Mental health, HIV get funding boost
New drug trials for treating HIV infection and investgations into major depression and dementia were among the UNSW projects to receive major backing in the latest round of Australian Government funding. UNSW received $27.1 million in grants from the National Health and Medical Research Council for projects to commence in 2015–16. This followed $31.2 million in grants announced earlier, taking total NHMRC funding for UNSW in 2015 to $58.3 million. Scientia Professor of Neuropsychiatry Perminder Sachdev received $2.6 million for two studies as part of an international collaboration to identify the genes involved in dementia. The Kirby Institute’s Scientia Professor David Cooper was awarded $2.5 million to continue his research into HIV, while Professor Raina MacIntyre won $2.5 million to establish a Centre for Research Excellence in Integrated Systems for Epidemic Response.
And in depression research, a $2.1 million grant will see UNSW lead Australia’s largest clinical trial to further explore the potential of ketamine as a new treatment for major depression.
The trial, led by Professor Colleen Loo from UNSW’s School of Psychiatry and the Black Dog Institute, will enrol 200 patients, who have not responded to existing medications, to compare the effects of ketamine against an active placebo treatment over a four-week period. Trial recruitment is expected to start around April 2016.
Australia unprepared for bioterror
UNSW has launched Australia’s first university-based bioterrorism course, tapping into expertise from the army, police and international authorities including the FBI. Despite the real possibility of a bioterrorist attack, the world remains ill equipped to deal with the threat, because approaches have remained largely unchanged since the Cold War, says course convenor Professor Raina MacIntyre. The program will critically evaluate the threats, and highlight the new systems and approaches needed.
Pick of the tall poppy bunch
Physicist Dane McCamey has been named NSW Young Tall Poppy of the Year, one of four UNSW researchers recognised at the annual awards. McCamey won the overall NSW title for his work to identify, characterise and control the many ways that electrons move and interact in electronic materials and devices, such as mobile phones, allowing improvements in performance. UNSW’s other winners were behavioural psychologist Dr Amy Reichelt, computer scientist Dr Mirela Tulbure and biological mathematician Dr Deborah Cromer.
Top thinkers come together for forum on Paris climate talks
Experts from climate science, political journalism, agriculture and business debated the promises and pitfalls of the Paris climate summit in November, as part of UNSW’s Grand Challenges initiative. The inaugural Forum@UNSW discussion – held before a capacity audience in Leighton Hall – was presented in partnership with the Sydney Morning Herald.
Panelists were: Professor Stefan Rahmstorf, from Potsdam University; Peter Hartcher, the Herald’s political editor; Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, from UNSW’s Climate Change Research Centre; Geoffrey Cousins, President of the Australian Conservation Foundation; and Anika Molesworth, the 2015 Young Farmer of the Year. The debate was moderated by ABC Science Show’s Robyn Williams.
It was “almost certain” 2015 would be the hottest year on record, surpassing 2014, Rahmstorf told the audience. “Forget about it if somebody tells you there is a pause, or global warming has slowed down.”
Hartcher revealed the latest news from Paris, based on an exclusive interview that day with
the Environment Minister Greg Hunt. He said Mr Hunt had told him the Paris agreement would only restrain global temperature rise to 2.7 degrees above the pre-industrial average.
In a special video message, French Ambassador His Excellency Mr Christophe Lecourtier urged the audience to pressure political leaders to achieve a workable solution. “It is time to act to limit global warming to below 2 degrees,” he said.
Premier lauds quantum breakthroughs
NSW Premier Mike Baird has used part of his address in the annual Bradfield Oration to praise Scientia Professor Michelle Simmons and her team’s pioneering work in the race to build the world’s first quantum computer in silicon.
Mr Baird told leading figures from business, politics and finance how Australia is now two to three years ahead of the rest of the world in the race to build the computer, which will unlock complex problems facing modern society.
The recognition came a week before the team from the ARC Centre for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology (CQC2T), headquartered at UNSW, announced its latest breakthrough – the design of a 3D silicon chip architecture based on single atom quantum bits, providing a blueprint to build a large-scale quantum computer.
The architecture is one of the final hurdles to scaling up to an operational quantum computer and was published in Science Advances.
A month earlier, a separate team within the CQC2T, led by Scientia Professor Andrew Dzurak, reported in Nature that it had successfully built a quantum logic gate in silicon for the first time, making calculations between two qubits of information possible – and thereby clearing the final hurdle to making silicon quantum computers a reality.
Federal Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham (pictured above), visited UNSW in October to open a new $3.3 million laboratory for the creation of advanced materials. The Epitaxial Growth Laboratory, within the Australian National Fabrication Facility, is infrastructure crucial to the quantum project.
PM's Science Prize
Polymer chemist Cyrille Boyer has been awarded one of the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science – the nation’s most prestigious awards for excellence in scientific research and teaching. Associate Professor Boyer uses light and chlorophyll to catalyse the creation of new and complex polymers that are being applied in areas as widespread as non-stick coatings, anti-fouling technology, precision drug delivery, medical diagnosis and imaging. Boyer won the 2015 Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year – a $50,000 prize that honours early or mid-career researchers who have made outstanding achievements that can improve human welfare or benefit society. “By using light we can significantly reduce energy consumption and carry out the polymerisation process at room temperature,” he says.
Women of influence
For work shaping international policies around displaced persons and research into transforming waste materials into valuable commercial products, Scientia Professors Jane McAdam and Veena Sahajwalla have been named winners in the 2015 Women of Influence Awards.
The professors won their respective categories in the prestigious annual awards, sponsored by the Australian Financial Review and Westpac.
They were selected from 100 finalists and more than 500 entrants at a gala event at Sydney’s Town Hall on 15 October.
Sahajwalla, Director of the Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology, won the innovation category, while McAdam, a renowned international refugee law expert, won the global category. Both women are featured in the latest edition of Research@UNSW: 15 women changing our world.
UNSW tops state in ARC Discovery funds
UNSW researchers won the highest amount of Australian Research Council funding in the state, securing more than $36 million in the federal government’s latest funding round.
The University was awarded 67 ARC Discovery Project grants worth $25.1 million, and 19 Discovery Early Career Researcher Awards worth more than $6.5 million. In each category, the University ranked first in the state and third nationally. UNSW also secured nine ARC Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities grants totalling more than $4.2 million, the second highest total in Australia.
Four researchers were awarded prestigious Discovery Project grants each totalling more than $600,000: Professor Lynne Bilston, Dr Angela Kelly and Professor Boris Martinac from Medicine, and Professor Oleg Sushkov from Science.
Kelly, who was awarded the highest total of all UNSW investigators – $666,361 over four years – is studying the way new biotechnologies are viewed and used in Papua New Guinea, in light of their cultural and religious landscape. Specifically, she’s interested in how HIV treatments and prevention technologies are helping couples with mixed HIV status.
Bilston, who received $620,000, is solving a longstanding problem in biomedical engineering – how to image the mechanical behaviour of soft biological tissues, such as muscles and organs, in vivo.
Among researchers in Arts and Social Sciences, Professor Deborah Brennan secured the largest grant for her work investigating labour shortages and new policy designs in the critical sectors of aged care and childcare.
Fourth Rhodes scholarship in three years for Law
Harj Narulla is the fourth UNSW student from the commencing class of 2008 to win a coveted Rhodes scholarship to Oxford University.
Harj, 25, will join UNSW Arts/Law graduates Sean Lau, Emily Burke and Kunal Sharma at Oxford next year, where he plans to study comparative constitutional law models for the recognition of Indigenous peoples, with hopes of working for the Aboriginal Legal Service upon his return.
“I’m really excited and grateful for the opportunity,” says Harj. “It will be great to see all my classmates again and meet the other Rhodes scholars. There’s a really close network that develops between people who have that in common.”
UNSW Law Dean Professor David Dixon said: “Our best students are, obviously, brilliant. But they are more than that – they are socially engaged and globally focused."