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Menzies researcher named as Tasmanian Tall Poppy

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A researcher at the University of Tasmania’s Menzies Institute for Medical Research is the 2022 Tasmanian Tall Poppy award recipient for her work in helping the community better understand multiple sclerosis (MS).

Dr Suzi Claflin is one of four outstanding researchers from the University of Tasmania who will be recognised with a prestigious Young Tall Poppy Science award at a ceremony in November.

“It’s an honour to be named a Young Tasmanian Tall Poppy. I see my work as connecting people living with MS to the support services that they need and investigating ways that access can be improved,” Dr Claflin said.

The other 2022 Young Tall Poppy recipients are Dr Vishnu Prahalad, Dr Joel Williams and Dr Cayne Layton.

The Young Tall Poppy Science Awards, run by the Australian Institute of Policy and Science (AIPS), honour up-and-coming scientists who combine world-class research with an enthusiastic commitment to communicating science.

Suzi Claflin
Dr Suzi Claflin

Dr Claflin’s research focuses on science communication and supporting the MS community.

She has led the development of a free online course about MS, the Understanding MS Massive Open Online Course, and she is investigating how it affects participants and increases their quality of life.

“I am especially proud of the Understanding MS online course, which has seen 32,000 people enrol from 130 countries. My research shows that 63 per cent of people go on to apply what they learn in their everyday lives,” Dr Claflin said.

Dr Claflin said her main goal is to understand how to better provide people living with MS with the information, support, and healthcare that they need to live well with MS.

As a 2022 Young Tall Poppy recipient, Dr Vishnu Prahalad is geographer with the aim of inspiring all in Tasmania to put the conservation and restoration of Tasmania’s wetlands in their hearts and minds.

He is enthusiastic about the state's coastal wetlands, not just because he finds them interesting to be in, but because they are productive, inspiring environments that play a vital role in pollution control and flood management.

Vishnu Prahalad
Dr Vishnu Prahalad

“I’m honoured by the recognition and see it as reaffirmation of our ongoing work, a collective effort, and over a sustained period, to put wetlands in the hearts and minds of people in lutruwita/Tasmania,”

"My research, at its core, is to help us improve our relationship to wetlands, and to the environment more broadly, for our own well-being.”

Dr Prahalad said it’s both empowering and fulfilling to make a positive contribution to conservation and work with communities and landowners to achieve tangible public benefits.

“Scientists are story tellers, and I believe we have an obligation as often publicly funded story writers to take our stories to the public at large.

“The stories themselves are important, but what is more important is how we communicate those stories to a different audience,” Dr Prahalad said.

Another researcher to be awarded is marine ecologist Dr Joel Williams for his work with the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS).

His research focuses on understanding how human impacts and climate change are influencing fish assemblages on temperate reefs and the Southern Ocean.

Joel Williams
Dr Joel Williams

“It’s an absolute surprise and an honour to be a 2022 Young Tall Poppy,” Dr Williams said.

“It is great to be recognised not only for outstanding science but also outstanding outreach and communication, as this part of the job is so important and often overlooked.”

“What I like about these Young Tall Poppy Awards is that it is not only recognition for research and communication but that the Australian Institute for Policy and Science provides the recipients a platform to aid greater science outreach to the community of Tasmania,” he said.

Dr Williams said it is undeniable that the world’s oceans are changing with climate change, pollution, and fishing, and that this is resulting in shifts on habitats and associated fish distribution and abundance.

“Science communication is essential to transfer new knowledge and information from your office to the desired audience, which ranges from the public, school groups, advisory committees, and managers.

“We do science to make a difference and to help look after the environment and science communication is a big part of this.”

Research Fellow and IMAS lecturer Dr Cayne Layton has described the Tall Poppy award as humbling.

“Tasmania really punches above its weight in terms of research and scientific output, and to be alongside the other recipients, who are all doing such amazing and important work, is wonderful,” Dr Layton said.

As a marine ecologist, Dr Layton combines scuba diving, underwater experiments, and lab studies to research kelp forests. These are large, brown seaweed forests that occur in cool waters around the world. They range in size from less than one metre to over 40 metres tall.

Cayne Layton
Dr Cayne Layton

In Australia, kelp forests are the foundation of the Great Southern Reef, the 8,000-km long cold-water reef system that stretches right along our southern coastline, four times longer than the Great Barrier Reef.

Dr Layton said he is immersing himself in the environments and ecosystems he works on and aims to share that enthusiasm and research with colleagues, students, and the community.

“Kelp forests in regions of Australia are under threat from a variety of stressors, including urban development and climate change.

“My work focuses on how these important and biodiverse ecosystem’s function, and especially how the kelps reproduce and respond to disturbances such as ocean warming.

“I am enthusiastic about understanding, protecting, and even restoring these underwater forests for the benefit of future generations.

“I am passionate about being part of the wider research community that is helping confront the grand challenges of climate change and that will be critical in shaping the future.

“I would like to de-mystify science and research. ‘Science’ for so many people seem like such a distant and abstract concept, but really, science and research are about curiosity and learning.”

The Tall Poppy Campaign started in 1998 by the Australian Institute of Policy and Science (AIPS) to recognise and celebrate Australian intellectual and scientific excellence and to encourage younger Australians to follow in the footsteps of our STEM stars.

The Tasmanian Young Tall Poppy Campaign began in 2009. It has made significant achievements towards building a more publicly engaged scientific leadership in Australia.

Tall Poppies recipients
Dr Joel Williams, Dr Vishnu Prahalad and Dr Cayne Layton are recipients of the 2022 Tall Poppy Awards.