The outstanding contributions of five up-and-coming University of Otago academics have been recognised through Early Career Awards for Distinction in Research.
Dr Anitra Carr (Pathology, Christchurch), Dr Jörg Hennig (Mathematics & Statistics), Dr Karl Iremonger (Physiology), Dr Sheri Johnson (Zoology) and Dr Logan Walker (Pathology, Christchurch) have been selected for the award on the basis of their outstanding research achievements.
Their research spans diverse topics including the role of micronutrients in human health and disease, the field of general relativity, the effect of chronic stress on the brain, genetic and environmental effects on behaviour and reproduction, and genetic factors underlying breast cancer.
Announcing this year's recipients, University of Otago Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research & Enterprise) Professor Richard Blaikie warmly congratulated the five researchers, saying their impressive records are a reflection of the calibre of research being undertaken at Otago.
“Even at this early stage in their careers, these accomplished researchers are making remarkable contributions in their respective fields and within the University. Such achievements mean they are well positioned to be among Otago's future research leaders,” Professor Blaikie says.
The Early Career Awards for Distinction in Research were introduced in 2004 to recognise and nurture the University's most promising early career researchers. Each recipient will receive $5000 to support their research and scholarly development.
Recipients also become members of the University's O-Zone Group of early-to-mid-career researchers. O-Zone undertakes activities to promote interdisciplinary thinking and collaborations and to present a positive, clear, innovative, and independent voice for research within the University and beyond.
About the recipients:
Dr Anitra Carr
Dr Anitra Carr is a Senior Research Fellow and Centre Co-ordinator for the Centre for Free Radical Research, Department of Pathology, University of Otago, Christchurch. After completing her PhD at the Christchurch School of Medicine, Dr Carr obtained an American Heart Association Postdoctoral Fellowship which she undertook at the Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University, USA. Her research focused on oxidative stress, antioxidants and cardiovascular disease, and resulted in a number of high-impact publications in the field. Dr Carr's work in the USA contributed to the recommended daily intake for vitamin C being increased and thus has had an impact on public health policy.
Since returning to the University of Otago, Christchurch, Dr Carr has managed a number of human intervention studies investigating the bioavailability and potential health effects of vitamin C. Dr Carr is currently researching the role of vitamin C in acute and chronic disease, such as cancer, and recently obtained a Freemasons Carrell-Espiner Research Fellowship to begin research into the role of vitamin C in severe infection and sepsis, the major cause of mortality in critically ill patients. Dr Carr hopes that her research will have a direct impact on people's health and lives.
Dr Jörg Hennig
Dr Jörg Hennig is a lecturer at the Department of Mathematics and Statistics where his research in applied mathematics and mathematical physics focuses on general relativity, i.e. Albert Einstein's theory of gravitation. Dr Hennig was appointed in 2011 after completing a post-doctoral fellowship at the Albert Einstein Institute in Potsdam and, before that, a PhD in theoretical physics at the University of Jena, Germany.
Dr Hennig's research is concerned with cosmological models, properties of black holes and the application of highly-accurate numerical methods to problems in general relativity. Currently, his main goal is a deeper understanding of unusual cosmologies. In these models, causality breaks down and the present state does not determine all of the future. Moreover, an observer could travel along a closed curve that brings one back to the same point in space and time from where one started, which would be genuine time travel. While such models are compatible with the equations of general relativity, they are believed to be unphysical. Dr Hennig's research aims to find out whether such solutions could be realised in our real universe, which would require them to have certain stability properties. This is also the topic of his current Marsden Fast-Start Grant “Causality and Cosmological Models”.
Dr Karl Iremonger
Dr Karl Iremonger initially completed a BSc (Physiology) and a Bachelor of Physical Education (Hons) at the University of Otago. He then moved to the University of Calgary, Canada, where he completed a MSc and PhD in Neuroscience. In 2010 he returned to Otago to undertake postdoctoral research investigating the structure and function of brain cells which control fertility. Dr Iremonger took up an appointment as a Lecturer in the Department of Physiology at Otago in 2014.
Last year, he was awarded the Prime Minister's MacDiarmid Emerging Scientist Prize as well as a Sir Charles Hercus Health Research Fellowship.
Dr Iremonger is a Principle Investigator in the Centre for Neuroendocrinology and the Brain Health Research Centre. He currently runs an independent research programme focused on understanding how brain cells control the body's response to stress.
Dr Sheri Johnson
Dr Sheri Johnson is a Lecturer in the Department of Zoology. She moved to New Zealand to take up a postdoctoral position in the Department of Anatomy in 2010 and rapidly established a strong line of independent research at Otago, notably on the effects of age on fertility traits in zebrafish and humans. She was subsequently appointed a Research Fellow (Anatomy) and fixed-term Lecturer (Zoology), before commencing her current role.
Dr Johnson has broad interests in ecology, evolution and behaviour and her ability to initiate, manage and lead multiple projects is one of her key strengths. In just over a year at Otago she obtained a Marsden Fast-Start grant, and was successful in obtaining competitive grants from the National Geographic Society and the University of Otago. She has actively been developing collaborations within Otago, the wider NZ science community, and overseas. Her work has also attracted the interest of the media around the world and locally.
Dr Johnson's goal is to lead a happy, productive, and internationally renowned research group at the cutting edge of behavioural ecology, behavioural genetics and behavioural epigenetics, and to help grow the rapidly developing field of behavioural epigenetics at the Otago and beyond.
Dr Logan Walker
Dr Logan Walker is a Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Pathology at the University of Otago, Christchurch. He joined the University as a Research Fellow in 2011 after four years post-doctoral training at the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Brisbane, Australia. In 2012, he was awarded the Sir Charles Hercus Fellowship from the Health Research Council. He has been the Principal Investigator on multiple research grants from agencies, such as the Cancer Society of New Zealand and Lottery Health Research.
Dr Walker's research aims to evaluate the clinical significance of genetic variants associated with cancer risk and development. He leads multiple projects within two international consortia to advance diagnostic tools used for screening individuals at high-risk of cancer. He established the first New Zealand node for these consortia to assess genetic factors in New Zealand women in relation to breast and ovarian cancer risk and to support a multidisciplinary approach to informed decision-making in health practice. His published research has contributed to the clinical categorisation of BRCA1 and BRCA2 sequence variants for breast/ovarian cancer families worldwide, leading directly to an improvement in the clinical management of patients and their family members.
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