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Sydney Research Accelerator Fellows

Generous fellowships to help Sydney researchers SOAR
Our Sydney Research Accelerator (SOAR) fellowships support outstanding University of Sydney early and mid-career researchers to fulfil their potential.

As part of the two-year program, fellows are awarded $50,000 per year to support their research, innovation and development plans. They also benefit from a personalised program of research development support and structured mentoring.

In a new documentary series, we’re following five of our SOAR fellows for two years to find out what makes them get out of bed in the morning, how they balance the pressures of academic life with family and the reality of successes and failures in research.

2018 SOAR fellows

Age-defying nutrition

Dr Samantha Solon-Biet – Faculty of Science
Samantha’s research is focused on discovering novel nutritional interventions that delay ageing and age-related lifestyle diseases such as obesity, cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Her previous work, the most detailed study of macronutrition ever undertaken in mammals, found that in free-feeding environments, diets low in protein and high in carbohydrates are more beneficial for late-life health and lifespan than reducing total calorie intake. The fellowship will allow her to expand this research at the Charles Perkins Centre and via an exchange to the US.

Designing the zoos of 2050

Dr Marcus Carter – Faculty of Arts and Social Science
How will technology change the design and role of zoos in the next thirty years? Marcus’ research looks at how we can use digital technologies and sensors to improve animal welfare, conservation education, and visitor experience at zoos. He has recently worked with Zoos Victoria to develop digital games for orangutan and gorilla enrichment and as part of his fellowship and will build links with other Australian and international zoos.  

Improving our criminal justice system

Dr Garner Clancey – Sydney Law School
Crime prevention and criminal justice expert Garner will analyse some of the recent major developments in the NSW criminal justice system, including the ‘once-in-a-generation’ reforms of the NSW Police Force and the $3.8 billion injection of funding that will almost double the number of adult prison beds in NSW.

Tweaking our built environment to improve health

Dr Melody Ding – Sydney Medical School
As a population behavioural scientist, Melody, a 2017 Vice-Chancellor’s Award winner and member of the Charles Perkins Centre, is studying how to make tweaks to our built environment (such as making our neighbourhoods more ‘walkable’) to prevent chronic diseases, such as obesity and cardiovascular disease. Her fellowship will fund advanced epidemiological training at Harvard and support the translation of her work into public policy.

Transforming drug and spray delivery systems

Dr Agisilaos Kourmatzis – Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies
Agisilaos’ research is focused on understanding and managing multiphase flows, which have far-reaching implications for our environment, our society and our health. His fellowship will spur promising industry relationships, cross-faculty workshops and further his research, which has applications in advanced drug delivery systems for asthma and Alzheimer’s, agricultural sprays, and improving the efficiency of energy conversion systems.

Ethics and politics of emerging medical therapies

Dr Wendy Lipworth – Sydney Medical School
A bioethicist, Wendy’s research centres on some of the most challenging problems facing frontline clinicians, researchers and policymakers, including access to high cost cancer medicines, therapeutics research using biobanks and big data, and the commercialisation of health and biomedicine. Her fellowship will enable the establishment of the world’s first global pharmaceutical ethics network and support the development of the University's Master of Bioethics program.

Understanding the role of metals in health and disease

Associate Professor Elizabeth New – Faculty of Science
Elizabeth develops fluorescent chemical sensors that help visualise biological processes to better understand Alzheimer’s, obesity and cancer, as well as find toxic metals in soils to improve agriculture in remote communities. Already a leader at the forefront of chemical probe development within Australia, the fellowship will assist with the commercialisation of her research.

Tracking crime and health outcomes among drug users

Dr Kevin Schnepel – Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Analysing the economics of crime, Kevin’s research addresses major questions in criminal justice policy. Recently, he has been investigating the short- and long-term impacts of a sudden five-fold increase in the price of heroin in 2001 due to a large reduction in the supply using data that links the administrative health and crime records of NSW heroin users in the late 1990s. Another project studies the potential benefits associated with diversion programs in the US that provide drug offenders with an opportunity to clear their criminal records after a period of community supervision.

Cognition and attention in dementia

Dr Mac Shine – Sydney Medical School
Every thought you’ve ever had is intimately linked to the activity of billions of neurons in your brain, yet we still don’t comprehend the basic principles of how the brain works. Mac’s work at the Brain and Mind Centre aims to understand the biological basis of cognition and attention, both in health and disease, to develop new treatments for dementia. 

Governance of emerging gene technologies

Dr Sonja Van Wichelen – Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Asian countries are becoming major players in the world of bioscience. Yet the legalities of emerging gene technologies have yet to be explored. As a sociologist, Sonja’s current research examines the socio-legal governance of new gene technologies in Southeast Asian countries, which has important implications for medical tourism and the Australian biotech field. Her fellowship will allow her to conduct interviews with lawyers, bioethicists and judges as part of her pilot studies in Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

Uncovering the genetics of dementia

Dr Carol Dobson-Stone – Sydney Medical School
By 2050, it is predicted that around 950,000 Australians will have dementia. An expert on the genetics of dementia, Carol has recently discovered a key gene implicated in the neurodegenerative disease. As part of her fellowship, the Brain and Mind Centre researcher will further her research on this gene in the hope that it will provide targets for the development of new treatments and preventative therapies for this debilitating group of disorders.

Creating greener fuels

Associate Professor Jun Huang – Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies 
A 2017 Vice-Chancellor’s Award winner, Jun focuses on developing new catalysts to speed up chemical reactions and ultimately ensure 'greener' and more sustainable fuels and industries. He recently developed a way to convert methane and carbon dioxide (this reaction was thought impossible) to an important chemical acetic acid and will expand this research, to ensure it is industry compatible, as part of his fellowship.

Managing memory loss in dementia

Associate Professor Muireann Irish – Faculty of Science
An expert on the neuroscience of human memory and winner of the 2016 NSW Premier’s Early Career Researcher of the Year, Muireann’s work has transformed how we understand and manage loss of memory in dementia and how this affects the capacity for imagination and thinking about the future. Motivated by her grandmother’s suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, the Brain and Mind Centre researcher will continue her research in this area, building links with industry partners.

Life-saving solutions to combat heatwaves

Associate Professor Ollie Jay – Faculty of Health Sciences 
Heatwaves are responsible for more deaths every year than all other natural disasters combined and are only going to increase in frequency with climate change. Ollie’s research looks at cheap and energy efficient solutions to keep us cool and reduce the risk of hyperthermia-related complications during heatwaves and while exercising. As part of his fellowship, Ollie, a member of the Charles Perkins Centre, will integrate his research findings into international public health messaging and work with various sports organisations to develop evidence-based extreme heat policies for professional and community summer sports.

Securing our future drinking water and food

Dr Federico Maggi – Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies 
As an environmental engineer, Federico’s work looks at ways to mitigate the overexploitation and contamination of soil and related water quality issues. As part of his fellowship, he will build links with industry partners and investigate fundamentally novel ways to secure drinking water and food production in the future.

Using data to enhance classroom learning

Associate Professor Nicole Mockler – Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
With a background in secondary school teaching, Nicole’s current research looks at how we can encourage teachers to use educational data and evidence-informed practice to enhance their students’ learning. The fellowship will fast-track a monograph on how the media portrays education as well as support her studies in applied statistics and data mining.

Designing energy-efficient surface coatings

Associate Professor Chiara Neto – Faculty of Science
Chiara’s research takes inspiration from nature to design slippery nanostructured surface coatings that have a variety of applications, from increasing the energy efficiency of commercial shipping to alleviating water scarcity in arid climates. The fellowship will expand her leadership at Sydney Nano and enable face-to-face collaborations with leading global experts in her field and industry.  

Improving the health of mums and bubs in the developing world

Associate Professor Camille Raynes-Greenow – Sydney Medical School
Camille’s research concentrates on interventions during pregnancy that can improve the health of both mothers and babies, particularly in the developing world. In a world-first study, she will assess the impact of household air pollution from using solid fuels for cooking and heating. The fellowship will also allow Camille to lead the development of a national institute of maternal and child health in Myanmar.

Better treatments for musculoskeletal pain

Dr Trudy Rebbeck – Faculty of Health Sciences 
Trudy’s research aims to improve health outcomes and service delivery for people with musculoskeletal disorders, such as back pain, whiplash and osteoarthritis. Through the fellowship, she will follow 1700 people with musculoskeletal injuries after road traffic injury to test and validate risk assessment tools to identify who needs the most care. She will assemble novel clinical networks of primary health care professionals and specialist clinicians to provide pathways of care matched to the care needs.    

Listening to survivors of sexual violence

Associate Professor Rita Shackel – Sydney Law School
Rita’s research is concerned with giving voice to the lived experiences of survivors of sexual abuse and sexual and gender-based violence to drive improvements in policy and practice. The fellowship will allow her to expand current work on child sexual abuse prosecutions to ensure the needs of Aboriginal victims are heard. She will also investigate the needs and priorities of women impacted by sexual violence after social unrest.

Transforming what we know about physical activity, lifestyle, and health 

Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis – Sydney Medical School
From dog ownership and sedentary behaviour to drinking alcohol and physical activity patterns – Emmanuel’s research looks at how our lifestyle affects our cardiovascular, metabolic, and mental health. The fellowship will enable the Charles Perkins Centre researcher to develop an ambitious international consortium (the world’s largest of its kind) on bodily movement, sleep, and longitudinal health outcomes.

Preserving ancient cultures and music

Dr Myfany Turpin – Sydney Conservatorium of Music
A linguist and musicologist, Myfany’s work examines Aboriginal song-poetry and its relationship to spoken languages. She recently recorded an ancient Aboriginal travelling ceremony known widely amongst elders in central and Western Australia, called wanji-wanji, and as part of her fellowship will ensure this important cultural song lives on.

2017 SOAR fellows

Preparing us for the next global pandemic

Associate Professor Adam Kamradt-Scott - Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

How should governments and the international community respond efficiently and effectively when outbreaks of diseases, such as Ebola and Zika, occur? How should they act in order to save lives and prevent widespread economic damage? This is the focus of Adam’s research. As part of his fellowship, Adam will conduct further fieldwork with the World Health Organisation on the role of military assistance in health emergencies.

Preventing melanoma

Associate Professor Anne Cust - Sydney Medical School

Anne’s research focuses on identifying the causes of cancer, improving early diagnosis and health outcomes of patients. She is particularly interested in melanoma, the most common cancer in young Australians. As part of her fellowship, she will build a new program to translate research for melanoma prevention and screening as well as improve melanoma risk-prediction models in clinical practice.

Early interventions to boost cognitive abilities and life skills

Dr Stefanie Schurer - Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
As an expert in the economics of human development, Stefanie has been working with the Charles Perkins Centre to look at the development of life skills of at-risk populations as well as the role that the public sector and parents play in boosting these skills. The fellowship will allow her to expand a number of research projects, including one focusing on the effect of early-life interventions on skill development of Indigenous children in the Northern Territory.

Developing new materials for energy conversion and storage

Dr Deanna D’Alessandro – Faculty of Science

Deanna is at the forefront of developing new materials that have enormous potential to further sensing technologies and energy conversion and storage, as well as creating new electrochromic devices that change colour with electricity. The fellowship will allow her to build her international profile in the field of materials science.

New early biomarkers for Multiple Sclerosis

Associate Professor Michael Barnett - Sydney Medical School
With a background in Multiple Sclerosis (MS) research, Michael has been leading the neuroimaging facility at the Brain and Mind Centre for the past three years. The fellowship will enable Michael to combine his areas of expertise and develop new biomarkers for the early diagnosis of MS using MRIs.

Making research relevant to patients, caregivers and clinicians

Associate Professor Allison Tong - Sydney Medical School

Allison’s work focuses on improving patient-centred outcomes in chronic disease. In 2014, she co-founded the global Standardised Outcomes in Nephrology (SONG) Initiative to establish core outcomes (based on the shared priorities of patients, caregivers, and health professionals) to be reported in all clinical trials across the spectrum of chronic kidney disease. Clinical trials that report relevant and meaningful outcomes can help patients and clinicians make decisions about treatment. As part of her fellowship, Allison will convene workshops at major conferences around the world to bring patients and health professionals together to discuss ways to improve patient-centred research and ultimately patient care and outcomes.

Balancing competing demands at work  

Dr Jane Le – Faculty of Business

An expert in organisation studies and strategic management, Jane focuses on how people balance competing demands at work. One of her current projects looks at how people returning from bereaved parental leave balance identities as grieving parents and effective employees. Another project addresses energy security, examining how multiple goals are balanced across industry and government stakeholders to produce outcomes that are in the national interest. The fellowship will allow Jane to accelerate her program of existing work and start new projects.

Improving the efficiency and reliability of our energy systems

Dr Yixiang Gan - Faculty of Engineering & Information Technologies
Granular materials include everything from sand and rocks to flour and salt, and can display some of the characteristics of gases, liquids and solids. They are of interest not only to children playing on the beach but to mining and pharmaceutical engineers as well as a range of other industries. Yixiang studies how they can affect the efficiency and reliability of our energy systems, such as solar thermal storage systems and lithium-ion batteries. The fellowship will help fast-track his research through building on strong industry partnerships, patent development and commercialisation.

Transitioning from big data to big decisions 

Associate Professor Fabio Ramos - Faculty of Engineering & Information Technologies

Over the next two years, machine-learning expert Fabio will focus on developing new methods for computers to interpret ‘big data’ and make informed decisions under uncertainty. The fellowship will allow Fabio to deepen collaborations with academics in the Centre for Translational Data Science and the Brain and Mind Centre, as well as develop key industry partnerships.

Involving the community in policy making

Associate Professor Anika Gauja - Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

As an emerging scholar of democracy, Anika investigates how political organisations can better adapt to social, technological and institutional change, while increasing their capacity to respond to political and policy challenges. Through her fellowship, she will look at the changing nature of party membership in Australia, including the participatory challenges that women and Australians from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds face.

A new pain-free way for diabetes patients to monitor insulin

Associate Professor Xiaoke Yi - Faculty of Engineering & Information Technologies

Xiaoke’s research into photonics has already led to a new pain-free, low-cost method to help people with diabetes monitor their insulin levels. The breath test could replace invasive prick-test methods used today. The fellowship will allow Xiaoke to move her device through to clinical trials as well as advance other research projects, including enhanced radar technology built for the Royal Australian Navy.

Moving Australia towards a circular economy and emission reduction targets

Associate Professor Ali Abbas - Faculty of Engineering & Information Technologies

An expert in process systems engineering who first joined the University as an undergraduate chemical engineering student, Ali studies the intricate behaviour of systems. The fellowship will help boost his transformative waste research targeting low-emissions power generation. His research will look at how algae, specialty concrete materials and the utilisation of gaseous waste emissions can move Australia towards a sustainable circular economy and national emission reduction targets.

Reducing the individual and societal burden of obesity

Associate Professor Amanda Salis - Sydney Medical School

Amanda’s research aims to help people who are overweight or obese to safely attain and maintain an optimum body weight and composition. Through the fellowship, she will progress new and existing clinical trials around weight management, scale-up clinical trials to an international level and expand her research training workshops in manuscript and fellowship writing.

Preventing dementia with brain training

Associate Professor Michael Valenzuela - Sydney Medical School

Leader of the Regenerative Neuroscience Group at the Brain and Mind Centre, Michael’s mission is to better prevent dementia and develop new treatments that reverse the disease. The fellowship will, among other things, help him develop next-generation brain-training software and spend more time investigating the ways in which lifestyle interventions work to change the brain.

Shifting the paradigm for smoke inhalation treatment

Dr Wojciech Chrzanowski - Faculty of Pharmacy

Between 80 to 90 per cent of fire-related fatalities are attributed to smoke inhalation, but current treatments are inefficient. Wojciech hopes to develop a new stem-cell based therapy that speeds up the regeneration of lung tissue. The fellowship will allow him to fast-track this research and develop partnerships with strategic international partners which already have expertise in the area.

Smaller and safer batteries for electric cars

Associate Professor Chris Ling - Faculty of Science

The power-to-weight ratio of lithium-ion batteries has led them to dominate consumer electronics and early electric vehicles. As part of his fellowship, Chris hopes to design and build new materials into these batteries that will improve their performance – making them smaller, safer and more powerful – with a particular focus on large-scale automotive and renewable energy storage applications.

Preventing environmental catastrophes

Associate Professor Susan Park - Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

An international relations expert, Susan will investigate the accountability processes of corporations, government and civil society in the prelude to environmental disasters, such as the BP oil spill off the coast of Florida in 2010. By converging accountability standards, she hopes to help reduce the likelihood of future disasters. Such insights could inform BP’s efforts to drill in the Great Australian Bight, for example.

Studying twins to unravel back pain

Associate Professor Paulo Ferreira - Faculty of Health Sciences

Back pain is the highest contributor to disability in the world, when expressed in terms of the number of years those with back pain are affected. It impacts every aspect of a person’s life – from their career, to their leisure time, to their social life, and current treatment options are simply not good enough. Medications are frequently ineffective and carry the risk of addiction, says physiotherapist Paulo. As part of his fellowship, Paulo will bridge the gap between genetics and back pain by examining the relationship between physical activity and back pain in twins.

Using gravitational waves to understand our universe

Associate Professor Tara Murphy – Faculty of Science

The discovery of gravitational waves earlier this year is undoubtedly one of the most exciting scientific discoveries of the century, says astrophysicist Tara. It will open up new windows to astronomy and explaining the universe. As part of her fellowship, Tara will collaborate with the international team that discovered gravitational waves to conduct radio follow-up observations of gravitational wave events and develop a pipeline to automatically process datasets for all future follow-up observations. 

Helping those from disadvantaged backgrounds succeed in education and beyond

Associate Professor Karl Maton - Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Motivated by social justice and knowledge-building, Karl is the creator of ‘Legitimation Code Theory’ (LCT), which reveals the ‘rules of the game’ and helps those from disadvantaged backgrounds succeed in education and other fields. As part of the fellowship, Karl will enhance the University’s newly created LCT Centre for Knowledge-Building, form new research partnerships and publish innovative new ideas in LCT.