2017 finalists

Andrew Katsis

Deakin University

The benefits of being an attentive embryo  

Andrew's research investigates the ecological role of incubation calling and prenatal learning in a small Australian songbird - the zebra finch. Specifically, he is investigating whether calling to an embryo can alter its development by exploring the effects of prenatal sound on nestling begging behaviour and cognition. Understanding these adaptations will help us predict how species might respond to extreme conditions occurring under climate change.

Bronwyn Ayre

University of Western Australia and Kings Park - Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority

The Birds and the Bees

Little is known about the impact of birds, mammals and reptiles on pollinating plants. Bronwyn’s research has discovered that insects are not good at pollinating Kangaroo Paw flowers - an iconic group of plants in Western Australia. Flowers visited by insects produce 95% less seed than flowers visited by birds. Improving our understanding of the role that birds and mammals play in pollination will allow us to make more effective management and conservation decisions.

Chaminda Ranasinghe

Edith Cowan University

The bloody affair

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disease that causes cognitive impairment and untimely death in the elderly. There is no definite cure. With a rapidly ageing global population, Alzheimer’s disease poses social and economic challenges. Early detection is critical but current modes of diagnosis are expensive. Chaminda is studying the posttranslational modifications of potential biomarkers identified from human blood to aid early detection of Alzheimer’s disease.

David Harman

Griffith University

Epidemic Modelling: Dealing With Uncertainty

The ability to accurately predict the likely course of an epidemic is invaluable. There are many mathematical models for these predictions, but they all suffer one major flaw: they assume we know how people will behave when infected. David’s research looks at a new method called 'polynomial chaos', which allows us to include this uncertainty directly in the model from the beginning to make the predictions far more accurate and much faster.

Ifrah Abdullahi

University of Western Australia, Telethon Kids Institute, School of Paediatrics and Child Health

Ensuring the scale is equal for all

Ifrah’s research project investigates the health and developmental outcomes of children of immigrant and refugee backgrounds in Western Australia. Its benefits will extend to the mainstream community and particularly communities of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. NOTE: We’d like to offer a big congratulations to Ifrah for making it to the final round. She has had to bow out of the competition due to the imminent arrival of her baby.

Ken Dutton-Regester

QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute

The Switch Up: Making 'Drug-Resistant' Melanomas Sensitive Again

Researchers have linked two known distinct ‘cell states’ in melanoma as being either ‘drug-sensitive’ or ‘drug-resistant’. Evidence suggests melanomas can change from a ‘drug-sensitive’ to a ‘drug-resistant’ cell state during the course of therapy, but it is not yet known which genes are responsible for causing this switch. Ken's research attempts to fill this void to improve long term survival for late-stage melanoma patients.

Maria Nayfa

James Cook University

Supersize Me: Determining the Genomic Health of Selective Breeding Programs

Maria’s research uses a combination of pedigree records and DNA to better understand the effects of supersizing and domesticating fish in order to advise management practices. In particular, she is working with nonprofit organisation WorldFish on the Abbassa Selection Line of Nile tilapia to increase harvest yield and survivability in developing countries in Africa and the Middle East. 

Naomi Koh Belic

University of Technology, Sydney

Multiple sclerosis: a disease in a…dish?

Multiple sclerosis is the most common cause of neurological disability in young adults. However it is poorly understood, as it’s difficult to get pieces of brain tissue from patients and to create an accurate animal model. Naomi's research fills this gap by creating a disease in a dish which uses stem cells that are isolated from fat. This disease in a dish will ultimately lead to more effective treatments for patients.


Nural Cokcetin

University of Technology Sydney

The sweet treat(ment) for your microbiome

Nural's research focuses on the antimicrobial and prebiotic properties of honey, with a drive to use this knowledge to develop new treatments for infections caused by multi-drug resistant superbugs, and to use honey to improve human gut health. Her research has investigated 25 different Australian honeys and her studies show that favourable changes to the beneficial bacteria of the gut could be achieved with daily consumption of just 20g of honey. 

Ronald Chun-Wai Yu


Build the Wall... in Cereal 

Ronald's research looks to enhance the nutritional properties of cereal grains. He and his colleagues have developed a new type of rice with an outer bran layer that is six to seven times thicker than the usual layer, resulting in increased fibres, lipid, minerals, B vitamins, and antioxidants. Ronald's research hopes to give further incentive for wholegrain consumption and provide communities with wholesome and more nutritious food.