Young Tall Poppy Science Awards

The annual Queensland Young Tall Poppy Science Awards are hosted by the Australian Institute of Policy and Science (AIPS) in partnership with the Office of the Queensland Chief Scientist.

These awards recognise and celebrate researchers who demonstrate scientific excellence combined with a unique passion for science communication, which can inspire young people to enter STEM study and careers.

This event was held in August 2020 to announce the Queensland Young Tall Poppy Science Award winners.

Congratulations to Dr Celine Frere from the University of the Sunshine Coast who has been awarded the 2020 Queensland Young Tall Poppy Scientist of the Year.

Nine other researchers were acknowledged with a Young Tall Poppy Science Award on the night.

All delivered a one minute pitch on the research and communication activities that led to them being short listed for the award.

Read more about this year’s award-winning scientists and their research below.

2020 Queensland Young Tall Poppy Scientist of the Year

A/Prof Celine Frere
Associate Professor Celine Frere

Associate Professor Celine Frere

University of Sunshine Coast

She works in animal behaviour and genetics, in particular how animals adapt to environmental change.

She co-established USC’s Detection Dogs for Conservation initiative, which trains and uses sniffer dogs to assist research on endangered and protected species like koalas and quolls. Additionally, her work tracking a dolphin family led to invaluable insight into the effects of tourism on wild populations.

Associate Professor Celine Frere
– winner of the 2020 Queensland Young Tall Poppy Scientist of the Year

Video transcript

I'm an evolutionary biologist and I use the study of animal behaviour and genetics to understand how animals adapt to environmental change with a strong focus on urbanisation.

For instance, my research on reptiles and koalas has shown whether and how animals can modify their behaviour to minimise the risk of inbreeding and disease transmission in highly urbanised landscapes.

I am also very interested in understanding how cities can drive the rapid evolution of animals that live within it.

For instance in 30 generations alone we know that eastern water dragons in Brisbane city parks are now morphologically and genetically diverging from each other.

This suggests that cities could drive speciation events.

Overall my work aims to understand what animals can and cannot do, so as to better protect them.

2020 Queensland Young Tall Poppy Science award winners

Dr April Reside

Dr April Reside

Dr April Reside

The University of Queensland

She works in ecosystem ecology, using climate models to identify the best future habitats for threatened species. She examines the costs and benefits of different actions to address extinction threats in order to be more effective at saving species.

Additionally, she is a coveted speaker on environmental policy as well as working with community bushcare groups on restoration projects.

Dr April Reside – winner of a 2020 Queensland Young Tall Poppy Scientist award

Video transcript

How much would it cost to save all of Australia's threatened species?

What needs to be done?

How and by who and how much would that all cost?

We know how much it costs to send somebody to the moon and yet, until I started this work, we didn't know how much it would cost to save the koala from extinction.

Not knowing makes it a little bit hard to budget.

The most important thing we can do for our threatened species is to protect their habitat because first of all they need somewhere to live.

For example the endangered black throat finch has lost over 88 per cent of its habitat and so the most important thing we can do is protect all that remains.

Keeping native vegetation in the landscape is important for a whole raft of related environmental issues, such as erosion, salinisation, water quality, climate change, and even drought, but we’ll need smart and strong policy and legal frameworks in order to support these actions.

Dr Michele Barnes

Dr Michele Barnes

Dr Michele Barnes

James Cook University

She explores how people’s social networks can be used to better understand and help solve environmental problems.

Key achievements are evidence that stronger communication between tuna fishers led to significant decreases in shark bycatch, as well as finding that reef health is positively correlated with increased communication by competing fishers.

Dr Michele Barnes – winner of a 2020 Queensland Young Tall Poppy Scientist award

Video transcript

You've likely heard the saying "what you know is who you know".

What this gets at is that social networks matter.

The relationships that we have with our friends, family and colleagues influence our beliefs and behaviors in ways that we're often completely unaware of.

My research focuses on how social networks can help us to understand and solve environmental problems.

I mostly focus on fisheries and coral reefs.

Over three billion people rely on fish and other seafood as their primary source of protein, and reefs are one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet.

Yet with the threats that marine ecosystems are facing, such as pollution, climate change, and overfishing many people are asking are reefs going to be here for our children and grandchildren to enjoy, and what's going to happen to all of those people that rely on fish to support their livelihoods?

My research has shown that cooperative networks among rival fishers can actually lead to larger fish stocks and healthier reefs, helping to support their viability into the future.

Dr Peter Cowman

Dr Peter Cowman

Dr Peter Cowman

James Cook University

His work focusses on the evolutionary origins of coral reef fishes. Using DNA and fossil information he has shown that coral reefs act as a ‘cradle’ where new fish species arise. His work highlights how coral reefs can act as a refuge, important for lineage survival in times of changing climate.

He is a previous recipient of the Gaylord Donnelley Postdoctoral Environmental Fellowship from Yale University.

Dr Peter Cowman – winner of a 2020 Queensland Young Tall Poppy Scientist award

Video transcript

So there's plenty of fish in the sea right?

Well, actually there's plenty of fish species in the sea.

There's over 17,000 different species of all shapes and sizes, and amazingly over one third of them are found on tropical coral reefs.

Why are so many fish species in coral reefs?

Where do they come from?

My research answers these questions by giving fishes their own version of

Using fish DNA and fossils I build family trees for different groups of fishes to trace their ancestry over millions of years.

Corals and fish actually share 400 million years of evolutionary history, but it's only in the last 30 million years that we begin to see what we call modern day reef fishes.

Coral reefs are really important during this time for the birth of new fish lineages but also their survival in times of climate change.

Today corals and fishes face many challenges under a changing climate.

What does the future hold for coral reef fishes?

We might find out by looking at their past.

Dr Fernando Guimaraes

Dr Fernando Guimaraes

Dr Fernando Guimaraes

The University of Queensland

His research seeks to develop more effective cancer therapies by understanding why and how cancer cells escape the killing action of the so-called Natural Killer (NK) cells—a subset of the immune system. He has already uncovered a key cancer-escaping mechanism that could be actioned clinically.

He also organises public cancer research forums, and fundraising for foundations like Cure Cancer Australia. He is also passionately involved in mentoring students and early-career scientists.

Dr Fernando Guimaraes – winner of a 2020 Queensland Young Tall Poppy Scientist award

Video transcript

My name is Dr Fernando Guimaraes from the University of Queensland Diamantina institute.

I was always passionate to try to understand how come we get diseases like cancer and infection, which our body should be able to take care of.

For that reason I am passionate about immunology, and I studied it and became an expert on Natural Killer [NK] lymphocytes, a white blood cell that is present to cleaning us and patrolling cells and making sure that an infected cell or a cancer cell doesn't spread.

For that, I started to build up a research portfolio around the natural killer cells to try to further classify them as a potential immunotherapy intervention, and build up my vision, which is that the cure can be inside of us.

Dr Susanna Cramb

Dr Susanna Cramb

Dr Susanna Cramb


Susanna’s research aims to understand where, when and why diseases like cancer and diabetes have poorer outcomes. Statistical models are used to identify differences which allows policy makers to address these.

Her work on cancer survival rates led to a policy change, addressing the need for increased funding for rural cancer patients. She was also a lead developer of the Australian Cancer Atlas, an online tool that found international imitation.

Dr Susanna Cramb – winner of a 2020 Queensland Young Tall Poppy Scientist award

Video transcript


The word to send shivers down your spine.

Doesn't it?

Yet it's through statistics we can unlock our world.

I use statistics to identify and help understand inequities in some of the leading diseases worldwide, such as cancer.

This year it's expected that almost 150,000 Australians will be diagnosed with cancer.

My research has found stark inequities in cancer survival between the suburb and areas across our nation, such as city and the bush.

I'm also investigating how injuries and diabetes related foot amputations vary across our state.

The word statistics still send shivers down my spine, but now it's not of dread, but of delight.

To summarize my research:

There once was a biostatistician

Who found health inequities worth mention

For cancer and more

Stark inequities galore

Their maps gain government attention.

A/Prof Sumaira Hasnain
Associate Professor Sumaira Hasnain

Associate Professor Sumaira Hasnain

Mater Research Institute

Her work focuses on childhood disease prevention, especially on respiratory viruses, which can lead to pneumonia. Additionally, her research enables her to test for many novel therapeutics for diseases such as diabetes, obesity, arthritis and inflammation.

She was the recipient of the 2019 Mary McConnel Career Boost Program for Women in Paediatric Research from the children’s hospital foundation.

Associate Professor Sumaira Hasnain – winner of a 2020 Queensland Young Tall Poppy Scientist award

Video transcript

My name's Sumaira Hasain and I'm an immunologist at the Mater research institute at the University of Queensland.

I work on viral infections.

As we all know viral infections are the major cause of mortality at the moment.

Endemic and emerging viral infections can cause a lot of morbidity and mortality.

I'm interested in studying viral infections in children.

As a parent of two I'm always getting worried about whether my children are sick.

By the age of two most children have had the virus infection called respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

I'm interested in understanding what the immune system does in this virus infection and how we can target it to improve the symptoms in children that are affected by it most.

We've identified an immune factor that's released by our white blood cells and that can actually help the virus replicate, and so blocking this is beneficial in the host.

I work with expert clinicians to now develop this as a therapeutic so we can give it to children with RSV.

Dr Andreas Kupz

Dr Andreas Kupz

Dr Andreas Kupz

James Cook University

His research tries to replace the current tuberculosis vaccine with one that also works in adults. By working with animal models of tuberculosis and a unique group of Indigenous Australian children that get vaccinated against tuberculosis, he tries to understand the changes that occur in the immune system following vaccination and how these change from children to adult.

In his short career he has received 14 different awards and prizes. He is an avid science communicator with numerous community and media engagements regarding his research.

Dr Andreas Kupz – winner of a 2020 Queensland Young Tall Poppy Scientist award

Video transcript

What if I told you that there was a disease waiting on our doorsteps that is highly contagious and kills more people than COVID-19.

This disease is called tuberculosis and claims about 1.5 million lives every year.

My research focuses on the development of an effective lifelong vaccine against tuberculosis.

The current tuberculosis vaccine is called BCG and only works in children, has very limited protection in adults, and is not recommended for use in people with suppressed immune system, such as those living with AIDS.

My team works on genetically changing BCG so that it also works in those people with immune suppression or adults.

We have already developed a prototype vaccine and we're currently working on ways of making even more effective by changing the way it's being delivered.

Tuberculosis mainly affects poor countries, so recognition in these awards is very helpful to raise awareness of the problem and to our efforts of finding solution to the most important infectious disease in the world.

Dr Laura Bray

Dr Laura Bray

Dr Laura Bray


Her laboratory creates 3D human mini tissues for realistic cancer research which are used by collaborators throughout the world. Not only does her work place Queensland at the forefront of cancer research technology, it has the potential to reduce animal testing.

She is an advocate for Women in STEM and has also managed two high school research placement programs.

Dr Laura Bray – winner of a 2020 Queensland Young Tall Poppy Scientist award

Video transcript

My name is Dr Laura Bray. I'm a senior research fellow based at the Queensland University of Technology.

My research is focused upon developing more realistic ways for us to study cancer.

The majority of cancer research is performed by growing cancer cells on a two-dimensional surface such as plastic or glass.

And this doesn't replicate human biology because humans are not two-dimensional.

So my team is developing three-dimensional ways for us to study cancer.

And to do this we use a jelly-like substance called a hydrogel.

In this hydrogel we can grow cancer cells, we can watch them interact with other cell types that are naturally in these tissues, and we can also assess their response to cancer treatments.

One of the main problems is that 95 percent of drugs that work on those traditional two-dimensional cultures will fail once they reach the clinic.

So we hope that these three-dimensional methods will help provide more realistic results, so that the right drugs are making it to the clinic, at a faster time and also the treatments are more personalised to the patient.

Dr Johanna Nalau

Dr Johanna Nalau

Dr Johanna Nalau

Griffith University

Her research into climate change adaptation made her a pioneer in adaptation heuristics. She compares complex theories with actual decisions made in how we can adapt to climate change, and examines the robustness of these decisions.

Her expertise is frequently sought after by United Nations and she is a Lead Author of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Dr Johanna Nalau – winner of a 2020 Queensland Young Tall Poppy Scientist award

Video transcript

Adaptation to climate change is going to be one of the key challenges of our time.

With warmer temperatures we're going to see more increased rainfall, more flooding, human health impacts as well, and even new kinds of pests that will all alter the way that we live our lives.

My research looks at adaptation heuristics, which are rules of thumb that people use to make decisions, about how to deal with impacts of climate change.

I investigate where, how and when these are actually good guides for decision making and for policy development as well, and in which cases they shouldn't be used.

My resource provides practical guidance based on empirical evidence, how we can make better decisions today, to build more resilient and adaptive societies.

Past winners

Find out about past winners by visiting the Tall Poppy Campaign website.