Australian Research Council funding success

Research grants 

Research looking at the growth of megacities, the ability of trees to survive climate change and ways to improve adult language learning are among the Western Sydney University projects funded through the latest Australian Research Council grants.

In the latest round of funding, the University was awarded 10 Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Projects grants, one ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) and one Future Fellowship, with a funding total of $5,104,500.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Scott Holmes has praised the researchers for their success.

"Western Sydney University prides itself on producing research with international impact, and these projects will have longstanding influence not just in Australia, but around the globe," says Professor Holmes.

"On behalf of the University I congratulate the researchers, and look forward to seeing the results of their studies."

Discovery Projects

Discovery Projects grants are awarded to support excellent basic and applied research by researchers and teams to expand Australia's knowledge base and research capability. 

These awards aim to encourage research and training in high-quality research environments and improve international collaboration so that the international competitiveness of Australian research is maintained.

Congratulations to the following lead researchers on their ARC Discovery Projects grant success:

Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment

Dr Scott Johnson 

Down to earth defence: unlocking silicon defences for plant protection

Dr Scott Johnson (Western); Professor Sue Hartley; Professor David Tissue (Western) 

This project aims to study how silicon uptake in grasses affects plant susceptibility aboveground. Grasses contain more silicon than nearly any other plant, which they acquire entirely from the soil. Silicon increases plant resistance to herbivores, disease and drought, but up to 25 per cent of grass productivity is lost to root herbivores, a situation compounded by water stress. Silicon uptake is poorly understood, but root herbivory and changing rainfall patterns can either impair uptake or induce the plant to take up more silicon. The goal of this project is to optimise silicon-based resistance in grasses and exploit this for plant protection from invasive pests and drought. 

Total funding: $338,000

Prof. Elise Pendall 

Temperature sensitivity of soil respiration and its components

Professor Elise Pendall (Western); Professor Stefan Arndt; Professor Mark Tjoelker (Western); Dr Eva van Gorsel; Professor Eric Davidson; Dr Vanessa Haverd 

This project aims to demonstrate how temperate evergreen forests could buffer against climate change. Soil respiration returns around half the carbon taken up by forests to the atmosphere. This project will characterise and quantify how microbes and roots in soils depend on temperature and substrate supply, and so predict how rising temperatures and drought will affect forests as natural carbon sequestration sinks. This project will resolve the roles of environmental drivers of soil respiration across forests; integrate mechanistic understanding of differing plant and microbial responses to temperature within a common modelling framework; and evaluate the implications of this knowledge in predictions of climatic impacts on terrestrial carbon cycling. 

Total funding: $405,500

Prof. Brajesh Singh 

Do microbial and plant diversity interact to regulate multifunctionality?

Professor Brajesh Singh (Western); Professor Peter Reich (Western) 

This project aims to quantify the relative contribution of plant and microbial communities and their interactions on the rate, stability and resilience of ecosystem functions. Plant and soil microbial communities contribute to the functioning of terrestrial ecosystems, driving key processes such as carbon and nutrient cycling. This project will adapt established theories which indicate that greater plant diversity improves ecosystem functions, stability and recovery. The expected outcome is a unifying framework for determining variation in functions across different ecosystem types and environmental disturbance such as rapid climate change. The insight gained into vulnerable ecosystems will help stakeholders (government, conservation, land management) to prioritise the focus on conservation and reduce risks to ecosystem services. 

Total funding: $396,000

Dr Justin Welbergen 

Movement ecology of flying-foxes

Dr Justin Welbergen (Western); Dr Christopher Turbill (Western); Dr David Westcott 

This project aims to understand flying-fox movement ecology from individual navigation through to population redistribution. Understanding movement across spatiotemporal scales is a goal of movement research. Grey-headed flying-foxes are mobile, and advances in tracking technology make them ideal for studying movement across scales. The project will determine how flying foxes navigate, and integrate this with drivers of their movement to understand their movement ecology by using methods that integrate experimental manipulation with telemetry, Doppler radar and analytical techniques. This is expected to develop much-needed management strategies that incorporate an understanding of movement. 

Total funding: $389,500

Institute for Culture and Society

Prof. Tony Bennett 

Assembling and Governing Habits

Professor Tony Bennett (Western); Professor Gay Hawkins (Western); Professor Gregory Noble (Western); Professor Nikolas Rose 

This project aims to examine how modern Western disciplines conceived of habits, and how these conceptions informed the techniques of mundane governance which managed habits. As cities face increasing pressures, the challenges of governing everyday habits prompt urgent questions about how habits are understood and managed. This project will study the governance of 'city habits' from the late 19th century to the present. The project will apply and deepen its description of habit through case studies focused on contemporary Sydney. Its findings are expected to benefit city planners and policy makers by informing the organisation and regulation of habits. 

Total funding: $360,500

Dr Denis Byrne 

The China-Australia Heritage Corridor

Dr Denis Byrne (Western); Professor Ien Ang (Western) 

This project aims to show how buildings and places created by Chinese migrants in Australia and home places in China testify, beyond the narrative of arrival and settlement, to Australian connections with China and the Chinese diaspora. Using the 'heritage corridor' concept, it aims to develop a transnational approach to migration heritage and will provide tools and concepts for broadly documenting, analysing and interpreting Australia's migration heritage. The project aims to help a more cosmopolitan 21st century Australia capitalise on its legacy of regional linkages through Chinese migration. 

Total funding: $298,500

Prof. Donald McNeill 

Volumetric urbanism

Professor Donald McNeill (Western); Professor Dr Simon Marvin 

This project aims to explain how global built environment and development firms 'push the envelope' of urban space. In cities worldwide, governments are faced with the problem and possibilities of 'volume': stacking and moving people within booming central business districts, especially around mass public transport nodes. This project will examine the prototypes, calculative devices and mediating technologies that are used to redefine cities and maximise development values. It will analyse the justifications for high volume urban development projects, and assess how transnational business and design models shape city redevelopment. This project expects to provide insights into interpreting complex urban megaprojects in Australia and internationally. 

Total funding: $403,500

The MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour and Development

Dr Manuel Varlet 

Effects of audio-visual rhythmic stimulation on motor functioning

Dr Manuel Varlet (Western); Professor Peter Keller (Western); Dr Sylvie Nozaradan (Western); Professor Laurel Trainor; Professor Richard Schmidt 

This project aims to determine how the human capacity for entrainment contributes to the development and modification of motor functions through passive perception. Human movements are spontaneously attracted to auditory and visual environmental rhythms. The intended outcome is knowledge about short and long-term effects of entrainment on spontaneous cerebral, muscular and behavioural motor activity, and how auditory rhythms combined with visual depictions of human movement modulate these effects. This research should advance the understanding of perception and action links, ultimately opening pathways for training patients with reduced movement capacities and developing health technologies. 

Total funding: $341,500

Writing and Society, School for Humanities and Communication Arts

Prof. Anthony Uhlmann

Other Worlds: Forms of World Literature

Professor Anthony Uhlmann (Western); Ms Alexis Wright (Western); Dr Ben Etherington (Western); Professor John Coetzee; Professor Nicholas Jose (Western); Professor Gail Jones (Western) 

This project aims to explore a new vision of 'world literature'. Creative writing is a way of thinking, and theoretical possibilities arise from the exchange between literary criticism and literary practice. This project will bring the formal and thematic interests of four eminent Australian writers – Alexis Wright, Nicholas Jose, Gail Jones and J.M. Coetzee – into dialogue with each other and a team of critical respondents. Critical and creative dialogues between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia, Argentina, China, and England provide an opportunity to think about how contemporary Australian writing might meaningfully be considered in the terms of world literature. 

Total funding: $572,000.

School of Social Sciences and Psychology

Dr Tamara Watson

Flower Power: Natural Form, Aesthetics and the Human Brain

Dr Tamara Watson (Western); Associate Professor Branka Spehar; Dr Damien Mannion 

This project aims to study how the brain represents the emotion of aesthetic experience. The project will establish the characteristics of flowers and floral design that govern their appeal using large scale web based data collection, and identify the neural representation of floral beauty using integrative data analysis. Outcomes of the project are expected to help flower growers and designers with product planning, supporting industry sustainability. The project will also establish how the brain generates positive experience in response to our visual environment, promoting well-being by enabling informed visual design decisions. 

Total funding: $335,500

ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Awards (DECRAs)

DECRAs are awarded to promising early career researchers (ECRs) who have been awarded a PhD within five years, or longer if combined with periods of significant career interruption. 

The award gives ECRs an opportunity for diverse career pathways in both teaching and research, and research-only positions in high-quality and supportive environments with a broadened aim to expand Australia¹s knowledge base and research capability.

The MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour and Development

Dr Andrew Milne

Uncovering universal mechanisms for the communication of musical emotion

Dr Andrew Milne 

This project aims to understand the universal perceptual and cognitive mechanisms underlying musical communication. Music is a language of the emotions with a remarkable capacity to communicate across personal and cultural boundaries. This project will develop and refine a computational toolbox of perceptual models in light of behavioural experiments using musical and non-musical sonic stimuli. These models will also be used to develop software to compose perceptually grounded music. The intended outcomes are increased knowledge of perception, composition and computational modelling of music, which will stimulate investigations into music's societal benefits and therapeutic applications. 

Total funding: $369,000

ARC Future Fellowships Awards

The Future Fellowships scheme supports research in areas of critical national importance by giving outstanding researchers incentives to conduct their research in Australia. The aim of Future Fellowships is to attract and retain the best and brightest mid-career researchers.

The MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour and Development

A/Prof. Paola Escudero

Enhancing language learning via auditory training and interaction

Associate Professor Paola Escudero

This project aims to improve adult language learning. Most adults struggle to pronounce foreign speech, because their native processing skills cannot process foreign sounds. During infancy, native sound perception is tuned through listening to variants of speech sounds while interacting with care-givers. This project aims to show that adults can reprogram their processing skills if placed in the rich environment available to infants. Rigorous testing will show whether auditory training improves processing of foreign speech sounds in adults and children and leads to successful understanding and pronunciation of foreign words. This project could benefit many Australian monolingual families who have not fully engaged with neighbouring cultures due to a language barrier.

Total funding: $895,000

Full details including co-investigators are available online


1 November 2016

Mark Smith - Senior Media Officer