Robotic fish helps protect native species from invasive pests

Researchers at The University of Western Australia have developed a robotic fish that behaves like a bodyguard for native species and safeguards them against the aggressive attitudes of invasive pests.

Lead researcher Dr Giovanni Polverino, from UWA’s Centre for Evolutionary Biology, was awarded one of the inaugural Forrest Postdoctoral Research Fellowships in 2017.

Dr Polverino’s research is focused on evolutionary mechanisms behind the ecological success of invasive fish over native ones to predict different species’ response to human-induced changes in the environment.

His research team has developed a new generation of bio-inspired robots capable of combatting invasive and pest species in Australian fresh waterways while also protecting the local fauna.

“Originally introduced by humans in many environments to control mosquito larvae, mosquitofish are now one of the biggest threats in freshwater ecosystems worldwide, including Australia,” Dr Polverino said.

“Current solutions to stop, or at least slow down, the invasion of mosquitofish are largely failing and tadpoles of most frog species are paying the costs of this forced cohabitation. Is robotic fish the silver bullet against mosquitofish?

“We’ve studied the appearance and swimming patterns of native predators of the invasive mosquitofish from North America and integrated these features into a robotic predator fish that looks and moves like a real mosquitofish predator.

“We have developed a computer vision system to allow the robot to recognise in real time the invasive mosquitofish from the native tadpoles based on their movement, shape and behaviour so that robot could act differently towards the two species.

“It protects the native tadpoles as a robotic bodyguard by performing real time attacks towards the invasive mosquitofish when they threaten the tadpoles.

“We want to demonstrate that the most advanced technology using an engineered robotic fish can help protect Australia’s biodiversity and combat the spread of invasive species.”

Dr Polverino said the study built on a long-term research collaboration with Professor Maurizio Porfiri and his research group from New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering.

“This study builds on a series of previous studies in which my collaborators and I have found that bio-inspired robotic fish can simultaneously repel the invasive mosquitofish and attract native species, with stressed mosquitofish that lose most of their energy reserves and likely compromise their survival and fertility in the long term.

“This study was performed at the Centre for Evolutionary Biology at UWA under my supervision and with the collaboration of researchers at UWA and a visiting engineering student from NYU supported by the National Science Foundation and the Forrest Research Foundation.”


Media references

Dr Giovanni Polverino (UWA Centre for Evolutionary Biology) 08 6488 2239 / 0487 364 501

Simone Hewett (UWA Media & PR Adviser) 08 6488 7975

First Forrest Scholar part of WA ‘brain gain’

Tim Hammer, the very first of the Forrest Scholars to commence his PhD in 2015, was also this week the first to submit his doctoral thesis. Tim came to UWA from the US to undertake research in plant taxonomy, investigating the evolution and characteristics of the iconic plant genus Ptilotus, more commonly known as mulla mulla, widely distributed throughout Australia and especially diverse in the Pilbara. As part of his PhD research, Tim has described 8 new species of Ptilotus and has published 13 papers which help us to better understand the complex and amazingly rich plant biodiversity of Western Australia.

Tim’s research contributes to the ‘brain gain’ created by the Forrest Research Foundation, which attracts some of the world’s brightest minds to Perth to undertake outstanding doctoral and post-doctoral research. After completing his doctorate Tim and his family are staying in Perth where he will use the skills and knowledge gained during his Forrest Scholarship to help understand and document the rich biodiversity of Australia.

photo of Tim in paddock surrounded by Ptilotus exultatus

Announcement of 2019 Scholars

The Forrest Research Foundation has announced its 2019 scholars.

Since the program began in 2015, 26 scholars from 17 countries around the world have commenced their studies through the program in Western Australia. The annual scholarship program is quickly becoming recognised on a global scale, which is reflected in the diversity of the 2019 recipients;

  • Adam Wdowiak (UWA) from Poland, who will pursue his PhD on synthetic chemistry.
  • Akila Balachandran (Murdoch) from India, to pursue her PhD on treatments for liver cancer. She plans to return to India after her studies to set up a lab equivalent to Murdoch University’s in India.
  • Claire Doll (UWA) from Canada, who will pursue her PhD on using econometrics to assess effectiveness of agri-environmental policies.
  • Monica Danilevicz (UWA) from Brazil, to pursue her work on machine learning and use of drones to remotely scan for disease and other conditions among canola crops.
  • Nicholas Lawler (UWA) from Bunbury, who will pursue his PhD on using lasers to achieve genetic treatments in brain cells.

The program seeks to attract outstanding minds to Western Australia to undertake high quality research with the potential to change the world.

The scholarship includes fees, stipend, accommodation and travel allowance. Scholars are accommodated in the purpose built Forrest Hall, located on the banks of the Swan River adjacent to the University of Western Australia.

The Forrest Research Foundation has already helped to position Western Australia as a global centre of discovery, innovation and creativity. The scholars participating in the program undertake cutting-edge research at one of Western Australia’s five universities – The University of Western Australia, Murdoch University, Curtin University, Edith Cowan University and University of Notre Dame. The annual scholarship applications are open each September, with Fellowship applications due to open in March.

The Forrest Research Foundation aims to attract the brightest minds to conduct research in Western Australia. Supporting international and domestic students to enrol in a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree at one of the state’s universities, the scholarships also support leading researchers who are at the start of their career by providing post-doctoral fellowships.

Three global researchers awarded Forrest Fellowships to study in WA

Three international postdoctoral researchers have been awarded prestigious Forrest Research Foundation fellowships to conduct research in the fields of astrophysics, marine bioacoustics and chemistry in Western Australia.

Forrest Research Fellowships are provided to outstanding early career researchers to undertake high quality research at any of the five universities in Western Australia, with the 2018 postdoctoral fellowship recipients appointed at The University of Western Australia and Curtin University.
Minderoo Foundation Chief Executive Nicola Forrest said the Forrest Research Foundation fellowships compete with some of the most prestigious fellowships around the world and serve to attract and retain the brightest minds in Western Australia.
“These exceptional new Forrest Research Fellows are such bright additions to our great state’s thriving scientific research community,” Mrs Forrest said.
“I wish them all the best as they answer difficult questions and help to inspire the next generation of scientists.”
Dr Chong Wei, who completed his PhD at the College of Ocean and Earth Sciences at Xiamen University and is currently researching dolphin bioacoustics at the National University of Singapore, will undertake his research at Curtin University.

Dr Alfred Tiley, who completed his PhD at the University of Oxford and is now in a post-doctoral position at the Centre for Extragalactic Astronomy at Durham University, and Dr Marcus Korb, who completed his PhD at Chemnitz University of Technology and is based at its inorganic chemistry department, will complete their research at The University of Western Australia.
Dr Wei said his research would investigate the effects of underwater noise on marine animals, including fishes, dolphins and whales, and involved international collaboration with universities in the USA and China.

“My research aims to develop fast, reliable, objective and non-invasive methods to determine what animals hear and how noise impacts on them,” Dr Wei said.

“We will be able to test an unprecedented variety of noise sources and animal species relevant to Western Australia and beyond.”

Dr Tiley said his research would explore the properties of star-forming galaxies over the last 10 billion years.

“Integral field spectroscopy provides a new, three-dimensional view of galaxies and is revolutionising our understanding of large-scale structure in the cosmos,” Dr Tiley said.

“My aim is to help explain how galaxies have grown and evolved over cosmic history – a fundamental and as yet unsolved puzzle piece in our understanding of the Universe.”

Dr Korb said his research would develop iron catalysts for a range of chemical transformations, with a focus on demonstrating chemical bond forming reactions important in the fine-chemicals sector.

“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,” Dr Korb said.

The Forrest Research Foundation aims to attract the brightest minds to conduct research in Western Australia. The Foundation provides support to international and domestic students to enrol in a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree at one of the State’s universities and also supports leading researchers who are at the start of their career by providing post-doctoral fellowships.

Forrest Hall launch heralds new era of Australian research excellence

Forrest Hall, a landmark centre of research excellence on the Swan River, has been opened today in Perth by
dignitaries including benefactors Andrew and Nicola Forrest.

The facility positions Perth at the centre of the Asia-Pacific region for science, policy, and thought leadership,
and will house a unique community of global scholars who will live and work together to generate new synergies
and intersections in research.

Launched by the Honourable Julie Bishop MP, Commonwealth Minister for Foreign Affairs, Forrest Hall is the
result of a significant $30.4 million investment, including $27.5 million donated from Andrew and Nicola Forrest’s
Minderoo Foundation alongside $2.9 million from the University of Western Australia.

Minderoo has also dedicated long term funding for scholars and fellows who will reside in the hall as part of its
$130 million contribution to the Forrest Research Foundation. Of the $130 million, $65 was committed in 2013
and a further $65 was allocated within the Forrests’ landmark $400 million donation in May 2017, which has
been recognised as Australia’s largest ever private philanthropic donation.

Minderoo Foundation CEO Nicola Forrest said Forrest Hall signifies Western Australia’s intention to create an
independent research hub to tackle evolving research problems in the Asia-Pacific, from marine ecology to
public health problems and renewable energy.

“Perth is uniquely positioned, in terms of its geography and mentality, to offer fresh ideas that will supplement
Australia’s long-standing hubs for policy and research in Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne,” Mrs Forrest said.
“Forrest Hall is the beginning of a new free-thinking research community that will engage with and help deliver
solutions for the world’s fastest growing region.”

Forrest Hall has been designed to rival the facilities provided by prestigious scholarship programs such as the
Rhodes Scholarship in the UK and Fulbright Program in the US. Designed by renowned Western Australian
architect Kerry Hill, it is the first of its kind in the Asia Pacific.

Minderoo Foundation Chairman Andrew Forrest AO said Forrest Hall would help to make Western Australia a
research centre of excellence.

“We are setting in motion today a multi-generational investment in academia and research that will deliver the
state of Western Australia economic and cultural dividends beyond any of our lifetimes,” Mr Forrest said.
“Forrest Hall is our contribution to the important nation-building task of cementing Australia at the heart of
research, collaboration and problem solving in the Southern Hemisphere.”

The additional funding has expanded the Forrest Hall facility and increased the number of awards from 32 to
60 scholars and fellows over ten years. An additional seven scholars and two fellows will be recruited this year
bringing the total to 26 scholars and 5 fellows. The highly successful scholarships program is underway, with
several students well advanced in their research pursuits.

“The people and places that will prosper in the 21st century knowledge society will be those that are most
effective in generating and using new ideas,” Forrest Research Foundation Warden Paul Johnson said.

“Australia needs to invest in the people who will create the ideas of tomorrow, so that we don’t get left behind.
“The Forrest Research Foundation brings to Perth some of the brightest young minds from around the world to
help build the creative and innovative foundations of tomorrow’s prosperity.”
Forrest Hall consists of 45 self-catered one and two-bedroom apartments, each with river views, as well as an
outdoor terrace, communal living spaces and multi-purpose rooms for research, seminars and functions.
It will host scholars in-perpetuity and be a home for big ideas in Western Australia, hosting events for visiting
thought leaders and community groups.

Congratulations Curtin and UWA Scholars

UWA and Curtin University Congratulate their 2016 Forrest Scholars

Two Curtin University students and one UWA PhD student have been awarded prestigious scholarships from the Forrest Research Foundation.

The Forrest Research Foundation Scholarship is provided to attract brilliant international and domestic students to undertake high-quality research and enrol in a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree at a Western Australian university.

Mr Frederik Seersholm, a University of Copenhagen alumnus, and Ms Kit Prendergast, who will be studying at Curtin, were congratulated at the 2016 Forrest Research Foundation Scholars cocktail reception last night, held at Curtin St Georges Terrace.

Curtin Vice-Chancellor Professor Deborah Terry said the scholarships recognised the outstanding research capabilities and aspirations of these students.

“I am delighted to welcome Frederik and Kit to Curtin and congratulate them on being named as prestigious Forrest Research Foundation Scholars,” Professor Terry said.

Mrs Nicola Forrest said investing in research was critical to creating a culture that valued advanced knowledge and ideas that could change the world in which we live.

“The winners represent some of the world’s best young minds and their passion and commitment to solving issues at a global level makes them ideal candidates for the 2017 Forrest Scholarships,” Mrs Forrest said.

Mr Frederik Seersholm said he felt privileged to be awarded the scholarship and looked forward to progressing his studies at Curtin.

“My PhD will apply genetic methods to study bone fragments from a range of sites across the world and aims to build a detailed map of biodiversity and species composition,” Mr Seersholm said.

“My research will serve to make people aware of the effects they have on ecosystems and this scholarship will assist me in achieving this goal.”

Ms Kit Prendergast said she was incredibly honoured to be selected as a Forrest Scholar and apply her passion to generate world-class science.

“My research project involves assessing native bee assemblages in urban habitat fragments in South West WA and investigating how the introduced European honeybee, Apis mellifera, interacts with these native pollinators,” Ms Prendergast said.

“The Forrest Scholarship will enable me to realise the full potential of my project and the generous financial assistance will provide invaluable support and stability.”

Mr Ryuta Ujihara, a graduate from Kyoto University, was also awarded the Scholarship and will complete his PhD at The University of Western Australia.

A nature lover from Japan, his PhD will address some of the world’s biggest environmental issues, including a future worldwide water shortage caused by human pressures such as an increasing population, rapid urbanisation and climate change.

Mr Ujihara said he was thrilled with the news which will allow him to study the desalination of seawater and wastewater at UWA using special water purification technology.

“The scholarship provides me a secure environment to focus on my research as well as opportunities for professional development. It allows me to work with great researchers with the chance to make wider connections to the community,” he said.

Mr Ujihara is keen to commercialise the findings of his research.

“During my PhD program, I want to discover how to connect scientific findings to actual applications. I hope to obtain some patents in my research for commercialisation in WA,” he said.

Despite graduating from Kyoto University in Japan, Mr Ujihara said he prefers to live in cities closer to nature and is hoping to spend his free time discovering WA’s natural beauty.

“Although pursuing a PhD is going to be very hard, I want to find time for activities like hiking or water sports to enjoy the nature of WA.”

The winners represent some of the world’s best young minds and Mr Ujihara’s passion and commitment to solving issues at a global level makes him an ideal candidate for a 2017 Forrest Scholarship.

Media References

David Stacey (UWA Media Manager) (+61 8) 6488 3229 / (+61 4) 32 637 716

Lauren Sydoruk, (Curtin Media Officer) (08) 9266 4241 / 0401 103 877

Susanna Wolz, (Curtin, Media Manager) (08) 9266 9085 / 0401 103 877

Madelaine Fisher, (Executive Officer, Forrest Research Foundation) (08) 6488 5598 / 0447 176 213

Best and Brightest

New Scholar Accommodation Aims to Attract Brightest Minds

An exciting new addition to the city’s landscape will help attract the world’s brightest minds to Western Australia.

The new development, known as Forrest Hall, has been designed to promote a stimulating and creative living environment for scholars and rising research stars attending Western Australian universities on Forrest Research Foundation Scholarships.

Designed by internationally renowned Kerry Hill Architects, Forrest Hall is earmarked to be built in a beautiful location over-looking the Swan River, at the corner of Mounts Bay Road and Hackett Drive.

Forrest Hall has been made possible by the philanthropic donation of Andrew and Nicola Forrest, who in 2013, made the largest single donation in Australian history of $65 million. $15 million has been provided for Forrest Hall, with the remaining $50 million to be used to establish the Forrest Research Foundation to fund scholarships and postdoctoral fellowships across all five WA universities.

Nicola Forrest said the design of Forrest Hall will complement UWA’s stunning campus while fitting in with the tranquillity of the Swan River.

“The views from Forrest Hall will be amazing. It is a modern building but the use of stone in its construction acknowledges UWA’s tradition and history. Most importantly, the new development has been designed with the purpose of attracting and inspiring top scholars in their academic pursuits while creating a space that enhances their on campus learning experience.”

The four-storey development will consist of around 33 self-catered one and two bedroom apartments, an outdoor terrace with river views, a multi-purpose room for seminars and functions, and undercroft car parking facilities.

UWA Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Johnson said Forrest Hall will be a stunning addition to The University of Western Australia’s campus.

“The vision of Andrew and Nicola Forrest to establish Forrest Hall, coupled with its wonderful location, will help attract the world’s most outstanding scholarship candidates,” Professor Johnson said.

Forrest Hall will also accommodate Forrest scholars studying at the other Western Australian Universities: Curtin, Murdoch, Edith Cowan University and Notre Dame.

Forrest Hall will open in March 2018.

Media Reference

David Stacey (UWA Media Manager) (+61 8) 6488 3229 / (+61 4) 32 637 716

2018 Forrest Research Foundation Scholars

Students Awarded Prestigious 2018 Forrest Scholarships

Six students will fly in from around the world to accept prestigious 2018 Forrest Scholarships at The University of Western Australia, Curtin University and Edith Cowan University, made possible by the generosity of the Forrest Research Foundation.

The students come from a broad range of academic backgrounds and will research everything from how to reduce the cost of developing drugs to treat illnesses, how to remove contaminants from wastewater, to ways of using nuclear physics to make developments in cancer treatments available.

In addition, a post-doctoral researcher studying the genetics of wheat to find drought and salt resistant genes in ancient wheat varieties will take up a 2018 Forrest Research Foundation Fellowship. A scholarship recipient studying renewable energy who started at UWA in late 2017 will also join the team.

The Forrest Research Foundation aims to attract the brightest minds to conduct postgraduate research in Western Australia, and provides support to international and domestic students to enrol in a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree at one of the State’s universities. The foundation also supports leading researchers who are at the start of their career by providing post-doctoral fellowships.

The scholarships and fellowships started in 2013 when Andrew and Nicola Forrest made what was believed to be the largest single philanthropic donation in Australian history – $65 million to attract the best minds to Western Australia.

The donation included $50 million for the establishment of the Forrest Research Foundation to fund scholarships and postdoctoral fellowships across all five WA universities. A further $15 million went towards the creation of Forrest Hall, a soon to be opened state-of-the-art accommodation facility in Crawley for scholars and rising research leaders. The 2018 scholars will be among the first people to occupy this facility.

Andrew and Nicola Forrest said they were delighted to welcome seven new Forrest Scholars, including the first Scholar to undertake research at Edith Cowan University and a third Forrest Fellow, Dr Philipp Bayer.

“The Forrest Research community has been further strengthened by these appointments and we look forward to following their research progress across numerous fields,” Andrew and Nicola Forrest said.

Warden of the Forrest Research Foundation, Professor Paul Johnson said the Forrest Scholarships and Fellowships supported outstanding Australian students.

“The scholarships are bringing to WA the brightest young researchers from around the world to help build Perth into a research and innovation hub of global significance,” Professor Johnson said.

Inaugural Forrest Fellows

Congratulations to Inaugural Forrest Fellows

An evolutionary biologist fascinated with animal behaviour who hopes to help tackle global problems such as climate change and a psychologist who is working towards advancing our understanding of depression and anxiety have been named recipients of the 2017 Forrest Research Foundation Fellowships at The University of Western Australia.

Giovanni Polverino, who completed his PhD at Humboldt University of Berlin, will join Julie Ji, who completed her PhD at the University of Cambridge, in accepting the prestigious fellowships announced by the Forrest Research Foundation.

The fellowships are available to international and Australian early-career researchers who wish to pursue their post-doctoral research at any one of Western Australia’s five universities.

Dr Polverino said he was delighted to receive a unique opportunity to join The University of Western Australia and progress important research in the fields of behavioural ecology and evolutionary biology.

“Animal behaviour has fascinated me since I was a child when I used to spend most of my time observing animals on my family’s little farm just outside Rome,” Dr Polverino said.

“My research will investigate the evolutionary mechanisms behind the ecological success of invasive fish over native ones to predict different species’ response to climate change.”

Dr Ji said she was extremely grateful and proud to be a 2017 Forrest Research Foundation Fellowship recipient.

“I believe scientists have a unique and vital role to play in generating new solutions to complex and large-scale problems in society,” she said.

“What has particularly fascinated me, and what my research will focus on, is how depressive states can alter our capacity to access past emotional experiences and to simulate hypothetical ones in the future.”

In October 2013, the Forrests made what is believed to be the largest single philanthropic donation in Australian history $65 million to attract the best minds to Western Australia. The donation included $50 million for the establishment of the Forrest Research Foundation to fund scholarships and postdoctoral fellowships across all five WA universities. The initiative has since been expanded by Andrew and Nicola Forrest, with a further $65 million commitment made to the Forrest Research Foundation.

Andrew and Nicola Forrest said they were thrilled to appoint such outstanding and inspiring early career researchers as the 2017 Forrest Fellows.

“Their research will drive forward the boundaries of human knowledge, and will bring benefits now and in the future to people and communities here in WA and around the world,” Andrew Forrest said.

Nicola Forrest added that appointing the inaugural Forrest Fellows was an exciting step forward for the Forrest Research Foundation.

“We look forward to following their collaboration with the Forrest Scholars and the outcomes of their research,” she said.


Media Reference

Jess Reid (UWA Media and Public Relations Advisor) (+61 8) 6488 6876