Laureate Fellowships’ $54m of Aussie research

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

Seventeen of Australia’s top researchers will share in $53.7 million from this year’s Australian Laureate Fellowships scheme, including four advanced manufacturing projects and a cybersecurity study on online discourse.

Recipients were unveiled on Wednesday with each to receive about $3 million from the Australian Research Council to fund projects and supplement salaries. Two of the recipients will receive extra funding to promote diversity.

The research is considered cutting edge and internationally competitive, with less than 10 per cent of $585 million in funding requests for the Laureate Fellowships scheme being approved in the latest round.

“This program provides financial support to conduct ground-breaking research here in Australia, particularly in areas of national priority. It also provides the opportunity to mentor our up-and-coming early career researchers,” Education Minister Alan Tudge said.

Queensland University of Technology Professor Axel Bruns. Picture: QUT.

University of Queensland Professor Andrew White’s project on energy-efficient artificial intelligence using quantum technologies received $3.2 million in funding.

The project explores using quantum technologies to train AI models that bypasses traditional computing approaches that produce surprisingly high levels of carbon emissions. Training even a single learning model can emit five times more carbon dioxide than the lifetime emissions of the average car.

The expected outcome of Professor White’s Fellowship is to develop neuromorphic computers which operate rapidly but with a low energy cost, achieving speeds impossible with conventional computing.

Queensland University of Technology Professor Axel Bruns received the most funding, $3.5 million to continue a Dynamics of Partisanship and Polarisation in Online Public Debate project.

The work explores the increased polarisation and partisanship of political debate, especially online, and its threat to social cohesion, including its potential weaponization online by bad actors.

“Polarisation intensifies social conflicts, threatens economic prosperity, undermines public trust, and ultimately destabilises societies. Such instability can be exploited by domestic extremists or foreign influence campaigns to weaken sovereign states,” Professor Bruns said.

“Australia has so far been less affected than other leading democracies, but we are not immune to creeping polarisation and subsequent destabilisation. We must understand the threats we face,” he said.

The Laureate Fellowships funding will be used to conduct the first-ever assessment of the extent and dynamics of polarisation in online environments of six countries – including Australia – with evidence expected to be used in formulating defences against polarisation challenges.

His QUT colleague, Professor Michael Milford also received funding through the Laureate Fellowships scheme to continue his work on “Nature’s Best Positioning System”, a GPS alternative for automation and robotics.

“The natural world is full of amazing examples of superb navigators – from insects to animals to people. By taking inspiration from the best of the natural world and combining that with new algorithms and robotic techniques, we are looking to create new breakthrough positioning capabilities which will boost our country’s economy and security,” Professor Milford said.

“We plan to re-evolve, re-engineer, and blend the best performing and best understood components of nature’s best positioning systems with new technological advances in sensing and computation to create more efficient, cheaper ways to move people and things around.”

Expected project outcomes include reducing the reliance on foreign owned GPS systems and supporting leading Australian industries and the defence sector.

A University of Wollongong project on high performance batteries, led by Professor Zaiping Guo also received $3.26 million. Prof Guo is working on the next generation of batteries for use in portable devices, electric vehicles, and smart grids.

The funding is expected to lead to the development of safer, longer lasting high energy-density batteries, which could help position Australia as a leader in the transition to decarbonised economies.

Two Australian Laureate Fellows have been awarded additional funding to undertake an ambassador role to promote women researchers.

The 2021 Kathleen Fitzpatrick Australian Laureate Fellowship for the humanities, arts and social science disciplines was awarded to Professor Sundhya Pahuja from The University of Melbourne, while the 2021 Georgina Sweet Australian Laureate Fellowship in science and technology was awarded to Professor Yun Liu from The Australian National University.

The full list of 2021 Australian Laurette Fellows and their projects are:

  • Professor Matthew Barnett – Deakin University – to discover new paradigms in alloy science to promote a circular economy and benefit Australia’s metal fabrication and scrap metal sectors
  • Professor Axel Bruns – Queensland University of Technology – to develop an analytical framework to assess the impacts of partisanship and polarisation in online public debate.
  • Professor Helen Byrne – The University of Sydney – to unlock the potential of mathematical biology creating a blueprint for future research in advanced mathematics.
  • Professor Kishan Dholakia – The University of Adelaide – to transform wide field optical imaging through new ‘intelligent’ microscopes better able to capture 3D images.
  • Professor Jeffery Errington – The University of Sydney – to address knowledge gaps about L-form bacteria – bacteria that are a source of antibiotic resistance.
  • Professor Sharon Friel – The Australian National University – to create new knowledge and governance frameworks for Planetary Health Equity, a new field of public health that aims to achieve global health equity.
  • Professor Kliti Grice – Curtin University – to research the planet’s history by looking at the molecular record in preserved fossils.
  • Professor Zaiping Guo – University of Wollongong – to design the next generation of batteries for use in portable devices, electric vehicles and smart power grids.
  • Professor Dayong Jin – University of Technology Sydney – to find a solution to bottlenecks in upconversion nanotechnology that will aid in producing new knowledge for analytical instruments and biomedical imaging.
  • Professor Yun Liu (Georgina Sweet Australian Laureate Fellow) – The Australian National University – to build new nanoscale-interactions to improve future functional materials.
  • Professor Dena Lyras – Monash University – to investigate how bacteria adapts and functions in the gut ecosystem and providing insights into gut diseases and antibiotic resistance.
  • Professor Alexander McBratney – The University of Sydney – to deliver a soil monitoring, assessment and restoration system to secure the health of Australia’s soil.
  • Professor Naomi McClure-Griffiths – The Australian National University – to reveal how gas and magnetic fields interact to influence the evolution of galaxies.
  • Professor Michael Milford – Queensland University of Technology – to develop the next generation of GPS systems to reduce Australia’s reliance on GPS satellites owned by other countries.
  • Professor Sundhya Pahuja (Kathleen Fitzpatrick Australian Laureate Fellow) – The University of Melbourne – to establish Australia as a world leader and to better understand international law for the purpose of holding global corporations to democratic standards and legal accountability.
  • Professor Robert Parton – The University of Queensland – to deliver new knowledge on how nanoparticles pass from the bloodstream to in vivo delivery, increasing our understanding of cell biology.
  • Professor Andrew White – The University of Queensland – to create energy efficient artificial intelligence using quantum technologies.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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