The evolutionary forces shaping bacteria and the psychology behind obsessive thinking are among the research projects led by the newest UNSW Science Future Fellows.

Eight new Future Fellowships worth a total of $6.2 million have been awarded to researchers from UNSW Science in the latest round of grants from the Australian Research Council (ARC), announced today.

The Science fellowships are all for a period of five years, and are among a total of 10 fellowships worth $7.8 million awarded to UNSW.

The Australian Research Council (ARC) scheme provides funding of up to $1 million over five years to highly qualified mid-career researchers working in areas of critical national importance as an incentive to keep them in Australia.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Les Field said: "My congratulations to these excellent researchers, it's very pleasing to see their impressive work being recognised for its national importance."

"The breadth of fields covered by our newest Future Fellows highlights the University's research strengths.

"The Future Fellowship scheme is one of the few remaining schemes that support our early-to-mid career researchers and provide career opportunities in the in non-medical areas. It was a very welcomed initiative to see the Future Fellowships given a new lease of life in the last Federal budget and now recognised as a program that will continue in the ARC.”

The successful UNSW Science fellowship applications were awarded to:

Dr Jessica Grisham from the School of Psychology was awarded $681,900 for research into the role that cognitive biases play in obsessional thought. Her research project aims to employ a novel, computerised experimental methodology to directly manipulate the cognitive processes behind obsessional thinking. This methodology will be used to alter key biases proposed to drive obsessional thinking, thus shedding light on core psychological mechanisms.

Associate Professor Thomas Denson, also from the School of Psychology, was awarded $892,500 over five years for research into human behaviour, focusing on the human urge to hurt another person when angry. Using sophisticated models that are able to develop and test predictions about how to stop these harmful desires from arising, his project aims to identify the psychological and neural mechanisms that will reduce the likelihood of people experiencing the desire to hurt others when angered.

Dr Paul Gribben from the Centre for Marine Bio-Innovation has been awarded $762,800 for research investigating the formerly untested theory that marine microbes play a critical role in the establishment of invasive marine macrophytes. His research aims to test the theory by integrating cutting-edge microbial ecology with eukaryote ecology, two largely disparate research areas. It also aims to create new knowledge essential for safeguarding Australia’s marine ecosystems from invasive pests, placing Australia at the forefront of invasion ecology.

Dr Michael Kasumovic (pictured), from the Evolution and Ecology Research Centre, has received $767,000 for his research into how organisms grow, behave and perform as a result of environmentally triggered molecular, physiological and biochemical reactions. Recognising that little is known about how these different levels of organisation interact to create the infinite morphological and behavioural complexities seen in adults, his research will aim to integrate the fields of developmental, physiological and evolutionary biology to elucidate how the environment moderates cell and tissue development through gene expression. This will highlight how early developmental decisions affect lifetime energetic trade-offs and efficiency, and how underlying biology manifests into emergent phenomena such as performance, behaviour, ageing and lifespan.

Associate Professor Mark Tanaka from the School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences has been awarded $808,000 for his research aim to develop a new mathematical model that restores the fitness landscape concept (a key evolutionary concept, relating genes or traits to reproductive fitness) by extending it to accommodate niche construction. This framework will be applied to microorganisms that alter their environments, for example, by provoking and subverting the host immune system, and by inducing behavioural change in hosts. These processes alter how natural selection operates on microbes and thus lead to important evolutionary feedback. The model will be used to examine antibiotic resistance, pathogen virulence and how microbiomes develop.

Associate Professor Torsten Thomas, also from the School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences, was awarded $892,400 for microbiology research into the short-term dynamics of the evolution of bacteria. His research aims to define the temporal dynamics of gene transfer and how it shapes the genetic composition of entire bacterial communities. Using innovative DNA sequencing technologies and bioinformatics, this project hopes to offer a significant new understanding of the short-term diversification of communities and how different evolutionary forces shape bacterial function. It will show how bacterial systems can adapt to new environmental conditions and the effect on essential ecosystem functions.

Dr Claudio Cazorla, a new member of the School of Materials Science and Engineering, was awarded $621,000 over five years for nanotechnology research. Working at the frontier of complex nanostructured oxide materials, his project aims to establish the rational basis for systematic design of novel artificially layered multiferroics, develop accurate and computationally affordable methods to simulate these materials under finite-temperature conditions, and exploit this knowledge to devise likely revolutionary photovoltaic, nanoelectronic and energy conversion applications.

Dr Dewei Chu, also of the School of Materials Science and Engineering, was awarded $735,000 over five years for research focusing on the technological development of transistors - the building blocks of modern electronic devices, which continue to diminish in size to achieve higher speeds. Recognising that increasing the attainable carrier density of gate dielectric materials has become critically important for both scientific research and industrial applications, Dr Chu’s project will look at both experimental and theoretical development of advanced ionic conductive oxide superlattices with colloidal nanocubes for novel solid state electric double layer transistors, which possess ultrahigh carrier density and mobility, with an aim to surmount the current limit of silicon semiconductor technologies.


For a full list of awarded fellowships, please see the ARC website