ARC Discovery Project success for Faculty of Science

11 November 2013

Researchers in the Faculty of Science have been successful in obtaining funding from the Australian Research Council for 32 Discovery Projects worth a total of over $14.04 million to begin in 2014.

Announced on 8 November 2013 by The Hon Christopher Pyne, federal Minister for Education, the ARC Discovery Project grants support excellent basic and applied research by individuals and teams, which focus on the National Research Priorities.

The University of Sydney as a whole had 57 successful ARC Discovery Projects funded worth over $22.52 million in total.

"I congratulate our successful scientists on all 32 of our new Discovery Projects to start next year. It's wonderful to see that researchers in the Faculty of Science were successful in getting more Discovery Project funding than in last years round," said Professor Trevor Hambley, Dean of the Faculty of Science.

The ARC Discovery Project funding is part of the Australian Research Council's National Competitive Grants Program, which funds research across disciplines as diverse as science, engineering, arts, medicine, education, law and culture.

The Hon Christopher Pyne said of the Discovery Project announcement, "This funding will allow some of Australia's best researchers to undertake important work that will expand Australia's knowledge base and research capability, in turn providing important outcomes for all Australians."

Some Discovery Project successes:

Professor Chris Dickman, from the School of Biological Sciences, received the single largest ARC Discovery Project grant within the Faculty of Science in this round of funding, worth $980 000 over three years. His research will focus on wildfires that deplete food and shelter resources for many native vertebrates, exposing them to increased predation from invasive predators such as the red fox and feral cat. Focusing on the fire-prone spinifex grasslands of central Australia, this project firstly identifies the role of specific refuge habitats that provide native species with protection in the post-fire environment, and then proposes an innovative experimental program to quantify and mitigate predation-impacts. The results will stimulate new thinking about predator-prey theory and, in an environment predicted to experience more wildfires in future, provide guidance about how to protect the rich biotic resources of the continental interior.

Professor Cameron Kepert and Dr Suzanne Neville, both from the School of Chemistry, with Emeritus Professor Keith Murray, from Monash University, and Professor Jean-Francois Letard, from the Institut de Chimie de la Matière Condensée de Bordeaux, in France, will receive $780 000 over three years for their project on spin-crossover, which is a fascinating class of molecular switching transition for which pronounced changes in molecular structure, colour and magnetism can be induced reversibly through variation of temperature, pressure, light irradiation, magnetic field and chemical environment. This project targets the strategic development of new spin-crossover systems where cooperativity between switching centres will lead to advanced molecules and materials having unprecedented host-guest capabilities, magnetic ordering, memory retention and a range of exotic multifunctional properties. The work addresses several fundamental questions in the science of electronic systems and will lead to advanced switchable materials worthy of commercial development.

Professor Mats Olsson, from the School of Biological Sciences, with Dr Simon de Graaf, from the Faculty of Veterinary Science, and Dr Michael Tobler, from Oklahoma State University, USA, will receive $621 094 over three years for their project integrating telomeres, free radicals and sperm biology into a coherent research program on the roles of free radicals in eroding telomeres and dictating: success in sperm competition and cryptic female choice; longevity and life time fitness in the wild; and, transgenerational effects on offspring viability, in particular mediated via paternal telomere length. Specifically, the project researches how sperm telomere length in sires shorten under stress and how this epigenetic effect is transferred from sires to sons and potentially moderates also filial success in sperm competition and attractiveness in cryptic female choice.

Professor Simon Fleming, from the School of Physics, with Emeritus Professor Geoffrey Barton, from the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies, have secured $495 000 over three years for their project on metamaterials. Exploitation of 'smart materials' is a major opportunity for 21st century Australian manufacturing if cost effective bulk production is available. Metamaterials are ideal building blocks for such new-age materials, being dielectric/metal composites structured on sub-wavelength dimensions, offering diverse properties unavailable in natural materials. Fibre drawing is a proven mass-production technology for translating the structure of a (macroscale) preform to microscale and it has recently been applied to fabricate microscale metamaterials. By overcoming fundamental instabilities, this project will transform the technique to manufacture nanoscale structured composites and demonstrate practical metamaterial-based optical devices with unique properties.

Professor Robert Boakes, from the School of Psychology, with Dr Kieron Rooney, from the Faculty of Health Sciences, will receive $480 000 over three years for their project on between-meal snacks and sweet drinks, which are major contributors to human obesity. Consumption of a food is greatly influenced by its flavour and the properties of flavours are largely learned. This project examines how what is learned about a flavour influences both short-term and long-term food consumption by rats and humans. Short-term effects are studied by adding a flavour to a pre-meal (snack) and measuring how much is eaten in a subsequent meal. Long-term effects are studied when the value of sweetness is altered by exposure to non-nutritive sweeteners. The results will extend basic understanding of flavour learning in relation to obesity.

Associate Professor Kevin Downard, from the School of Molecular Bioscience, will receive $400 000 over three years for his project on inhibitors for influenza viruses. The increasing resistance of circulating influenza strains to current anti-viral inhibitors has prompted an investigation to screen, design, synthesize and evaluate a new class of natural product based inhibitors to the virus employing novel and innovative mass spectrometry, computational and structural approaches. Preliminary studies reveal they offer benefits in terms of a different mode of binding to influenza neuraminidase, remote from many known resistance mutations, and may have specific practicality against N1 neuraminidase in H1N1 and H5N1 viruses responsible for all pandemics of the 20th and 21st centuries. The research will enable the potential of these inhibitors to be fully assessed at the molecular level for the first time.

Associate Professor Hans Pols, from the Unit for History and Philosophy of Science, with Professor Byron Good and Professor Mary-Jo Good, both from Harvard University, USA, have secured $367 779 over three years for their project which will result in the first history of psychiatry in a non-Western country. The project will investigate how psychiatry developed in Indonesia, a developing country where Islam is the dominant religion, by analysing the ideas of Indonesian psychiatrists on the nature and treatment of mental disorder. The project will analyse their ideas on the role of cultural factors in the expression of mental illness and the influence of Western ideas. Mental disorder constitutes a significant and increasing burden of death and disability around the world. In articles and a monograph, this study aims to present the perspective of Indonesian psychiatrists on the development, the current state, and the challenges their disciplines face in the near future.

Professor Ruibin Zhang, from the School of Mathematics and Statistics, will receive $360 000 over three years for his project on supersymmetry. Supersymmetry has remained in a central stage of fundamental research in both physics and mathematics for the last forty years. It is currently being tested by experiments of massive scales conducted on the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva. The present project aims to create new mathematical concepts and techniques for addressing fundamental issues of supersymmetry. Expected outcomes include new types of Bose-Fermi correspondence, a deformation theory of Lie superalgebra representations, algebraic and geometric treatments of Jantzen filtration of parabolic Verma modules of Lie superalgebras, and quantum field theoretical models for the topological invariants of knots and 3-manifolds arising from quantum supergroups.

See the full list of ARC Discovery Projects funded at:

Contact: Katynna Gill

Phone: 02 9351 6997

Email: 3e2f470c560d5705560d3f1b071b560c5803355d4a011f642939