05.03.2020

$1.8 million in scholarships awarded to 15 bright young Australians investigating solutions to global challenges.

Next generation solar technology, futureproofing farmers’ crops from climate change, and better understanding the genetics behind Autism Spectrum Disorder are just three of 15 research projects a group of outstanding postgraduate students will be undertaking with the support of Westpac Scholars Trust.

Today the Trust announced its 2020 Westpac Future Leaders Scholars, recognising 15 ambitious young Australians who are investigating solutions to some of our most pressing global problems.  Each recipient will receive up to $120,000, covering their postgraduate studies, a nine-month bespoke leadership development program and the opportunity to study abroad.

Amongst this year’s recipients is Daniel Balzer, a theoretical physicist from The University of Sydney, pioneering creative solutions to tackle the world’s energy crisis. Daniel plans to use innovative theoretical techniques he has developed, to better understand and accelerate the efficient and economic design of materials involved in energy conversion and storage, including next-generation solar cells.

“I believe solar technologies have an important role to play in tackling the challenge of climate change. And our sunny home, Australia, has a huge strategic advantage to benefit from solar energy,” says Daniel.

The Australian National University PhD student, Sam Coggins is also focused on climate change, researching ways to future proof the agricultural industry.

“I'm undertaking an interdisciplinary PhD dedicated to improving crop insurance against climate change for farmers at home and abroad. I'm passionate about integrating agricultural science with farmers’ knowledge.” Sam continues, “As part of my Westpac Future Leaders Scholarship I’ll undertake internships in Asia and complete an online design-thinking course through MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology).”

According to Westpac Scholars Trust CEO, Susan Bannigan, “The Future Leaders Scholarship program gives some of Australia’s brightest and most ambitious students the chance to pursue their big ideas. Partnering with Australia’s leading universities to invest in this innovative thinking is something we need now more than ever.”

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), a common neurodevelopmental disorder, affects as many as one in 70 children on a global scale. Through recent technological innovations, scientists have been able to identify specific genes driving the onset of ASD. Monash University PhD student and 2020 Westpac Future Leaders Scholarship recipient, Kealan Pugsley, says she plans to use gene-editing technology to investigate how these genes impact brain development.  

“I will be working with a team of researchers to characterise how these newly identified genetic drivers of ASD can alter neurological development using CRISPR – the most innovative gene-editing technology within the field - and the downstream effect these have on cognitive function among kids affected by ASD,” says Kealan.

Beyond the financial investment of the scholarship, every Westpac Future Leaders Scholar gains lifelong access to the Westpac 100 Scholars Network. Growing by 100 scholars a year across the Westpac Scholars Trust’s five scholarship programs, the network connects a community of people from all walks of life with the ideas and drive to help shape a better future for all Australians.

“The Westpac Future Leaders Scholarship goes above and beyond financial support to provide the opportunity to truly develop myself as a leader both within my field, but also within a dynamic, interdisciplinary global workforce.” Kealan continues, “There is no other program afforded by any other academic or philanthropic body which focuses so deeply on providing the means and motivation for its scholars to grow into drivers of change.”

The Westpac Future Leaders Scholarship is offered in partnership with The University of Adelaide, The Australian National University, The University of Melbourne, Monash University, The University of Queensland, The University of Sydney, University of New South Wales, The University of Tasmania and University of Western Australia.

For a full list of 2020 Westpac Future Leaders Scholars and to learn more about their studies, visit the Westpac Scholars Trust website.