18.03.2020

Three leading Australian researchers awarded prestigious Westpac Research Fellowship

Three outstanding researchers focused on Indigenous languages, patent-free drug discovery and synthetic biology to improve renewable energy production, will receive $1.59 million in combined funding to progress their respective research projects, through the Westpac Scholars Trust.

Associate Professor Alice Motion, Dr Yu Heng Lau and Dr Lou Bennett were today announced as the 2020 Westpac Research Fellows by the Trust, in partnership with The University of Sydney and The University of Melbourne. The early-career researchers will each receive over $500,000 to further their research over the next three years, covering their salary and research costs, as well as leadership development opportunities.   

Associate Professor Alice Motion, a chemist, lecturer and science communicator based at The University of Sydney, will use her Fellowship to build greater awareness of science and the power of collaboration between researchers and the community. Extremely passionate about making scientific information and research more accessible, Alice leads projects that seek to connect people with science, including one that focuses on open source drug discovery known as Breaking Good. This international citizen science project unites undergraduates, researchers and school students to work together to find new medicines for diseases that disproportionately affect the world’s poor. In 2019, the Breaking Good team received $250,000 to further their work through the Google Impact Challenge.

Alice is also part of the Open Source Malaria (OSM) consortium, consisting of a team of researchers who do not patent any of their findings. Instead they publish all their work online in real time so that anyone can access their research.

“I feel extremely lucky to have been awarded a prestigious Westpac Fellowship to support the interdisciplinary research within our team and the opportunity to interact with an extraordinary network of past and present Scholars and Fellows,” Alice says.

Dr Yu Heng Lau is an Australian synthetic chemist and bio-engineer. After completing his PhD at the University of Cambridge (UK) and a research fellowship at Harvard University (US), he returned to The University of Sydney with a strong desire to give back to the Australian community through his leadership in research and higher education.

Using synthetic biology – the process of redesigning organisms by engineering them to have new abilities – Yu Heng’s research seeks to enhance the relatively inefficient natural biological process whereby carbon dioxide (CO2) is converted into useful organic compounds. Increasing CO2 conversion efficiency will ultimately help address issues around renewable energy production and climate change.

“The Westpac Scholars Network is full of diverse and talented individuals, and it is a real privilege to be part of this amazing community,” Yu Heng says.

Fellow recipient, Dr Lou Bennett from The University of Melbourne, will use her Fellowship to explore creative ways to revitalise Indigenous languages by partnering with Indigenous communities in the South and on the East Coast of Australia. The first of her projects is underway on the NSW South Coast, where Lou is working on language and song research with the Yuin community.

“‘Positive social change is never insular. Therefore, it is vital we all take every opportunity to observe how that change impacts the community and act accordingly to maintain and nurture that change. I am committed to contributing to the growth of a multilingual Australia, starting with the reinstatement of First Peoples languages and I believe the Westpac Fellowship will support my endeavours,” Lou says.   

According to Susan Bannigan, CEO of Westpac Scholars Trust: “This Fellowship program is designed to support outstanding early-career researchers across a diverse range of fields who share a common goal, to help Australia prosper and grow. Alice, Yu Heng and Lou are all working on such different, yet extraordinary research projects that we believe will have a lasting impact in years to come.”

The Westpac Research Fellowship is co-funded in partnership with the researchers’ respective universities, The University of Sydney and The University of Melbourne.

“This is a unique development opportunity for early career researchers in Australia. Partnering with The University of Sydney and The University of Melbourne to support these individuals gives them access to development and networking opportunities in both academia and the corporate sector,” Susan says.

Beyond the financial investment of the scholarship, the Westpac Research Fellows gain 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.

To learn more about the 2020 Westpac Scholars visit the Westpac Scholars Directory.