Global leadership in research

2015 Research Highlights

In 2015, the University of Newcastle celebrated its 50th year.

To help celebrate, Research Services showcased 50 research stories throughout the year. This landmark year ended like it began – on a high note – with the recent announcement that the University achieved the highest possible '5 - well above world standard' rating across 22 fields of research in the latest Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) assessment, placing UON in the top 8 universities in Australia on this measure of excellence.

The collective efforts of our researchers are not only testament to the quality and breadth of our research, but also to the University's role in seeking solutions to the challenges facing humankind. Below are a few of the highlights for 2015…..

Major Funding

Our researchers again had significant funding success in 2015, attracting more than $10 million in competitive funding from the Australian Research Council (ARC) and $22 million from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).

Grants from the ARC will support a number of disciplines and faculties in 2016, including Professor Mark Stewart's study on the cost-effectiveness of current counter-terrorism measures, Professor Richard Vella's assessment of the economic and cultural value of Australian music exports, and Associate Professor Silvia Frisia's investigation of cave-dwelling stalagmites. After securing more than $690,000 under the prestigious Future Fellowship scheme, Dr Kirsty Pringle will use innovative new technologies to examine a specific receptor in the placenta, with the aim to improve fetal development and reduce chronic diseases such as diabetes.

A total of 21 proposals achieved success in this year's NHMRC funding round, placing us well above the national average in the grants outcomes. Among the biggest winners were Laureate Professor Rob Sanson-Fisher, who secured $3.38 million to improve critical care outcomes for dementia patients, Professor Geoff Isbister, who received $2.5 million to establish the country's first Centre of Research Excellence for venom and anti-venom, Professor Adam McClusky, who received just under $1.2 million for a new approach to treating intractable epilepsy, and Associate Professor Jodie Simpson, whose research into advancing the knowledge of the mechanisms of severe asthma was awarded $698,000.

Cancer research will also feature in the coming months, with two teams from the University and Hunter New England Health winning $4.4 million in funding from the Cancer Council NSW. The organisation also awarded more than $1 million in grants to support Professor Xu Dong Zhang and Dr Nikki Verills as well. Both visionaries plan to focus on identifying new methods for curbing and treating the formidable disease in 2016.

Industry partners were equally generous this year. Dr Kalpit Shah and Professor Behdad Moghtaderi obtained $1.1 million from VTara Energy Group Pty Ltd to set up a demonstration site of a breakthrough sustainable energy technology in India, and the University's Teachers and Teaching Research Program received $71,500 from the National Centre for Vocational Education Research to evaluate Australia's vocational education and training (VET) system.

Prestigious Fellows

Our researchers were recognised by their professional academies throughout the year.

Laureate Professor Paul Foster and Professors Julie Byles and Christopher Levi were elected as Fellows of the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences. Former University Vice-Chancellor, Emeritus Professor Nicholas Saunders, was also acclaimed as an honorary Fellow. They join current Vice-Chancellor, Professor Caroline McMillen, and Pro-Vice Chancellor of Health and Medicine, Laureate Professor John Aitken, who were both welcomed into the eminent scientific fold earlier this year.

A double honour, Laureate Professor Scott Sloan was elected to The Royal Society in May and the Royal Academy of Engineering in September. An internationally respected voice on geotechnical science, the celebrated scholar is renowned for delivering tools that aid the design and implementation of cheaper, safer and more sustainable civil infrastructure.

Still on engineering, Laureate Professor Graeme Jameson was appointed a Fellow of the US National Academy of Engineering in March. The Director of the Centre for Multiphase Processes is one of only 12 foreign members to join the elite group in 2015.

Research Experts

Our researchers were also recognised by professional organisations throughout the year.

September was a particularly busy month in this regard, with two medical research leaders from the University appointed to high-level advisory committees with the NHMRC. Pro Vice-Chancellor of Global Research, Laureate Professor Nicholas Talley, joined the Research Committee, and Hunter Medical Research Institute Director, Professor Michael Nilsson, became a member of the Health Translation Advisory Committee. Both bring a wealth of experience to their new roles.

In October, Professors Jenny Gore and Maxwell Smith and Associate Professor Kathryn Holmes were named co-editors of the 'Teaching and Teacher Education' journal. The prestigious editorship closely follows June's announcement of Professor Lisa Adkins' and Associate Professor Maryanne Dever's editorship of Australian Feminist Studies, and September's announcement of Laureate Professor Nick Talley's sole editorship of the Medical Journal of Australia.

With the city of Newcastle being officially endorsed as a city of the United Nations in November, Associate Professor Graham Brewer will lead the United Nation's latest international training centre for disaster risk reduction.


Top individual and group honours were awarded to our researchers this year in a range of fields and categories.

Professor John Forbes was recognised for his contribution to the medical and public health fields in August, crowned one of the country's foremost innovators with the 2015 Premier's award for Outstanding Cancer Research.

Laureate Professor Scott Sloan was also celebrated by the NSW Premier in the latter half of 2015, named this year's New South Wales Scientist of the Year. This award tops off an extraordinary twelve months of accomplishment for the geotechnical engineer.

On a national scale, Laureate Professor Graeme Jameson became the inaugural recipient of the Prime Minister's Prize for Innovation in October. The country's pre-eminent award for the advancement of science, it acknowledges the chemical engineer's expertise in froth flotation – a technique that recovers large volumes of tiny precious mineral particles during mining processes.

Professors David Lubans and Philip Morgan also earned critical acclaim in October, recognised at the 2015 Asics Sports Medicine Australia Conference with dual 'Best Paper' awards. Professor Morgan also received the Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) Director's Award for Mid-Career Research in November.

In recognition of our Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health with the University of Queensland, UON was presented with the Council of Academic Public Health Institutions Australia's (CAPHIA) 2015 Award for Excellence and Innovation in Public Health Teaching and Research. The CAPHIA award for PhD excellence was given to Dr Ashleigh Guillaumier from the School of Medicine and Public Health.

The HMRI showed support for Professor Julie Byles and Dr Susan Hua in 2015 as well. Professor Byles was honoured as the Hunter's leading researcher with the Award for Research Excellence at the Institute's annual Awards Night, and Dr Hua, an academic pharmacist working in targeted drug delivery using nanotechnology, won first prize for Early Career Research.

At the Vice-Chancellor's Awards for Excellence Ceremony in December, Dr Julia Coffey won the Early Career Researcher of the Year Award and Professor Robin Callister won the Research Supervisor of the Year Award. The Research and Innovation grants team (Kylie Hugo, Megan Stephenson, Natasha Whyte, Angela McPherson, Rebecca Palmer, Neroli Finlay, Rebecca Ford, Martina Asvestas) earned a Vice-Chancellor's Award for Professional Staff Excellence for their initiative in implementing strategies to streamline pre-award and post application activities. Also recognised for supporting our researchers were the MSB Animal Facility Team of Alecia Sheridan and Hayley Boyce, who were awarded an inaugural Vice-Chancellor's Health and Safety Excellence Award, for their dedication in maintaining a safe and productive working environment during the construction phase of the extension to the Animal Behavioural Laboratory.

Early and mid-career researchers

Our emerging scholars headlined many national and international Awards Nights this year.

Dr Malcolm Starkey secured one of Europe's premier international prizes for fledgling respiratory researchers in March, awarded the Klosterfrau Research Grant in Switzerland, to assist his studies on early-life lung infections.

In May, Dr Hannah Power was named one of three finalists in the nationwide search for an Australian nominee for the APEC Science Prize for Innovation, Research and Education. The School of Environmental and Life Sciences lecturer has a keen interest in the morphology of coastal environments, recently focusing on project-modelling tsunami inundation in the state's waterways. She was runner up in a highly competitive field.

Dr Kate Ariotti from the University's Centre for the History of Violence was presented with the prestigious CEW Bean Prize for Military History from the Australian Army History Unit in October. The top nod recognises the esteemed educator's postgraduate thesis, which explored the impact of wartime imprisonment on our soldiers during the First World War.

Dr Nikola Bowden was also celebrated in October, named one of the country's 'Tall Poppies' in science at the Sydney Powerhouse Museum. Honouring Australia's brightest young researchers and communicators, the award recognises Nikola's academic achievement and community engagement in molecular biology. Adding to her achievements, the Australian Academy of Science has announced that Nikola will take on the role as Committee Chair of the Academy's Early- and Mid-Career Researcher Forum.

In November, Dr Andrew Gardner won Research Australia's 2015 Griffith University Discovery Award. The neuroscientist earned the accolade for his research in the field of sports concussion.

Other achievements

This year the University was selected as one of only a few pilot institutions to participate in the Science in Australia Gender Equality (SAGE) initiative. Run over a two-year period, the study will require UON to collect, analyse and present data on gender equity policies and practices in the science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine disciplines.

In September, the University was recognised by The Power of Humanities for its excellence in interdisciplinary research. The book, published by the Australian Academy of the Humanities, highlights the revolutionary efforts of Professors Hugh Craig and Pablo Moscato in applying data analytic techniques to both literature and health. Pooling their skills, they found a way to not only identify a writer's stylistic 'signature,' but also isolate a molecular 'signature' indicating a subtype of cancer that could be treated with targeted drugs.

The Newcastle Institute of Energy and Resources (NIER) experienced a dual milestone in November – opening a new research wing and launching an ARC Industrial Transformational Research Hub for Advanced Technologies for Australian Iron Ore. The precinct will now house more than 350 staff working across a variety of fields.

Brought to you by…..

Our Research Promotion Team of Sally Gordon and Jennifer Fagan, and their writers: Claudie Groves (author of this piece), Fiona Whitton and Sarah Iuliano; and the photographers: Ellen Starrett and James Rhodes - who have all thoroughly enjoyed working with UON researchers this year.

Congratulations, and thank you, to everyone on a very successful 2015.

Lyn McBriarty

Director, Research Services

December 2015