Featured image above: L’Oréal Women in Science fellow Dr Camilla Whittington. Credit: University of Sydney
Four researchers from the University of Sydney, the University of Wollongong and the University of Auckland were announced as the 2016 L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science fellowships at a ceremony held in Melbourne on Tuesday.
Early-career veterinary scientists Dr Camilla Whittington and Dr Angela Crean joined chemists Dr Jenny Fisher and Dr Erin Leitao to receive $25,000 each towards a one-year project.
According to L’Oréal, the Women in Science fellowships were established to “support and recognise accomplished women researchers, encourage more young women to enter the profession and to assist them as they progress their careers”. The fellowships began in 1998, and have recognised over 2,000 women around the world since then.
From the University of Sydney:
“Both Dr Whittington and Dr Crean are early career researchers in the Faculty of Veterinary Science, working in the area of reproduction; both are in research positions funded through the Mabs Melville bequest in excess of $7.2m – one of the biggest gifts ever received by Veterinary Science.
Dr Crean’s work with sea squirts and fly sperm
Dr Crean’s initial research, using the sea squirt as a model organism, showed males can adjust their sperm quality and quantity in response to a perceived risk that their sperm will have to compete against another male’s sperm to fertilise an egg. The sperm quality also had adaptive consequences for both fertilisation and offspring survival.
Similar work using the neriid fly showed sperm quality could be adjusted by the father’s diet and social environment.
The L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellowship will allow Crean to conduct a proof-of-concept study supporting her transition from pure evolutionary research to practical applications in human reproductive health and medicine.
Dr Whittington’s research into pregnant lizards, fish and mammals
Dr Whittington, who last year was one of five University of Sydney researchers who won a 2015 NSW Young Tall Poppy Science Award, is using cutting‐edge techniques to identify pregnancy genes – the instructions in an animal’s DNA causing them to have a live baby rather than laying an egg.
‘Pregnant lizards, fish and mammals face complex challenges, like having to provide nutrients to their embryos and protect them from disease,’ Whittington says.
‘My research suggests that these distantly related animals can use similar genetic instructions to manage pregnancy and produce healthy babies.’
Whittington’s fellowship will allow her to investigate how the complex placenta has evolved independently in mammals, lizards, and sharks to transport large quantities of nutrients to the fetus.”
From the University of Wollongong:
Dr Fisher’s research into compounds that contribute to climate change and air pollution
“Dr Jenny Fisher from UOW’s Centre for Atmospheric Chemistry studies how different emissions interact with one another.
‘When I was little, I was intrigued by outer space and I knew I wanted to work for NASA. As my career progressed I felt that understanding my own planet was more important to me, so I made the change to researching the chemistry of our atmosphere,’ Fisher says.
Through the financial support provided by the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellowship, Dr Fisher plans to develop an Australian atmospheric chemistry model, similar to those already successfully used in North America and Europe. Australia provides a unique globally-relevant lens for examining these processes due to the nation’s much lower presence of nitrogen oxides, pollutants that mainly come from human activities like driving cars and burning coal in power plants.
As stricter emission controls are enforced globally, the level of nitrogen oxides elsewhere in the world are predicted to decrease and Australia serves as a window to the expected future pollution outcomes.
The information provided from the model Dr Fisher works on will assist in predicting pollution amounts and their responses to future change. Australia’s much lower nitrogen oxide levels means this atmospheric model will also provide a novel insight into the pre-industrial atmosphere.
Currently, Dr Fisher can only investigate the Australian atmosphere by looking at large areas (~5 million hectares); however with the funding she will work on a more accurate ‘nested’ model, which can show what is occurring within an area more than 60 times smaller. This will enable her to increase the complexity of her atmospheric chemistry research and findings.
‘Winning the fellowship means I will finally be able to apply tools I have used in other global environments to problems that are specific to Australia. This work will help advance scientific understanding of the atmosphere on a global scale — while also providing new insight into what affects our local air quality,’ she says.
Dr Fisher’s work highlights her passion for communities to understand the impact we have on the environment. Her work in unlocking information about the chemistry of our atmosphere will improve our ability to make informed decisions in order to live in a sustainable way.”