Inaugural Westpac Research Fellows selected, giving brilliant minds the chance to shine

Four outstanding early career researchers will receive $2.4 million in funding to further develop their ground-breaking research, following the announcement of the Westpac Bicentennial Foundation’s inaugural Westpac Research Fellowships.

The co-funded Fellowship program is the first of its kind in Australia. The Westpac Bicentennial Foundation has collaborated with Australia’s leading research universities - The Australian National University, The University of Melbourne, The University of Queensland and The University of Sydney - to offer a holistic package of support for early career researchers.

The four successful candidates – Sara Bice, Ivan Kassal, Elizabeth New and Antonio Tricoli – were selected from a long list of highly accomplished individuals based on their innovation, leadership and passion for their work. The research focus areas of these four fellows vary, however they all share a common theme around technology and innovation.

According to Susan Bannigan, CEO of the Westpac Bicentennial Foundation, the impact of this joint investment goes well beyond the lives of these four individuals.

“These early career researchers have the potential to shape our nation’s future,” Ms Bannigan said. “The Westpac Research Fellowships aim to give them – some of our country’s best and brightest – the chance to shine and explore their potential.  In doing so, we are creating pathways for the innovators and true pioneers amongst us to really make their mark and shape history.” 

“The co-creation of this Fellowship with our University partners is a great example of industry and education working together towards addressing the opportunities and challenges facing Australia.”

The Westpac Bicentennial Foundation will contribute $330,000 toward each researcher’s salary, leadership development and global opportunities, while the respective university partner will cover the associated costs of the research, ranging from $94,000 to $650,000 for the inaugural fellows. 

According to Professor Jenny Corbett, Pro-Vice Chancellor (Research & Research Training) from The Australian National University, research in academia is an area of national significance that faces challenges in attracting sustainable funding and connecting outcomes with end users. 

“To have a business-funded Fellowship of this magnitude available to early career researchers is incredibly significant and is a wonderful foundation for the relationship between such a major corporation and research intensive universities,” Professor Corbett said.

In early December, each candidate underwent an intensive assessment by a national selection panel, comprising elite business leaders and academics including David Thodey, Chair of CSIRO and Jobs NSW, and Professor Suzanne Cory, The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute. 

Inaugural Westpac Research Fellows:

Dr. Antonio Tricoli

University: Australian National University

Field of Research: Engineering

Project Title: 'Wearable Nanosensors for Melanoma Prevention'

Project Summary: Dr Tricoli proposes to develop a new technology for Melanoma prevention. He will explore the unique properties of nanoparticles to engineer low-cost UV-light photodetectors for wearable electronics such as smart watches, sport and protective equipment. This will enable the continuous monitoring of personal UV light exposure thus allowing appropriate preventive actions.

Dr. Elizabeth New

University: The University of Sydney

Field of Research: Science

Project Title: 'Handheld devices for measuring the chemical environment'

Project Summary: Monitoring chemical environments is a challenge for many applications, from environmental management to healthcare. To provide inexpensive and convenient solutions, in this project Dr New will develop new chemical sensing systems for incorporation into handheld devices, for remote sensing applications. The devices will be developed for community use and data collection.


Dr. Ivan Kassal

University: The University of Queensland

Field of Research: Chemical Sciences

Project Title: 'Better solar-energy harvesting using quantum effects'

Project Summary: Quantum coherence—long thought to be too fragile to play any role—is now known to affect light harvesting in plants and bacteria. This project will show it plays a role in organic solar cells as well—explaining otherwise puzzling high efficiencies—and that it can be controlled to enhance light-harvesting efficiency.

Dr. Sara Bice

University: The University of Melbourne

Field of Research: Law and Legal Studies

Project Title: 'Managing the space beneath: Evidence-based policy for Australia's underground resources’

Project Summary: Sedimentary basins provide 90% of Australia’s primary energy and water for agriculture and rural populations. But information to support management and governance decisions is lacking. This project advances a 'whole-of-resource' approach to basins management and evidence-based policy for complex issues.