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Research careers shift into high gear with ARC DECRA grants

Research | Newsroom

Four early-career researchers from the University of Tasmania have been awarded a total of $1,773,740.00 in the Discovery Early Career Researcher Awards (DECRAs), funded by the Australian Research Council.

The funding scheme provides support across a broad range of areas, aimed to increase Australia’s research and innovation capacity and generate new knowledge.

The Australian Research Council (ARC) Chief Executive Officer, Ms Judi Zielke PSM said more than $86 million in total had been awarded to 200 new research projects.

“[New knowledge leads to] the development of new technologies, products and ideas, the creation of jobs, economic growth and an enhanced quality of life in Australia,” Ms Zielke said.

The University of Tasmania’s DECRA Fellowship recipients are working on diverse projects including using chemistry to tackle greenhouse gas emissions, predicting sea-level rise caused by melting Antarctic ice sheets, harnessing carbon storage by the Southern Ocean to help abate climate change, as well as an investigation of brain stimulation protocols to improve motor learning.

Dr Chen Zhao, Australian Antarctic Program Partnership, Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies

Project: Great Antarctic uncertainties: How to better predict rising sea levels, awarded $444,000.00

Dr Chen Zhao

“We urgently need better projections of future sea-level rise that will enable us to plan for and adapt to widespread and costly coastal impacts in Australia and around the world."

“However, current models are constrained by significant gaps in our understanding of how the Antarctic Ice Sheet is changing and its crucial role in driving global sea-level rise.

“My work will include, for the first time, the influence of interactions between the subglacial hydrologic system (the flow of water at the base of a glacier) and surrounding ocean circulation on the ice sheet dynamics, using a coupled ice–ocean–hydrology model.

“I feel truly honoured to receive a DECRA grant and exhilarated at the opportunity to make a meaningful impact in this critical field of Antarctic science.”

Dr Curtis Ho, School of Natural Sciences

Project: Original metal-based catalysts for enzyme-inspired CO2 activation, awarded $417,237.00

Dr Curtis Ho

“My research involves developing new catalysts that can transform carbon dioxide from being a detrimental greenhouse gas into new sustainable materials and carbon neutral fuels."

“The guiding concept behind my research is that by mimicking the active components of known natural enzymes capable of transforming molecules such as carbon dioxide, we may be able to emulate processes perfected by nature and apply them to our manufacturing and energy industries.

“Overall, this work will prepare Australia to emerge at the forefront of net negative carbon emissions.

“I feel relief and gratitude to have received a DECRA Fellowship; it is acknowledgment of the time and effort I have put into my research, but also those who have trained, mentored and nurtured me.”

Dr Tyler Rohr

Dr Tyler Rohr, Australian Antarctic Program Partnership, Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies

Project: Evaluating the Impact and Efficiency of Engineering the Ocean to Remove CO2 awarded $451,697.00

“The Southern Ocean naturally absorbs a large amount of carbon dioxide through the biological pump, where carbon is taken from the atmosphere by microscopic plants and then transferred to depth through various biological and physical pathways.

“My work aims to accurately simulate the role of zooplankton grazing in determining the strength of the biological pump, then to use improved models of the marine carbon cycle to better predict the ocean’s ability to store carbon and keep the planet liveable."

“These projections will help people decide if, when, and how we should geoengineer the ocean to remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

“This is such an exciting prospect that could really help fix the mess we’ve made with the climate; it’s also incredibly humbling to think about the audacity of it.”

Dr Raphael Hamel, School of Psychological Sciences

Project: Learning how we learn: linking inhibitory brain circuits to motor learning, awarded $460,806.00

Dr Raphael Hamel

“My research agenda is centred on one of the most fundamental questions in neuroscience: understanding the relationship between brain activity and human behaviours. Specifically, I aim to characterise the fundamental changes occurring in one of the major brain circuits – inhibitory brain circuits – as humans learn new motor skills."

“This is an exciting research area, as characterising such fundamental changes opens the way to manipulating learning capabilities by altering brain activity. Ultimately, this could lead to the development of brain stimulation intervention to facilitate learning in school children, athletes, medical and military personnel, as well as ageing adults.

“I feel tremendously honoured and grateful for obtaining a DECRA fellowship. I am excited at the prospect of expanding my research agenda in beautiful Tasmania!”

Cover image credit: UTAS