ARC funding success for Faculty of Science

28 October 2009

Researchers from the Faculty of Science at the University of Sydney have secured $17.29 million in funding for Discovery Projects and $1.045 million in funding for Linkage Projects from the Australian Research Council, for research to begin in 2010.

Announced by the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Senator Kim Carr, on 26 October 2009, the funding is part of the Australian Government's national grants scheme, worth over $394 million, for research across disciplines as diverse as science, engineering, arts, medicine, education, law and culture. The Discovery Projects scheme accounts for $325.5 million of this national funding, while the Linkage Projects scheme will receive $66.8 million nationally.

"The Faculty of Science at the University of Sydney has done very well in this round of ARC funding, with 45 new Discovery Projects being successful in gaining funding to begin in 2010," said Professor David Day, Dean of Science.

"The level of funding awarded to the Faculty of Science makes it one of the largest research entities in the country, similar in Discovery grant support to that obtained by the whole of some of the largest universities in Australia.

"Within the Faculty of Science, it is particularly pleasing to see a larger number of more junior staff members and recent appointments being awarded grants this year, as this has been a Faculty target over the past two years," said Professor Day.

Of the fifty organisations across Australia that applied for ARC Discovery Project funding, the University of Sydney as a whole received the second highest amount of Discovery Project funding - $38.16 million - with the University of Melbourne receiving only slightly more funding - $38.82 million.

The Discovery Projects scheme funds excellence in fundamental research, leading to major discoveries and supporting innovative research that will broaden Australia's knowledge base and enhance Australia's international competitiveness.

The Linkage Projects scheme funds collaborative research and development between higher education organisations and other organisations, including industry, government and international organisations.

Some Discovery successes:

Professor Cameron Kepert, from the School of Chemistry, along with Professor Keith Murray from Monash University, Professor Jean-Fran├žois Letard from CNRS/University of Bordeaux in France, and Professor Peter Steel from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, received the single largest Discovery Project grant within the Faculty of Science in this round of funding for their project titled 'Spin Switching in Nanoporous, Nanomolecular and Multifunctional Hybrid Systems'. The $880 000 over four years will fund research on the generation of molecular nanomaterials with advanced chemical and physical properties. Generating these materials requires both the control of nanoscale structure and the incorporation of specific function into that structure. This project will lead to significant new advances in this area through the generation of molecules and materials in which nanoscale switching is combined with guest-binding, magnetic ordering, and multiple other properties. Entirely new materials functionalities will emerge, leading in turn to fundamental advances in the science of molecular electronics and nanomaterials and to the development of innovative new technologies for molecular sensing, molecular separations and data storage.

Dr Nate Lo, from the School of Biological Sciences, will receive $810 000 over five years for research titled 'The evolution of caste determination systems in termites'. Termites cause around a billion dollars of damage in Australia each year. To date, all this damage is from native species, but there is the constant threat of invasion by voracious exotics. This project will provide fundamental knowledge on the mechanism termites use to produce the distinctive worker and royal castes, and on the way colony budding arises via juvenile reproduction. This will provide the basis for novel and highly specific termite control methods that target caste determination. The existence of sterile, altruistic castes famously posed a conundrum for Darwin. This project is ground-breaking because it will provide the critical link between the theory that explains the puzzle (kin selection) and molecular biology.

Professor David McKenzie and Professor Marcela Bilek, from the School of Physics, along with Professor Cristobal dos Remedios from the Faculty of Medicine, and Professor H Yasuda, have secured $680 000 over three years for research on 'Surface immobilisation of enzymes for the synthesis of ethanol'. The efficiency of ethanol production will be increased by preventing poisoning of enzymes by reaction products as in current technology. Enzymes will be robustly attached to porous surfaces so that a high efficiency continuous flow process can be used. A novel selective membrane for the continuous removal of ethanol will be developed, allowing water to be saved and unreacted inputs to be recycled. The ultimate outcome will be a process which achieves dramatic water saving and greatly reduced environmental impact. In the final stage of the project we will apply our methods to the processing of cellulose from agricultural and forestry waste, with the potential of preventing the diversion of food resources into the transport fuel industry.

Associate Professor Justin Harris, from the School of Psychology, will receive $548 000 over five years for 'Probability and timing in associative learning'. Associative learning is a fundamental aspect of adaptive behaviour common to all animals, enabling them to use their past experience to predict the future. This project will significantly advance our knowledge about the content of that learning and about the appropriate tools to measure it. The project will prove invaluable for future research into the neural basis of simple learning (and its eventual applications in areas of brain development and repair, and neurodegeneration). It will have important implications for the development of computational models in artificial intelligence and cognitive neuroscience, and for applications of learning principles to clinical settings (such as the treatment of phobias and drug addiction).

Dr Richard Payne, from the School of Chemistry, and Associate Professor Martin Stone from Monash University, have obtained $480 000 over three years for 'Solid-phase synthesis of sulfopeptides for evaluation of chemokine-receptor recognition'. The research will develop new chemical methods for preparing biologically active molecules that contain sulphate. These molecules have important functions in controlling blood clotting, hormone activity, immune responses, and AIDS or malarial infection. The new chemical methods will be used to study the interactions of two groups of proteins that control the movement of white blood cells in inflammatory responses. The research will provide insights into the biochemistry of inflammation and will contribute to the development of new therapies for diseases affecting young Australians (allergy, asthma, and viral infections) as well as the elderly (atherosclerosis and arthritis).

Professor Anthony Weiss, from the School of Molecular and Microbial Biosciences, will receive $450 000 over three years for 'Biochemistry of tropoelastin: functional analysis of an essential cell-interactive domain'. Elastin is ten times more durable than the best man-made synthetic rubbers because our bodies need to control life-threatening rips in skin, artery and lung. Warm-blooded animals use elastin to build diversely shaped elastic materials for multiple biological environments in these tissues. In this project, we will learn a lot more about the most preserved and functional part of elastin. These discoveries will increase our understanding of the grand architectural rules by which elastic protein-based structures are made. We will learn new ways to manage cell interactions in an elastic environment and define design rules to assist in the future design of new cell-binding, elastic, composite materials.

Associate Professor Georg Gottwald, from the School of Mathematics and Statistics, has secured $400 000 over five years for 'Stochastic methods in mathematical geophysical fluid dynamics'. The work will develop analytical and numerical methods for long-term weather forecasting and climate modelling. The project deals with the mathematical aspects and fundamental mechanisms underpinning numerical climate forecasting. New methodology will be developed for accurate modelling of the important and dominant slow global processes without explicitly resolving the precise detail of the weather of each day at all scales. Using sophisticated mathematics, this project investigates how to parameterise the fast and small processes by using stochastic processes in a controllable and adaptive way.

Dr Jody Webster, from the School of Geosciences, with Dr Helen McGregor from the University of Wollongong, Dr Stuart Fallon and Dr Andrea Dutton both from the Australian National University, Dr Sandy Tudhope from the University of Edinburgh in the UK, Dr Tezer Esat from the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, and Associate Professor Yusuke Yokoyama from the University of Tokyo in Japan, will receive $372 000 over three years for 'Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) drilling in the Great Barrier Reef: unlocking the causes, rates and consequences of abrupt sea level and climate change'. The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) and how it will respond to future global climate changes is of fundamental importance to the nation. The project will address this challenge by investigating the submerged fossil coral reefs in the GBR. This will lead to a better understanding of the natural rates, range and forcing mechanisms that control global sea-level and climate variability (ie. paleo-ENSO), and geo-biological changes affecting the GBR over the last 20 000 years. This project will provide unique insights into the response of the GBR to past environmental stress and improve predictions about the vulnerability of GBR to future global climate changes.

Dr Hans Pols, from the Unit for the History and Philosophy of Science, will receive $127 000 over three years for 'Health and Medicine in the Dutch East Indies: Medical Research, Health Programs, and Colonial Networks of Mediation'. Investigating the culture of plural medicine in the former Dutch East Indies, where different medical cultures existed side by side, will bring a greater understanding of our closest neighbour, Indonesia, in an area of prime importance: medicine and health. It will provide a greater insight into the colonial heritage of the Dutch East Indies. It will also provide new insights in the approach to health issues in today's Indonesia, because indigenous medicines are very popular. They are manufactured by a large industry which is currently hoping to expand its exports abroad.

Linkage successes:

Professor Rick Shine, from the School of Biological Sciences, obtained the largest Linkage Project grant within the Faculty of Science in this round of funding, with his research partner organisations: the Department of Environment and Conservation in Western Australia and Territory Wildlife Park in the Northern Territory. Professor Shine will receive $625 000 over five years to work on 'Surviving in a toad-colonised landscape: manipulating predator behaviour to reduce the impact of the cane toad invasion'. Invasive species pose a major threat to biodiversity; and within Australia, cane toads are widely viewed as one of the biggest such problems. Vigorous attempts at toad control have failed to slow the invasion front, and toads are now entering the Kimberley region. If we can't stop the toads, are there other ways to reduce the numbers of native predators killed by eating these poisonous invaders? Predators given nausea-inducing chemicals with their first toad meal rapidly learn to avoid cane toads as prey, enabling them to survive even where toads are present. The study will develop those methods for several vulnerable native species, including techniques for deployment of aversion-inducing baits in advance of the toad invasion.

Associate Professor Brian Hawkett, Associate Professor James Beattie and Dr Chiara Neto all from the School of Chemistry, with Dr Jeffrey Gore from Dyno Nobel Asia Pacific Ltd, will receive $420 000 over three years to work on 'Inhibition of Spontaneous Detonations of Explosive Emulsions in Hot and Reactive grounds'. Dyno Nobel Asia Pacific is a major supplier of explosive services to the coal, iron ore and gold-mining industries. Many mines in Australia and overseas are in hot and reactive ground, where eliminating the risk of spontaneous detonation is a considerable addition to operating costs. The School of Chemistry researchers and industry partner will collaborate to significantly improve our capacity to evaluate ground for reactivity and to formulate new inhibited emulsion explosives for use in hot and reactive ground. This will lead to much more flexible, cost-effective mining operations, by understanding the key parameters for the safe 'sleep time' of on-site explosives. This should result in greater export competitiveness and rural employment opportunities.

See every ARC Discovery Project funded at:

See every ARC Linkage Project funded at:

Contact: Katynna Gill

Phone: 02 9351 6997

Email: 5e302c1e5e27026d0c0c2f222634432f0c7d145c0f462a0c