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Media Release

November 4 2011

UniSA young researchers win top honours at Science Excellence Awards

Dr Craig Priest - South Australian Tall Poppy of the YearUniversity of South Australia’s physical chemist, Dr Craig Priest has been named Tall Poppy of the Year at the South Australian Science Excellence Awards.

And he is in good company. UniSA researchers and graduates took four other honours, including awards in the early career categories for professionals and educators and one in the PhD Research Excellence category.
 
UniSA Vice Chancellor Professor Peter Høj says UniSA’s success at the Science Excellence Awards reflects well on the University’s research and teaching strengths in the science and health areas.
 
“I am pleased to see this group of winners celebrated for their achievements,” he says.
 
“What they all have in common is a passion to make a difference and a commitment to evidence-based enquiry and education at the highest level. But I am also pleased to say they reflect significant and growing excellence in science at the University of South Australia.”
 
The Tall Poppy Awards recognise outstanding work by researchers who are already making significant scientific contributions in the early stages of their careers.

A research fellow at UniSA’s internationally prestigious Ian Wark Research Institute, Dr Priest works on ways to control liquids on different surfaces. He is contributing to the research portfolio that supported UniSA’s rating of 5 for the chemical sciences in the 2010 Excellence in Research for Australia exercise, the highest rating possible reflecting research standards well above world class.
 
“In my research I’m controlling liquids using different types of surfaces; some with bumps and grooves and some with patches of chemicals,” he says.
 
“Using these special surfaces, we can imitate nature - plants clean themselves using rain drops that run off of their leaves - or develop new technologies that use tiny droplets containing chemicals or medical samples.
 
“I have discovered methods for precisely making, moving, and combining tiny droplets or streams smaller than a speck of dust to do chemistry and biology in small devices. These devices will be used for faster, safer, and more efficient industrial processing, the development of pharmaceuticals, and low-cost medical care for disadvantaged or remote communities.
 
“One day, you might even find them used in your iPhone for early detection of disease or chemical hazards.”
 
Winner of the Early Career STEM educator award for a tertiary institution, Dr Sarah List believes good teaching very much depends on connecting with students. She teaches biosciences to new cohorts of nursing students from very diverse backgrounds.
 
“I have a bubble of school leavers in my classes and then a cohort of 30 somethings so not only are the class groups culturally diverse but the students often have very different experience,” she says.
 
“Perhaps what a lot of them have in common is that science is not second nature for them – so I really try to focus on using their lived experiences to help them learn what they need to know. My goal is to get them involved, to remove some of the fear about science being hard and to encourage them to understand the human body and therefore their learning about it as an interrelated system.”
 
And winner of the Early Career STEM professional category in health and life science, Dr Natalie Sinn also understand the importance of interrelationships. 
 
Her win is for research that examines the influence of diet on children’s learning and behaviour. So while others are essentially focussing on the relationship between poor diet and obesity in children, Dr Sinn is interested in the patterns that exist between bad diet and bad behaviour.
 
“My work blends psychology and nutrition and once my PhD research showed a real connection between Omega 3 intake and improved ADHD symptoms I wanted to explore those links between food and the brain further,” she says.
 
In follow up work her team showed over 4 months, increased omega-3 levels in blood were associated with improved reading, spelling and behaviour in children with ADHD and learning difficulties. She is now undertaking wide and larger studies across disadvantaged schools to assess the impact of omega-3 and vitamins.
 
Recent UniSA graduate, Dr Seth Laurensen, won his science excellence award for his PhD studies in water recycling and soil health.
 
His project examined the effect of recycled water on the health of vineyard soils, providing guidance to grape growers using wastewater irrigation systems and enhancing their ability to safeguard against future water shortages, protect soil stability and maintain quality of grape yields.
 
Congratulations also go to Dr Daniel Hoefel, UniSA PhD graduate and now working with SA Water who also won an Early Career STEM Professional Award.
 



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