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Westpac Bicentennial Foundation backs two female nanotechnologists with prestigious research fellowship

27 June 2018

Two female nanotechnologists will receive combined funding of over $700,000 to support their ground breaking research, thanks to Westpac Bicentennial Foundation Research Fellowships.

Dr Vini Gautam from The Australian National University (ANU) and Dr Shelley Wickham from The University of Sydney, were handpicked from a highly competitive field of early career researchers to receive the Fellowship which is co-funded by Westpac Bicentennial Foundation and the recipient’s respective university.

Dr Gautam has commenced her research at the ANU where she is developing nanoscale scaffolds to engineer the growth of neuro circuits. If successful, this technology has the potential to repair brain damage through neuro-prosthetics. The outcome of Dr Gautam’s research is also likely to help us better understand neurological diseases.

At The University of Sydney, Dr Wickham is attempting to solve the issue of blood clotting on medical devices, such as artificial valves, by building new nanostructures out of DNA using a technique called ‘DNA origami’, so she can understand how clotting occurs. Blood clots are a leading cause of device failure, and Dr Wickham’s research has the potential to benefit many Australians affected by heart disease.

The Research Fellowship was established in 2016 and has been co-created with Australia’s leading research universities to focus on the specific needs of early career researchers to cover their full-time salary in addition to professional development and global experiences.

Westpac Bicentennial Foundation CEO, Susan Bannigan said: “We are thrilled to be working with our university partners to improve the opportunities for early career researchers. Together we can bring a new dimension to their professional development through bespoke leadership development and networking opportunities beyond the education sector. It is a great example of cross-sector collaboration to help advance Australia.

“The extraordinary work of Dr Gautam and Dr Wickham has the potential to improve the lives of so many Australians. It was important for us to find a way to maximise our support, to help give important projects the chance to succeed and realise their full potential.”

The University of Sydney’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), Professor Duncan Ivison, said: “We are proud to be a partner in the Westpac Bicentennial Foundation Research Fellowships and it is great to see this collaboration with universities to support early-career researchers. I congratulate the two exceptional women researchers recognised. I particularly congratulate Dr Shelley Wickham, part of our Sydney Nano team here at the University of Sydney.”

For the researchers themselves, according to Dr Wickham: “This will make a huge difference to early career researchers in Australia. To have job security at this career point is really enabling. It also gives young researchers the backing and skills to draw in other resources to benefit their work.”

Applications for 2019 Westpac Bicentennial Foundation Research Fellowships are now open. To find out more, visit