ARC names 10 UNSW researchers as 2021 Future Fellows

The Fellows have secured more than $9.5 million for projects in engineering, law, science, business, the humanities and medicine.
Belinda Henwood | UNSW Newsroom
ARC Future Fellowships support mid-career researchers to undertake research in areas of national and international benefit. Photo: Louise Reily, UNSW.

UNSW Sydney academics from a range of disciplines have received Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellowships for 2021. The 10 researchers will receive more than $9.5 million in funding for projects ranging from algorithms to constitutional design, climate model simulations to the effects of heatwaves on desert mammals, and the challenge of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Federal Minister for Education and Youth Alan Tudge announced a total of $93 million for 100 new research projects.

“We want Australian researchers developing the breakthrough ideas, new products and innovations that will create jobs, grow our economy and improve our society. Importantly, these research projects will keep some of the world’s finest minds right here in Australia so that we directly reap the benefits of their research,” Minister Tudge said.

Future Fellowships reflect the Australian Government’s commitment to excellence in research by supporting excellent mid-career researchers to undertake high-quality research in areas of national and international benefit.

UNSW Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Sven Rogge congratulated the University’s 2021 Future Fellows.

“We are extremely proud of our new Future Fellows and their inspirational research. It’s wonderful to see such diverse fellowships, ranging from societal issues like democratic resilience and climate modelling, to engineered biomaterials for blood vessels and gene-editing technology in cancer research.

“The University is committed to fostering mid-career researchers as they undertake impactful research that will benefit society and establish them as leaders in their fields,” Prof Rogge said.

Professor Wenjie Zhang, UNSW Engineering, has received $1,085,000 for ‘Efficient and scalable processing of dynamic heterogeneous graphs’. The project aims to develop efficient and scalable algorithms to process large-scale dynamic heterogeneous graphs where graph nodes and edges are of multiple types and the graph structure updates dynamically. Anticipated outcomes include novel computing paradigms, algorithms, indexing, incremental computation, distributed algorithms as well as a system prototype to demonstrate the practical value. The project’s success will benefit many key applications in Australia including cybersecurity, e-commerce, health and social networks.

Associate Professor Ryan Armstrong, UNSW Engineering, has received $1,065,000 for ‘An advanced multiphase model for geometrical evolution and anomalous flows’. The project aims to provide new insights into the ways that Australia’s abundant energy resources are used for energy security and environmental stewardship. It advances simulation platforms used to model multiphase flow in subsurface reservoirs, a multibillion-dollar industry that’s becoming increasingly important for transition fuels, CO2 sequestration and energy storage. The research will provide fundamental insights necessary to build higher-fidelity models for porous media flows and for technological advancements necessary for realistic simulations, ready for industry application.

Professor Rosalind Dixon, UNSW Law & Justice, has received $1,048,579 for ‘Constitutional design and democratic resilience’. The project looks at current threats to constitutional democracy globally, and how principles of constitutional design could be refined to help build greater democratic resilience in the face of these threats. It considers interdisciplinary understandings of resilience, comparative constitutional experiences and specific lessons for our region.

Professor Lisa Alexander, ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes and UNSW Science, has received $1,038,601 for ‘Do regional climate models rain too much?’ The project aims to provide a best-practice, in-depth assessment of the climate model simulations that are used to support regional climate change impact assessments. The focus will be on rainfall and the hydrological cycle as these aspects are especially impacts-relevant. A common benchmarking framework will be applied, which includes observational uncertainty and process-based understanding to address common modelling limitations. Any model failings identified will feed into model development strategies and support enhanced decision-making informed by regional climate model simulations.

Associate Professor Gabriele Gratton, UNSW Business School, has received $1,013,480 for ‘Resilient democracy for the 21st century’. The project will develop novel theoretical frameworks for the design of democratic institutions that can withstand internal and external forces towards autocratisation. Through a combination of models of information manipulation and political dynamics, data analysis, and large-scale online survey experiments, the project will generate a body of theoretical and empirical evidence for the design of more effective and resilient democratic institutions.

Dr Katherine Moseby, Centre for Ecosystem Science at UNSW Science, has received $958,013 for ‘Extreme heat: A new driver of desert mammal assemblages’. Heatwaves cause more deaths than any other extreme weather event and their frequency and intensity under climate change is increasing dramatically. This project will study the lethal and sublethal effects of extreme heat on desert mammals to determine if heatwaves are likely to significantly change the diversity and abundance of future desert communities. The research will determine how land management practices, such as fire and grazing, influence the effects of heatwaves and whether mitigation strategies for reducing heat impacts on desert mammals can be developed.

Associate Professor Douglas Guilfoyle, UNSW Canberra, has received $949,480 for ‘Small States' use of law of the sea litigation against greater powers’. The project will investigate how small States are using law of the sea dispute settlement mechanisms to gain political advantages in conflicts with greater powers. It aims to understand how the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea can be leveraged to defend coastal State rights in strategic disputes concerning sovereign rights, unresolved boundaries and military affairs. Expected outcomes include practical suggestions for policymakers that will assist Australia in defending the rules-based order in maritime affairs.

Dr Jelena Rnjak-Kovacina, UNSW Engineering, has received $944,000 for ‘Engineering biomaterials that actively promote blood vessel growth’. The project proposes to design and engineer biomaterials with biomimetic physical and biological signals that actively promote blood vessel growth. The research will lead to improved understanding of the effect of biomaterial properties on vascular growth and fabrication methods for biomaterials presenting vascular signals. The outcomes will have long-term medical, veterinary and cosmetic applications.

Dr Robert Weatheritt, UNSW Medicine & Health, has received $925,739 for ‘Dissecting cell cycle regulation using programmable gene editing technology’. All multi-cellular organisms consist of cells that multiply through cell division. Before a cell can divide, it must duplicate and precisely separate its DNA for exact distribution into daughter cells. This process is called the cell cycle. The project will harness the unprecedented power of CRISPR gene-editing technology to develop tools to explore the role of RNA regulation in cell cycle control. Improved understanding of cell division will benefit multiple disciplines from health, in our understanding of uncontrolled cell division that leads to cancer, to biotechnology, boosting Australia’s capability in the rapidly expanding field of gene engineering.

Dr Edgar Wong, UNSW Engineering, has received $755,191 for ‘Nanoengineering smart and precise antimicrobial polymers’. The project aims to combat the worldwide health challenge of antibiotic-resistant bacteria by developing a new class of membrane disrupting (MD) antimicrobial agents. By selectively activating themselves in the presence of bacteria, they will suppress any unwanted side effects of toxicity that are inherently associated with MD agents. It’s anticipated the research will lead to more effective compounds and materials as well as informing future antimicrobial research.