ANU wins funding for Future Fellowships

23 July 2014

The Australian National University will continue to lead the country in academic research after the Australian Research Council (ARC) announced the University has won 16 prized Future Fellowships.

The ARC Future Fellowships scheme provides funding for areas of critical national importance by supporting outstanding mid-career researchers.

The 16 successful Future Fellows at the ANU will research topics ranging from the effect of El Niño and La Niña on Australian drought conditions and rainfall, through to charting the evolution of the Milky Way Galaxy over cosmic time.

ANU Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), Professor Margaret Harding, congratulated the Future Fellows and said the announcement was an outstanding result for the University.

“We are very proud of these researchers,” Professor Harding said.

“These 16 Fellows will further contribute to the high quality research environment at ANU. In particular, we will be welcoming five impressive international researchers to undertake their projects here," she said.

The grants will provide research funding for five years from 2014.


Dr Konstantin Bliokh


This project aims to address frontier problems at the confluence of nano-optics, plasmonics, electron microscopy, quantum weak measurements, and relativistic wave fields. Miniaturisation of devices, and ever-increasing amounts of processed information, lead to the increasing complexity of classical and quantum waves considered in fundamental science and exploited in applications. This project aims to develop novel methods and concepts, and unveil intriguing phenomena in physics of wave systems with nontrivial structure and internal degrees of freedom. This will provide deep insight into properties of complex classical and quantum waves, and new avenues for fine control of diverse light, matter, and mixed light-matter systems.

Dr Nicholas Cox


New classes of heterogeneous manganese-calcium water splitting catalysts analogous to the unique biological water splitting cofactor have recently emerged but with far lower catalytic rates than seen for the biological system. These new materials are promising targets for large-scale hydrogen fuel production with low cost, high efficiency and ease of manufacture. To achieve this, the performance gap between these materials and the homogenous biological catalyst must be bridged. Multi-dimensional site-selective spectroscopies, including magneto/optical resonance methods which are aimed to be developed in this project are expected to provide new, atomic level understanding of properties needed to achieve high catalytic efficiency, thus guiding rational catalyst design.

Dr Rhodri Davies


Mantle plumes are buoyant upwellings that bring hot material from Earth's deep-mantle to the surface, forming volcanic hotspots, like Hawaii. Although extensively studied, the geochemical variations recorded in hotspot lavas have, so far, proved difficult to understand, particularly how they relate to their heterogeneous deep-mantle source. This project aims to use state-of-the-art geodynamical models to determine how deep-mantle heterogeneities are transported into a plume and how such heterogeneities are mixed during plume ascent. This will facilitate the linking, for the first time, of geochemical variations at volcanic hotspots to the deep-mantle's thermo-chemical structure, under an Earth-like, fluid dynamical framework.

Dr Brent Groves


Over the last 10 billion years the star formation rate in galaxies has been decreasing. Yet it is not known whether this is driven by a decline in the accretion of the gas that forms stars or stronger stellar feedback-driven gas outflows. The gradient in elemental abundances with galactic radius can constrain these two processes. The project aims to calibrate the measurement of this quantity using nearby galaxies, and measure the gradients in a low redshift sample of galaxies using Australian telescopes. These will be compared with theoretical models to determine the process that is driving the Universe to be more quiescent over cosmic time.

Dr Susan Harris Rimmer


This project aims to examine the link between diplomatic negotiations and their impact on the shifting status of women during times of deep political change. It will assess three key areas of international diplomatic negotiations around peace agreements, aid, and security sector reform and assess how these negotiations affected women's status on the ground. It will seek to design approaches to diplomatic interventions that may be more cognisant of gendered impacts and aim to benefit women.

Dr Colin Jackson


Synthetic insecticides have resulted in an explosion in food production through effective insect control. However, insects have begun to evolve resistance against one of the most widely used classes of insecticides (organophosphates) via mutations in carboxylesterases (CBEs). To address this problem, the ability to anticipate further evolution, combat it and exploit it for our own benefit is needed. This project aims to anticipate evolution by simulating it in the laboratory, allowing for the best preparation for change. New pesticides will be designed to combat insecticide resistance based upon the molecular structure of an insect CBE. This project aims to exploit these newly evolved enzymes to create biosensors and decontamination agents.

A/Prof Wojciech S Lipinski


This project aims to demonstrate the utility of the thermal transport by design approach to develop functionally graded reactive materials that allow for fast and efficient solar thermo-chemical fuel production. Prediction capabilities will be developed to optimise multi-scale radiative and gas transport coupled with non-stoichiometric redox reactions. Synthesis gas production will be demonstrated using the new structures in a prototype solar thermochemical reactor under highflux irradiation. This project aims to advance the fields of thermal sciences and high-temperature solar thermochemical processing and expand the engineering knowledge base to pave the way to sustainable transportation with the existing infrastructure.

Dr Helen McGregor


El Niño and La Niña events have a profound influence on Australian drought conditions and rainfall. Forecasting is hampered by short climate records, which do not capture the full range of El Niño dynamics. This project aims to generate records of unprecedented length and spatial coverage from key sites across the western and central equatorial Pacific. Five hundred years of continuous, monthly-resolution climate data will be integrated with output from state-of-the-art climate model simulations to distil the key processes that cause El Niño to vary. This project aims to provide major advances in determining the full range of El Niño and La Niña behaviour, leading to improved forecasts of future changes, with consequences for Australia's water security.

Dr Ajay Narendra


Ensuring optimal information processing at the limits of size and ambient light is a challenge for technical systems, but has been elegantly solved by animals. The challenge of navigation is similar for animals of all sizes and in both day and night. This project aims to conduct a comparative analysis to identify the consequence of size and light on the information processing capacities for visual navigation. Outcomes of this project will reveal the behavioural and physiological adaptations needed and the costs associated with navigating in the dimmest of habitats and at the smallest of sizes. Identifying such optimal biological solutions for robust navigation will be relevant for image processing, computer vision and robotics.

Dr Oliver Nebel


This project aims to focus on modes and timescales of melting associated with deep mantle plumes. These melts form massive magmatic bodies and volcanic flood basalt provinces throughout Earth's history and record the secular chemical evolution of the Earth’s mantle. Selective igneous bodies contain high-grade noble metal deposits and coincide with global mass extinction linked to anoxic ocean events in response to atmospheric volcanic pollution. This project aims to provide knowledge of planetary surface evolution in response to mantle dynamics, place constraints on enrichment processes of metals in ore quality in plume-derived melts, and may help understandings of the relation between massive volcanic eruptions and climate variability.

Dr Vanessa Robins


The way water flows through sandstone depends on the connectivity of its pores, the balance of forces in a grain silo on the contacts between individual grains, and the impact resistance of metal foam in a car door on the arrangement of its cells. These structural properties are described mathematically by topology. Advanced three-dimensional X-ray imaging can now reveal the internal detail of micro-structured materials. Recent developments in image analysis mean it is possible to compute accurate topological information from such images. This project aims to investigate how fundamental measures of shape influence the physical properties of complex materials and clarifies the mathematics that underpins these relationships.

Dr Julie Smith


Innovation affecting human milk supply challenges current regulation of infant food, but new markets in human milk assist the economic valuation of breastfeeding. Mothers are finding new ways to share their milk, and milk banking and human milk-based products are emerging as alternatives to commercial infant formula. This project builds on previous world-leading Australian research into the economics of breastfeeding. It aims to increase understanding of markets in milk for infants and inform regulation of milk markets and milk exchange. It will investigate key features of these markets, how milk is priced, and how to access data on market prices which might improve the social and economic valuation of breastfeeding.

Professor Dr Guillaume Tcherkez


Leaf respiration-related metabolism in terrestrial vegetation liberates considerable amounts of carbon dioxide, ammonia and hydrogen sulphide into the atmosphere. Such gaseous losses are detrimental to biomass production but respiration also sustains nutrient assimilation and biosyntheses. This project aims to describe flux patterns in respiratory metabolism and disentangle interactions with other pathways such as photorespiration and nitrogen assimilation. It will exploit stable isotopes to quantify metabolic partitioning and show coordination between major processes. It will establish key mechanisms by which respiration dictates plant carbon balance and contributes to identifying metabolic bottle-necks in plant primary production.

Dr Hua Xia


Barriers to transport in complex fluid flows are ubiquitous in nature, yet mathematical and numerical approaches have so far been unable to solve this problem in the presence of turbulence. This project aims to undertake the first systematic laboratory study of transport barrier generation, control and interactions to reveal the role of turbulence in the stochastic transport in fluids. It will develop new methods of transport barrier modelling which will equip specialists dealing with Lagrangian transport with new tools for the transport barrier modelling and characterisation.

Dr David Yong


How did the Milky Way Galaxy form? The answer to this fundamental question lies in the chemical compositions of stars. Enormous investments by the Australian and international community into state-of-the-art facilities and surveys will yield a 1 million star sample for chemical analysis. To fully harvest the information from those surveys requires stellar chemical composition measurements of the highest possible precision. This project aims to use recently pioneered analysis techniques that have led the field of chemical abundance measurements in stars to the unprecedented precision level of 2 per cent (a five-fold improvement) to chart the evolution of our Galaxy over cosmic time.

Dr Jimin Yu


The causes for past atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) changes and their mechanistic links to the histories of climate and ocean carbonate chemistry remain elusive, but may hold future-relevant information. This project aims to use novel methods to quantify deep ocean carbonate ion concentrations, a critical but poorly constrained parameter of the global carbon cycle, at 10 key locations spanning the global ocean during the last 350 000 years. By feeding new data into a model, this project aims to gain critical insights into mechanisms controlling past deep-sea carbonate cycles and atmospheric CO2 changes, thereby leading to improved understandings of the climate system.