Deep-sea sponges set to inspire future construction designs

A group of international researchers has shown that the unique skeletal structure of a deep-sea sponge can inspire the design of future skyscrapers.

In an article published in Nature today, researchers show that the sponge, which lives in the hostile environment of the deepest oceans, has a unique latticework of holes and ridges that explain how it flourishes in conditions of extreme physical stress.

Forrest Fellow Dr Giovanni Polverino, from The University of Western Australia’s Centre for Evolutionary Biology, co-authored the article with researchers from Harvard University, Tor Vergata University of Rome, New York University, University of Tuscia and the Italian Institute of Technology.

The researchers said the unique structure of the Venus flower basket sponge (E. aspergillum) could lead to more advanced designs for buildings, bridges, marine vehicles and aircraft.

“Because the Venus flower basket sponge lives on the ocean floor, its skeleton has adapted to survive in an environment with very high water pressure,” Dr Polverino said.

“The sponge’s structure resembles a delicate glass vase, woven from a fine mesh, and this allows it to survive and respond safely to strong water flow.”

Understanding the sponge’s geometry will have important implications for how we design structures that need to withstand air or water pressure – whether that’s high-rise buildings, aeroplanes or ships.

The research involved a world-first simulation of approximately 100 billion virtual seawater particles moving in and around the sponge’s skeletal structure. The simulation was enabled by the Marconi100 exascale-class computer at the CINECA high performance computer centre in Italy, together with special software developed in Italy.

This research team was led by Professor Giacomo Falcucci with Professors Maurizio Porfiri and Sauro Succi, and was supported by the CINECA Computational Grant, PRIN Projects, the Forrest Research Foundation, the US National Science Foundation, and the European Research Council under the Horizon 2020 Programme

Read the full study, ‘Extreme flow simulations reveal skeletal adaptations of deep-sea sponges’, in Nature.

MEDIA REFERENCE: 

Dr Giovanni Polverino (UWA School of Biological Sciences) 08 6488 2239 / 0487 364 501

Simone Hewett (UWA Media and PR Manager) 08 6488 3229 / 0432 637 716

Marcus Korb on a Perth hiking trail

Iron awe. How Dr Marcus Korb’s work in developing iron catalysts for materials, medicines and more could change the way we use base metals

By Liz McGrath

“Going to primary school where your grandfather is the head of the school had its good side and bad side,” says Dr Marcus Korb with a touch of irony.

“Everybody of course knew him which meant everyone knew who I was – which isn’t necessarily what you want when you’re young.”

Despite that, his childhood in a small eastern German village with his parents and a younger sister was, Marcus says, a “very normal upbringing” and one full of happy memories.

“I remember in the winter when it was snowing and all of the windows in the village would be illuminated, it was like something out of a movie,” he recalls.

“My grandparents and my great grandmother lived in the same village; every morning we’d go to the bakery and while I wasn’t really into sports, we were surrounded by nature and so as kids we’d spend a lot of time playing and hiking in the hills.”

King of the Kids. Marcus with his sister Linda (left) and cousin Fransizka (right).

He might have loved being outdoors but Marcus says he was also drawn to his studies, particularly STEM subjects.

“I found studying German very subjective, whereas with science and maths there was a right or wrong answer and clarity around the outcome, which I could relate to,” he says.

After majoring in chemistry and maths at high school Marcus decided to take a three-year apprenticeship as a chemistry lab assistant.

“I think to be honest my parents were worried that I was a little lazy,” he says. “But in Germany if you stop your five-year diploma studies half way through, you won’t get any degree at all and I just wasn’t sure I was ready for the five years.

“I thought some industry experience would help me make up my mind about what I wanted to do and it was great, helping me with my skills in the lab and my time management.”

Heading back to university and across the world

After his apprenticeship, Marcus headed back to study at Chemnitz University of Technology where he specialised in synthetic chemistry. His time working in a lab and his ‘real-world’ experience paid off and he scored the highest marks in final exams in his year.

During this time, he was constantly employed as a research assistant (“carrying out synthesis or purification for PhD students”) in the Department of Organic Chemistry.

During his third year, the young student started learning single-crystal x-ray measurements under the Professor of Inorganic Chemistry, a move that would dictate his future.

“It takes quite a while to learn but during my diploma I was able to carry out measurements and finalisations myself,” he says.

And he was getting noticed, his ‘recharged’ work ethic resulting in multiple papers and international attention from other scientists in his field.

“After my diploma my former supervisor offered me a PhD position and I received a two-year scholarship from the ‘Association of the Chemical Industry’,” Marcus recalls.

“I finished my PhD and did one year of my PostDoc but then spoke to my supervisor about maybe completing this with established professors who had reputations in the field.

“We looked at Japan, at South Africa and at Australia but I was so happy when I was awarded a Forrest Research Fellowship in Perth,” he says.

“Europeans love Australia and coming to WA and being able to explore places like Margaret River and Bluff Knoll and living right on the Swan River is brilliant. I’m a runner and living on the doorstep of Kings Park is amazing, what a place to go running.”

Developing iron catalysts for chemical transformations

Forrest fellows are carefully selected not only because they are outstanding researchers with the highest calibre of academic achievements but because their work has the potential to make a genuine difference in the world and Marcus certainly fits the mould.

Modern catalysis in the fine chemicals sector has been dominated by precious, noble metals such as palladium, platinum and iridium which are used in a wide range of reactions. However, these metals (used in everything from electronic devices to additives to pigments) are expensive, in short supply and can have precarious toxicological and ecological properties.

Marcus says it’s for this reason that attention has shifted towards base metals like iron, copper and nickel. As the second most abundant metal in the Earth’s crust after aluminium, iron is particularly attractive to researchers in his field.

“As a transition metal it covers a wide range of available electronic states, which gives you flexibility. My research will develop iron catalysts for a range of chemical transformations, with a focus on demonstrating chemical bond forming reactions important in the fine-chemicals sector,” he says.

“By decreasing reliance on noble metal catalysts we can develop lower cost, less toxic chemical processes. This will allow preservation of the valuable noble metal resources for those processes which are necessary for future generations.”

The future looks good

Marcus admits its complex work, saying: “There’s a lot of trial and error and from time to time the research can be very challenging – you feel like you’re a bad chemist, you don’t know if it’s you or the chemistry!”

Nevertheless, he was recently able to develop an unexpected reaction which was published in the leading journal for inorganic chemists, Inorg. Chem.

In his downtime, Marcus enjoys spending time with his partner, an Aussie who he says is keen to visit Germany once the borders reopen.

“It’s funny, he loves the cold and I like the heat so I think he’s going to like Germany and I’m always going to like Australia – I’m sitting out in the sun right now and this is in winter! The quality of life here is very good.”

Marcus enjoying one of Perth’s many hiking trails.

Eight early-career researchers awarded Prospect Fellowships

The Forrest Foundation has awarded eight Prospect Fellowships to outstanding early-career researchers to enable them to undertake their innovative work in Western Australia.

The Forrest Foundation funded 20 Prospect Fellowships over two rounds as an additional investment into Australia’s research community in response to the impact COVID-19 had on research funding.  The Prospect Fellowships provide each recipient with 18 months of funding, mentoring and a professional development program.

The projects funded in this round include developing infrared sensing technology to improve response to bushfire emergencies, using natural marine ecosystems such as seagrass and coral reefs to prevent coastal erosion and flooding and creating spacial and geographic modelling to identify locations where there are gaps in mental health care.

The full list of fellowship recipients are

Dr Arnold van Rooijen, UWA Oceans Graduate School
Dr van Rooijen will investigate new ways to mitigate coastal flooding, such as use of seagrass meadows and coral reefs, instead of traditional solutions such as use of seawalls and breakers that are not sustainable in the long term.

Dr Brenton von Takach, Curtin University School of Molecular and Life Sciences
Dr von Takach will investigate the genomic and ecological consequences of vertebrate species declines occurring worldwide as a result of habitat degradation, invasive species, land clearing and climate change, including Australia’s own northern quoll and golden-backed tree-rat.

Dr Christopher Lean, UWA Public Policy Institute
Dr Lean will develop a framework to evaluate biotechnology in conservation for use in areas such as the genetic modification of species, to aid scientific discovery and support conservation standards.

Dr India Dilkes-Hall, UWA Centre for Rock Art Research and Management
Dr Dilkes-Hall will examine how plants, tropical rainforests, archaeology and climate change may hold clues to understanding how humans evolved.

Dr Kieran Mulroney, UWA Translational Renal Research Group
Dr Mulroney will work to develop faster and more accurate pathology tests for life-threatening infections, to address current limitations in pathology tests.

Dr Naomi Green, UWA School of Biological Sciences
Dr Green will study a variety of fish to see if they are able to see UV and polarised light. Understanding how they see the world could lead to the development of new technologies to protect marine life.

Dr Nicole Hill, TKI / UWA Centre for Child Health Research
Dr Hill will use cutting-edge geographic and spatial modelling to identify locations where the mental health risks are the highest, to provide insight into priority areas for the allocation of health resources.

Dr Shimul Nath, UWA Department of Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering
Dr Nath will investigate infrared remote sensing technology and its future role in preventing the spread of bushfires, as well as its application in other fields such as astronomy and medicine.

These Prospect Fellowships support the Forrest Foundation’s aim to build a world-class centre of research and innovation in Western Australia.

Prospect Fellows

Gladymar Perez with colleagues in Peru

Vaccine research to help address ‘tsunami of food allergies and eczema’

By Liz McGrath

Gladymar (Glady) Perez Chacon’s favourite place in Perth is the City Library.

“My quiet time is spent reading, I love the library,” says softly spoken the Venezuelan-born Forrest scholar who’s completing her PhD in Public Health at Curtin University and the Wesfarmers Centre of Vaccines and Infectious Diseases at the Telethon Kids Institute.

Ironically, the same firm who designed Perth Library, Kerry Hill Architects, are responsible for the cutting-edge Forrest Hall accommodation facility, a place Glady has called home since October 2018.

She says it couldn’t be farther away from her childhood in Caracas, Venezuela’s densely populated capital, where she grew up the only child of a librarian mother and writer father.

“I know, it’s funny that they are so humanities based and that’s what I thought I wanted (for my career) all the way through school,” Glady laughs.

“I was a voracious reader and my main focus was on liberal studies, but dad discouraged me. He said I could enjoy all of that without making a career of it and that I should focus on chemistry which I was also good at.”

Both her parents, says Glady, firmly believed in the importance of study.

“They said ‘the world will become something for you once you’ve learned’. They had a very can do attitude, they believed in me and saw education as a way through everything.”

The sphere Glady’s parents were keen for her to find a foothill out of, Caracas, was once a thriving cosmopolitan city.

However, the weight of hyper-inflation, crime and poverty has seen it transform into a dangerous place to live, says the young researcher.

“I grew up surrounded by slums, that was the reality of a working class upbringing,” she says. “I think that’s one of the things driving me now, I want to make sure that everyone has access to the basic necessities – things like clean water, vaccines, basic medicines and contraception.”

A move into medicine

Fast forward a decade and Glady had taken her father’s advice and enrolled as a medical student at the Central University of Venezuela, the oldest university in the country and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

She specialised in paediatrics and child health before moving into paediatric infectious diseases and completing further training in tropical medicine and hygiene.

“I’d always liked knowing why things happen, why some people are more prone to getting sick than others and when I got to university I discovered it was the world’s more vulnerable people who captured my attention,” she says.

“To me, there is nothing more vulnerable than a mother and kids or a child who is sick and who needs attention. I found I could easily empathise with other women’s pain and suffering and I couldn’t have imagined doing anything other than paediatrics.”

While working as a junior faculty member in Parasitology at the School of Medicine at Central University and in the emergency department as a paediatrician, Glady visited another South American country, Peru. A trip that would change her life.

“I met many Australian clinicians while I was in Peru. While I’d always thought of the UK as the place to do my PhD, I realised that Australia was another option,” she says.

“I’d been working with gastro and parasites in my home country and thought I could possibly do something similar and so I started applying for scholarships.

Being chosen as a Forrest scholar, she says, helped her “find her place”.

“I was so happy to come to Perth, with its beautiful beaches – the contrast between Western Australia and my home country is quite dramatic, there is the access to so many opportunities here,” she says.

“It’s also been a privilege being in Perth during a pandemic but I can’t forget that the people from my home country and across the globe have not had the same luck.

“I seek inspiration from and look up to Dr Mark Ryan and Maria Van Kerkhove from WHO, they are my secret mentors,” she adds.

Glady (centre) and her colleagues before a ward round at Hospital Loaiza in Lime, Peru in 2016

The allergy fighting potential of ‘whole-cell’ whooping cough vaccine

Glady’s research is focused on the potential of the whopping cough vaccine to help in reducing “the tsunami” of cases of childhood food allergies, including life-threatening allergic reactions to things like eggs, milk, peanuts, and tree nuts.

“We’re investigating whether an early single dose of the ‘whole-cell’ whooping cough (pertussis) vaccine given at the age of six weeks and followed by the currently recommended acellular whooping cough vaccine at four and six months of age, may prevent the early onset of food allergy in Australian-born infants,” Glady explains.

“We believe the older vaccine (whole-cell), which is still being used in many places around the world, may prevent allergic outcomes.”

She says the hypothesis that vaccines might have a role to play in reducing the risk of allergies is exciting and fits perfectly into her dream of one day being involved in policy making through Gavi, UNICEF or WHO.

“I’d like to be based in a space where I can focus on female and child health, and the social determinant of health and disease to further improve access to vaccinations, through the extended program of immunisation in countries with fragile economies like Venezuela.

At the same time, I dream on going back to the wards and working as a clinician on refugee and international child health,” she says.

In the meantime, in her downtime, you’ll more than likely to find Glady in the library if she’s not busy at work or having the occasional swim in the ocean.

“I still love reading books, that’s my thing, the peace and quiet,” she smiles. “I’ve joined the Reading Circle at Perth City library, a safe space where women with English as a second language meet once a week with library staff and discuss passages from a book or news articles.

“While I’m sad I miss some sessions, I find inspiration in all of them, and I’m very much looking forward to knowing more about my peers’ inspiring stories.”

And this is one young woman who certainly has an inspiring story all of her own.

Glady and Forrest scholars Masnun Naher and Xuyen Le exploring the sights at WA’s Rottnest Island

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 undergraduate 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