Future Fellowships awarded to ANU big thinkers

16 December 2015

To win five Fellowships in such diverse areas shows the breadth of world-class research leadership at ANU.

ANU has secured five prestigious Future Fellowships for research into the origins of the stars, the origins of farming, fighting infectious diseases and effects of climate change on wildlife.

ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Young AO said the four-year Fellowships from the Australian Research Council reward the nation's best and brightest mid-career researchers.

"To win five Fellowships in such diverse areas shows the breadth of world-class research leadership at ANU," Professor Young said.

"I congratulate the recipients of the Fellowships and look forward to the contribution they will make to ANU and to Australia."

The ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics (RSAA) was especially successful, winning two Future Fellowships.

Professor Naomi McClure Griffiths' research into how stars form will make use of Australia's ambitious new radio telescope, the $170 million Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder.

"It's a great opportunity to do more research so we can fully understand why some galaxies produce stars slowly, and others are fast," Professor McClure-Griffiths said.

"ANU is one of the best places in the world to study astronomy."

Dr Elisabete da Cunha from Swinburne University will also take up a Future Fellowship at the RSAA.

"I'm very excited to start this Fellowship at ANU," said Dr da Cunha, whose research is developing new ways to analyse light from distant stars with the aim of understanding how galaxies grow and evolve.

Moving from galaxies to the growth and evolution of agriculture, Dr Tim Denham from the College of Arts and Social Sciences won a Future Fellowship for his research into archaeobotany.

"I'm over the moon. It means I can push forward archaeological research into early agriculture and plant domestication in the wet tropics," Dr Denham said.

"This fellowship will hopefully lead to a whole range of new research directions and opportunities."

Dr Denham said the new understanding of past domestication of crops such as bananas, sugarcane and sago could contribute to the future generation of sustainable varieties and help secure tropical food production into the future.

Sustainability also features strongly in the research of biologist Dr Janet Gardner, who won a Future Fellowship to study which species and habitats are vulnerable to the effects of climate change by studying changes evolving in the size and shapes of birds.

"This work is at the forefront of a rapidly evolving field, which will help us to make the best use of the knowledge we have to respond to climate change and better manage species," said Dr Gardner, from the ANU Research School of Biology (RSB).

Dr Gardner said the Fellowship would enable her to not only carry out her own field work but to also incorporate citizen science data.

"This data from the last 50 years is an incredible untapped resource," said Dr Gardner.

Showing the breadth of research at RSB and the ANU Medical School, a second Future Fellowship was awarded to Dr Denisse Leyton for her work fighting infections.

"As a new lab head, this Fellowship will allow me to grow and train a dynamic team of research scientists," said Dr Leyton.

Dr Leyton studies disease-causing molecules called autotransporters, with the aim of developing ways to fight against them.

"This knowledge could be used to develop new antimicrobials to act as a new frontline of defence against a plethora of infectious diseases," she said.