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Prestigious awards for ANU scientists

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Posted June 5, 2013
Image: Professor Ken Freeman. Photo by Belinda Pratten.

Image: Professor Ken Freeman. Photo by Belinda Pratten.

Two ANU researchers were among the recipients of Australian Academy of Science medals awarded this week.

The Matthew Flinders Medal is the highest honour that the Academy awards and Duffield Professor of Astronomy Ken Freeman is this year’s recipient.

Dark matter is the subject of Professor Freeman’s study, and there is more of it out there than you’d think.

In fact, in galaxies like our Milky Way, only about 5 per cent of the mass is made up of visible stars and gas and the rest of it is dark matter.

“The nature of dark matter remains one of the great problems of contemporary astrophysics,” Professor Freeman said.

“Depending on the nature of dark matter, there is a faint hope it might give off some detectable gamma rays as the dark matter particles annihilate.”

Just what dark matter is remains mysterious and the subject of further studies.

Another ANU scientist, Dr Ulrike Mathesius, was presented with the Fenner Medal by the Australian Academy of Science for her research on how soil microbes shape plants.

There are millions of microbes that surround plants in the soil, and over millions of years mutually beneficial relationships have formed between plants and microorganisms.

But like any good relationship, communication is key.

Just how plants and the nitrogen-fixing bacteria ‘rhisobia’ communicate is one of the focuses of the work taken into account for the Fenner Medal.

Dr Mathesius’ has  found that plants can eavesdrop on the bacteria surrounding them, and use that information to their advantage.

She said that receiving the Fenner Medal will boost her motivation because she knows that other scientists value her work.

The Fenner Medal is named after the late ANU Professor Frank Fenner and recognises a distinguished body of research by a scientist under 40 years of age.

“I was lucky to meet Frank Fenner a few times; he was an hugely inspiring man in his quiet and modest way and it feels humbling to be awarded a medal in his name,” said Dr Mathesius.

“It has made me reflect about all the opportunities I have been given throughout my career by different mentors. It also made me think a lot about the direction of my research, past and future.”

Dr Mathesius says the award gives her the chance to showcase her research and will open doors in the future.

Source: Australian National University

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