UQ researchers rewarded for excellence

22 Sep 2009

The University of Queensland has paid tribute to its emerging research leaders, awarding $685,000 at the annual UQ Foundation Research Excellence Awards tonight (Tuesday, September 22).

Nine researchers were honoured for their work, which covered projects as diverse as understanding and preventing obesity, bankruptcy laws, and disease-resistant genes in canola production.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Max Lu said the awards were intended to recognise and nurture outstanding early career researchers who have shown great potential to become leaders in their fields.

"I congratulate each of these winners, and I am confident that with their enthusiasm and capability that they will produce great research for the future," Professor Lu said.

This year marked the 11th anniversary of the UQ Foundation Research Excellence Awards, which were launched in 1999 and were the first of their kind in Australia.

The 2009 UQ Foundation Research Excellence Award winners are:

• Dr Korneel Rabaey from the Advanced Water Management Centre ($80,000) 
Dr Rabaey will hone his knowledge in wastewater research as he taps into an exciting new way of producing energy-rich biofuels from wastewater and biomass. Dr Rabaey, a research fellow from UQ’s Advanced Water Management Centre, on an ARC Australian Postdoctoral Fellowship, is exploring a novel route for the production of butanol from wastewater. The required wastewater is plentiful in industries such as sugar refineries and breweries. The project, which is in its preliminary stage, will look at the production of butanol using Bioelectrochemical Systems. These systems combine wastewater treatment with the production of butanol from butyrate (a typical fatty acid formed during fermentation) and/or carbon dioxide. Media: Dr Rabaey (07 3346 3222, k.rabaey@uq.edu.au) or Eliza Plant at UQ Communications (07 3365 2619). Click here for full story.

• Dr Jacqueline Batley – School of Land, Crop and Food Sciences ($70,000) 
Australian canola farmers are one step closer to protecting their crops from a devastating disease thanks to Dr Batley’s research. Her work focuses on why some canola crops are attacked by the Blackleg fungal pathogen, and yet others remain completely unaffected. The excellence award will allow Dr Batley to use the latest gene sequencing technologies to discover disease resistance genes in wild Brassica species. “Many farmers are currently using chemicals to get rid of Blackleg or growing canola on the same area only once every three years, but it would be much better if the disease never infected the plants in the first place,” Dr Batley said. It’s estimated that the Australian agricultural industry suffers, on average, a 15 percent loss in canola crops every year because of Blackleg. Media: Dr Jacqueline Batley (07 3346 9592) or Shannon Price at UQ Communications (07 3346 7660). Click here for full story.

• Dr Joshua Mylne – Institute for Molecular Bioscience ($80,000) 
Cancer drugs may soon grow on trees if Dr Mylne has his way. Dr Mylne has discovered a new type of natural machinery in sunflowers that can be used to manufacture small circular proteins for use as therapeutic drugs. Small proteins (peptides) can target cancer-causing enzymes with pinpoint precision, but they are costly to manufacture and are susceptible to breakdown. “Circular peptides produced in plants solve both these problems,” Dr Mylne said. “Because of their unusual structure, circular peptides are ultrastable, so they can last a lot longer in biological fluids and have greater effect.” Media: Dr Mylne (07 3346 2021 or 0458 490 905) or Bronwyn Adams at the IMB (07 3346 2134 and 0418 575 247). Click here for full story.

• Dr Zhi Ping (Gordon) Xu – Australian Institute for Bioengineering & Nanotechnology ($75,000) 
Safe, efficient and site-specific delivery of drugs or genes is one step closer thanks to the research of Dr Xu. His work spans the boundaries of chemistry and biology, by combining novel nanomaterials with biomolecules to enable gene and drug delivery. Dr Xu said nanocoating layered double hydroxide nanoparticles with a porous silica and conjugating this with biomolecules would enable delivery of large amounts of therapeutics to specific disease sites. “Drug delivery has increasingly become an interdisciplinary field courier with global market for advanced drug delivery systems amounting to approximately US$134 billion in 2008,” Dr Xu said. Media: contact Dr Zhi Ping (Gordon) Xu (07 3346 3809) or Russell Griggs at the AIBN (07 3346 3989).Click here for full story.

• Dr Timothy Carroll – School of Human Movement Studies ($80,000) 
The complex activities that occur in the human body so that people can accurately reach towards objects is the subject of Dr Carroll’s work which holds promise for improved treatment of stroke patients. “I’m interested in the nervous system, and for most of my research career I have been interested in the way the brain coordinates muscles when performing exercise such as weight-lifting,” he said. “Discovering the causes of transfer between limbs will advance our basic understanding of motor learning. It might also provide a conceptual basis to improve treatment for movement disorders that chiefly affect one side of the body, for example stroke.” Media: Dr Tim Carroll (07 3365 6380) or Jan King at UQ Communications (0413 601 248). Click here for full story.

• Dr Karen Moritz – School of Biomedical Sciences ($80,000) 
Dr Moritz is seeking to uncover why some pregnancy complications can make an individual more susceptible to heart disease and kidney failure. She is investigating how maternal stress and hypoxia (lack of oxygen) during pregnancy can alter the way babies’ hearts and kidneys develop. “We do know that babies who have had something bad happen to them while they were in utero are at a much increased risk of having these diseases when they’re older,” Dr Moritz said. 
“Cardiovascular disease is responsible for 40–50 percent of all deaths in Australia and it all may be down to how you develop in utero.” Media: Dr Karen Moritz (07 3365 4598, k.moritz@uq.edu.au) or Penny Robinson at UQ Communications (07 3365 9723, penny.robinson@uq.edu.au). Click here for full story.

• Dr David Morrison – TC Beirne School of Law ($70,000) 
Dr Morrison’s research aims to avoid the kind of investor fallout experienced in the recent Storm Financial collapse. He will study baby boomers and the state of their investments amid the global financial crisis. The aim is to make recommendations for legal reform to improve means of dealing with financial distress that are consistent and fair for all investors. “Insolvency and bankruptcy law are concerned with the legal implications and processes of how we deal with companies and individuals (respectively) when they strike financial hardship,” Dr Morrison said. “The legal implication of financial distress is particularly interesting because it crosses the traditional divide between the disciplines of law and economics.” Media: Dr David Morrison (07 3365 3494, d.morrison@law.uq.edu.au) or Cameron Pegg at UQ Communications (07 3365 2049, c.pegg@uq.edu.au). Click here for full story.

• Dr Abdullah Mamun – School of Population Health ($80,000) 
Understanding and preventing obesity is the driving force for Dr Mamun, who will use his award to continue his work to find the optimal timing of primary prevention of obesity among people entering the life stages when they are most prone to putting on weight. The development stages when people are most likely to put on weight are in pregnancy, childhood, and as teenagers. “Obesity is one of the biggest public health crises. There is lot of interest and a lot of research on going without success,” Dr Mamun said. Media: Dr Abdullah Mamun (07 3346 4689). Click here for full story.

• Dr Craig White – School of Biological Sciences ($70,000) 
As humans face the challenges of climate change, one UQ researcher is turning to the insect world for some clues to adapting to a changing environment. Dr White says he will use his award to study how insects breathe and how they have adapted to evolutionary pressures. “Many insects can hold their breath for hours,” Dr White said. “While we breathe continuously in and out, insects are discontinuous breathers and I am looking at whether this has an evolutionary advantage to survive in different climates and environments.” He said his interest in insects, such as beetles, butterflies and cockroaches, was driven by their importance in the health of the planet. “If insects die, then everything else will die,” he said. Media: Dr Craig White (07 3365 8539) or Andrew Dunne at UQ Communications (07 3365 2802 or 0433 364 181). Click here for full story.

In addition, one UQ academic was honoured with an Award for Excellence in Research Higher Degree Supervision, each worth $10,000. These awards reward those who help foster the next generation of researchers.

Professor Zlatko Skrbis, Dean of the UQ Graduate School, praised the winner of the Award of Excellence in Research Higher Degree Supervision, Professor Paul Hodges, for “his sustained and innovative contribution to excellence in research supervision at UQ”.

Director of the Clinical Centre for Research Excellence in Spinal Pain, Injury & Health, Professor Hodges has supervised six PhD students to completion at UQ with a further 13 currently under his supervision.

His supervisory philosophy strives to harness the productive potential of clinical practice combined with research. He provides strategies and a very active and supportive framework to achieve a healthy balance of creativity with risk, independence with collaboration.

His extensive enrichment program both challenges and supports his students to become leaders in their fields and future leaders of research.

Media: Shirley Glaister (07 3365 1931). High-resolution images of all winners are available by contacting Karen Poole (07 3365 2753 or email k.poole@uq.edu.au).UQ researchers rewarded for excellence