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Posted by SASTA

on 01/04/2021

The Young Tall Poppy Science Awards are run by the Australian Institute of Policy and Science (AIPS) to honour up-and-coming scientists who combine world-class research with a passionate commitment to communicating science. The awards have been running since 1998 and there are now over 800 Tall Poppy alumni across Australia. 

Each month we will be giving you a chance to 'meet' a new Tall Poppy Scientist!

010421 Kylie DunningDr Kylie Dunning

When did you realise your passion for science?

I enjoyed science at school, which led to me completing a Bachelor of Science at the University of Adelaide. My passion for science though, came about when I conducted my first experiment for a research project. I vividly remember the awe and excitement when I realised I was the first person in the world to know this piece of knowledge! It’s the discoveries that create passion.

What are you working on at present?

One of the greatest challenges for IVF clinics is identifying which embryos are suitable for transfer back into the patient’s uterus. Overcoming this challenge would increase the number of patients taking home a baby. The current gold standard technologies include taking a small number of cells from the embryo (known as biopsy), an invasive procedure, and then sequencing the DNA to confirm that the embryo has the predicted number of chromosomes, a process known as pre-implantation genetic testing. As well as being invasive, this procedure shows no improvement in live-birth rate.

We know that aneuploidy, or the presence of cells with a divergent number of chromosomes, is quite common in human embryos. We also know they’re often mosaic, meaning the embryo has some normal cells, and some aneuploid cells. This reduces the chances of a successful pregnancy.

My team and I are developing new technologies that overcome the need for a cell biopsy, these instead use light to take a non-invasive ‘molecular photo’ to assess the health of the embryo.

How will your research impact society?

The inability to conceive one’s own child places a tremendous burden on the parental unit and society as a whole. Affecting 15% of Australians, this stigmatised condition can lead to reduced productivity, financial hardship, relationship breakdown and mental illness. In vitro fertilisation (IVF) is the leading method to address infertility, yet it still has a remarkably low success rate: only 18% of initiated cycles deliver a live birth.

I hope these discoveries will change the way fertility specialists and embryologists select the best eggs and embryos. This will ultimately improve the experience for all seeking fertility care, reducing costs and heartache for hopeful parents.

010321 Yan JiaoDr Yan Jiao

When did you realise your passion for science?

I started to realise my passion for science during high school. That was the time when our curriculum starts to include science related courses such as physics and chemistry.

What are you working on at present?

I am currently working on designing new electrocatalyst materials for the generation of (and consumption of) renewable fuels, including hydrogen. The role of an electrocatalyst materials is twofold; they can speed up the energy conversion reaction – from electrical energy to chemical energy and vice versa, and they can generate more fuels with less energy input.

To reduce the cost of producing these fuels, we need highly active and highly efficient (yet affordable) catalyst materials. The methodology that I am using for the materials design is called computer simulation. I build atomic models on computers, and then ask supercomputers to run specific types of simulations. After simulation, I analyse the results and then made a decision about whether a catalyst material is efficient or not. Based on a fundamental understanding of the reaction mechanisms, I can design desired catalyst materials that can convert more fuel from the same amount of renewable electricity.

How will your research impact society?

My research can help the realization of sustainable and carbon-neutral fuels. Here is how:

My modelling work can design efficient yet affordable materials - for the production and utilization of clean fuels by a process called electrocatalysis. These fuels are produced from renewable energy sources therefore it is sustainable; they are absolutely carbon neutral and do not pollute our planet. These fuels possess high energy density which is good for transportation or exportation.

090221 Yuval YaromDr Yuval Yarom

When did you realise your passion for science?

I have been interested in science for as long as I remember. As a child I used to read about the life of scientists, when I grew up a little I started doing some experiments at home, and as an adult I studied computer science.

What are you working on at present?

My main line of work is on making computers more secure. Specifically, I am analysing computers and software to find vulnerabilities and design countermeasures for those.

How will your research impact society?

Computers are the foundation of modern society, and as such process most of the information necessary for the functioning society.  This information is valuable to  hackers who try to exploit it for their benefit. My work helps protecting our information against such adversaries.

011220 Grace VincentDr Grace Vincent

When did you realise your passion for science?

Almost 10 years ago, I was responsible for performing health assessments on firefighters at the devasting Morwell Fire in Victoria. For 45 days, firefighters battled this huge blaze in hot, smoky conditions with very little sleep – they were exhausted. Since then, I have spearheaded world leading research into the management of firefighters’ sleep and fatigue. I am passionate about promoting my research findings but also the importance of science to the general public. From a young age I have strived for the next ‘Aha’ moment. Each Aha moment, each small discovery, adds one tiny piece of knowledge to the giant jigsaw puzzle that aims to understand life and humanity.

What are you working on at present?

On average, we spend 25 years of our life asleep. You would think with that much practice we would all be A-grade sleepers! Instead, we are in the midst of a sleep deprivation crisis. In today’s fast-paced, digitally-connected world, a good night’s sleep is more elusive than ever before. My research focuses on how to improve sleep in our communities. I particularly focus on workers that are the most sleep deprived, our doctors, nurses, paramedics and firefighters - many of whom are shiftworkers. Shiftworkers are twice as likely to make an error, get injured, or have an accident compared to those that work during the day. My research focuses on ways we can protect shiftworkers by reducing their levels of fatigue and improving their sleep, so that these workers can live healthy and safe lives while they are protecting yours.

How will your research impact society?

My aim is to promote the importance of sleep to the broader public. Modern media is flooded with information about diet and exercise, and sleep often takes the backseat. But sleep is the base on which a healthy mind and body are built, if that base is wobbly, almost all components of health and well-being suffer.

011120 Alice ClementsDr Alice Clement

When did you realise your passion for science?

I didn’t really use the “s-word” as something I was passionate about until late high school when a particularly inspiring teacher helped open my eyes to the huge possibilities and opportunities available through science. However in reality, I was always a kid who loved animals and the outdoors so I suppose it had always been there.

What are you working on at present?

I am an evolutionary biologist and palaeontologist, interested in early vertebrates. This means I study fish and tetrapods (the first terrestrial vertebrates), and in particular the changes that occurred in their bodies over deep geological time. This spectacular transition is arguably the greatest step in evolution, and occurred close to 400 million years ago, in a time Period known as the Devonian. My favourite thing to look at is how the brains of these animals changed as they moved from water to a whole new environment up on land which they eventually went on to successfully colonise.

How will your research impact society?

I am a strong believer that we need to understand the world around us, and appreciate our place on this planet. I don’t think this is fully achievable without understanding the evolutionary history that has led to the diverse array of life on earth today, and it is by understanding the past that we can better prepare for the future.

You can search for a Tall Poppy Scientist using keywords such as Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Earth Sciences, Space Science and more by simply typing your keywords into the search bar on the top righthand corner of the website.

If you find a Tall Poppy you’d like to connect with contact us at outreach@aips.net.au and tell us what you’d like to arrange with that Tall Poppy and we’ll see what we can organise. Please note that our Tall Poppy alumni are all full-time scientists and may not be available for all requests.