Four researchers from The University of Western Australia will receive more than $3 million from the Australian Research Council Future Fellowship scheme to fund a diverse range of projects - from the origin of life on Earth and a history of Soviet war experiences to the future of crops in a phosphorus-scarce world, and 3D optical microscopy expected to facilitate unprecedented insights into the structure of tissue.
The four new UWA Future Fellows, whose projects will be funded over four years, were announced this week.
Associate Professor Megan Ryan, of the School of Plant Biology, will receive $887,482 to investigate how plants adapt to fluctuations in phosphorus. Phosphorus is commonly used on farmland to ensure high yields. However, rock phosphate reserves are declining and leaching of phosphorus from farmlands into native vegetation and water bodies causes significant environmental degradation. As a result, more phosphorus-efficient farming systems are urgently required.
Associate Professor Ryan said many Australian native plants had adapted to low phosphorus soils and fast fluctuations in phosphorus availability.
"This project aims to investigate plant adaptations to phosphorus fluctuations and the potential for storing phosphorus when it is abundant for later use," she said. "This should aid development of crops with improved phosphorus fertiliser-use efficiency in anticipation of a phosphorus-scarce future."
A project by Dr Peter Munro, an Australian Postdoctoral fellow with the School of Electronic and Computer Engineering and the Centre for Microscopy, Characterisation and Analysis (CMCA), will enable 3D optical microscopy to image deeper within tissue, ultimately aiding research fields such as neurobiology.
"This will be achieved by a foundational approach called computed cicroscopy that combines novel numerical methods, high performance computing and optical microscopy," Dr Munro said. "This project aims to develop a 3D quantitative imaging method that will provide unprecedented insight into the structure of tissue with sub-cellular detail. This information can then be used to computationally reverse light scattering within the sample, allowing fluorescence microscopy at unprecedented depths within tissue."
Dr Munro will receive $772,104 in funding.
History Professor Mark Edele, of the School of Humanities, will receive $961,085 for a project which aims to write a history of Soviet war experiences and chart the varieties of wartime experiences on Soviet-held territories between the outbreak of the Second World War in Asia in 1937 and the end of the counter-insurgency in the western borderlands by 1950.
"Rather than extract one, allegedly 'typical' experience, this project aims to focus on the range, variety, and complexity of wartime experiences of ordinary (and some extraordinary) people living, fighting, surviving, dying, or passing through the lands controlled, sometimes more, sometimes less, by Stalin and his political apparatus during the years of war in the 1930s and 1940s," Professor Edele said.
Assistant Professor David Wacey, of the School of Earth and Environment and the CMCA, will receive $767,444 for a project which aims to provide new insights into the origin of life on Earth, life's diversification through the Precambrian, and the co-evolution of life and early Earth environments.
Assistant Professor David Wacey said the project would be discipline-leading in that it would take the study of early life to the sub-micrometre and hence sub-cellular level.
"This will facilitate new opportunities for identifying the types of life present during early Earth history, their metabolisms, cellular chemistry and interactions with their environment.
"This project aims to also provide new search engines and more robust assessment criteria for life on other planets, and help to resolve specific scientific controversies, for example, the validity of claims for cellular life from 3.5 billion-year-old rocks."
David Stacey (UWA Media Manager) (+61 8) 6488 3229 / (+61 4) 32 637 716