Queensland 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 July 2021 to announce the Queensland Young Tall Poppy Science Award winners.

Congratulations to Dr David Flannery from QUT who has been awarded the 2021 Queensland Young Tall Poppy of the Year.

Eleven 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.

2021 Queensland Young Tall Poppy of the Year

Dr David Flannery

Does life exist elsewhere in our solar system, our galaxy, and beyond? Dr Flannery aims to find out. While the Earth is the only habitable planet in our solar system today, it is likely that the Earth, Venus and Mars were all habitable billions of years ago.

His team has designed and built sensors for studying ancient rocks on Mars. By applying the lessons they have learned studying Earth’s early geological record, they are now investigating ancient habitable environments on Mars with orbiters and rovers.

2021 Queensland Young Tall Poppy Science Award winners

Dr Amanda Rebar

Why do people do what they do instead of doing what they should? Dr Rebar aims to understand motivation and habits – the drivers behind at least half of our behavioural choices.

With strong partnerships with community and industry, she has applied behaviour change science to help understand what motivates people to seek help for mental health, reduce plastic waste in the ocean, cope with fly-in, fly-out work rosters, make safer decisions on the worksite, eat healthier and exercise more.

Associate Professor Divya Mehta

More than 45 per cent of Australians (11 million people) experience a mental disorder during their life. Stress affects everyone, but a key question is – why do we all respond differently to stress?

Associate Professor Mehta studies Australian students, veterans and emergency responders to investigate why people react differently to stress and which risk and protective factors drive this response. Her research has identified that positive lifestyle factors such as social support, exercise and belongingness reduce the negative effects of stress on our genes and benefit our mental health.

Associate Professor Lauren Ball
Griffith University

Nearly all Australians die with at least one chronic disease, costing our country $4.5 billion each year in hospitalisation costs. These chronic diseases can be prevented by maintaining healthy lifestyles.

Associate Professor Ball’s research focuses on how we can improve the health and lifestyles of Australians by changing primary care facilities to focus on preventing illness, rather than treating it too late. Her work helps to understand where we can make changes to support not only patients, but all health professionals.

Dr Adam Frew
University of Southern Queensland

Mitigating the damage caused by insect herbivores to crop plants represents a significant challenge as we work to maintain food production for a growing population. A reliance on synthetic pesticides is unsustainable due to their negative environmental impacts, expense and increasing restrictions on use.

Most crops form a close relationship with a group of fungi that provide nutrients and can help boost plant resistance to pests. Dr Frew’s research examines how these fungi can enhance plant defences and investigates how managing soil fungal diversity can reduce crop damage while simultaneously conserving soil ecosystems.

Dr Laura Diamond
Griffith University

Osteoarthritis has a significant negative effect on quality of life and often causes pain and dysfunction during walking. Non-surgical and non-drug interventions are recommended, but often fail to achieve satisfactory symptom relief and rarely lend themselves to patient self-management.

Dr Diamond’s biomechanics research has proven people with hip osteoarthritis move in a unique and detrimental way. Her work aims to develop smart wearable technology to retrain people with hip osteoarthritis to move in a beneficial way during their everyday activities. This cost-effective technology will empower people with hip osteoarthritis to self-manage their condition and drive their own symptom relief.

Dr Aideen McInerney-Leo
The University of Queensland

Melanoma is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia and 5-10 per cent meet criteria for familial melanoma genetic testing, which can benefit them and their family members. However, this testing is rarely ordered due to the high frequency of melanoma in Australia and a limited number of clinical genetics professionals.

To address this problem, genetic counsellor and researcher, Dr McInerney-Leo is developing and evaluating training programs for upskilling dermatologists to offer genetic testing for melanoma. Her research has the potential to integrate melanoma genetic testing into dermatology clinics across Australia.

Dr Hayley Letson
James Cook University

Traumatic injury is responsible for 10 per cent of deaths worldwide every year and is the leading cause of death among people under 45 years. Importantly, up to half of these deaths occur before the patient reaches hospital. Time is the killer. There is an urgent unmet need for improved treatments to resuscitate and stabilise injured and bleeding patients in the prehospital environment.

With support from the US Military, Dr Letson is developing a novel fluid therapy called ALM that can be administered in the prehospital environment to resuscitate and stabilise patients prior to evacuation to definitive care. ALM stops bleeding, rescues the heart and protects the body after trauma and has multiple potential applications on the battlefield and in civilian emergency care, particularly in regional, rural and remote environments.

Dr Soniya Yambem

Imagine a prosthetic hand that functions like a real hand - think of Luke Skywalker’s hand in Star Wars. This would require seamless integration of electronics with the biological world and very effective communication between the brain and the integrated electronics.

Dr Yamben is a device physicist with extensive experience in developing electronic devices based on organic semiconductors, which are carbon-based materials that are inherently flexible, easily processable and lightweight. She is developing fundamental electronic devices which consume small amounts of power and work at very low voltages to develop transducers between electronic and biological signals.

Dr Fabio Costa
The University of Queensland

Our most fundamental theories of physics, quantum theory and gravity appear to produce paradoxical situations, where it is possible to travel to the past or where time does not exist at all. These possibilities shake the very foundations of physics, which always assumes a linear unfolding of time to make meaningful predictions.

Dr Costa has developed a set of concepts and mathematical tools to describe physical situations without assuming the existence of background time. He is now applying these tools to improve emerging quantum technologies, where, although time unfolds in the ordinary way, the new perspective offers more efficient solutions to certain problems.

Dr Adam Taylor
Griffith University

Chikungunya virus (CHIKV) is a mosquito-borne virus that has emerged as a major global human pathogen, causing explosive outbreaks of debilitating and sometimes fatal disease. Worldwide, CHIKV affects 3.4 per cent of the population each year with no vaccine currently available.

Dr Taylor’s research has shown that disrupting the movement of viral proteins in the cell can weaken or reduce the effect of CHIKV. Attenuated CHIKV produces no disease signs during infection and offers protection from reinfection. This research has produced a live-attenuated CHIKV vaccine candidate that offers a strong protective immune response against CHIKV disease.

Dr Yaqoot Fatima
James Cook University and The University of Queensland

Despite the established success of sleep health programs in reducing the risk and severity of mental health issues, evidence-based interventions to improve the sleep health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are non-existent. Mainstream programs do not align with the needs and expectations of Indigenous peoples and therefore have limited uptake and effectiveness.

Dr Fatima is leading the co-design and delivery of a sleep health program for Indigenous adolescents and facilitating Indigenous youth workers’ training and upskilling to work as a sleep coach in the community. She is also establishing a sleep clinic in remote Queensland led by nurses and Aboriginal health workers, which will be the prototype for rolling out similar services in rural and remote Australia.

Past winners

Find out about the 2020 Queensland Young Tall Poppy Science Award winners.