ATA Scientific would like to thank all those that participated in our April 2021 Encouragement Award promotion.

The theme of our latest competition focused on vaccine hesitancy.  Vaccines have been proven to offer the best defence against deadly infections, yet, there is still a sizeable percentage of people, many from higher-income regions, who are hesitant to receive them. Anti-vaccination was identified by the World Health Organisation as one of the top ten global health threats of 2019. Diseases, such as measles, are making a resurgence and experts say people are avoiding vaccines due to fear and misinformation.

Why do some people believe such devious misinformation? How can we counter this misinformation to restore vaccine confidence as we start to vaccinate the world population against COVID-19?


Three entries were selected to receive our award– first prize at $1500 and 2 runners up at $600 each.

Congratulations to our first prize winner, Carolyn Wang, PhD Candidate at the School of Human Sciences, University of Western Australia, working under the supervision of Dr Kimberley Wang.

Carolyn is a third-year PhD student in the Respiratory Physiology Laboratory at The University of Western Australia, under the supervision of Dr Kimberley Wang and A/Prof Peter Noble. Her PhD project looks at the mechanisms underlying the association between obesity and asthma, following the novel discovery of adipose tissue in the airway wall. Her mission is to explore the role of this airway-associated adipose tissue and how it can contribute to the development of asthma. Understanding the structural and functional implications of adipose tissue within the airway wall may direct future therapeutic interventions for obese asthmatic patients, who experience more severe asthma symptoms and are less responsive to current therapies.

“I hope to continue my career in research by undertaking a post-doc after my PhD. I’m excited to follow the emerging discoveries in respiratory research and hope to contribute to these findings.

This award will be used to attend The Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand’s Annual Scientific Meeting in 2022. I look forward to the opportunity to attending this conference in person, where I can network and share my work with my peers and collaborators”.

Congratulations to our runner up, Farley Kwok van der Giezen, PhD Researcher, at the University of Western Australia, School of Molecular Sciences,  under the supervision of Professor Ian Small.

In collaboration with the ARC CoE Plant Energy Biology group, Farley’s research investigates RNA binding proteins in plants, particularly in early branching plants like ferns. A set of these ancient plants have a unique type of RNA editing which converts uridine to cytidine in their chloroplast and mitochondria. This type of reaction is energetically unfavourable, but these plants have found a way. Uncovering these mechanisms will aid further understanding of how plants actually achieve this. As part of this work, Farley is developing synthetic RNA editing proteins with the goal of developing a molecular tool for improving plant energy production, and possibly even treating human mitochondrial disease.

“My aspirations post-PhD are to work in the Australian synthetic biology space, either in research or industry. I am also passionate about education, outreach, and communication. I would also love to work in government to inform science policy and help bridge the gap between science and the public”.

The award will help Farley attend the 2021 Synthetic Biology Australasia conference later this year.

“The pandemic has stolen the opportunity for all of us to travel to international conferences to share our research and network with the global science community. The opportunity to attend the SBA 2021 conference will be an invaluable experience to present work, share ideas and connect with national colleagues”.

Congratulations to our runner up,  Santhni Subramaniam, third year PhD candidate at the Clinical and Health Sciences, University of South Australia under the supervision of Professor Clive Prestidge.

Santhni’s project focusses on the use of nanoparticles as drug delivery strategies against intracellular infection, in which bacteria have found a nice for survival within immune cells that were programmed to kill them. Santhni has shown some preliminary results to prove her hypothesis and currently is further understanding on the limitation posed by nanoparticles for these infections.

As in-person conferences remain limited, Santhni plans to spend her award money on the next experimental techniques and methods to further validate her current results.

Congratulations to our 3 winners!

But wait there is more!

A surprise $500 prize for significant contribution to our award was given to Armin Kavehei, PhD student at Macquarie University, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, working under supervision of Professor Damian Gore and Professor Grant Hose.

Armin’s project focuses on new methods for the assessment of contaminated sites, using base metal legacy mines as an example. Assessments are usually conducted via soil, sediment and water chemistry, and less commonly using invertebrate assemblages. The responses of whole biological communities provide a better understanding of contamination in soil, sediment and water. Armin seeks to determine whether or not soil and streams near mines are impacted by analysing the presence or absence of biota via measurement of the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) they shed in the environment (i.e., environmental DNA or ‘eDNA’). Similarly, the impacts of contaminants may also be observed in the biota downstream using eDNA. The outcomes of his research will provide tangible benefits for the environment and communities near and downstream of contaminated areas.

Armin plans to use the award to attend ALGA’s 2021 New Zealand Land & Groundwater Conference. “Attending this conference will provide opportunities for me to expand my network of expert collaborators, and introduce myself as a new researcher in this field”. 

We would like to thank all those that participated. The next Encouragement Award will be posted on our website soon.

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