Prizes: Young scientists shine

A Common Stingaree
Tuesday, 27 August, 2013

Three research students studying stingrays, pollution in Antarctica, and early signs of empathy in babies have each won $5000 in the UNSW Science Postgraduate Research Competition.

Three second-prize winners also received $3000 each for their research on identity fraud, remediation of mining sites, and unhealthy diets.

More than 70 research students entered the annual competition, which was held in the John Niland Scientia Building as part of the Student Research Expo. They were judged on the quality of an abstract and a poster outlining their research project and findings.

The third, and possibly most difficult task, was to give a minute-long presentation on their work. The judging criteria were clarity, communication style and ability to engage the audience.

Robyn Williams, presenter of The Science Show on ABC Radio National, and Nicky Phillips, science writer at the Sydney Morning Herald, were among the celebrity judges. They were joined by astronomer and author, Professor Fred Watson; science journalists Wilson da Silva and Stuart Gary, and more than 20 UNSW researchers, mostly from UNSW Science.

Students will use the prize money to travel to international conferences or go on research visits. Winners of the competition will also represent the Faculty at the UNSW Three Minute Thesis Competition on Thursday 5 September.

In handing out the prizes the Dean, Professor Merlin Crossley, said that being able to communicate their science in an engaging manner was a very important skill for postgraduate students. “PhD students are our future,” he said.

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

First prizes went to:

Josie van Dorst (BABS), Climate, Environment and Sustainability

For her research using microbes to study the threats to the Antarctic environment from human activities including the operation of 71 research stations, petroleum contamination and climate change.

Teagan Marzullo (BEES) Cutting-edge Discovery

For her research on the circadian rhythm and nocturnal activity of the Common Stingaree,  and the relationship between this stingray’s behaviour and environmental factors such as lunar and tidal cycles and availability of prey.

Amy Datyner (Psychology) Science and Society

For her research showing that 7-month old babies mimic happy faces, but not angry faces, which suggests that the basic building blocks of empathy are present in the first year of life.

Lynette Roberts (Psychology) Science and Society (voted a winner but she could not receive a prize because she was awarded one in the 2012 competition)

For her research showing that adults with Down syndrome can remember new information but require more time to learn it - a finding with implications for vocational training.

Second prizes went to:

Angela Chilton (BABS) Climate, Environment, Sustainability

For her research on cyanobacteria found in the biological soil crusts in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, and how these microbes can be used to improve remediation of mining-disturbed soils.

Alice Towler (Psychology) Industry-linked Research (also winner of the People’s Choice poster)

For her research on a new strategy to improve people’s ability to match faces to pictures and better detect identity fraud in photo-ID documents.

Dominic Minh Duc Tran (Psychology) Health,Lifestyle and Ageing

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