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UNSW Sydney researchers from a range of disciplines have received Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellowships in 2020. The 10 academics have secured more than $9.5 million in funding for four-year projects that will deliver significant health, engineering, social, environmental and scientific outcomes and impact.

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.

Minister for Education Dan Tehan on Wednesday announced the 100 Future Fellows who will share $90.5 million to conduct their research.

“Our government is strategically investing in research in the national interest, with a focus on turning ideas into jobs, productivity gains and economic growth,” the Minister said in a media release.

“This research will lead to commercial, economic, environmental, social and cultural benefits for the nation and the world.

“I congratulate the 100 Future Fellows, who have been recognised for their innovative, internationally competitive research.”

UNSW Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Ana Deletic also congratulated the University’s new Future Fellows.

“The University is committed to fostering mid-career researchers as they undertake research that will benefit society and to become leaders in their respective fields,” Professor Deletic said.

“I am pleased to see the diversity of fellowships, ranging from evolutionary modelling, to sound studies and the history of anti-colonialism in India, diplomacy capabilities in response to natural disaster, and the rules that govern the integration of learning in brain reward systems.”

Dr Matthew McKay, UNSW Engineering, has received $1,081,355 for ‘Parameter estimation for genetic time-series data: theory and methods’. The project aims to develop a novel computational framework for solving parameter estimation problems in evolutionary modelling by leveraging genetic time-series data measured by Next-Generation Sequencing technologies.

Professor Adrian Russell, UNSW Engineering, has received $1,040,000 for ‘Preventing mining disasters: reducing the risk of tailings dam failure’, which aims to improve safety of tailings storage facilities (TSFs). Anticipated outcomes will be updated industry guidelines for the design and management of TSFs. Mines will benefit and failures will be prevented.

Professor Kama Maclean, UNSW Arts & Social Sciences, has received $1,011,852 for ‘A sonic approach to anticolonialism in interwar India’. This project aims to explicitly trace the reverberations of sound – especially mediated speech, slogans and song – in anticolonial mobilisation in the interwar period. The deeply affective qualities inherent in sound, and the growth of technologies to amplify and record them, renders this a rich approach to understanding anticolonial politics.

Professor Fleur Johns, UNSW Law, has received $951,471 for ‘Diplomatic knowledge, disasters and the future of international legal order’. This project will address gaps and divergences in diplomatic understanding of global social, economic and environmental conditions that make coordinated international legal action difficult, especially in response to disasters. It aims to shed light on how the information and knowledge infrastructure in which diplomats work could be made more robust and less prone to blind spots. Expected outcomes include practical suggestions for diplomats, helping to strengthen Australia’s capabilities in diplomacy.

Associate Professor Christopher Danta, UNSW Arts & Social Sciences, has received $930,000 for ‘Future fables: literature, evolution and artificial intelligence’. Given the future of AI is currently only available to publics through literary or fictional tropes, it is vital to investigate the historical evolution of these literary or fictional tropes of AI to understand its future direction. Expected outcomes of the project include conceptual resources to understand the human-nonhuman relation and the future of AI.

Associate Professor Neeraj Sharma, UNSW Science, has received $919,404 for ‘Electrochemically activated solid state chemistry: a new synthetic avenue’. This project aims to validate a new solid-state synthetic route by understanding the reaction mechanism and experimenting with the parameter space of reaction variables. The discovery of a new solid-state synthetic route opens the possibility for the generation of new materials with diverse potential functions and applications. The fundamental understanding of the reaction mechanism will enable rapid and widespread use of this synthetic route.

Dr Jay Bertran-Gonzalez, UNSW Science, has received $912,402 for ‘Spatiotemporal signatures of learning in brain reward systems’. This project seeks to establish the rules that govern the integration of learning in brain reward systems by studying how neuronal circuits change their molecular signatures as animals assimilate new knowledge. The outcomes will create a significant shift in our understanding of the neural bases that underlie reward learning and will provide a new model of learning integration in brain systems.

Associate Professor William (Alex) Donald, UNSW Science, has received $911,904 for ‘Cracking post-translational modification codes in high molecular definition’. This project aims to markedly improve the analysis of post-translational modifications (PTM) via intact protein mass spectrometry. A recent discovery has resulted in the ability to separate whole protein ions that have the same mass, charge, and collision cross section, but subtly different charge sites. The project aims to leverage this breakthrough by developing novel approaches for separating intact protein modforms and mapping PTM sites. This is expected to be important for future biological discovery.

Dr Ke Meng, UNSW Engineering, has received $888,770 for ‘Stability assessment of Australia’s future electrical grids’. This project will provide a unique insight into the dynamics of asynchronous power generators in weak power grid condition, to facilitate their comprehension and mathematical description and to develop well-suited simulation techniques that can capture the potential instabilities. The breakthrough derived from this project will provide the least costly system strength remediation scheme, ensuring generators survive more severe, lower probability non-credible contingency events. It will also provide additional guidance for regulators on introducing new generator performance standards, promote energy independence and sustainability, and eventually lead to a low-carbon economy in Australia.

Dr David White, UNSW Science, has received $873,175 for ‘Faces in context: a new ecological paradigm for person identification’. Accurate face recognition is critical to normal social functioning of individuals and identity management processes that underpin a secure and fair Australia. Current understanding is based on tests that do not capture the rich context surrounding person identification in daily life. This project aims to introduce new methods for observing person identification in daily life and real-world tasks that are critical to border security, criminal investigations and the justice system. Benefits in forensic, security and legal settings are expected.