UNSW takes hat-trick of Young Tall Poppies

UNSW has scored an unrivalled hat-trick at the 2007 Young Tall Poppy Science Awards.

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The outstanding achievements of Dr Emma Johnston, Dr Matt Taylor (Science Faculty) and Dr Nadine Kasparian (Medical Faculty) saw UNSW take home more Young Tall Poppy Awards than other competing institutions.

Established in 1998, the awards recognise young scientists aged between 25 and 35 who excel at research, leadership and communication. The Australian Institute of Policy & Science presented 13 awards to winners from across New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory.

Marine ecologist Dr Emma Johnston was recognised for her revelations about how contaminants and introduced marine species are affecting native marine life in the Great Barrier Reef, Antarctica and Sydney Harbour.

Speaking about her work, Dr Johnston said: "I love doing research that sheds light on how hidden ecosystems work. If you are lucky enough to have dived or snorkelled in a pristine part of the world as I have, you will know that there is enormous beauty to be found underwater."

A senior lecturer at UNSW's Centre for Evolution and Ecology in the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Johnston is a scientist with a passion for photography. "I inherited a Pentax camera from my grandfather at age twelve," she says. "Taking photos is central to my research so when I travelled to Antarctica a few years ago it reawakened my old artistic instincts," she said. "The place is beautiful - the most beautiful place I've been to in my life."

Medical psychologist Nadine Kasparian researches how people with a strong family history of melanoma respond to genetic testing. A science and medical graduate, Dr Kasparian was recognised for developing a web-based "Melanoma Risk Calculator" to help people to learn more about their melanoma risk.

"Each year, about 9,000 people are diagnosed with melanoma," she says. "For those with a strong family history of melanoma, genetic testing can be used to help understand why they have this disease risk and what they can do to lessen it in future."

Marine biologist Dr Matthew Taylor was recognised for developing new ways to release captive live fish into waterways that are improving recreational and commercial fisheries.

"I have been a keen fisherman since I was a young boy", says Taylor, "and my love of diving and the marine environment has grown with age. Throughout my life I have noticed a significant decline in fish catch, with places I used to target as a child no longer yielding any catch at all - many anglers have similar experiences.

"I am developing smarter ways of enhancing fisheries by designing release techniques to suit the biology and behaviour of the species being released. Increasing fishing pressure and long-running droughts are affecting the abundance and production of Australia's fisheries.

"By creating a pathway for fish to overcome the most vulnerable period of their juvenile development we can gradually boost fish stock abundance. This is important because intelligent stocking is one of few pragmatic ways left for fishery managers to improve the yields and condition of wild stocks."