University of Sydney academics Professor Renae Ryan and Dr Rachel Wang have both been recognised for their research excellence in the annual awards of the Australian Academy of Science, the country’s premier scientific association.
Professor Ryan and Dr Wang will receive their awards at the prize ceremony at Science at the Shine Dome in November 2023.
“Each year, the depth and breadth of achievements, recognised by these honorific awards, continue to inspire me, as I hope it does other scientists and Australians,” said Professor Chennupati Jagadish, President of the Australian Academy of Science in a media release announcing the winners.
“These awardees are working not only to advance their fields, but for the betterment of our communities and the planet – improving our understanding of the world while addressing some of the most pressing challenges facing us.”
Professor Renae Ryan, from the School of Medical Sciences in the Faculty of Medicine and Health, has been awarded the Nancy Millis Medal for Women in Science in recognition of her research into neurotransmitters and advocacy for gender equity, diversity and inclusion.
Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers responsible for cellular communication in the brain, a fundamental process that underlies everything we do including moving, thinking, reading and speaking.
Professor Ryan’s research focuses on neurotransmitter transporters, which are nanoscale vacuum cleaners that suck chemical messengers back into cells after they have sent their message on.
In diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy and stroke these vacuum cleaners can breakdown, leading to confusion in cellular communication and, ultimately, cell death.
Professor Ryan’s internationally recognised research has revealed the molecular architecture and choreography of these miniature vacuum cleaners, allowing us to start to understand why they stop working in disease states, providing the basis for the development of new medications to treat brain disease.
Professor Ryan is a globally respected leader and advocate for gender equity, diversity and inclusion, and a sought-after supervisor, mentor and role model for women in science. She was the Academic Director of the University of Sydney’s Science in Australia Gender Equity program from 2017 to 2022.
Nancy Millis Medal for Women in Science
Dr Rachel Wang, from the School of Mathematics and Statistics in the Faculty of Science, has been awarded the Moran Medal in Statistical Sciences, recognising her outstanding research at the interface of theoretical statistics, computational statistics and data-driven applied fields.
Dr Wang has pursued a diverse research trajectory emphasising both rigorous theoretical development and practical relevance to interdisciplinary scientific problems.
She has made contributions to statistical inference problems in network models, enabling model selection and parameter tuning to be performed with provable guarantees.
Her theoretical work on local convergence issues in variational approximation and scalable MCMC (Markov chain Monte Carlo) methods has led to a deeper understanding of how algorithms navigate a high-dimensional, non-convex landscape, addressing a common problem in all large-scale machine learning tasks.
Leveraging her expertise in theory and computation, she has developed novel statistical and computational tools for extracting biological knowledge from genomics data, seeking to improve our understanding of gene regulatory mechanisms and the inner workings of cells.
Moran Medal for Statistical Sciences.