributions to science. From conservation and computing to mathematics and marine ecology, they are experienced and distinguished leaders in their fields whose research is having a lasting impact across our society and the communities we serve."

The 2022 cohort are joined by 20 other researchers from leading institutions across the breadth of Australian science.

President of the Australian Academy of Science, Professor Chennupati Jagadish AC said: “Fellows of the Australian Academy of Science are among the nation’s most distinguished scientists, elected by their peers for ground-breaking research and contributions that have had clear impact.”

It is also the first year the Fellowship’s membership has been split equally among gender, with a 50/50 split between women and men.

Professor Scott said: ”It’s excellent to see the equal recognition of women and men in this year's cohort, which will no doubt inspire and motivate the next generation of Australian scientists and engineers."

Professor Kathy Belov: saving Australian species  

Professor Kathy Belov holding a Tasmanian devil.

World-renowned Professor Kathy Belov AO, a field-leading professor of comparative genomics from the Faculty of Science, has been elected to the Australian Academy of Science for her breakthroughs in researching the genomes of Australian native animals to better understand and manage wildlife health and disease. 

Her research, tracing the evolution of the mammalian immune system, has shown marsupials and monotremes have similar immune systems to our own and that their defence mechanisms offer exciting drug leads for humans and other animals. Professor Belov and her team’s research is being used to conserve endangered iconic Australian animals, including the Tasmanian devil and koala. 

Professor Belov's appointment to the Australian Academy of Science is the latest achievement in a notable list of accomplishments that includes 2021 awarded Genetics Society of Australasia Michael JD White Medal, the 2014 Australian Academy of Science Fenner Medal for Research in Biology, and in 2014, the Genetics Society of Australasia's Ross Crozier Medal.

“I am delighted to be elected to the Australian Academy of Science. I look forward to contributing to the work of the Academy and thank my nominator and referees for their support. I also pay tribute to my team and wonderful collaborators – especially Dr Carolyn Hogg. I am particularly proud of the 14 postdocs and 25 PhD students who have been such an important part of my lab and life over the last 20 years. This achievement is a testament to their hard work and passion,” said Professor Belov.

“Using comparative genomics and conservation genetics we’ve made significant advances in our understanding of immunity in Tasmanian devil populations which are being decimated by Devil Facial Tumour Disease and koala populations that are under threat due to chlamydia. By working closely with government agencies, we have integrated this work into the Save the Devil strategic plan, Wild Devil Recovery program and the NSW Koala Strategy. This work is directly contributing to the species recovery of Australia's most iconic endangered species.”

In a career spanning 20 years, Professor Belov has authored nearly 200 published scientific papers and articles spanning this field of research, and has served as either author, co-author or editor of 15 books. She is the Head of Lab at the Wildlife Genomics group based within the School of Life and Environment Sciences.

Professor Marcela Bilek: innovative plasma

Professor Marcela Bilek in the lab.

Professor Marcela Bilek is a pioneer in the development of plasma and hydrogel materials that are used in a wide range of industries, from aerospace manufacturing and propulsion engineering through to nano- and diagnostic medicine.

In the course of her work in applied physics and surface engineering at both the School of Biomedical Engineering and School of Physics, she has trained 35 PhD students, and mentored 25 postdoctoral fellows and early career researchers. She also regularly gives talks to high school students and teachers on the impact of gender stereotypes on girls’ participation in STEM, helping them develop mitigation strategies. 

Her work has led to numerous patents that have been or are in the process of being commercialised, including plasma sources for spacecraft propulsion and protective coatings for magnetic storage devices. She builds multidisciplinary teams, working with industry partners and clinicians to deploy these new technologies to address unmet needs. 

“I love learning and pushing the boundaries of our understanding while deploying the knowledge acquired to address real world problems – which is why the fields of science and engineering were always the most attractive disciplines for me," said Professor Bilek.

"My work in science and engineering took me all over the world, with appointments in Japan, England, Germany and the USA, and back to Australia again."

“I am honoured to have my contributions recognised by the Australian Academy of Science. As a Fellow, I would like to bring science to the table to inform decisions in public life and promote evidence-led governance.” 

Professor John Cannon: pure mathematics

A leader in the field of mathematics, Professor John Cannon.

Professor John Cannon’s lifelong work in pure mathematics has earned him a global reputation as a leader in his field. He is a member of the computational algebra group, and has broken ground numerous times in this field with over 15 publications across various journals.  

Professor Cannon is a world expert on the development and implementation of algorithms in pure mathematics.

Specifically, his work on the Magma project, a computer algebra system used daily by thousands of mathematicians, led to his nomination to the Academy of Science.

“Being accepted into the Australian Academy of Science is an honour of which I am very proud. I hope it helps inspire more young mathematicians, and brings visibility to our work," said Professor Cannon. 

“Put very simply, the Magma project is a programming language for pure mathematics that uses mathematical objects rather than numbers, in a virtual machine. There have been a number of achievements made using this language that have solved long-standing conjectures in the field."

Professor Emma Johnston: marine science and conservation

Professor Emma Johnston, the University's incoming Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research.

Professor Johnston’s research investigates how to detect and reduce human impacts on marine ecosystems. She works from the tropics to the poles and her current studies focus on marine plastics, wildfires, coastal construction, and climate change.

As the past President of Science & Technology Australia (STA), an elected position, she is a highly influential figure in the Australian higher education and research sector. 

She has a record in building and maintaining multiple community and industry partnerships and engaging in high-level advocacy on a range of policy issues, Professor Johnston has recently been announced as the University’s incoming Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), commencing her appointment in July.

Throughout her career she has led the development of multiple research programs and driven major strategic projects from planning to implementation. As well as discovery research, she is also a successful translational researcher with a demonstrated record of working with industry, government and the community to translate her results in basic research into results that directly benefit society.

Professor Johnston said she was honoured to be elected to the Academy: ”Australia has a substantial community of world class scientists with expertise that can be further tapped to support our environment, society, and economy.”

“The Academy brings many of the leaders of this community together. I am proud to be elected as a fellow and I look forward to working with the Australian Academy of Sciences to promote understanding and evidence-based change so that we can thrive as we rapidly reduce impacts on our climate and environment."

Professor Johnston is an elected fellow of the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE) and the Royal Society of New South Wales and was made an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in the 2018 Queen’s Birthday honours for ‘distinguished service to higher education, particularly to marine ecology and ecotoxicology, as an academic, researcher and administrator, and to scientific institutes.

Professor Johnston has contributed to the development of international and national research strategies, priorities, and plans. She is a sustainability and diversity champion and a Chief Author of the Australian State of Environment Report 2021.

Professor Albert Zomaya: distributed computing

Professor Albert Zomaya, a highly distinguished computer scientist.

Computer scientist Professor Albert Zomaya is world-renowned for his significant contributions to the field of parallel and distributed systems. In a career spanning nearly three decades, he has authored over 700 published scientific papers and articles, and has served as either author, co-author or editor of more than 30 books.

He is the Director of the Centre for Distributed and High-Performance Computing in the School of Computer Science, and a member of the University of Sydney’s Nano Institute.

"It is an honour to have been elected as a Fellow to the Australian Academy of Science after more than 25 years contributing research to this field – a lengthy period which has allowed me to collaborate with many talented researchers and students,” said Professor Zomaya.

“Parallel and distributed computing technology is so pervasive today that its influence penetrates our daily lives in ways not previously experienced. In essence, what a parallel and distributed computer does is distribute computation, storage – or both – across many processors.

“The technology is present in a wide range of devices and systems, from mobile phones to desktop computers to data centres and clouds to the World Wide Web and the Internet of Things. It also has wide-ranging applications in security – including nuclear testing, gas dispersion and cryptography – as well as in the manufacturing of motor vehicles, aeroplanes and space shuttles.

“These technologies are not only crucial for our national security but essential to the development of cost-efficient products that improve our national productivity and economic competitiveness.”

Professor Zomaya’s appointment to the Australian Academy of Science is the latest achievement in a notable list of accomplishments that includes receiving the 2019 New South Wales Premier’s Prize of Excellence in Engineering or Information and Communications Technology, taking on the role of Editor–in–Chief, ACM Computing Surveys (2020), and being awarded the 2021 IEEE TCCLD Research Innovation Award in recognition of his contributions to resource management in cloud computing system.

About the Academy of Science

Following the election of the 2022 Fellows, the Academy of Science now stands at 590 Fellows.

The Australian Academy of Science was founded in 1954 by Australian Fellows of the Royal Society of London, with the distinguished physicist Sir Mark Oliphant as founding President.

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Media and PR Adviser (Science)

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