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Astronomy, geometry and corruption: ARC Future Fellowships announced

16 December 2015
Fellowships fuel research in exotic astronomical objects, anti-corruption courts and unsolved questions in geometry

Three outstanding mid-career academics from the University of Sydney have been announced 2015 Australian Research Council Future Fellows.

To be an innovative nation we must support our outstanding researchers to ensure we retain a strong research workforce for many years to come
Minister Simon Birmingham

Finding rare and exotic astronomical objects, investigating Indonesia’s anti-corruption courts and understanding fundamental unsolved questions in geometry are the research areas of the University of Sydney’s new Australian Research Council Future Fellows.

Announced today by the Federal Minister for Education and Training, Simon Birmingham, the Future Fellowships are designed to support Australia's most accomplished mid-career academics to continue their work in Australia.

The new Future Fellows are Dr Tara Murphy from the School of Physics, Associate Professor Simon Butt from Sydney Law School and Dr Zhou Zhang from the School of Mathematics and Statistics.

The three Fellows will receive a total of $2,477,935 in funding.

“To be an innovative nation we must support our outstanding researchers to ensure we retain a strong research workforce for many years to come,” Minister Birmingham said.

Dr Murphy specialises in studying transients - astronomical objects that appear and disappear or change rapidly. They can help us understand some of the most extreme processes in the universe.

Radio astronomy is on the verge of a revolution in the study of transients and this project will use three new Australian telescopes to conduct the most comprehensive search for them ever made. The researchers will develop intelligent algorithms capable of extracting weak signals from massive datasets to find transients, ranging from extra-solar planets to gamma-ray bursts.

Indonesia has notoriously high levels of public-sector corruption that are eroding support for democracy and decentralisation, and threatening stability in the country. Professor Simon Butt’s project will be the first to examine the effectiveness of the country’s regional anti-corruption courts, established in 2011.

The courts’ performance is of great importance to Australia, given its close relationship with Indonesia. Continuing corruption threatens poverty reduction efforts within Indonesia and Australia's security and commercial interests.

Dr Zhang works on some of the most difficult and important unsolved problems in geometry and topology. Intuitively, he is trying to describe how space fits together.

Underpinning much of Dr Zhang’s work is the notion of Kähler-Ricci flow, which is a sophisticated tool for understanding how curvature changes. In addition to improving our understanding of space his research will significantly boost our ability to calculate in spaces reduced to their simplest forms and have wide-ranging effects, from pure mathematics to any field where geometry applies, such as physics.

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