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University of Sydney names 20 SOAR Fellows for 2019

8 October 2018
Driving research excellence
Twenty University of Sydney academics have been named 2019 SOAR Fellows and will receive $100,000 over the next two years to take their research careers to the next level.

SOAR Fellows are flying high

Sydney Research Accelerator (SOAR) Fellows also receive support for their research and development plans, and benefit from a personalised program of structured mentoring.

The 2019 SOAR Fellows are pursuing research that includes:

  • the psychology of gambling to development and evaluate harm-minimisation strategies
  • how ‘Western’ diets affect cognition by exploring human population data and the gut microbiome, metabolic profiles and brain structures of mice fed on these diets
  • tools to measure nerve damage in chemotherapy-treated patients
  • wearable neural-interface for monitoring chronic brain activity and predicting epileptic seizures
  • partnering with Indigenous researchers and community organisations to document and conserve Indigenous languages of mainland Asia, develop leadership and communication skills in the modern South Asian cultural context
  • developing new models and algorithms to make machine learning of complex dynamical systems more robust, accurate, and secure.
Part of our relentless focus to drive research excellence is a dedication to ensuring our exceptional researchers flourish.
Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research, Professor Duncan Ivison, University of Sydney

Commenting on the 2019 SOAR Fellows, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Duncan Ivison said: “Part of our relentless focus to drive research excellence is a dedication to ensuring our exceptional researchers flourish.”

Dr Andrew Black, Director of Research Development and Collaboration, said: “I’m elated to back this cohort’s exciting plans, and eager to see where this step will take their careers.

“A vital component of the SOAR fellowship is leadership training and development, which helps our best and most promising researchers fully realise their potential. We want to arm our up-and-coming research stars with the tools they’ll need to deliver on their creativity, passion and ambition; to become international leaders in their fields.”

2019 SOAR Fellows

Dr Sally Gainsbury

Dr Sally Gainsbury  is Deputy Director of the Gambling Treatment and Research Clinic within the Brain and Mind Centre and School of Psychology. Her primary expertise is the psychology of gambling to develop and evaluate harm-minimisation strategies, and she’s been investigating new technologies like blockchain and Internet gambling and gaming.

With the SOAR Fellowship, Dr Gainsbury plans to define and understand risk-taking behaviour and decision-making related to new technology and guide policy and strategies to promote healthy decision-making. She will set herself up to be recognised as an international research leader in online risk-taking and addictions – growing fields with strong social and economic impacts but which lack the research to inform theoretical conceptualisation, policy and practice.

Dr Tooran Alizadeh

Dr Tooran Alizadeh’s research utilises cross-disciplinary knowledge and methodologies to gain new vital perspectives into the ever-growing complexities of cities in the age of advanced technological challenges and opportunities. She has investigated the socio-spatial implications of telecommunication infrastructure in Australia and beyond; and the extent to which smart city initiatives respond to the strategic challenges of each city and its citizens.

The SOAR Fellowship will provide the opportunity to up-scale and accelerate her current research in two main streams of 1) Understanding global trends of smart cities with a focus on India; and 2) Capturing local voices in smart cities in collaboration with local governments in Australia.

Dr Anna Boucher

As a global expert on immigration, Dr Anna Boucher is increasingly sought on her specialisation of economic migration and migration data. With the United Nations estimating that there are 258 million immigrants globally, knowledge of the complex nature of immigration policies and their outcomes is in demand.

As an applied researcher with links across government, industry and media, Dr Boucher and will use the fellowship to supervise more postgraduates and undertake a visiting fellowship at UCLA to extend her current research to include Californian immigration issues.

Dr Christina Adler

Dr Christina Adler is based at Westmead Hospital, leading a research program focused on understanding how the oral microbiome contributes to both oral and overall health. Her research is particularly focussing on the role of the oral microbiome in dental decay that affects half of Australian children under 12 years of age.

She plans to use the SOAR Fellowship to translate the findings from two NHMRC studies and use the oral microbiome data to develop new prevention methods for childhood dental decay.

Dr Susannah Park

Dr Susanna Park’s current research program is targeted to develop objective tools to measure nerve damage in chemotherapy-treated patients, identify sensitive markers to identify patients at risk of long-term nerve damage, and provide a platform for the development of clinical trials of neuroprotective strategies.

She plans to develop and implement non-invasive technologies to assess patient function in cancer survivors during the fellowship. She’ll also host an inaugural Neurological Complications of Cancer workshop, to accelerate translation of research techniques into clinical trials.

Dr Milena Simic

Dr Milena Simic leads clinical and biomechanical research in the field of knee osteoarthritis and musculoskeletal health. Her research focuses on innovative strategies aimed at preventing the deterioration of joint health in people with knee osteoarthritis.

With the SOAR fellowship, she will create international guidelines for clinical gait analysis in musculoskeletal conditions. She’ll also use video analysis and data to automate the detection of gait deviation using machine learning, and will conduct a trial to determine if optimising exercise therapy and reducing non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug use prevents joint deterioration.

Dr Joseph Lizier

Dr Joseph Lizier is researching complex systems, the interdisciplinary study of collective behaviour, self-organisation and emergence. He’s currently focussed on providing new theory and software tools to enable measuring information processing in biological and bio-inspired systems.

He plans to use the fellowship to deepen his expertise and impact of his work in computational neuroscience, and to lead projects with international collaborators by consolidating ties with the Max Planck Institute.

Dr Omid Kavehei

Dr Omid Kavehei has established research into epileptic seizure prediction and drug effectiveness. With the SOAR, he plans to develop a wearable neural-interface for monitoring chronic brain activity and predicting epileptic seizures.

This will lead to a patent for the device, which solves the research question of how to make a reliable ambulatory EEG recording for long-term non-invasive brain signal monitoring.

Dr Justin Wong

Dr Justin Wong is head of the Epigenetics and RNA Biology Program at the Centenary Institute. As a molecular biologist and epigeneticist, he has a strong focus on cancer research and is currently focussing on ribonucleic acid (RNA) splicing and RNA modification.

Funding from the SOAR Fellowship will facilitate critical work to determine the roles of RNA splicing and modification in diverse human cancers, and identify novel ways to target abnormalities in these processes to improve cancer therapeutics.

Dr Mark Post

Dr Mark Post is a linguist specialising in the documentation, analysis and conservation of Asia’s Indigenous languages, and one of the few linguists conducting field research in the linguistically-rich and little-studied Eastern Himalayan region.

The SOAR Fellowship will enable Dr Post to advance and expand his current projects partnering with Indigenous researchers and community organisations to document and conserve Indigenous languages of mainland Asia, develop leadership and communication skills in the modern South Asian cultural context, and complete a three-volume book.

Associate Professor Manuela Ferreira

Surgery for musculoskeletal conditions is among the fastest growing procedures across the world, however, more surgery does not necessarily mean more recovered patients. Associate Professor Manuela Ferreira designed and currently leads the world’s first placebo-controlled randomised trial of surgery for spinal stenosis, an NHMRC-funded project.

With the SOAR, she plans to develop the Placebo Surgery Research Network at the Kolling Institute, as well as continue producing high quality scientific evidence in the field of musculoskeletal surgery.

Associate Professor Dimitria Groutsis

In spite of almost five decades of Australia’s multicultural policy and a country which boasts one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse populations, this is not reflected in the executive teams and boards of Australian public, private and not-for-profit organisations, with the vast majority of board and senior leadership positions held by Anglo-Celtic men.

Associate Professor Dimitria Groutsis’ research focusses on migration, labour mobility, and cultural diversity in business. The SOAR will allow her to scale up her recent research activities, extend her interdisciplinary collaborations with the Sydney Policy Lab, and build on her ground-breaking work with the Diversity Council Australia, the Australian Human Rights Commission and the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

Associate Professor Joanne Arciuli

Associate Professor Joanne Arciuli’s research program focusses on child development and disability with regard to speech, language and literacy. She aims to improve child outcomes by elucidating the atypical developmental trajectories that underpin communication impairment and their causes, and translating these insights into cutting-edge interventions.

In the next two years, Associate Professor Arciuli plans to leverage recent collaborations to advance science and improve the lives of children with developmental disabilities, and accelerate engagement with community leaders and their disability organisations.

Associate Professor Monika Bednarek

Associate Professor Monika Bednarek is internationally recognised for her research on language use in the mass media and for her contributions to computer-based linguistic analysis.

She plans to use the SOAR funding to set up a new virtual lab and develop new research projects. She’ll investigate the representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians in health news, examine discourses of disability, and establish a new Sydney Corpus Lab, a virtual platform for connecting computer-based linguists across the university and promote the method in other disciplines.

Dr Oscar Pizarro

Dr Oscar Pizarro’s research has focused on improving our capabilities for environmental monitoring using robotics and related disciplines such as computer vision and machine learning.

Through the SOAR, Dr Pizarro will establish and cultivate collaborative relationships with the University of Porto and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, among others, focused on using low-cost, scalable autonomous systems for seafloor characterisation and monitoring.

Associate Professor Joachim Gudmundsson

Associate Professor Joachim Gudmundsson’s research focusses on developing effective algorithms and data structures for geometric data, particularly to support movement analysis in the fields of ecology, animal-behaviour research, sports, defence, GIS and transport.

Associate Professor Gudmundsson leads the newly established Sydney Algorithms and Computation Theory (SACT) group, a talented and innovative team possessing real potential to become a world-leading research group. He will be looking to further strengthen SACT by establishing strong industry collaboration and securing ongoing diverse funding.

Associate Professor Ian Manchester

Associate Professor Ian Manchester is the Associate Director (Research) at the Centre for Robotics and Intelligent Systems, working on machine learning and robot control systems.

During his SOAR fellowship, he will develop new models and algorithms that make machine learning of complex dynamical systems more robust, accurate, and secure. This will enable the next generation of robot control systems that can learn from experience while guaranteeing safety, a critical element in many applications, such as surgical robots that can learn from human surgeons. His research will also contribute to cybersecurity by helping protect automated systems against deliberate “false data” attacks designed to cause damage.

Associate Professor Martijn Konings

Associate Professor Martijn Konings’ research sits in the crossroads of political economy and social theory, focusing particularly on money and finance. He is currently looking into the home as a financial asset and the way it has become linked to major transformations in the logic of economic inequality and social stratification.

With the SOAR Fellowship he plans to lead a cross-disciplinary group of scholars to publish a series of co-authored papers, and a short, programmatic book on the asset economy. There will be interaction with similar groups at University partners Harvard, Toronto, UCL and Utrecht, as well as NYU and Chicago.

Associate Professor Greg Sutherland

Associate Professor Greg Sutherland works in the Discipline of Pathology and is interested in understanding the factors causing unhealthy brain ageing and cognitive decline.

Diets high in protein and fat can modify brain activity and this may be related to changes in the gut microbiome. In the next two years, together with colleagues at the Charles Perkins Centre, he will explore how ‘Western’ diets affect cognition by exploring both human population data and the gut microbiome, metabolic profiles and brain structures of mice fed on these diets.

Associate Professor Peter Kim

Associate Professor Peter Kim works in the field of mathematical biology, particularly relating to mathematical immunology and virus dynamics. He plans to help cultivate mathematical biology at Sydney, investing in people by developing into a more effective mentor.

Along with personal development through a course, he intends to work on projects focused on mathematically modelling the regulation and dynamics of T cells, and the affinity maturation and selection of effector and memory T cells.

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