Out there and down there: Super Science wins

Friday, 16 April, 2010
Bob Beale

Projects to search for planets beyond our own Solar System and to better understand the impact of climate change on Australia's groundwater resources have won five Super Science Fellowships for two research teams from the UNSW Faculty of Science.

Only 50 of the prized new Federal Government fellowships were awarded nationally this year among all of Australia's universities and research institutions. The fellowships are administered by the Australian Research Council and are aimed at attracting and retaining the best and brightest early-career researchers from within Australia and around the world.

A team led by Professor Matthew England has won three fellowships for its project "Precipitation-groundwater interactions over eastern Australia: climate change impacts at multiple scales".

"Most surface water in the Murray-Darling Basin is used for agricultural activity, and groundwater extraction is accelerating," says Professor England, co-director of the UNSW Climate Change Research Centre.

 "We cannot yet predict how these water resources will be affected by climate change, partly because Australian climate models do not represent key interactions between small and large scale rainfall changes, and interactions between ground water, the land surface and the atmosphere.

"This project will produce the first climate simulations that explicitly include these interactions. This will allow a better understanding of future changes to groundwater resources. This understanding will help us plan ahead, and enable new research to help Australia maintain food security in an uncertain future."

A team led by Professor Chris Tinney was awarded two fellowships for its project "A New Era for Australian Exoplanetary Science".

"This research program will not only discover new rocky and gas giant planets orbiting other stars, but tell us about how those planets formed - allowing us to answer the key question for current exoplanetary research - 'Are there other Earths in the Universe?', says Professor Tinney, who heads the UNSW Exoplanetary Science group within the Department of Astrophysics and Optics.

"The search for planets orbiting other stars is proceeding apace. Almost 390 exoplanets are now known, with around a tenth of them having been discovered here in Australia. Exoplanetary science's challenge now is to focus on much more than just discovering planets.

"This project's strategic research program seeks to find new types of exoplanets that will tell us about the mechanisms that drive planet formation, and as a result what the frequency of Earth-like and Jupiter-like planets - or more importantly 'Solar System'-like systems - is in our Galaxy?"

Media contacts:
Matthew England - 02 9385 7065
Chris Tinney - 02 9385 5168
UNSW Faculty of Science media liaison - Bob Beale 0411 705 4435