Front view the University of Sydney Quadrangle with a blue sky above

Outstanding researchers supported with prestigious prizes

15 February 2023
2023 SOAR Prize winners announced
The 2023 Sydney Research Accelerator (SOAR) Prizes have been awarded to 20 talented academics from across the University.

The SOAR program is designed to help early and mid-career researchers build their careers by increasing the scale and impact of their research.

“Our SOAR Prize scheme is now in its sixth round of supporting some of our most promising early and mid-career colleagues to become our next research leaders,” said Professor Emma Johnston, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research). 

“The University is committed to helping our researchers propel into the next stage in their academic journey. I look forward to seeing what our 2023 SOAR recipients will achieve in the next two years, and beyond, with the support of this program.”

Sudarshini Ramanathan portrait

Dr Sudarshini Ramanathan (pictured left), a neurologist and clinician-scientist from Sydney Medical School and the Faculty of Medicine and Health, is a 2023 SOAR Prize recipient in the early-career researcher category. Dr Ramanathan specialises in neuroimmunology - a subspecialty that is focused on conditions which result from the actions of an ‘overactive immune system’ targeting the nervous system. She leads a basic science and clinical research program which aims to better understand the underlying pathogenesis of some of these conditions and facilitate early diagnosis and optimal immunotherapy to improve patient outcomes. Her research group studies antibody-mediated neurological conditions encompassing demyelination, encephalitis, muscle and nerve disorders; and autoimmune sequelae of immune checkpoint inhibitor therapy.

"I am honoured to receive this award, and grateful to the University of Sydney for recognising my contributions as a clinician scientist with the 2023 SOAR Prize. This award provides me with support and resources which will enable our team to make ongoing impactful contributions to the field of neuroimmunology. I look forward to accelerating our research priorities with our hard-working research team, colleagues, and collaborators,” said Dr Ramanathan.

Angela Knox portrait

Angela Knox (pictured above), Associate Professor of Human Resource Management and Industrial Relations, at the University of Sydney Business School, is a recipient of a 2023 SOAR Prize in the mid-career researcher category. Angela is the Business School's Academic Director, Professional Development, and she is based in the Discipline of Work and Organisational Studies. Her research interests focus on job quality, precarious work, skills and migration in Australia and abroad. Angela conducts both quantitative and qualitative research and she is currently engaged in international multi-disciplinary research projects focusing on building a measure of job quality, improving employer engagement in employment services and job quality to enhance employment opportunities for those who face barriers, constructing minimum standards of job quality for Australia, and the future of work.

"I am incredibly grateful to have been awarded the 2023 SOAR Prize as a mid-career researcher. This recognition will undoubtedly enable me to excel in both my research and career, providing invaluable support for my ongoing work in the field. I am excited about the opportunities that this award will open and look forward to continuing to make meaningful contributions to my field," said Associate Professor Knox.

SOAR recipients - early career researchers

Dr Katherine Owens is a Senior Lecturer in Environmental Law at the University of Sydney Law School, Associate Dean of Professional Law Programs, Program Director of the Juris Doctor degree and Director of the Australian Centre for Climate and Environmental Law. Her research combines both social and legal methods to address significant issues of environmental law and governance, including how law and governance should manage climate change, energy transitions, water scarcity, environmental finance and the risks of coal seam gas mining.

Dr Na Liu is a Senior Lecturer in Business Information Systems, having previously been a lecturer at the School of Computer Science. Her research interests include healthcare information systems, the strategic use of social media and human-computer interactions. Her recent research projects involve close collaboration with industry and clinical partners.

Dr Qiang Tang is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Computer Science. His research interests lie in applied and theoretical cryptography, blockchain technology and privacy and computer security. 

Dr Jonathan Penm is a Senior Lecturer Pharmacy Practice in the School of Pharmacy. His research focuses on improving hospital pharmacy services and the use of high-risk medicines, such as antimicrobials and opioid medications, in the hospital setting. He is interested in health service research that focuses on developing and implementing evidence informed strategies and system level-interventions (e.g. education, policy, technology) to improve the use of medicines and minimise medication-related harms.

Dr John Bartholomew is a Senior Lecturer in Experimental Quantum Science and member of Sydney Nano. His research interests lie in developing technologies to create a quantum internet and he is currently focusing on using crystals containing the rare-earth element erbium to integrate optical photons, microwave photons, and solid-state spins in a single quantum system. 

Dr Sophie Lewis is a Senior Lecturer in Participation Sciences at the Sydney School of Health Sciences and member of the Sydney Centre for Healthy Societies. She is qualitative researcher and health sociologist and her research focuses on the experiences of people living with long-term conditions.

Dr Kazjon Grace is a Senior Lecturer in Computational Design, where his interests span computational design, computational creativity, HCI and AI. His research explores how computers can participate in the design process as partners rather than tools and he develops computational models of novelty, surprise, and curiosity, and investigates how they can help people make decisions.


Dr Sudarshini Ramanathan is a neurologist at Concord hospital, senior research fellow with Sydney Medical School and the Head of the Translational Neuroimmunology Group at Westmead. She has subspecialty expertise in neuroimmunology, runs translational clinical and laboratory research studies in this field, and looks after patients with immune-mediated conditions of the central and peripheral nervous system. 

Dr Fengwang Li is a Lecturer and ARC DECRA Fellow in the School of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering. He is also a member of Sydney Nano and the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre. His research aims for a “greener”, carbon-neutral future relying on electrochemical energy and his research interests lie in energy storage and conversion, electroactive materials, carbon dioxide capture and utilisation and process innovation.


Dr Katherine Kenny is an ARC DECRA Senior Research Fellow in the School of Social and Political Sciences, Deputy Director of the Sydney Centre for Healthy Societies and member of SSSHARC. Her research draws on social theory and qualitative methodologies to better understand how health and disease, (or illness and wellness) are understood, ‘treated’, experienced and made meaningful in clinical contexts and in everyday life.


Dr Shelley Wickham is an ARC DECRA Fellow, Westpac Research Fellow, Senior Lecturer in the Schools of Chemistry and Physics and member of Sydney Nano. She has research interests in self-assembling nanotechnology and molecular robotics, in particular in the design and assembly of programmable nanostructures out of DNA, with applications in cell biology, materials science and nanomedicine.

SOAR recipients - mid-career researchers

Lexine Stapinski is an Associate Professor and Clinical Psychologist at the Matilda Centre for Research in Mental Health and Substance Use. Her research focusses on understanding how alcohol and substance use disorders develop, and how we can intervene early on to reduce their impact and prevent escalation. Her work also spans the following areas: anxiety disorders, diagnostic comorbidity, cultural appropriate preventions resources for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

Avril Alba is Associate Professor in Holocaust Studies and Jewish Civilisation in the Department of Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies. She teaches and researches in the areas of Holocaust and modern Jewish history with a focus on Jewish and Holocaust museums. From 2002 to 2011 she was the Education Director at the Sydney Jewish Museum.

Ronald Castelino is an Associate Professor in the School of Pharmacy. He is a practising renal pharmacist (Blacktown Hospital) with a track record in translational research relevant to renal medicine. His particular interest lies in promoting optimal use of medications in kidney disease. His collaborative work aims to support prescribers in choosing the best agent for individual patients, and then to facilitate patients achieving the best possible outcomes from their therapy.

Angela Knox is an Associate Professor of Work and Organisation and Academic Director of Professional Development. She is an internationally recognized expert in job quality, precarious work, skills and migration. She conducts both quantitative and qualitative research into these topics as well as bullying, and employment regulation in the service sector.

Dr Ozgur Gocer is a Lecturer in Sustainable Design and an Architect. Her research interests relate to the sustainable building design, building and building materials performance simulations, thermal comfort, and post-occupancy evaluation for indoor and outdoor spaces. 


Niels Quack is an Associate Professor in the School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering and a member of Sydney Nano. His research focuses on micro- and nanosystems engineering, with an emphasis on exploring micro- and nanofabrication techniques, materials, and integration of mechanics and photonics at the micro- and nanoscale. These novel micro- and nanosystems find applications in fiber-optical communication systems, imaging, quantum sensing, computing and information processing, sensors and space communications.

Markus Muellner is an Associate Professor and ARC Future Fellow in the School of Chemistry, as well as a member of the Sydney Institute of Agriculture and Sydney Nano. He uses controlled polymerisation techniques (such as RAFT, ATRP, ROMP) to synthesise polymers and polymer architectures and his research is largely centred around molecular polymer brushes, but investigates shape-anisotropic nanomaterials more broadly (for example, nanoscale polymer rods, cylinders or discs).

Pengyi Yang is an Associate Professor and a NHMRC Investigator at the School of Mathematics and Statistics.He heads the Computational Trans-Regulatory Biology group at Charles Perkins Centre (CPC), the University of Sydney, and holds a conjoint appointment as Group Leader of Computational Systems Biology group at Children's Medical Research Institute (CMRI), at the Westmead Research Hub. His research lies at the interface of bioinformatics and systems biology and develops computational and statistical models to reconstruct cell signalling, epigenomic/transcriptional, and proteomic networks, as well as characterise their cross-talk and trans-regulations in various cellular processes and systems.

Peng Zhang is an Associate Professor at the Plant Breeding Institute in the School of Life and Environmental Sciences and a member of the Sydney Institute of Agriculture. Her work has been on identifying new resistance sources to rust diseases from wild relatives of wheat, introgress the target resistance genes into wheat, and recombine rust resistance genes to develop durable resistant germplasm. Her research interests include molecular cytogenetics of cereal, germplasm and genetic stocks development, and rust and other resistance genes transfer from wild species to cereal.

As part of the two-year program, successful applicants receive $50,000 per year to support their research, innovation, and development plans, as well as $25,000 teaching or administrative relief if needed. This support will enable these talented researchers to enhance and expand their existing research, while also assisting them in pursuing personal development opportunities.

Since the program began in 2017, 102 researchers have received SOAR Prizes. Fifty percent or more of the prizes have been awarded to women in every round, highlighting the University's commitment to gender equity.

We offer our heartfelt congratulations to all the 2023 SOAR Prize recipients and look forward to following their continued academic success and impact in the years to come.

Related articles