Sydney researchers named 2022 Young Tall Poppies

Three University of Sydney researchers have been awarded 2022 Young Tall Poppy Science Awards in recognition of their work across engineering, medicine and health, and science.

Dr Matthew Griffith, Dr Thomas Tu and Dr Caitlin Cowan were all recognised for their contributions to STEM. As Young Tall Poppy Science Award recipients, they will work to promote interest in science among school students and teachers and increase understanding and appreciation of science in the broader community.

The Young Tall Poppy Awards recognise and celebrate excellence in research and enthusiasm for communicating science beyond the walls of the laboratory. The Awards are widely considered to be an early indicator of Australia’s future scientific leaders, identifying excellent early career scientists.

Interim Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Kathy Belov AO congratulated the newly appointed Young Tall Poppies:“I’d like to congratulate Matthew, Thomas and Caitlin for the recognition they have earned as Young Tall Poppies.

“Their dedication to finding solutions to the world’s problems represent the future of research across their disciplines. Their work will inspire young people and the broader community to appreciate the role that science plays in our lives and to consider pursuing careers in scientific research.”

Dr Matthew Griffith
Dr Matthew Griffith

Dr Matthew Griffith from the Faculty of Engineering and Sydney Nano Institute has led an NHMRC funded project to create an artificial 3-D printed retina with the world-first potential to restore colour vision to 200 million people.

He is also part of an international consortium creating flexible X-ray detectors which could revolutionise radiotherapy treatment for cancer by allowing real-time measurement and assessment of radiation levels absorbed by the patient’s body to reduce side-effects from misaligned beams.

Beyond the field of biomedical engineering, Dr Griffith’s use of printable electronic inks to create functional devices has been used by Lane Cove Council for the installation of public solar cells that power lighting to a park.

His work is published in the top 5 percent of materials science journals and has led to several commercial applications. His bio-printing tools have been made available to Australian researchers through the Australian National Fabrication Facility.

Dr Griffith’s achievements were also recently recognised when he was presented with the University of Sydney’s Vice Chancellor’s Award for Outstanding Research Engagement and Innovation in 2021.

Dr Thomas Tu
Dr Thomas Tu

Dr Thomas Tu from the Faculty of Medicine and Health and the Westmead Institute for Medical Research is a leading researcher on the Hepatitis B virus – an incurable disease that infects 300 million people, killing 887,000 people annually through liver cancer and cirrhosis.

Dr Tu has committed his career to understanding the virus, as he himself lives with chronic Hepatitis B.

His research focuses on translatable, effective, and practical outcomes, motivated by the belief that “it’s not enough that research be published; it must also have an impact on society”.

Dr Tu’s research into liver cancer and Hepatitis B virus have led him to be considered a world-leader in sensitive and specific detection of Hepatitis B viruses.

He currently leads a research group at the Westmead Institute for Medical Research in the Storr Liver Centre where he links molecular biology expertise with cell culture models and patient samples from the adjoining Westmead Hospital to answer clinically-relevant aspects of Hepatitis B pathogenesis.

Dr Caitlin Cowan
Dr Caitlin Cowan

Dr Caitlin Cowan from the Faculty of Science is an NHMRC Emerging Leadership Investigator who takes a translational approach to the study of the microbiota-gut-brain axis.

As a psychologist and neuroscientist, Dr Cowan is researching how the microbiome (gut flora) can influence human emotions and behaviour.

She is especially interested in early childhood, when the microbiome and brain are both still growing, researching whether some microbes can predict a happy, healthy toddler, or if there are microbes related to anxiety, hyperactivity, or other behaviour problems.

Once more is known about these relationships, testing will be performed to find out whether treatments that enhance the microbiome, such as dietary changes, supplements, or some of the bugs themselves, have any effect on behaviour.

Ultimately, the goal of Dr Cowan’s research is to improve mental health in young children to give them the best chance of growing into happy, healthy adults.

Dr Cowan’s PhD, which she completed at UNSW under the supervision of Professor Rick Richardson, examined the use of a probiotic formulation to improve behavioural, neural, and physical markers of development in stressed rats.

She continued her research as a Marie Curie postdoctoral research fellow in the laboratory of Professor John Cryan and Professor Ted Dinan at the APC Microbiome Ireland, where her work focused on the importance of the early life microbiota in shaping neurodevelopmental outcomes.