ANU: Galactic gains and mighty grains earn ANU stars top accolade

A leading astrophysicist uncovering the deep inner secrets of the Milky Way and a renowned plant scientist tackling one of the greatest challenges facing the agriculture industry have both been newly elected as Fellows of the Australian Academy of Science for 2022.

Professor Naomi McClure-Griffiths and Professor Ute Roessner AM from The Australian National University (ANU) have been recognised for their exceptional work advancing knowledge in their fields of science. They join 20 other newly elected Fellows to the Academy.

Professor McClure-Griffiths’ research seeks to understand the structure of gas and magnetic fields in the Milky Way, but also how our own galaxy and neighbouring ones in our Universe evolved.

Professor McClure-Griffiths and team’s research into interstellar gas and magnetic fields of the Milky Way led to the discovery of detailed atlases of atomic hydrogen gas in our galaxy, providing a foundation to help astronomers and astrophysicists around the world answer some of the biggest mysteries of our Universe.

“It’s a tremendous honour to be joining the Academy, whose Fellowship includes some of the most amazing scientists in the country,” Professor McClure-Griffiths said.

“The Academy has an important role to play in the promotion of science within Australia and I’m excited to be a part of that.”

Professor Ute Roessner joined ANU in March 2022 after moving from the University of Melbourne, where she was head of the School of BioSciences.

Professor Roessner’s work with metabolomics – technologies that can analyse the chemical structure of plants – has helped scientists understand how plants interact with microbes that help them enhance water and nutrient uptake and thereby improve plant nutritional health, growth and yield for sustainable food production.

“I am deeply humbled to join the prestigious Academy alongside so many outstanding scientists from different disciplines,” Professor Roessner said.

The ANU plant biochemist is part of a team attempting to reduce the impact of nitrogen loss from fertilisers, which creates many environmental issues in addition to economic loss for farmers.

The research team aims to develop new and unique fertiliser formulations to reduce nitrogen loss while providing sustained nitrogen delivery for crop production. This could ultimately protect the environment while increasing food production.

A trailblazer in the biosciences, in 2021 Professor Roessner was elected as a member of the Order of Australia for her contributions to tertiary education and advancements in science.

Despite her many accolades and scientific achievements, it’s Professor Roessner’s unwavering passion for teaching and desire to shape Australia’s future scientists that keeps her fire burning.

“There is nothing more satisfying and enjoyable than supporting a young and curious mind in developing research skills and watch them grow into independent researchers and professionals, taking up the challenge of contributing their knowledge and skills to transforming society and saving our world from threats,” she said.

Both Professor McClure-Griffiths and Professor Roessner hope to use their platform with the Academy to inspire greater uptake of the sciences among Australians, particularly women, and mould future scientific leaders capable of delivering cutting-edge solutions to tomorrow’s problems.

“A career in science is not easy, but with persistence and trust in your own abilities, one can go far and make substantial contributions to our knowledge base and understanding of how our world works, and that’s what I want for Australia’s youth,” Professor Roessner said.

Professor McClure-Griffiths said: “To anyone considering a career in science I would say ‘go for it’. Scientists get a free pass to constantly ask ‘why?’

“We seek answers to the hard questions about how the world and indeed Universe around us works using the best in technology to get us there.”