Prestigious award a first for Bendigo

Two La Trobe University scientists have become the first in Bendigo to receive a prestigious, highly competitive award that supports talented researchers in the early stages of their career.

Biophysicist Dr Donna Whelan, and computer scientist, Dr Khoa Phan received a Discovery Early Career Research Award (DECRA) from the Australian Research Council.

As part of the award, each researcher will receive more than $420,000 to complete a three-year project.

Dr Whelan will use advanced imaging techniques – enabled through the powerful florescence microscope she built earlier this year funded by a donation from a local family – to better understand how DNA damage occurs at a molecular level, as part of her research into cancer and other diseases.

Dr Phan will use energy harvesting technology and physical-layer security to enable an energy self-sufficient and secure Internet of Things. This will, among other things, contribute to enhancing health service delivery and factory automation.

La Trobe Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Industry Engagement) Professor Susan Dodds said she was delighted to congratulate the University’s first regionally-based recipients of the award.

“It is a great credit to the University, our staff at the Bendigo campus, and to the region as a whole, that we are able to attract and retain world-class researchers.

“These successes in such a highly competitive environment recognise the depth of research talent we have at La Trobe, and show that our Bendigo campus has become an important research hub,” Professor Dodds said.

La Trobe Pro Vice-Chancellor (Regional) Dr Guinever Threlkeld said the awards are testament to the significance of research being undertaken in Bendigo.

“Every day researchers at this campus are working on solutions to global issues, including in the fields of science, technology, rural health and engineering, among others.

“Awards like these recognise the importance of that, not just in Australia, but around the world,” Dr Thelkeld said.

Dr Whelan and Dr Tran were two of five La Trobe early-career researchers to receive the award, with the three others based at the University’s campus in Melbourne.

This is the first time a Bendigo-based academic has won a DECRA, since the award’s inception in 2011.

A total of $81.8 million was awarded to Australian researchers to fund 200 research projects through the DECRA program.

Applicants must have had their PhD conferred within the last five years to be eligible for the award. In 2018, only 16.3 per cent of DECRA applicants were successful.

Media contact: Kate O’Connor – k.o’ – 5444 7415 / 0436 189 629