Agricultural and renewable energy achievements recognised with NSW award

4 November 2013

Professor Robert Park's work is in fighting diseases that infect agricultural crops.
Professor Robert Park's work is in fighting diseases that infect agricultural crops.

A major contribution to the global effort to fighting diseases that infect agricultural crops and the development of technological solutions to some of our biggest challenges has seen two academics at the University of Sydney honoured with NSW Science and Engineering Awards.

Professor Robert Park, from the Faculty of Agriculture and Environment, won in the Excellence in Biological Sciences category while Professor Thomas Maschmeyer, from the School of Chemistry in the Faculty of Science won for Renewable Energy Innovation. They were presented with their awards last Friday at NSW Government House.

Professor Park joined the University of Sydney's Plant Breeding Institute in 1988 and has worked there since as a world leader in seeking genetic solutions to rust control in cereals. Caused by fungal pathogens, rusts significantly reduce crop yields and, in the case of stem rust, can destroy entire crops.

Presently Professor Park holds the Judith and David Coffey Chair in Sustainable Agriculture at the Institute and is the Director of Cereal Rust Research.

For the past 24 years Professor Park has conducted Australia-wide analyses of wheat, barley and oat rust pathogens. His research has made major impacts on understanding genetic variability in all cereal rust pathogens and the genetics of resistance to these diseases in their respective hosts.

The Australian Grains Research and Development Corporation has supported Professor Park's work for many years.

Together with his colleagues at the Plant Breeding Institute, Professor Park has worked extensively in international agriculture, with particularly strong collaborative links with the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences and with American universities and institutions.

He is also actively involved in the global effort to tackle a new race of stem rust, known as Ug99, which has emerged in eastern Africa in recent years.

Currently, Professor Park is particularly interested in the way in which fungal rust pathogens evolve and become virulent on resistant cereal cultivars.

Professor Thomas Maschmeyer's research is characterised by the intimate connection between cutting-edge fundamental research of the highest international standard and the development and commercialisation of technological solutions to energy supply and security, the provision of chemicals and materials to enhance our standard of living, and the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions through the innovative exploitation of novel carbon feedstocks.

His research into the conversion of renewable resources into chemicals, pharmaceuticals and fuels, and the remediation of waste water streams, treatment of algal blooms and power station effluent, has resulted in significant scientific advances.

It has also led to the establishment of two companies in New South Wales with a combined value exceeding $300 million, providing employment, economic development and a more sustainable future for our region.

Commercial and academic projects in which Professor Maschmeyer plays a leading role have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions very significantly when compared to current practice. They have the potential to supply a ready source of renewable sustainable transport fuels and chemicals.

Backed by the Australian Research Council and Australian state and federal governments, Professor Maschmeyer's projects have also attracted interest and participation from some of the world's leading multinational companies in energy (TruEnergy/China Light and Power), in pulp and paper manufacture (Norske Skog) and in aviation (Virgin Atlantic, Air NZ, Boeing, GE).

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