Dr Jennifer Lavers, a zoologist with the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery and an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Tasmania, has been named as the Young Tall Poppy (Tasmania) Scientist of the Year.
University of Tasmania Vice-Chancellor, Professor Peter Rathjen, welcomed the announcement of the finalists, saying that the Awards provided excellent recognition for early career scientists. All three are researchers associated with the University of Tasmania.
The 2011 Tall Poppy finalists were celebrated at a function in the University Club attended by the Premier Lara Giddings and the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Peter Rathjen.
Ms Giddings said the government was very pleased to be supporting young scientists.
“We are very supportive of the fact that these scientists become leaders within our school communities as well to help inspire students.
“It is important we have people who share with us the benefits of innovation and change and the ingenuity that comes through research.”
Dr Lavers has focussed in her research on the universal problem of plastic pollution. More than 20 million plastic items enter the ocean each day and these are frequently mistaken by seabirds for food. On Lord Howe Island, she has found that 96 per cent of flesh-footed shearwater chicks (muttonbirds) contain plastic which can block or rupture the digestive tract; one chick examined this year contained more than 275 pieces of plastic.
“Jennifer is not only an outstanding young scientist whose research has global implications but she is also passionate about communicating science to the public,” the chair of the judging committee, Professor Paddy Nixon, who is the UTAS Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), said.
“This combination makes her a very worthy winner.”
Dr Cleland’s research in the field of behavioural epidemiology focuses on understanding individual, social and environmental influences on physical activity among women, children, those experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage and rural populations.
Dr Ferguson is investigating why smokers find it so difficult to quit – in particular how social and environmental factors can influence the success or otherwise of a quit attempt. His research also tries to understand why quit-smoking treatments work for some people but not others.
Also present at the official announcement were the Year 11 and 12 students from Rosny College who won the inaugural Tasmanian Envirothon competition run by the Bookend Trust. Support from Trust donors and Airlines of Tasmania allowed them to work with Jennifer Lavers on Lord Howe Island.
The Young Tall Poppy Science Awards, which recognise achievement in the sciences, including technology, engineering, mathematics and medical research, are organised by the Australian Institute of Policy and Science and presented state-by-state.
Photo: (From left to right) Dr Verity Cleland of the Menzies Research Institute Tasmania, Dr Stuart Ferguson from the School of Pharmacy and Dr Jennifer Lavers, TMAG and UTAS.