New Forrest scholars probe mysteries big and very small

The Forrest Research Foundation will inject world-class knowledge into the Western Australian research community,  with six new scholars to conduct their PhD research at the University of Western Australia (UWA), Curtin University and Edith Cowan University (ECU).

Professor Paul Johnson, Warden of the Forrest Research Foundation, welcomed the new scholars and the potential discoveries their studies could reveal.

“These brilliant minds span an area of focus from some of the biggest mysteries of the universe – identifying the number and whereabouts of black holes – to one of the smallest challenges in modern chemistry – identifying molecular structure from vanishingly small samples of materials.

“Forrest Research Foundation is building a global hub for discovery and innovation in Western Australia by supporting the very best early-career researchers who will extend the boundaries of knowledge. It is only with better ideas that we can build a better world”.

Former Donnybrook schoolboy, Tyrone O’Doherty will begin his PhD in the Curtin Institute of Radio Astronomy, using data from the Gaia space telescope to measure invisible black holes, the most mysterious objects in the universe.

At ECU, Nishu Tyagi will join the Centre for Exercise and Sports Science Research to develop and test new rehabilitation methods for persons with spinal cord injuries, using a new approach to neuromuscular electrical stimulation strength training.

Liyuwork Dana will join Curtin’s School of Public Health to develop tools to map the severity of food insecurity and food stress in WA, and its links to related housing, economic and social hardship.

Thalles Araujo will build on his prior experience in oceanography to join the UWA Oceans Institute where he will develop a warning system for coastal erosion using state-of-the-art computer modelling.

Matthew Heydenrych will be based in the School of Biological Sciences at UWA where he will develop a new method of using DNA biomarkers to identify the reproductive status of animals, a major advancement in the biomonitoring of wild species, which will increase the efficiency of farming and fisheries practices.

Wei-Ming (Sean) Li will extend his undergraduate research in Chemistry at UWA with a PhD that will combine mass spectrometry and quantum chemistry to determine the molecular structure of small molecular compounds from minute quantities.

The new scholars join a community of more than 50 PhD researchers and post-doctoral fellows supported by the Forrest Research Foundation. The Forrest Research Foundation was established in 2014 by Andrew and Nicola Forrest through the Minderoo Foundation.

Fiona David is the Chair of Research at Minderoo Foundation and thinks now more than ever it’s critical that early career research is prioritised.

“Although COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on Australia’s research sector, the truth is WA is one of the safest places in the world to study. Now more than ever, we need the best and brightest research minds asking the questions that will shape our future systems, industries and environment,” Ms David said.

2021 Forrest Scholars
2021 Forrest Scholars

Overcoming giant obstacles to help create the building blocks of next generation electronics

By Liz McGrath

For Masnun Naher, the road to a career in science has been more difficult than that of many of the people she has come to know as a Forrest Research Foundation Scholar.

“Gender discrimination is one of the major problems in third world countries and in Bangladesh it begins at birth,” the softly-spoken young Bangladeshi scientist says.

“Young girls, teenagers and women suffer equally and each has to face many difficult situations involving gender-related issues if they want to be successful.”

One of the most densely populated nations in the world, Bangladesh – a small south-east Asian country lying on the Bay of Bengal and bordered by India to the west, north and east and Myanmar to the south-east – boasts areas of stunning natural beauty.

But at only two-thirds the size of the Australian state of Victoria, the country is also home to more than 161 million people (compared to a comparatively lean six and a half million in Victoria).

The rapid and unplanned urbanisation has led to widespread pollution, over-crowding and poverty.

While recent sustained economic growth is seeing some turnaround, for women it is still an environment where deeply-rooted socio-cultural constraints and a lack of work opportunities can be obstacles to success.

This is especially true, Masnun explains, for women choosing the path of higher education, something the 31-year-old says she set her heart on from a young age.

“My favourite subjects at school were chemistry and maths – I realised early on that maths was something I was good at,” recalls the eldest of four siblings who grew up in the small town of Brahmanbaria in eastern Bangladesh.

“From my father’s side of the family, I was the first to go to university although my mother’s side of the family were highly educated. My parents really wanted to send us to a different town or city to study so that we would have greater opportunities,” she says.

Masnun celebrating International Mother Language Day at SUST in Bangladesh

Continuing on her path

Tragically in 2007, the year after she began her Bachelor of Science at Shahjalal University of Science and Technology (SUST) in Sylhet, Masnun lost her father.

“As the eldest daughter, I had to take on a lot of extra responsibilities,” she says. “I got very strong from that time, there were financial difficulties and I was travelling a lot, back and forth to home.”

But, she persevered, completing not only her ungraduated degree with distinction but also a Master of Science in Chemistry where she scored 3.98 out of a possible 4.00 – outstanding results which saw her offered a faculty position in the Department of Chemistry at The Shahjalal University of Science & Technology (SUST).

As one of the country’s first science and technology-based universities, SUST is one of Bangladesh’s leading institutions, but even this prestigious place of learning didn’t come without its challenges.

“For instance, when I started working in a research laboratory during my undergraduate research, I was the only female among 11 students,” Masnun says.

“I had to go through some serious difficulties including not being able to work in the evening because the streets aren’t safe for women after twilight in our country. This and other issues made the completion of my research work difficult.

“Also, in a country where quality education and sufficient research facilities are lacking and outdated economic systems and technology are typical problems, there is a lack of physical infrastructure and a digital divide compared with the developed world.”

For example, she says, not having any access to an NMR spectrometer, mass spectrometer and X-ray crystallography caused serious problems in her chemistry research.

But the young scholar wasn’t deterred and before taking up her Forrest Scholarship in 2018 to complete a PhD in the School of Molecular Sciences at UWA, she published five research articles in ISI listed journals, and achieved a competitive research grant from the SUST Research Centre.

Masnun Naher, celebrating new opportunities in Western Australia

A whole new world

Masnun says her Forrest Scholarship and life in Australia opened up a world of possibilities, bringing her dream – to use molecular electronics to help develop next generation technology – a lot closer.

“Imagine a world in which electronic technology can be made available not only to the advanced nations of the world, but to everyone,” she says. “The basic science in this area is advancing at great pace, but less is being done to migrate the science to achievable device structures.

“I’ve developed new methods for synthesising and studying the electronic properties of different kinds of organic, organometallic and coordination molecular wires.

“My synthesised molecules show unique electronic functions, not possible with conventional equipment. These will be lower cost and have lower power consumption than current technology, providing the platform for a whole new phase of electronics.”

Masnun’s ground-breaking projects build on single molecule chemistry, concentrating on how it might be possible to go from single molecules to minute molecular films (about 5nm2) and using electrodes to ‘sandwich’ the molecular films.

“This would allow us move from developmental research, towards a tangible technology that allows active molecular components to be integrated into devices,” she smiles.

Another key element of Masnun’s research is that it seeks to move away from the rare and expensive toxic metals of electronic substrates and STM (electrode) tips, to alternative electrode materials, especially carbon and even graphene.

“This result will be a significant reduction of electronic waste,” she explains. “Reducing toxicity will make it far easier to integrate into wearable electronics, and reduce the strain of electronic devices on the environment.

“Ultimately, it will also lower the cost of manufacturing to make electronics more available not only to the rich but to the masses.”

Masnun enjoying research in her favourite place – the lab!

A turning tide

Her career dreams may be big but Masnun is also determined to get everything she can out of life.

Since 2018, she’s worked as a teaching assistant for first and third year undergraduate students at UWA and also co-supervises junior students from her group and is involved in science related volunteering work.

She loves spending time with her friends at Forrest Hall, watching movies and sharing walks and seeking out spicy food (“there’s not enough of it here!”) and says missing her family and her pets is made more bearable with regular Skype calls.

Forrest Hall breakfast with Forrest Fellows and Scholars

As for the future? With a 2019 World Bank report Voices to Choices: Bangladesh’s Journey in Women’s Economic Empowerment, finding Bangladeshi women still have limited choices, control and decision-making power over their employment, finances and economic assets but the country could become prosperous more quickly if more women got work with higher-quality and higher-paid jobs, Masnun says the time has come.

“Women are now showing their desire to contribute to the development of my country,” she reveals. “As a student from a developing country, the Forrest Scholarship is helping me to contribute to the economic development of Bangladesh and above all I hope that my achievements will play a significant role in national development as well.”

Time out – hanging out with friends at Rottnest Island

Dr Jessica Buck – one of Australia’s newest Superstars of STEM

Forrest Fellow Dr Jessica Buck has today been named one of Australia’s official Superstars of STEM for her work into childhood brain cancer. Dr Buck’s work aims to find better treatments for kids with cancer.

Dr Buck is one of 60 brilliant women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics who want to step into the spotlight as media stars chosen for this acclaimed national program. She has studied both neuroscience and oncology at the University of Oxford where she completed her doctoral research in 2019 before returning to Australia to join the Brain Tumour research team at the Telethon Kids Institute and The University of Western Australia.

Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews officially announced those chosen for Science & Technology Australia’s game-changing Superstars of STEM program in 2021-22.

Science & Technology Australia Chief Executive Officer Misha Schubert said the program gave women in STEM stronger skills and confidence to step into expert commentary roles in the media.

Dr Buck is thrilled to have been chosen from a very competitive national field.

“The cliché is ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ but it really does ring true a lot of the time,” Dr Buck said.

“This program will really help to put women in STEM out there in the public eye and I’m so excited to be a part of that.”

Warden of the Forrest Research Foundation, Prof Paul Johnson said, “Jessica is a superb role model for all young women in science, and as a Kamilaroi woman she is an inspiration to other young Aboriginal women who study and work in STEM.”

“The Forrest Research Foundation is proud to be able to support Jessica’s pioneering research developing new treatments for children’s brain tumours.”

Supported by the Australian Government’s Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, these next 60 Superstars of STEM will participate in the program in 2021 and 2022.

Media contacts:
Forrest Research Foundation: Rochelle Gunn 0411 660 513
Science & Technology Australia: Misha Schubert 0421 612 351

Manou’s mind – the spark that may help shape our future electricity supply

By Liz McGrath

German-born Manou Rosenberg smiles when she admits she gave living in Western Australia a ‘test run’, two years before she was selected as a Forrest Foundation Scholar.

“I’d always been fascinated by Australia, without even really knowing why,” she says. “There was something about the vastness of the land that intrigued me.”

“My violin teacher was from the east coast of Australia and maybe that influenced me, I knew I had to see it, I couldn’t find the words for why.

She may have been lost for words but Manou wasn’t lacking in action. Never daunted by a challenge, the maths and science whizz took the opportunity to take part in two exchange semesters while she was completing her Masters at RWTH Aachen University in Germany.

The first, in 2013 was at the University of Nottingham in the UK, which she likens to “being in a Harry Potter movie” and the second, two years later, at the University of Western Australia.

“Australia was everything I had hoped it would be and more,” she grins. “It was beautiful and so remote in many ways. You could be in the city of Perth and there was still lots of nature around and then in no time you were out in the middle of nowhere.

“In the UK I was living on campus in the fresher’s complex and it was so different to anything I had experienced before. We don’t tend to live all on campus at home – I loved it.”

Manou as a child with her twin sisters Kim and Lea and her beloved Grandad Paul.

A border triangle and a love of maths

Manou tracks her adventurous spirit back to her childhood in Wesel, a German town set on both banks of the Rhine not far from the Dutch border.

When Manou was growing up as the eldest of three girls (twin sisters Kim and Lea are two and a half years younger), it was in a thriving community.

“I lived in a neighbourhood that was new when we moved in and there were lots of young families – we had lots of friends in the street and we were constantly playing outside.

“I have wonderful memories of staying at my grandparents’ place. They always managed to gather the whole family together – my aunts, uncles, cousin, sisters and my parents.

“My granddad was a baker and together with my grandmother they had a shop before I was born. However, they would still bake their own bread and supply the whole family and neighbourhood with all sorts of delicious baked goods!”

At secondary school, maths and German became favoured subjects. “There was something very true about maths, it’s analytical and fair,” Manou enthuses.

It was a passion that grew as she progressed through her senior school years with the help of “very good and enthusiastic teachers who encouraged me at every turn” and so there was little surprise from her family when she signed up to do a Bachelor of Science and Mathematics at RWTH Aachen University.

With students making up 15 per cent of its population, Aachen – a town with one of the biggest and longest-standing universities in Europe – is known for its picturesque medieval city centre, with narrow streets and countless cafes.

“It was such a nice city to study in,” Manou recalls. “It’s in the border triangle between Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands and there’s actually a place nearby where you can go and where the three borders meet.”

It was while there that she met her partner Tim, another ‘maths nut’ (“he went into stats and I went into analysis and complex numbers”). Fortunately, Tim also shared her love of adventure and travel.

A shared love of adventure and travel. Manou and Tim at Nature’s Window in Kalbarri National Park in 2015.

Coming back to Perth as a Forrest Scholar

Manou says she was on a train in Germany when the call came through to say she’d been successful in her application for a Forrest Foundation Scholarship to complete her PhD.

“I remember the connection wasn’t very good but I understood that I had been accepted. You apply and a huge part of you thinks you won’t get in and then there it was, so exciting!”

She came back to Perth and Australia with Tim after he managed to secure a job tutoring in statistics at UWA, the couple setting up home in Forrest Hall as Manou started her research on using AI techniques to identify isolated microgrids in remote electricity distribution networks.

“Most of my studies up to this point had been all about pure mathematics with almost no application, it was very theoretical,” she says. “I wanted to be useful. That was my aim with my PhD, that I could combine my maths interest with something that would have an impact on the world.”

Having worked as a research assistant at the Institute of Energy Economics and Rational Energy Use at the University of Stuttgart, the young mathematician already had experience in energy markets, albeit from an economic viewpoint.

“My research was looking at the German energy market and how prices would develop if we had an increasing amount of renewable energy in the market, looking at things like how PV (photovoltaics) panels on rooftops would influence prices,” she says.

“I wanted to head in a similar direction and I’d already been looking into machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), then through friends at UWA I got introduced to Professor Mark Reynolds and my (thesis) topic came together.”

Manou, who operates out of UWA’s Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering, is looking at how AI techniques may be used to develop a new network of infrastructure for electricity networks in remote areas of Western Australia.

“Local power generation can potentially replace long power lines leading to lower network costs and improved electricity supply reliability and safety and could lead to a high penetration of renewable energy resources,” she says. “My research has the potential to help shape the future of the electricity supply infrastructure in this state.”

Manou at Forrest Hall where she says the views are “awesome”.

Keeping mentally and physically fit

Through it all she says, the support given to her through her scholarship has helped to sustain her.

“Being a Forrest Foundation Scholar has created an inspiring environment and given me an amazing opportunity to generate and exchange innovative ideas,” she says.

But it’s not all research and work for the talented young German who enjoys running and cycling in her down time, as well as ballet.

“I also like hiking a lot,” she reveals. “My partner Tim and I took on the Cape to Cape track down south. We took our little hiking tent and stayed in the camp sites along the trail. 

“At our third attempt we managed to finish the whole trek.”

Never a girl to give up – on anything!

Getting out into nature — Manou on the Cape to Cape Trek at the start of 2020, before the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Prospect Fellow Grid

Forrest Foundation responds to COVID with 13 new research fellowships

The Forrest Research Foundation has responded to the research funding crunch caused by COVID-19 by appointing 13 post-doctoral Prospect Fellows to continue their outstanding research at Western Australian universities.

Prospect Fellowships provide 18 months of funding, together with mentoring and a professional development program, to ensure that these brilliant early career researchers can continue with research that will benefit all Australians.

They are drawn from across the spectrum of academic research, from creative arts, humanities, social science, and psychology to biology, medicine, engineering, physics and mathematics. Their research addresses some of the biggest social, economic and scientific issues of the day – stress and fatigue in the workplace, the aged care workforce, cancer immunotherapy, the development of the hydrogen economy, the treatment of rare diseases, the welfare of animals in the livestock industry, the new frontiers of quantum physics and nanotechnology.

COVID-19 has forced many of these leading early-career researchers to forego offers of research positions in Europe and North America; these Forrest Foundation fellowships ensure that they can continue to develop their research careers and apply their huge talents to creating new knowledge that will benefit everyone.

Warden of the Forrest Research Foundation Professor Paul Johnson, said the Foundation is proud to be able to provide support for early career researchers at this moment of acute need. “Without our support many of these fellows would have to terminate their research, and that would negate the years of investment they and the Australian taxpayer have made in training them to be world leaders in their field.”

The Forrest Research Foundation was established in 2014, by Andrew and Nicola Forrest through their Minderoo Foundation.

Top L-R: Dr Andrea Rassell, Dr Samantha Winter, Dr Kate Loudon, Dr Francesco De Toni, Dr Samuel Lymbery
Middle L-R: Dr Georgia Hay, Dr Ben McAllister, Dr Arman Siahvashi, Dr Shannon Algar
Bottom L-R: Dr Catriona Stevens, Dr Lucy Furfaro, Dr Rachael Zemek, Dr Michael Wilson

NameUniversityResearch Topic
Dr Andrea RassellThe University of Western AustraliaUse media art to explain/educate the public around uses of nano technology and nano medicine
Dr Arman SiahvashiThe University of Western AustraliaUnlocking large-scale hydrogen liquefaction technologies in Australia
Dr Ben McAllisterThe University of Western AustraliaAims to develop single photon counters and novel superconducting material properties and applications
Dr Catriona StevensThe University of Western AustraliaUnderstanding our migrant aged care workforce to create safer, healthier future for older Western Australians
Dr Francesco De ToniThe University of Western AustraliaA study of health emotion language, to better understand models of emotion language used to describe health/illness, cultural factors influencing emotion language in health in multicultural Australia, and impact on public health and patient -doctor communications
Dr Georgia HayCurtin UniversityProject to understand how to design and facilitate interdisciplinary collaboration and creativity in healthcare teams
Dr Kate LoudonMurdoch UniversityOn-farm measurement technologies to optimise beef carcase compliance
Dr Lucy FurfaroThe University of Western AustraliaStudy of bacteriophages in the womb and their potential in regulating bacterial infections
Dr Michael WilsonCurtin University Study of workplace stressors, and relationship between workplace stress and performance, using novel longitudinal real-time monitoring and analysis
Dr Rachael ZemekThe University of Western AustraliaInvestigating how wound healing after cancer surgery can follow cancer-activating and immune-activating pathways; aim to develop therapeutics to reduce cancer activating and stimulate immune activating responses to reduce cancer recurrence after surgery
Dr Samuel LymberyThe University of Western AustraliaUse the biology of ant colonies, and their reliance on internally-produced neuropeptides, to disrupt/destroy them from inside
Dr Samantha WinterThe University of Notre DameSearching for connection between gastro-intestinal biome and the immune system, particularly investigating the role of unconventional T-cells
Dr Shannon AlgarThe University of Western AustraliaSwarm intelligence for animal welfare: data-driven prediction and simulation
Masnun Naher

Applications now open for 2021 Forrest PhD Scholarships – the brightest minds, the best research, the biggest impact.

We attract the brightest minds from around the world to conduct bold and exciting doctoral research at any of Western Australia’s five universities.

Forrest PhD Scholarships are offered to students who have exceptional academic profiles and who have the desire, drive and imagination to undertake doctoral research of the highest standard.

Academic excellence is a neccessary but not a sufficient, condition for winning a Forrest PhD Scholarship. You also need to demonstrate deep curiosity about your chosen field of study, a strong desire to communicate to others your enthusiasm for knowledge and discovery, a commitment to use this knowledge to have a positive impact on the world around us, and the drive and determination to succeed even when faced with obstacles and setbacks.

Forrest PhD Scholarships are open to candidates in all subject areas and from any country and nationality.

Benefits

All Forrest Scholars will receive a scholarship package which includes fees, stipend, accommodation allowance and a research allowance. The total package is valued at over $50,000 per annum.

Selection

Up to 10 Forrest Scholars will be selected from international and Australian applicants who demonstrate an outstanding academic ability to undertake research work with the potential to change the world we live in.

Apply

Applications for Forrest PhD Scholarships are open until 31 October 2020. For further details of the scholarships and how to apply, visit https://www.forrestresearch.org.au/scholarship

Hunger for knowledge drives Marisa’s search for muscular dystrophy treatments

By Liz McGrath

Marisa Duong’s love of learning began when she was a child in Vietnam, soaking up everything she could from her computer science teacher mum and electrical engineer dad.

“We were a maths and science family that’s for sure but we had a joke in the family that while mum might have taught me some coding and a bit of English, she never taught me how to cook – she really hated cooking,” Marisa laughs.

She may not have shone in the kitchen but Marisa’s hunger for knowledge meant she made huge strides at school. So much so that when she was just 15, she travelled to Western Australia to stay with an aunt and uncle to learn better English and continue her education.

After a 10 week English course, she successfully tackled Years 11 and 12 at Kalamunda Senior High School, where she not only made school dux but also scored the highest possible tertiary admission score of 99.95.

“I think I was like a starving person seeing food once I was able to read textbooks in English, I just wanted to keep learning,” she recalls.

Thinking her family wouldn’t be able to afford for her to stay in WA, Marisa was making plans to head home to Vietnam when philanthropist Stan Perron stepped in to help.

“My aunt worked for Toyota and Mr Perron owned the business and he encouraged me to apply for a scholarship to study at UWA and so I did,” Marisa explains. “I felt like the luckiest girl when I got it, it was a really magical moment in my life.”

Approaching university with the same dedication she’d shown during her school years, the young student completed a Bachelor of Philosophy (Honours), majoring in Biochemistry and Finance.

Big sister. Marisa with younger brother Henry in Vietnam.

A visitor from home and a Forrest Scholarship

“It was a busy time,” she says. “During my undergrad I had the chance to do a research placement at King Eddies (King Edwards Memorial Hospital) working on an international project which was great and I was also tutoring at three different places including the School of Indigenous Studies (SIS) at UWA.

“I loved the human interaction that came with tutoring, it was a great break from being in the lab and working at SIS is something I’m still involved in.”

It was during this time that Marisa’s younger brother Henry Duong, also came to Perth to study – a familiar face who helped to ease any homesickness the young student was experiencing.

“I missed my family and I have great friends in Vietnam who I felt like I hadn’t seen for a long time and of course I missed the food, although not so much mum’s cooking as street food,” she grins.

In 2016 Marisa’s hard work and dedication saw her rewarded again, this time with a Forrest Research Foundation Scholarship to investigate protein biomarkers in oxidative stress.

“When I got the Forrest Scholarship I couldn’t believe my luck,” Marisa says. “I thought I was lucky already and then this happened!

“The generosity of the philanthropy in WA is amazing. I’m not sure if I can ever pay it back but I’ll try my best, I’m determined to do something with the life-changing opportunities that I’ve been given.

“Mr. Stan Perron actually attended on the day I was awarded the scholarship and being there with him and with Andrew and Nicola Forrest felt very surreal.

“From coming to Australia to learn English to that moment, it was like a dream.”

Feels like home. The large grey structure that is UWA’s Bayliss Building was very familiar to Marisa, as the place she did a lot of her PhD Research. Here she is in December 2016.

Pinpointing which proteins change structure under oxidative stress

Fast forward four years to 2020 and in the midst of a year with challenges no-one in the world could have predicted due to a global pandemic, Marisa completed and submitted her PhD, which she describes as “an enormous relief”.

A continuation of her Honours project, her thesis investigated how protein thiol oxidation contributes to worsening the disease progression of Duchene muscular dystrophy – a debilitating illness which leads to the premature deaths of one in 3,500 schoolboys globally.

“At the moment there is no cure and no effective treatment for this muscle wasting disease which is caused by a genetic fault that prevents the production of a protein called dystrophin,” she says.

“Although the primary defect is genetic, secondary processes involving persistent inflammation and oxidative stress exacerbate disease progression, and, as such, are potential therapeutic targets.”

Proteins, she explains, are little machineries that carry out numerous functions for the cells in our body. In many diseases, our cells suffer from a state called oxidative stress where the protein structures and functions are changed, which worsens the disease symptoms.

Making sense of ‘that’ whiteboard – Marisa during a lab demonstration at UWA.

As part of her thesis, Marisa worked with Proteomics International at Perth’s Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research to develop advanced mass spectrometry methods to measure the oxidation level of thiol groups on proteins, which are particularly sensitive to oxidation.

It’s work she will continue in her new fulltime role with the medical technology company.

“By better understanding what happens inside the disease cells, we are better able to develop effective treatments,” Marisa says.

“I hope that the techniques I develop through my research might ultimately be applicable to other conditions and diseases including Alzheimer’s, atherosclerosis, diabetes, heart attack, HIV/AIDS, kidney and liver disease, muscular dystrophy, Parkinson’s, Rheumatoid arthritis, stroke and aging.”

As for the future, an unassuming and incredibly modest Marisa says she’s excited about being able to continue her life in Perth and seeing where her research might take her.

“I feel very, very lucky,” she says. “I do work hard – I don’t think I’m exceptionally talented but I love learning and I love research.

“WA has helped to shape my personality and I love my Australian friends. The people here are so friendly and it is easy to feel included and to feel part of the community. I have some friends from Northern Europe and they say it’s not like that there!”

And while she’s still not tempted to work on her cooking skills, the one-time martial arts fan, she laughs that she is slowly rediscovering the wonder of free time.

“I used to do karate and used to go to the gym but that’s all changed now since COVID,” Marisa say. “I like playing the piano and now that my PhD is submitted, I am reading more novels. It’s such a strange feeling to not be busy every hour of the day and night.”

Making it look easy. Marisa in familiar surroundings in a UWA lab.

$3 million research boost to support ideas and innovation in WA

The Forrest Research Foundation has today announced a new $3 million Prospect Fellowship Program to bring Australia and New Zealand’s brightest recent PhD graduates to Western Australia to continue their ground-breaking research.

The program supports the research and innovation Australia needs to prosper in a post-COVID-19 world, when funding for early career research is increasingly uncertain.

The new program will boost Australia’s research community, with 22 early career researchers to be accepted as Prospect Fellows at any of WA’s five universities –  UWA, Curtin, Murdoch, ECU and Notre Dame. It will also drive innovation and collaboration with business, government and the not-for-profit sector.

Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel welcomed the Forrest Research Foundation’s investment in the Prospect Fellowship Program.

“Our early career researchers are the engine behind our research effort and require our support and nurturing,” Dr Finkel said.

“A recent report prepared by the Rapid Research Information Forum has shown these emerging research stars are amongst the cohort at the highest risk of having their employment impacted by COVID-19.”

The Forrest Research Foundation was established in 2014, by Andrew and Nicola Forrest through their Minderoo Foundation. Minderoo Research Chair Fiona David said new funding was important, particularly for women and minorities.

“We are seeing concerning signs that women, early-career researchers and recent graduates are being disproportionately affected,” Ms David said.

“Diversity is key to innovation and productivity. Having worked hard for decades to build up diversity in the research pipeline, we cannot let COVID set us back now. This funding will provide a vital boost for the research economy in WA and across Australia.”

UWA Vice-Chancellor Professor Amit Chakma said the generous investment from the Forrest Research Foundation would allow the Prospect Fellows to help solve some of the world’s most complex challenges.

“It’s vital that we support our young people and harness their skills, ideas and enthusiasm to develop new ways of improving the world in which we live,” Professor Chakma said.

“UWA is delighted to be a part of this program and we look forward to welcoming talented, inspiring young researchers to Perth and helping them develop research and their skill set.”

The Prospect Fellowship program will be aligned with  Western Australia’s Science and Innovation Framework. It will focus on leveraging WA’s unique strengths and assets in high-impact areas such as emerging technologies, natural resources, marine science, agriculture, health, environment, and arts and culture.

For more information about the Fellowships visit www.forrestresearch.org.au. Applications are open until 26 August 2020. Candidates must have completed and passed their PhD since 1 Jan 2019.

How a childhood passion led Forrest Scholar Ana from Argentina to London to ground-breaking research among the Kimberley’s world-famous rock art

By Liz McGrath

Growing up in Buenos Aires with its seductive but omnipresent noise and energy is about as far from the breathtaking wilderness of Western Australia’s remote Kimberley Region as you can get.

But for Ana Paula Motta her childhood in the birthplace of the tango, coloured by a lifelong love of animals, set the scene for what would become her quest 20 years on – exploring the contribution of animals to human identity among one of the oldest cultures on earth.

“Animals have always been part of our life, since the beginning of the human species, more than five million years ago,” the Forrest Scholar says.

“As an only child, I grew up fascinated by their ways. My father had 14 dogs when he was a child and I desperately wanted one. Before the age of eight, I had hamsters, pigmy pigs, turtles, quails, and fish! And then finally, I adopted a cat and a dog.”

Despite her menagerie, Ana says she had no idea then that studying animals would make up such a large part of her future.

“In my country meat consumption is deeply embedded into the culture and there’s a belief that caring for other species can’t be a priority when many people live under the poverty line,” says the now 31-year-old. “Animal rights and welfare aren’t really discussed.”

Hunter-gatherers and guanacos

With an interest in hunter-gatherers and Indigenous studies, Ana decided on an undergraduate degree in Archaeology and Anthropology at Universidad de Buenos Aires.

“I was the first generation of my family to go to university,” she says. “One of my favourite units during this time was on South American Indigenous populations and Land Title Claims and I decided to pursue zooarchaeology for my Bachelor’s specialisation.”

As part of this, the young researcher worked in a small North-western Argentinian town for four years studying how past hunter-gatherers related to camelids, in particular guanacos.

She collected modern samples of camelids and plants to better understand how they moved in the landscape focussing on diet (studying stable isotopes) and ancient hunting practices.

While she eventually moved to a different sub-specialisation Ana says the lessons learnt would stay with her for a lifetime.

“That training is coming in very handy now,” she says. “Knowing how to collect information from animals’ bones to understand the diet they had and the environment they lived in gave me a very broad perspective and some great skills.”

In late 2014, Ana had a major life change when she moved to the UK to undertake a Master of Science in Palaeoanthropology and Palaeolithic Archaeology at University College London. Making the move with her, partner Bruno.

“We met in Argentina as undergrads and he’s also an archaeologist,” she laughs. “It’s very common in our discipline to marry another archaeologist – with all the time you spend away on digs, it’s the only way to see each other!”

Captivated with Australia’s Kimberley rock art, Ana decided to write her thesis about it – specifically on analysing human depictions and how different artists and groups engaged with one another through art. It was to be a busy, productive time.

“While I was in the UK, I also worked for Archaeology South East doing consulting work, for Equality Focus working as an assistant for disabled university students and as a student volunteer doing excavations and rock art recordings of Upper Palaeolithic Caves in Southern France,” she says. Then, a chance meeting at a conference was to change her life again.

“While I was living in London, I met my current supervisor Peter Veth who encouraged me to apply for a scholarship to undertake a PhD at the University of Western Australia.”

‘Ambiance de Fouille’ taken in France at La Grotte du Points.

A leap of faith leads to Forrest Scholarship

Ana says she decided to “take the leap” and applied for a PhD at the Centre for Rock Art Research + Management, one of the leading rock art research centres in the world.

“I applied for a Forrest Research Foundation PhD scholarship and to my incredible surprise I was successful. I moved to Perth in March 2017 which was exciting and also challenging!

“I think living in Forrest Hall in particular and being a scholarship recipient has had a lot of positive impact on my PhD and my research because you get to meet with different people from different backgrounds and it’s a good problem solving hub as well.

“If you’re struggling with a topic or need help or you want to present to the other scholars, there’s always the space to do that.

“Bruno had stayed back in London and it was a while before he was able to come over but I joined a sports climbing club and outdoor club and took up paddling and kayaking lessons.

“Then Bruno got to Perth and last year we became parents to a baby girl, Allegra! Funnily enough she has really helped me focus – even while I was pregnant she came on research trips with me. We all love the nature and the river and the beaches in WA.”

Ana and Allegra at the Forrest Hall Open Day in 2019.

A change of direction

When Ana was awarded her scholarship, she had intended to expand the scope of her master thesis, focusing on social identity and human-animal relations.

“Little did I know that my initial research questions where going to change after visiting the Kimberley,” she says. “I spent three months working there, doing surveys and recording its rock art alongside the Balanggarra Traditional Owners.

“Before leaving, I’d studied many ethnographic articles and volumes on the significance of Kimberley rock art and how animals and other species were key elements for totemism.

“When I was there, I’d listen to the Traditional Owners discuss their totems and how they would restrict their diets and establish certain bonds with Country.

“My research moved from studying human identity to placing more emphasis on relational ontologies and the identification of animals in rock art representations. In the Kimberley, animals weren’t just good to eat, but good to think about and good to live with.

“They’re part of a symbolic system that sees them as part of human lifeways. Remains of these special bonds can be found in songs, in myths and in art.”

The stories, Ana says, are hugely important in understanding how Indigenous groups of the area saw and represented other species and how this has changed through time.

Ana (far right) at Minjiwarra site in the Kimberley in 2017.

Reassessing how we’ve categorised the past

“My research explores the contribution of animals to human identity,” she explains. “With an emphasis on scenes where they engage with each other – such as dancing and hunting.

“There is evidence animals were good to live with, humans were interacting with them, taking in emus and kangaroos when they were injured and caring for them.

“Indigenous populations all over the world have been caretakers of the environment and established significant relationships with other non-human beings for many millennia.

“Our understanding of other species has always been from a Western point of view, ignoring Indigenous knowledge and so modern definitions have been applied to the past.

“I’m hoping to re-assess the scientific categories we apply to the study of the past and highlight the relationality of the beings that have inhabited the world – bringing together Western taxonomic classification methods with Traditional understandings of animals.”

The first time that social identity is being addressed in the Kimberley region, Ana’s work is expected to have high international and local impact, influencing how identity is perceived by rock art researchers and heritage professionals.

Hard at work in the King George River area in the Kimberley in 2017.

Looking forward to new adventures

For Ana, her work also speaks to the future.

“It’s only by securing a balanced coexistence with the environment, that we can secure the future of many species, ours included,” she says.

“My research re-evaluates what it means to be human and what it means to be animal. Approaching this problem through archaeology is critical and will help bridge the gap between science and art and past and present.”

And as for what’s next for her busy family of three, Ana thinks another move is on the cards.

“I’d like to continue with a research career, Bruno and I would both like to do post docs,” she says. “We’re considering moving back to Europe, maybe Germany or Scandinavia, because the work life balance is good. Somewhere we have flexibility to research and raise Allegra and get out and enjoy nature too.”

And somewhere, no doubt, where animals will also feature.

Forrest Scholar Liam’s electron-molecule collision modelling ‘great step forward’ in largest nuclear fusion experiment the world has ever seen

By Liz McGrath

Put Liam Scarlett to the ‘pub test’ and ask him to summarise his area of research in 30 seconds and no problem. That’s despite his field of theoretical physics being one of the most intellectually demanding in science.

“I use supercomputers and quantum mechanics to study atomic and molecular collisions,” the 28-year-old Forrest Scholar says simply.

“We work on the theory side of the reactions that take place when subatomic particles and molecules collide with each other – we model the reactions and predict the outcomes.

He might make it sound easy, but during his PhD Liam has successfully advanced the field of molecular collision physics by devising new theoretical methods, developing massively-parallel computer codes and using Western Australia’s Pawsey supercomputing facilities to perform large-scale scattering simulations.

As part of that work, he’s developed a new computational method known as vibronic close-coupling for modelling collisions of electrons and positrons with diatomic molecules.

The method is based on the first principles of quantum mechanics and doesn’t apply the approximations utilised in previous research, which allows Liam to perform the most accurate calculations in the world for molecular collisions.

Quite an achievement for the Fremantle-born scientist who admits he was far more interested in music than science at secondary school!

I was late to physics and to discovering science at all

“We are a musical family,” Liam smiles. “Both my parents are recreational musicians, and Mum is a piano teacher. You could say I had a bit of a windy journey to discovering physics.”

That ‘long and winding road’ (to borrow from Paul McCartney) started with a year studying music at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, or WAAPA, after secondary school at South Fremantle Senior High School (now Fremantle College) followed by a period studying psychology at Murdoch University.

“It was during my psychology degree that my interest in science began,” he recalls. “I’d started reading Richard Dawkins and watching Carl Sagan documentaries and, in a similar way that they’ve inspired many people before me, I was intrigued.

“As part of my psychology degree I had to do a mandatory course in mathematics. To my surprise I was quite capable, which gave me the confidence to pursue my interest in physics.”

Signing up for a Bachelor of Science and then Honours in Physics at Curtin University in 2014, Liam says in one of those synchronistic life changing moments, he was also introduced to a research group that would change his future.

Directed by world-leader in the field of atomic collision theory Professor Igor Bray, the Theoretical Physics Group is internationally known for its work on electrons, positrons, photons, and heavy particles scattering from atoms, ions and molecules, as well as laser and atom-surface interactions.

“I owe everything to this research group, they’ve been incredibly supportive and have provided me with great mentorship,” Liam says. “They’ve been leading the field for the past three decades, they’ve published papers that are older than I am!”

Liam Scarlett at the Sphinx lookout on Magnetic Island (Townsville) during the 2018 Gaseous Electronics Meeting.

Atomic and Molecular Collisions and becoming a Forrest Scholar

At the end of 2017, and with “zero expectation of success”, Liam received another major boost to his career when he was awarded a Forrest Research Foundation Scholarship, designed to support outstanding domestic and international students as they complete their PhDs.

“I applied and didn’t think I’d get it and then I did – it’s been completely life changing,” he says. “It’s allowed me to live at Forrest Hall and it’s been fantastic having access to all the resources the scholarship provides to conduct our research. I feel incredibly lucky.”

And for the future? So far, Liam’s calculations have produced data for over 58,000 possible reactions in electron collisions with molecules of hydrogen and its isotopes, the most comprehensive and accurate dataset of its kind ever produced.

He’s designed an online database (mccc-db.org) to make those results freely available to scientists worldwide, and with the support of the Forrest Research Foundation has promoted the research in numerous national and international forums.

The molecular collisions he models are fundamental processes that play a major role in a diverse range of fields including energy production, medicine and astrophysics. But the area he’s most excited about is nuclear fusion, and his research into electron-molecule collisions is already being used in one of the largest scientific projects in the world, the €20 billion International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) in France.

“Our calculations are being used to construct models for the plasmas which will be present in the ITER fusion reactor,” he explains. “These models will be used to perform vital diagnostics and improve the performance of the heating and waste-removal systems in the reactor.”

Scientists at the Max-Planck Institute for Plasma Physics (IPP) described the modelling made possible by Liam’s research as “a great step forward that we were awaiting for many years”. The collaboration between the IPP and WA will result in the world’s first ever complete collisional-radiative model for molecular species in fusion plasmas.

Pretty good going for a young man who wasn’t even sure he liked science back in secondary school.

Liam Scarlett presenting at the 2019 POSMOL conference in Serbia.

The future and a strumming guitar

All thoughts now are on the ITER experiment. “Once it’s completed, it will be the largest magnetic-confinement nuclear fusion experiment in the world,” Liam says. “Fusion reactors will be able to provide a safe and virtually limitless source of energy with no long-lived radioactive waste or carbon emissions.

“It’s a much safer alternative to the fission reaction utilised in present-day nuclear power where, as everyone knows, there’ve been some very famous examples of runaway chain reactions. One of the benefits of the fusion process is that runaway chain reactions are impossible, making it much safer.”

Liam says with more than 20 countries contributing, the ultimate aim is to demonstrate the feasibility of nuclear fusion energy, paving the way for the next generation of fusion reactors to be used for power production.

But he says, while COVID-19 has meant much more time working from home alongside partner Katie and the couple’s cat Priscilla, he’s also conscious that life can’t be 100 per cent numbers and calculations.

“Yes, I spend a lot of my time working on physics, but that’s not to say we don’t love stepping outside and taking some meandering walks along the river. And very occasionally I do pick up my guitar and strum a few tunes.”

That early love of music, it seems, hasn’t completely disappeared.