Faculty of Science

2015 Rising Stars

Further information

  • UWA Science Global
Trees and stars at night

This event is an opportunity to showcase the breadth of research that takes place within the Faculty, showcasing eleven presentations on the evening (one from each School, plus the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research and Centre for Plant Energy Biology).

Each nominee is given three minutes to present their research/thesis after which guests, including donors and Faculty of Science alumni, are invited to vote for their favourite presentation. The top three win a cash prize to be spent on furthering their research.

2015 Rising Star winner: Dr Laura Boykin

Dr Laura Boykin, who won the Faculty of Science Rising Star event in 2015, shared the $10,000 with her PhD student James Wainaina an Australian Awards Scholarship winner from Kenya.

Their study focuses on unravelling the distribution patterns of the whitefly (Bemisia tabaci) and associated, viral diseases within heterogeneous smallholder cropping systems in Sub-Saharan Africa and specifically Kenya. They conducted field surveys between 2015 and 2016 across 120 farms in five counties of Western Kenya.

Funding from the Rising Star award is facilitating next generation sequencing of viral symptomatic plants by purchasing an Illumina TruSeq kit for $8000 and $2000 for sequencing and RNA extraction kits. Using this advanced technology, they are in the process of answering a few fundamental questions: what viruses circulate within such cropping systems? What is the role of whitefly vector in there transmission?

Key outputs of the study will be the establishment of on-field diagnostic tools to facilitate rapid identification of the whitefly vectors and viruses. In addition to identifying key drivers that influence vector-viral dynamics that are crucial in designing appropriate farming practices, relevant to smallholder farms across the developing countries.

Laura and James would like to thank everyone who donated to the Rising Stars fund for generously supporting their research.

The 2015 winning presentations

The Faculty has benefited from a number of philanthropic gifts for the specific purpose of recognising early career researchers and is able to offer a prize pool of $20,000 this year. This year's winners were:

  • Laura Boykin: First prize – $10,000
  • Ullrich Ecker: Second prize – $6,000
  • Peter Metaxas: Third prize – $4,000

2015 event photos


Dr Laura Boykin
Save the cassava! Controlling whiteflies in East Africa will give 700 million people more food to eat.

Cassava is a poverty fighter. If small scale family farmers in East Africa have healthy cassava they can 1) Feed their families and 2) Generate income for necessities such as school fees and medical expenses. My group is helping farmers by using genomics and high performance computing to tackle the whitefly devastation.
Dr Jay Ebert
The development of surgical and rehabilitation techniques in the best-practice treatment of patients with knee articular cartilage pathology.

This presentation will outline the breath of research I have undertaken throughout and following my PhD, with respect to the development of best-practice surgical and rehabilitation techniques following Autologous Chondrocyte Implantation, an innovative and successful surgical method for the repair of knee cartilage damage.
Dr Ullrich Ecker
The effects of misinformation on reasoning and decision making.

Vaccines cause autism. Evolution is just a theory. Chocolate prevents dementia. Such myths are common and, alas, affect people’s reasoning and decision making even after being debunked. My research aims to improve our understanding of such misinformation effects, and to develop strategies to reduce their impact on public decision making.
Dr Matt Hipsey
Improving the health and resilience of environmental waters in the information age

Our lakes, rivers, wetlands and estuaries provide critical services to society yet remain subject to degradation on a global scale. Advances in sensors and computing are driving a revolution in how we study the environment and creating new opportunities to manage waterways to be resilient in the face of ongoing development.
Dr Renae Hovey
Investigating lobsters and their habitats through the eyes of robots

Seafloor surveys have been restricted in scale or scope, with more time spent in outer-space than exploring what’s under the waves. This is slowly changing with the realisation that our oceans hold the key to one of humanities grand challenges – food security. To ensure sustainable exploitation of our oceans food resources, we need to understand more about the relationships between key habitats and commercially important species and have the ability to accurately measure our impacts on food producing ecosystems. And we are starting to do this with the help of robots.
Dr Marit Kragt
The sense and sensibility of integrating economics in 'science' projects

Economics is not just about financial costs and benefits. I will show how economic analyses can be used to estimate the intangible benefits of environmental management in the Kimberley. Integrating such economic information in scientific projects can add the necessary dimension to make more efficient environmental decisions.
Dr Peter Metaxas
Making nano-detectors for nano-particles: Moving towards new portable medical diagnostics tools

My work is focused on developing extremely small electronic devices for detecting microscopic magnetic particles. These particles can be used to capture and tag disease markers in blood samples (hence the interest in detecting them). This research aims to open up new possibilities in cheap, portable medical diagnostics tools.
Dr Joshua Mylne
Chemical control of flowering
Weather is unpredictable, but farmers still have to use long term weather predictions to decide which crop strain to sow so that it flowers and sets seed at the right time of year. We are developing a new crop strain that farmers can chemically control the flowering of. It will help boost yields and improve land use.
Dr Peter Noble
Searching for the mechanism of airway hyperresponsiveness in asthma

The presentation will discuss a primary abnormality of asthma known as airway hyperresponsiveness – exaggerated airway narrowing in response to an inhaled trigger. Using tissue from human subjects undergoing lung surgery, we provide the first biological evidence that an increase in the thickness of the airway smooth muscle increases airway narrowing capacity.
Dr Danail Obreschkow
What we learn from bubbles in microgravity

Together with The Swiss Institute of Technology we investigate vapour bubbles in water under microgravity conditions. Conducted on parabolic flights with the European Space Agency, these experiments provide critical data for the optimisation of hydropower generation and medical treatments, while ensuring Australia’s access to the world’s largest suborbital microgravity platform.
Dr Amanda Ridley
Why be social? A critical analysis of the evolution of sociality and the costs and benefits of helping others.

Sociality and the sharing of skills is assumed to be a primary precursor to the development of human civilization and technological advancement. Yet surprisingly few quantitative measures on the costs versus benefits of group-living have been obtained. I use a long-term research project (that I established myself) to directly address this question.

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