Flinders University is a high achiever in this year’s Tall Poppy Science Awards.
Flinders has scooped five of the 10 South Australian awards that recognise outstanding research by young scientists and science communicators.
From helping save endangered blue whales to safeguarding Australian food safety, the Flinders winners in the 2018 the Australian Institute of Policy and Science (AIPS) awards are recognised as high achievers in their fields, from psychology and politics through to biological and environmental sciences.
The awards aim to promote broad community understanding of how innovative research and discoveries make a difference.
Dr Catherine Attard, a lecturer in molecular ecology at the College of Science and Engineering, is researching how assessing DNA can help the management and conservation of native freshwater fish in Australia, and endangered blue whales in the Southern Hemisphere. This translates to using genetic markers to determine such vital information as the degree of mixing between populations and genetic diversity. Through this, Dr Attard has developed and implemented advances in captive breeding and reintroduction programs, while also uncovering some dangerous human impacts on species.
Associate Professor Emma Thomas, from the Flinders University College of Education, Psychology and Social Work, is an expert in social psychology who studies how people and societies change. She believes that personal and social change are inextricably linked, which leads her to examine when and how people respond to humanitarian injustice; when people take up arms or engage in violence to affect social change; and what role modern communication technologies such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube take in initiating social change.
“My research provides a road map for promoting civic and political engagement, especially with humanitarian causes, as well as shedding light on ways to prevent extremism,” says Associate Professor Thomas. Her findings have been used to inform campaign strategies for such groups as World Vision Australia and Global Poverty Project.
Dr Harriet Whiley (College of Science and Engineering) is an environmental microbiologist with specific interests in water quality and food safety. As a lecturer in environmental health, she informs health professionals about best practice to protect human health from pathogens present in the environment. Dr Whiley’s multidisciplinary approach and industry collaborations tackle a range of public health issues, with keen focus on guarding against salmonella, and identifying legionella in drinking water.
Dr Ryan Balzan (College of Education, Psychology and Social Work) is a psychologist studying the symptoms of delusional beliefs, focusing on how problematic thinking styles affect the development and maintenance of delusions for individuals with psychosis and people with mild delusional tendencies. He is conducting one of the first randomised controlled trials of a new individually-administered treatment for psychosis, called metacognitive therapy (MCT+). This aims to develop an awareness of the implausible content of a delusion but also targets the underlying cognitive biases that foster and maintain these beliefs. Dr Balzan is adapting this program to target the unrealistic beliefs characteristic of eating disorders, especially regarding body image, weight and shape.
Dr Rodrigo Praino, Senior Lecturer in Politics and Public Policy (College of Business, Government and Law), examines what drives social policy decisions, through three interconnected branches of research. The first assesses issues related to inequality in the USA, Australia and other countries – especially how states shape social policy to address health, education and income disparities among the population. The second analyses the career paths of policymakers, focusing on what determines their political behaviour and resulting policy outcomes. The third assesses policy outcomes that differ according to gender, ethnicity, ancestry, age and other features.
Dr Praino is currently working on several international projects, including a study with American collaborators on the political consequences of scandals involving policymakers and a study with Canadian collaborators on the effects of policymakers’ physical appearance. He also is working with Italian collaborators on Italian-American politics and policy, and a study on child poverty in Malaysia, financed by UNICEF and the Malaysian Government.
Several of the 2018 Tall Poppy Science Award winners will be considered for the overall Young Tall Poppy of the Year Award, to be announced as part of the SA Science Excellence Awards ceremony in Adelaide on Friday 10 August.