Prizes: Research students shine

A Tasmanian devil. Image: Amie Hindson, Zoos Victoria
Friday, 8 August, 2014

Three research students studying obesity, cancer and the reintroduction of Tasmanian devils to mainland Australia have each won $5000 in the UNSW Science Postgraduate Research Competition.

Three runners-up also received $3000 each for presentations on their research on probiotics, high-fat diets and cyanobacteria.

More than 70 research students entered the annual competition, displaying posters about their research in Leighton Hall in the Scientia Building.

Contestants were judged on the quality of the poster, an abstract about their project as well as a one-minute long talk describing their topic.

Presenter of The Science Show on ABC Radio National, Robyn Williams, and astronomer and author Professor Fred Watson were celebrity judges, joining more than 30 UNSW researchers who assessed the students’ presentations.

“The competition was incredibly fierce. The quality and breadth of the research and professionalism of the presentations were truly impressive,” said Associate Dean (Research), Professor Chris Tinney.

Students will use the prize money to travel to international conferences or go on research visits. The three winners will also represent Science at the UNSW 3 Minute Thesis Competition on Thursday 18 September.

There were six categories: Cutting-edge Discovery and Climate, Environment, Sustainability; Energy, Materials Technology; Health, Lifestyle, Ageing; Industry-linked Research; Science and Society.

The winners were:

Daniel Hunter, BEES, Climate, Environment, Sustainability

For his research showing how reintroduction of Tasmanian devils to mainland Australia could help conserve the biodiversity of native mammals, by suppressing populations of cats and foxes.

Alexander Knights, BABS, Health, Lifestyle, Ageing

For his research on the development of a mutant mouse that remains skinny and metabolically healthy when fed a high-fat diet – an advance that could lead to new treatments for obesity.

Swahnnya De Almeida, Chemistry, Science and Society

For her research developing a highly sensitive blood test for markers of cancer – technology that could provide a fast and inexpensive way in future for early diagnosis of cancer.

The three runners-up were:

Angela Chilton, BABS, Cutting-edge Discovery

For her research on the genetics of cyanobacteria found in biological soil crusts in the Pilbara region of Western Australia – a study which could lead to the development of novel antibiotics.

Caitlin Cowan, Psychology, Science and Society

For her research in rodents on the benefits of probiotics, in reducing the adverse mental and behavioural consequence of early life stresses.

Dominic Minh Duc Tran, Psychology, Health, Lifestyle Ageing

For his research showing that a high-fat and high-sugar diet can affect the memory of rats, even when given for only five days.

The People’s Choice Award for the best poster went to:

Lifu Sheng, BABS, Health, Lifestyle Ageing, for his poster on brain development

Robyn Williams and Swahnnya De Almeida