F.G. Swain Award shines a light on innovative platypus researcher

Western Sydney University is pleased to announce PhD candidate Katherine Morrison from the School of Science as recipient of the prestigious F.G. Swain Award for 2022.

The award – named in recognition of the long and distinguished service of Emeritus Professor Graham Swain AM to the University through its antecedent institutions, Hawkesbury Agricultural College and then University of Western Sydney Hawkesbury – recognises excellence in postgraduate research at the University’s Hawkesbury campus.

As part of her PhD, Katherine is leading innovative research into what impact heavy metal pollution has on platypus in the Greater Sydney Basin, an area where the species is already under great threat.

“This award means so much in terms of expanding my analytical research. Platypuses are such an iconic species and one of my favourite animals and to be able to complete a comprehensive study looking for heavy metals in their tissues really is the pinnacle of my overall thesis and a major gap in the literature,” said Katherine.

Despite platypus being known to inhabit the waterways of the Greater Sydney Basin, there is a lack of research around the impact of urbanisation on the species, including a limited understanding of how heavy metals interact with them.

“People may not be aware of how long heavy metals persist in waterways which means that long after the source of the pollution has stopped, the impacts continue and platypus populations that live in these environments can accumulate high levels of heavy metals, potentially causing death,” she said.

Funding from the F.G. Swain Award will support the collection and analyses of tissue samples from all trophic levels which will show how heavy metals are moving through the aquatic system as part of the project.

A Blue Mountains resident, Katherine said she has spent her entire life near freshwater and is honoured to be able to contribute to the protection of these vital ecosystems through scientific research.

In the future she hopes to further integrate scientific research and communication to better conserve and raise awareness for the species.

“I believe that science isn’t just for scientists and if we want to enact positive change for our environment, particularly aquatic ecosystems, and platypus populations then communities need to understand what is happening in their back yard to demand change and improvement,” she added.

The F.G. Swain Award has a rich history of promoting innovation in postgraduate research at the Hawkesbury campus, which is home to some of the University’s leading research facilities, such as the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment.

Western Sydney University was recently named number one in the world for its social, ecological and economic impact in the Times Higher Education (THE) University Impact Rankings.

As part of its rankings success, the University was named first in the world for SDG6: Clean Water and Sanitation.

Read more about the F.G. Swain Award (opens in a new window).


20 June 2022

Ali Sardyga, Senior Media Officer