Academy honours four young UNSW researchers

Karen Black
Tuesday, 6 December, 2011
Bob Beale

Four early-career researchers have been honoured by the Australian Academy of Science with awards as part of the Academy’s 2012 awards for scientific excellence.

Three of the winners were from the Faculty of Science and one from the Faculty of Medicine. Nominees from the Australian National University won three awards and no other institution won more than one.

The UNSW winners were:

  • Dr Karen Black (ARC Postdoctoral Fellow, School of Biological, Earth & Environmental Sciences) won the Dorothy Hill Award for female researchers in the earth sciences including reef science, ocean drilling, marine science and taxonomy. Dr Black is a palaeontologist and was nominated for pioneering research adding to the foundations of understanding about fundamental and changing palaeobiodiversity in the Cenozoic sequences of the Riversleigh World Heritage Fossil Site. Her research is clarifying not only more about the biodiversity in individual groups such as koalas and diprotodontoids, but helping to establish divergence times for contemporary as well as extinct lineages. Her nomination says that “this new understanding tests heuristic hypotheses about evolutionary history based on studies of genetic differences between living animals. In the same way, her data is the hard data that will test hypotheses based on modelling and other datasets about retro-predicted/hypothesised periods of climate change through the Cenozoic. While modelling can provide a hypothetical framework about the sequence and timing of changes in climate cycles, her data – drawn from the actual radiometrically-dated animals themselves that exhibit attributes directly reflecting the nature of the vegetation on which they depended – provide ultimate tests for hypothetical scenarios based on modelling.”
  • Dr Palli Thordarson (School of Chemistry) won the Le Fèvre Memorial Prize for research in basic chemistry. He was nominated for “outstanding, world-class contributions to molecular devices and materials using supramolecular and bioconjugate chemistry. His achievements to date have been truly exceptional, including: synthesis of the first anion sensitive self-assembled organogels, highlighting the role of kinetics in gel formation and their biocompatibility; construction of a novel light-driven cytochrome c bioconjugate; seminal work on complex and allosteric supramolecular systems; as well as his leadership role in applying microscopy in supramolecular chemistry”.
  • Dr Josef Dick, (ARC QEII Fellow in the School of Mathematics & Statistics) won the Christopher Heyde Medal for applied, computational and financial mathematics. He was nominated as “a highly talented young numerical analyst whose research has brought exciting new insights and methods into the theory of high-dimensional integration. He has made substantial and lasting contributions in the theory of lattice rules, Monte Carlo and quasi-Monte Carlo methods, which will have profound implications in the theory of probability, stochastic integration and their applications in finance and other areas”.
  • Associate Professor Katharina Gaus (Centre for Vascular Research) won the Gottschalk Medal for research in the medical sciences. She was nominated as “a leader in the field of cellular immunology and molecular microscopy, having revealed the role of cellular membrane organisation in signaling transduction processes within T-cells. She pioneered fluorescence microscopy approaches to quantify T-cell signalling on a single molecule level (super-resolution microscopy) and measure lipid order in live cells. Using these approaches, she discovered novel mechanisms of T-cell signalling in which intracellular compartments and vesicles play a controlling role. Signalling vesicles, or endosomes, may explain the rapid onset of TCR signalling and extreme signal amplification that is characteristic of the T-cell system. Importantly, lipid clustering within the cell membrane can deform the membrane and yield intracellular vesicles so that the plasticity of the cell membrane predetermines signalling efficiencies. This is the first time that lipids have been linked to T-cell activation on a molecular and functional level, and may explain why immune function is compromised in obese patients".  

Media contacts:

UNSW: Bob Beale – 0411 705 435

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