With Dr Rajesh Ramanathan, we encounter a special example of a scholar exploring the knowledge base from traditionally separate field of scientific inquiry. First trained as a biologist, Rajesh combined his PhD work in materials science to consolidate expertise across the chemical, physical and biological sciences, enabling him to develop and contribute to research projects across disciplinary boundaries, leading work in the exciting new field of nanobiotechnology.
We enjoyed another remarkable, whirlwind tour of the sciences at the Society last night, with these six outstanding early-career scientists presenting work that pushes the boundaries of knowledge across incredibly diverse fields of research. The applicant pool grew this year to 60 final year PhDs from across Victorian research institutions, meaning our six finalists had already distinguished themselves simply by being selected to present to us on the evening.
As an animator, most of Dr Drew Berry’s days are spent reading scientific literature and going on long walks to think about what he reads while his computer runs tasks. There is a great deal of data on cellular processes, however the full story is often scattered among multiple studies and papers (i.e. all the details of one machine complex may be comprised of multiple proteins that work together, and each is described individually). Dr Berry therefore has to piece the jigsaw puzzle together to show the big picture while keeping the smaller details accurate. He also has to make artistic choices that may not always reflect the science of what’s going on. Colour is not relevant at the cellular and molecular levels; but he uses it in his animations to evoke moods and emotions, allowing him to better engage his audiences and also make it easier to distinguish between different components and processes of a cell.
You may not know it, but Australia is facing an extinction crisis. With the worst rate of mammalian extinction in the world, over 1,700 species of animals and plants are currently at risk of becoming extinct in Australia. The future of biodiversity conservation relies on multiple factors, including removing native animals from the dangers of introduced predators, changing the culture of clearing land, and having support of the government, conservationists, and society as a whole. These changes would help populations to recover, however when the gene pool of a species has bottlenecked so much, even if the population size increases, their genetic health will remain poor. To avoid the current health problems such as all koalas having chlamydia and Tasmanian devils having infectious facial tumours, genetic rescue is potentially the solution. With Dr Weeks and his colleagues leading the way, endangered and threatened Australian flora and fauna will hopefully flourish once again.
Four categories of science, eight amazing presentations! What a wonderful night we had at the Society, with these outstanding early-career scientists presenting their remarkable work with passion, humour and poignancy. Drawn from a very competitive applicant pool of 47 final year PhDs from across Victorian research institutions, these newest members of the Royal Society of Victoria were already assured of a prize on the night – it was just a matter of which one.
Ultimately, our competition must acknowledge those who draw ahead of the pack on the grounds of effective communication, robust science, the capacity to answer questions through audience discussion and the significance of their research. The results are listed here in each category, with warm congratulations to all our winners and runners-up.