12 Faculty of Science researchers receive ARC funding

The Federal Government has announced $84 million for 200 new projects under the ARC DECRA scheme and a further $7.1 million in funding for research that improves the lives of Indigenous Australians.

Researchers from the Schools of BioSciences, Chemistry, Geography, Mathematics and Statistics, and Physics have been awarded prestigious funding through the ARC Discovery Early Career Research Award (DECRA) scheme.

Each DECRA recipient receives salary support for three years and additional funding for costs essential to their project.

Associate Professor Michael-Shawn Fletcher from the School of Geography has received funding through the ARC Discovery Indigenous scheme. This funding is exclusively for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researches to help investigate areas that impact Indigenous Australians.

ARC Discovery Indigenous recipient

Associate-Professor Michael-Shawn Fletcher, School of Geography – Has it always burned so hot? Fuel and fire in southeast Australian forests.

Indigenous cultural burning has been raised as a way of mitigating against climate-driven catastrophic bushfires in southeast Australian forests. It is argued that returning to an Indigenous style fire regime will keep landscape fuel loads low, thus reducing the frequency and intensity of bushfires and mitigating against large catastrophic bushfires. While based on enormous reservoirs of traditional fire knowledge in Indigenous communities, this assertion needs empirical testing within these highly flammable forests. This project aims to empirically test how fuel loads, fuel type, fire frequency and fire intensity have changed over the past 500 years in southeast Australian forests, spanning the period of Indigenous to British management.

Faculty of Science DECRA recipients

Dr Rebecca Morris, School of BioSciences – Creating shellfish reefs for hazard risk reduction and habitat restoration.

Living shorelines are a potentially powerful solution to two pervasive problems: an increased need for coastal protection; and the restoration of lost habitats. This project aims to investigate the effective application of living shorelines using shellfish reefs. It expects to generate new knowledge to ensure living shorelines achieve both hazard risk reduction and habitat restoration goals. Expected outcomes of this project include an enhanced capacity within Australia for the application of nature-based coastal defence and a better understanding of effective living shoreline design. This should provide significant socio-economic and environmental benefits through the development of a sustainable and adaptive method of coastal defence.

Dr Stephanie Watts-Fawkes, joining the School of BioSciences - Maximising the beneficial impacts of mycorrhizal fungi on grain nutrition.

This project aims to determine the effects of beneficial soil fungi on wheat and rice grain quality for human nutrition using an innovative combination of physiological, molecular and agronomic techniques. The project expects to generate fundamental knowledge in sustainable agriculture, to improve grain quality and value. Expected outcomes of this project include an enhanced understanding of the mechanisms underlying improved grain quality, and the capacity to use soil fungi to increase grain micronutrient concentrations and bioavailability. This should provide significant environmental and societal benefits, such as the promotion of the sustainable use of agricultural soils and more nutritious grain products for human consumption.

Dr Lauren McReadie, joining the School of Chemistry - Developing porous composite materials as high-performance materials

This project aims to improve the adsorption properties of porous materials through enhancing their selectivity and also creating new composites. This research expects to extend application opportunities to encompass real-life scenarios, in particular hydrogen transfer and carbon capture. Expected outcomes are the enhancement of the adsorbent properties of these porous materials, and an improvement of their selectivity and mechanical robustness. This is due to the synergistic strengthening effects of new graphene and nanodiamond composites. The benefit of this research is in bridging the gap between porous material synthesis and industrial application, contributing to Australia's becoming a world leader in clean energy research.

Dr Rebecca Runting, School of Geography - Robust strategies to achieve sustainable savannas under rapid global change

This project aims to design approaches for financial incentive programs that are robust to uncertainties in global climate and economic change while delivering multiple ecosystem services. Despite billions of dollars allocated to landholders, these schemes have not been evaluated under a range of potential futures. This project expects to incorporate an unprecedented range of uncertainties into incentive program design, and test program performance using spatial simulations of Australia’s dynamic savanna rangelands. This should lay the groundwork for applications to other environments facing similarly uncertain futures and may prove vital to ensure we can adapt and thrive in a changing climate.

Dr Stephane Dartois, School of Mathematics and Statistics - Random tensors and random matrices: interactions and applications

This project aims at improving knowledge on probabilistic objects having applications in, for instance, mathematical physics, statistical physics, quantum gravity and data science. In doing so, we expect to produce new mathematical results by building upon both classical approaches and innovative ones. In particular, on one hand, the extension of classical graphical methods will be developed and, on another hand, generalized probability theories will be used to provide new insights. The expected outcomes include a better understanding of the generic properties of quantum states. This should significantly benefit to mathematicians and physicists whose models use those objects and may impact the broader community of engineers and technicians.

Dr Alexandr Garbali, School of Mathematics and Statistics - Toroidal quantum groups, integrable models and applications

Modelling systems of quantum and classical mechanics usually rely on computationally expensive numerical methods. Such methods typically provide raw answers and give little insight. In contrast, a special class of modelling based on quantum integrability provides us with a variety of analytic tools thanks to connections with algebra, geometry and combinatorics. The project aims to study quantum integrability with the help of new exciting developments in toroidal quantum groups. The anticipated outcomes include constructions of new models, developing analytic methods and computer algebra packages. These results are expected to facilitate challenging computational problems in modelling of quantum and classical systems.

Dr Xi Geng, School of Mathematics and Statistics - Inverting the signature transform for rough paths and random processes

The signature transform provides an effective summary of the essential information encoded in multidimensional paths that are highly oscillatory and involve complicated randomness. The main goal of this project is to develop new algorithmic methods to reconstruct rough paths and random processes from the signature transform at various quantitative levels. This project expects to make a theoretical breakthrough on the significant open problem of signature inversion, thereby advancing knowledge in the areas of rough path theory and stochastic analysis. The newly developed methods will be utilised in combination with the emerging signature-based approach to study important problems in financial data analysis and visual speech recognition.

Dr Mingming Gong, School of Mathematics and Statistics - Casual discovery from unstructured data

This project aims to enable machines to discover causal relations from various kinds of unstructured data, such as images, text files, and sensor data. The project expects to promote the causal revolution of data-centric intelligence and science – construct machines that can communicate in the language of cause and effect and answer ‘why’ questions by inferring from unstructured data. Expected outcomes of this project include theoretical foundations for causal discovery from unstructured data and practical algorithms that drive intelligent machines to make rational decisions in real-world scenarios. This should benefit society and the economy nationally and internationally through the applications of artificial intelligence and data science.

Dr Jesper Ipsen, School of Mathematics and Statistics - Stability and complexity: New insights from Random Matrix Theory

Complexity is a rule of nature: large ecosystems, the human brain, and turbulent fluids are merely a few examples of complex systems. This project aims to study and classify criteria of stability in large complex systems based on universal probabilistic models. This project expects to generate new important understanding of stability using cutting-edge techniques from random matrix theory. Expected outcomes of this project include development and expansion of an innovative mathematical framework and techniques which allow a unified and universal approach to the question of stability in large complex systems.

Dr Peter Cox, School of Physics - Exploring the nature of dark matter

This project aims to address one of the key fundamental questions in physics: what is dark matter? Dark matter makes up 84% of the matter in the universe, but we do not know its identity. This project expects to improve our understanding of the fundamental properties of dark matter and how it interacts with ordinary matter. Expected outcomes include new theoretical models of dark matter that will guide future experiments and precision calculations of interactions between dark and ordinary matter that are needed to interpret experimental results. Benefits include enhancing Australian research capacity in an internationally active area of research and advanced student training.

Dr Alexander Wood, School of Physics - Development and application of super-sensitive spinning quantum sensors

This project aims to use a physical rotation of diamonds on timescales faster than quantum decoherence to set new detection limits for precision quantum sensing of electric and magnetic fields. This potentially allows us to see for the first time how the Coriolis force acts on the current flowing in a frame rotating 700,000,000 times faster than the earth. The project's expected outcomes are electro-magnetic sensors with unprecedented sensitivity that could find application in areas ranging from detecting household wiring to locating magnetic anomalies for defence. These outcomes should fill a blind spot of quantum magnetometry, have a commercial impact and expand our knowledge of quantum physics in the rotating frame.

Media contact: Daryl Holland (daryl.holland@unimelb.edu.au)

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