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A feather star on the Great Barrier Reef. Source: Flickr/fugm10
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Australian Academy of Science honours three Sydney scientists

28 May 2019
Election to the Academy is the highest honour in Australian science
Three Sydney scientists join the ranks of 543 Fellows of the Australian Academy of Science, a recognition of the breadth, depth and quality of our research.

The Australian Academy of Science has elected three University of Sydney academics as Fellows, recognising outstanding careers and continuing excellence in scientific research.

Professor Maria Byrne, a marine biologist from the School of Life and Environmental Science, Professor Alex Molev, a pure mathematician from the School of Mathematics and Statistics, and Professor Catherine Stampfl, a condensed matter physicist from the School of Physics, join 540 eminent scientists as Fellows of Australia’s leading scientific society.

The Dean of Science, Professor Iain Young, said: "It’s a great honour to welcome new Fellows to the Faculty, which shows the breadth, depth and quality of our research."

Australian Academy of Science President, Professor John Shine, congratulated the new Fellows for making significant and lasting impacts in their scientific disciplines.

"These scientists were elected by their Academy peers following a rigorous evaluation process. What stands out among the new Fellows elected this year is the collective impact of their science on an international scale," Professor Shine said.

Marine biologist Professor Maria Byrne is leading international expert on echinoderms, which are some of the most beautiful and interesting animals in the sea. They include feather stars, sea stars, brittle stars, sea urchins and sea cucumbers.

More than 1000 species live in Australian waters and play an important ecological role. Several species of sea urchins and sea cucumbers form the basis of important fisheries. Many are still to be found and studied.

Professor Byrne helped write the definitive guide on Australian Echinodermswhich provides comprehensive information on the identification, biology, evolution, ecology and management of these animals for the first time.

In December last year on the Great Barrier Reef she witnessed the head of a crown of thorns sea star larvae pop off which proved for the first time it can reproduce by cloning.

This discovery is described in the paper, “Larval cloning in the crown-of-thorns sea star, a keystone coral predator”, published in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series.

Professor Byrne and her team hope they may be able to limit the outbreaks of these coral-munching echinoderms by applying this new knowledge.

Citations from the Academy of Science

Professor Maria Byrne

Professor Maria Byrne FAA

Maria Byrne’s research on Evolution of Development is globally recognised for key discoveries on how animal body plans evolve and has greatly enriched our understanding of Australia’s marine biodiversity. She uniquely uses life-history diversity in endemic species to discover how developmental change drives speciation. She has advanced knowledge on the important marine phylum Echinodermata, culminating in a definitive textbook and monograph for Australia. She is also a recognised leader in Global Change Biology, documenting the impacts of ocean acidification and warming on marine invertebrate life stages revealing the adaptability of marine species that is key to understanding their future prospects.

Professor Alex Molev

Professor Alexander Molev FAA


Alexander Molev is a pure mathematician who has made substantial research contributions to algebra, representation theory, algebraic combinatorics and mathematical physics. He is a world-leading expert on ‘Yangians’, a particular class of quantum groups, that he has used to solve longstanding open problems. Professor Molev’s book Yangians and Classical Lie Algebras is widely viewed as the definitive monograph in the field. In 2001, Molev was awarded the prestigious AustMS Medal of the Australian Mathematical Society for his work in representation theory.

Professor Catherine Stampfl

Professor Catherine Stampfl FAA


Catherine Stampfl is a theoretical condensed matter physicist with an outstanding international reputation for her investigations into the atomic and electronic structure of solids, their surfaces, interfaces and nanostructures. She uses accurate first-principles calculations, in conjunction with high-performance computing, to gain fundamental understanding of the behaviour of matter and to predict new and improved materials for technological applications. Professor Stampfl has made paradigm-shifting investigations in the area of theoretical surface science and sustained contributions in materials for nanoelectronic devices. Her research bridges the fields of physics, chemistry, engineering and materials science.

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