Monash researchers awarded $8.9 million in funding as part of DECRA scheme


Monash University researchers have been awarded $8.9 million in Australian Research Council (ARC) funding as part of the Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) scheme.

Provost and Senior Vice-President Professor Marc Parlange, said the funding recognises Monash University’s constant pursuit for research excellence that transforms lives and creates positive impact in communities locally and internationally.

“Our researchers continue to be at the forefront of developing solutions to real-world challenges. This wonderful result demonstrates the ARC’s acknowledgment of that potential,” he said.

“We’re extremely grateful for the ARC’s ongoing support.”

Minister for Education Dan Tehan today announced $81.8 million would be provided for 200 research projects as part of the DECRA program.

“Our Government is investing in basic and applied research by our brightest early career researchers in key priority areas to grow our research and innovation capacity,” Mr Tehan said.

“This research will generate new knowledge, develop new technologies, and lead to new products and jobs.”

The 22 successful researchers include:

Faculty of Arts

  • Dr Julian Yates
    • Indigenous water futures: sustainable & autonomous environmental governance. The project aims to explore how different Indigenous water management strategies deal with evolving environmental challenges. Building on innovative and collaborative methodologies, the project expects to generate new insights into how Indigenous peoples approach environmental governance. Project outcomes include enhanced understanding of the role that Indigenous peoples can play in promoting the efficacy, equity, and sustainability of water management. The expected project benefits include specific policy recommendations for Indigenous sovereignty, water management, and environmental governance in the context of environmental change in Australia.
  • Dr Oisin Deery
    • Human and Artificial Agents: A Unified Account of Agency. This project aims to develop philosophical and scientifically informed criteria for deciding whether artificial agents can be responsible for their behaviour. The project’s significance lies in the fact that artificial agents are becoming increasingly prevalent in contemporary society but raise moral problems, which the project aims to address. Expected outcomes include influencing how artificially intelligent agents (especially moral ones) are built, and addressing questions about who is legally liable or responsible for the harms that may be caused by such systems. The anticipated benefit is a comprehensive account of agency that can guide development of artificial agents and inform our dealings with such agents in society and in the law.
  • Dr Robert Skelly
    • Reconnecting the Histories of Papuan, Australian and Oceanic Seascapes. This project aims to investigate connections between Papuan, Australian and Oceanic seascapes created by a westward expansion by Lapita seafarers 3000 years ago. The project raises and addresses new questions about the maintenance of regional social relationships with an innovative archaeological approach that focuses on the edges of cultural domains where people met and shared ideas. Expected outcomes include enhanced research collaborations and improved regulatory capacity. Reconnecting seascapes is expected to inform and benefit academic and government responses to heritage conservation and align with Australian Government aspirations to conserve regional cultural heritage and enable economic development through strategic collaboration.
  • Dr Louise Devenish
    • The role of post-instrumental practice in twenty-first century music. This project investigates post-instrumental music by documenting, analysing and developing the new musical forms that are emerging globally. Understanding its musical, cultural and social significance will be advantageous in the development of a wide range of music genres, through the creation of new musical language, notations, performance practices and dissemination relevant to our twenty-first century context. Expected outcomes include articles, a book, new musical works and recordings. This research has the potential to change the way we make and listen to music, highlighting how approaches to post-instrumental music can be integrated into ongoing music practice through the application of the methodologies discovered and developed.
  • Dr John Gardner
    • Australian Public Hospitals of the Future: A Sociological Study. This project aims to investigate the effects on Australian public hospitals of major technological innovations in healthcare. Using newly built hospitals as case studies, the project expects to generate new knowledge in health sociology and science and technology studies. Expected outcomes include the development and dissemination of policy able to address emerging pressure on public health care systems. The anticipated benefits include significant new knowledge on how public hospitals can adopt and develop technological innovations in a cost-effective manner that aligns with the values of Australian communities.

Faculty of Science

  • Dr Fengwang Li
    • Developing sustainable liquid fuels from carbon dioxide conversion. This project aims to develop new electrochemical materials and systems capable of converting carbon dioxide to liquid fuels. It expects to generate new knowledge in the area of advanced materials and systems for sustainable fuel production by interdisciplinary integration of catalyst design, real-time characterisation and system engineering. Expected outcomes include electrochemical carbon dioxide-to-alcohol systems with commercially relevant performances and in-depth understanding of reaction mechanisms at nano and molecular levels. Significant economic, energy and environmental benefits are expected from the concerted greenhouse gas emissions reduction and the development of sustainable, clean, non-fossil fuels, enabled by this project.
  • Dr Gregory Walter
    • Mechanisms determining ecological resilience to climate change. This project aims to improve our understanding of the evolutionary mechanisms by which organisms adapt to climate change, and how this may lead to ecological resilience. It will test how rapid adaptation can occur in response to stressful environments predicted under climate change scenarios. By understanding the genetic mechanisms by which organisms adapt to environmental stresses, we can better forecast the effects of climate change on natural systems. Expected outcomes include an improved ability to make informed conservation and management decisions, with resulting benefits including the protection of human health, agricultural industries, and our iconic flora and fauna.
  • Dr Mikhail Isaev
    • Enhanced methods for approximating the structure of large networks. This project aims to explain fundamental structural features of real-world networks such as the internet and online social networks, by advancing complex-analytical techniques. Current knowledge of properties such as reliability, robustness and optimal allocation of resources rely on assumptions that are invalid in real applications. The project expects to improve understanding of inhomogeneous network models by introducing an innovative idea of high-order approximations to complex random settings. Expected outcomes include new tools for approximate counting of discrete objects satisfying given constraints. Applications of these tools could have far-reaching benefits to researchers who study quantitative characteristics of discrete systems.
  • Dr Cameron Bentley
    • Resolving nanoscale structure-activity for rational electrocatalyst design. This project aims to investigate the structural and functional properties of electrocatalysts at the nanoscale. The project expects to develop state-of-the-art electrochemical imaging technology that can examine the active sites of electrodes during operation. Understanding electrode performance on this scale is expected to enhance our capability to rationally design cheaper and more-efficient electrocatalysts, notably for electrochemical carbon dioxide reduction. This should provide significant socio-economic and environmental benefits, through the development of next-generation energy storage and conversion materials that can be utilized by households and businesses to store renewable energy in the form of carbon-neutral fuels.
  • Dr Wenjing Yan
    • Ferroelectricity in two-dimensions. This project aims to develop a new kind of electronic devices to store and process information. It will demonstrate a new category of ferroelectric material. By combining it with other materials like graphene, it will realise fully two-dimensional and completely new conceptual devices that are capable of preserving information in a non-volatile manner and performing non-destructive information readout. The outcomes will significantly enhance the information density, stability and readout protocols. Successful demonstration of non-destructive readout provides a key conceptual step forward for the ferroelectric random-access memory to be widely used as a universal computing memory and provides fundamental support for the electronic industry.

Faculty of Information Technology

  • Dr Li Li
    • Enabling Compatible and Secure Mobile Apps via Automated Program Repair. This project aims to ensure everyone in Australia and the world can reliably utilise compatible and secure mobile apps on their smart devices, by inventing a novel approach to automatically fix compatibility and security issues during app development and installation. The project expects to generate new knowledge, tools and methods to support efficient mobile app fix through mining the best practices from the mobile ecosystem. Expected outcomes include better support for app developers to build mobile apps that will maximise the potential of the mobile ecosystem for Australian businesses. This should provide significant benefits, such as enhanced productivity for the software industry and better mobile app experience and safety for users.
  • Dr Xin Xia
    • An Intelligent Programmer’s Assistant Using Data Mining. This project aims to advance the important practice of pair programming in software engineering via software repository mining and create automated support tools. This project expects to use innovative techniques combining artificial intelligence, programming analysis and software analytics, to help software developers review code, fix bugs and implement new features. Expected outcomes of this project include an intelligent programmer’s assistant, consisting of a set of automated tools, covering software development, testing and maintenance. This should provide significant benefits to the Australian software development industry by improving developers’ productivity and reduce overall project costs.
  • Dr Chakkrit Tantithamthavorn
    • Practical and Explainable Analytics to Prevent Future Software Defects. This project aims to create technologies that enable software engineers to produce the highest quality software systems with the lowest costs, by preventing future defects in safety-critical systems that could result in death and disasters. Expected outcomes of this project include new theories, techniques, and analytics systems to assist software engineers accurately predict, explain, and prevent future software defects before they impact end users. This should provide significant benefits including accelerating the productivity of the software industry while preventing software defects in many critical domains including smart city and e-health applications.

Faculty of Engineering

  • Dr Qianqian Shi
    • 2D Janus Nanoparticle Superlattice Sheets. The project aims to fabricate novel 2D free-standing Janus superlattices by developing a new ligand-symmetry breaking strategy. The proposed approach expects to generate new knowledge in the area of self-assembly and the new class of 2D plasmonic nanomaterials. Expected outcomes of this project include the fabrication of a series of 2D Janus superlattices that are difficult or impossible to achieve in traditional methods, investigate their functional-properties relationship and further apply them into dual-functional plasmonic-catalyst/sensor/filtration applications. This should provide significant benefits, such as developing new design principles for self-assembly and advance Australian expertise in the field of functional nanomaterials.
  • Dr Jisheng Zhao
    • Intelligent active control of flow-induced vibration. This project aims to develop advanced and effective control methods using an innovative interdisciplinary approach for flow-induced vibration for a wide range of generic elements of engineering structures. This project expects to generate new scientific knowledge of fluid-structure interaction that is essential for the prediction and control of flow-induced vibration. The expected outcomes of this project are artificial intelligence based active control methods for flow-induced vibration. Ultimately, this project should provide significant benefits, such as advances in scientific knowledge and improved technologies for the areas of energy, transport, buildings and infrastructure.
  • Dr Qianbing Zhang
    • Dynamic Fracturing and Energy Release Mechanisms in Heterogeneous Materials. The prediction of fracturing behaviour in geomaterials (i.e. rock, soil and concrete) under dynamic/impact loads is essential in dealing with a wide range of engineering problems including excavation and mining, blasting and fragmentation, earthquake engineering, impact cratering, and protective structure design However, current knowledge and modelling capabilities of these applications remains empirically based. This project aims to investigate fundamental issues governing the dynamic fracturing of geomaterials and apply this knowledge to advance the understanding and modelling capacity of dynamic fractures in geomaterials.

Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences

  • Dr Jade Bilardi
    • Breaking the silence! Addressing unmet support needs after miscarriage. This project aims to identify miscarriage support needs, establish priorities for research in miscarriage support and develop a platform for future studies targeting these priorities. This project expects to generate new knowledge around miscarriage support needs and research priorities, using an extensively tested priority setting methodology. Expected outcomes of this research include an understanding and critical knowledge base of support needs, the Top 10 priorities for miscarriage support research and a platform for future studies targeting these priorities. This should provide significant benefits including a clear direction for future miscarriage support research and targeted funding and enhanced collaborative opportunities.
  • Dr Martin Davey
    • Defining the basis of unconventional immune cell development. This project aims to undertake discovery research to characterise the transcriptional programs that underpin the development of unconventional immune cells. This project expects to generate new knowledge in the area of developmental immunology by using cutting-edge molecular and cellular techniques to examine the seeding of immune cells. It is expected that this project will advance our understanding of immune cell biology and the programs that control them. Significantly strengthening national excellence in unconventional immune cell research and providing innovative methodology. This should provide significant benefits, such as a comprehensive open-access transcriptional map of developing unconventional immune cells.
  • Dr Matthew Page
    • Reproducibility and transparency in the synthesis of research findings. This project aims to evaluate the reproducibility and transparency of systematic reviews and meta-analyses of the effects of health, social, behavioural and educational interventions. The project expects to determine how reliable, trustworthy, and reusable syntheses of research findings are, and provide critical insight into the education and technical infrastructure needed to improve them. Expected outcomes of the project include new methods to enhance open and reproducible research practices in research synthesis, regardless of discipline. This should provide significant benefits beyond the DECRA, such as more credible evidence to inform government policies and professional society guideline recommendations.

Faculty of Business and Economics

  • Dr Benjamin Wong
    • Financial Cycles and the Macroeconomy. The project aims to measure and understand the drivers of the financial cycle. As unsustainable financial conditions, such as excess credit, tend to precede financial cycle busts, which often eventuate into recessions, the project aims to also shed light on the interaction between the financial cycle and macroeconomy. These aims are expected to be achieved through the application of a new set of econometric tools to estimate and interpret financial cycles. The expected outcomes of this project include new insights for institutions such as the Reserve Bank of Australia and should provide significant benefit through the appropriate design of macroeconomic policy.
  • Dr David Frazier
    • Consequences of Model Misspecification in Approximate Bayesian Computation. In almost any empirical application, the model the analyst is working with constitutes a misspecified description of the true process that has generated the data. While the method of Approximate Bayesian computation (ABC) is now a staple in the toolkit of the applied modeller, the impact of misspecification in ABC is unknown. This project aims to undertake a rigorous study into the behaviour of ABC under model misspecification. Expected outcomes include new theoretical results for ABC under misspecification and new methods capable of detecting/mitigating model misspecification. This project will provide significant benefits in all spheres where reliable, robust statistical inference methods are required in order to make reliable decisions.

Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences

  • Dr Simona Carbone
    • Functional insights into the roles of enteric glia. This project aims to review our current definition of enteric glia populations, and our understanding of their communication mechanisms in the mouse and primate colon. It will generate new knowledge of enteric glia biology using advanced microscopy and image analysis. Calcium imaging and novel biosensors will measure cell signalling in enteric glia. It will provide the most comprehensive analysis of glia connectivity, morphology and receptor expression in the primate colon. Expected outcomes include a detailed map of enteric glia and definitions of their basic biology. This project builds on the techniques and collaborations made by the candidate over recent years. This will benefit our basic understanding of enteric glia biology.

The DECRA scheme provides focused research support for early career researchers in both teaching and research, and research-only positions.

A full list of the new 2020 DECRA recipients, including a snapshot of funding by state and territory and project summaries, is available from the ARC website.

Each DECRA recipient will receive a salary and on-cost support for three years, and up to $40,000 in additional funding per year for other essential costs directly related to their project.

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