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In Brief

Issue 20 | Spring/Summer 2007

Research recognition for Monash scientists

Monash University has received nearly $77 million in competitive grants from the National Health and Medical Research Council's (NHMRC's) and Australian Research Council's 2008 funding round.

The funding was announced in September by the Federal Government.

Professor James Whisstock and his team at Monash will receive more than $11 million from the NHMRC for research to develop new treatments for a range of important diseases.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), Professor Edwina Cornish, welcomed the allocations as a testament to the quality of researchers and innovative medical research being pursued at the University.

She said the University has attracted more than double the amount of NHMRC grants it received in 2005. "Our performance in research has improved markedly over the past three years. Research income has risen from $112 million in 2003 to $186 million in 2006," Professor Cornish said.

Professor Whisstock said the NHMRC grants renewal was great news for his team.

"This important funding will allow us to continue our work into protease systems biology and help address a wide range of cardiovascular, infectious and degenerative diseases," Professor Whisstock said.

The University's share of NHMRC grants included 56 Project Grants, nine Research Fellowships, two Practitioner Fellowships and one Equipment Grant.

Health issues covered by these grants include cancer, cardiovascular disease, genetic analysis of complex human diseases, the determinants of reproductive health and optimising health outcomes from clinical trials.

Professor Ed Stanley received one of only five Special Program Grants. He has been allocated $2.9 million to explore the derivation of pancreatic B-cells from embryonic stem cells. The project is part of a nationwide search for treatments for Type 1 diabetes, in conjunction with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International.

Dr Velandai Srikanth will lead a Monash project team for a $1.2 million population-based cohort study of brain ageing, exploring the rates of brain structural change, functional effects and mechanisms.

A landmark for Malaysia

Cover of HP Lee's book, Constitutional Landmarks In Malaysia: The First 50 Years, 1957-2007

Fifty years of independence may seem like a short amount of time, unless you take a glance at an atlas of South-East Asia where many countries have less than 30 years of independent governance.

On 31 August, Malaysia celebrated the 50th anniversary of its constitution and independence, known as the Merdeka Constitution.

For a developing country such as Malaysia, it is clearly a remarkable achievement worth celebrating, considering the many developing countries that have torn up their constitutions or have their civilian government replaced by military dictatorship.

Professor Hoong Phun (HP) Lee, Deputy Dean and Sir John Latham Chair of Law at Monash, has cowritten a book celebrating the event with Professor Andrew Harding, Director of the Centre for Asia- Pacific Legal Systems, University of Victoria, British Columbia.

Constitutional Landmarks In Malaysia: The First 50 Years, 1957-2007, explores the constitutional law of Malaysia through the research of jurists, judges, practitioners and academics from inside and outside Malaysia to contribute to the volume, published by Malayan Law Journal/LexisNexis.

The text was officially launched in August at the Australian embassy in Kuala Lumpur. His Royal Highness, Sultan Azlan Shah, the Sultan of Perak wrote a foreword to the book, praising the authors for their dedication to the task.

Tubular steel study a winner for engineering student

Postgraduate student Hussein Jama is one of only six people to win a prestigious 2007 Victoria Fellowship

Blast-resistant tall buildings, sports stadiums, oil platforms and train stations are closer to reality thanks to the work of engineer Hussein Jama.

The 35-year-old postgraduate student is one of six people to win a prestigious 2007 Victoria Fellowship. He received the Fellowship on Wednesday 15 August at a gala function at Government House from the Governor of Victoria, Professor David de Kretser, AC.

Mr Jama is investigating how to build more resilient structures made from tubular steel with the capacity to withstand accidental explosions. Current building structures can be damaged by gas leaks, dust explosions or terrorist attacks.

His work will also assist in damage-prevention to large oil rigs that are vulnerable to accidental explosions, which can result in loss of life, reduced oil supplies and massive pollution.

Mr Jama will travel to South Africa to carry out blast experiments at the Blast Impact and Survivability Research Unit at the University of Cape Town, the only facility in the world where explosives can be used in a university setting.

Monash welcomes a bright new era in Synchrotron research

Monash University has welcomed a new era in scientific research with the official opening of the Australian Synchrotron. Monash is a founding member of the Australian Synchrotron and made a strong, early commitment to the facility, which is adjacent to the University's Clayton campus in Melbourne.

The formation of the Monash Centre for Synchrotron Science is a new chapter in the University's almost 50-year track record of scientific advancement, which includes innovations in IVF, drug design and stem cell research.

The centre provides advice and assistance to researchers, develops platform technologies, engages in education programs across the university and funds research fellowships and student scholarships.

Monash University researchers are guaranteed a minimum 1,500 hours access to the facility each year. Instead of travelling to overseas facilities, they have access to world-class technology at their door.

Centre Director, Professor Rob Lewis is a pioneer in applying synchrotron science to medical research and is involved in many projects.

"The creation of the Centre for Synchrotron Science means Monash is taking a pre-eminent position in Australia's development of synchrotron science and in the application of the synchrotron to many research fields," Professor Lewis said.

"Our scientists are well placed to take the lead on the health and scientific issues facing our community."

Scientific discovery for 3-D imaging

A world-first discovery by physicists at Monash University will enable scientists to view fast moving images of minute structures in three dimensions.

Monash University physicists Professor David Jesson, Dr Konstantin Pavlov and Associate Professor Michael Morgan (BSc(Hons) 1976, PhD 1982) have solved a major problem in surface electron microscopy to determine surface shape and depth.

The discovery was made by adapting the 100- year-old principle, known as Lloyd's Mirror, to new technology and is expected to be used by researchers across the world.

Lloyd's Mirror was a classic 19th century physics experiment where light reflected off a mirror interferes with light coming directly from the source.

"Previously, scientists have had to freeze-frame each image and link them together but our discovery means images can be captured as a realtime video which also shows the depth of the structure," Professor Jesson said.

"This will open up new opportunities for theorists to understand the changes in nanostructures being developed for technology such as computers and mobile phones."

Professor Jesson's team discovered 3-D imagery of nanostructures was possible while using electron microscopy to look at droplets of liquid gallium sitting on a mirror-flat surface of gallium arsenide.

By using UV light to illuminate gallium droplets they found the bright interference fringes resulted in the emission of electrons. By applying the same principle as viewing a topographic map of a mountain range, they were also able to determine the height of the structure.

Pet personality: it's all in the mind

Dr Pauleen Bennett with some of her pets

If your pet dog seems worried or is showing signs of neurotic behaviour, don't worry, it could be just their personality.

A new world-first study by Monash University researchers of more than 1000 dog owners shows dogs have personalities that are very similar to our own and include traits such as self-assuredness, extroversion and amicability.

Dr Pauleen Bennett (PhD 2000) said the study results could assist pet shelters to help pair dogs and potential owners.

"An outgoing young family might cope with an energetic puppy, while a dog with a placid personality would probably better suit an elderly person and a motivated dog may be the best type to engage in farm work or join our policing services," Dr Bennett said.