Young researchers present on the global stage (Part 15)

In this fifteenth edition of the researcher series, three rising stars, competing for Sparrho’s Early Career Researcher Prize, tell us about their work and why they chose to become scientists.

Vivian Mendez

Research Fellow, Macquarie University, Australia

#pestcontrol #biology #environment

Vivian will speak at the 10th International Symposium on Fruit Flies of Economic Importance (ISFFEI), in Tapachula, Mexico, in April 2018.

How would you introduce your research to a non-expert? Queensland fruit fly is the most economically damaging insect pest of Australia’s horticultural sector, causing millions of dollars in damage in terms of fruit quality and lost markets, and closely related species are devastating pests globally with a particular impact on developing nations. My research supports the development of sustainable ‘sterile insect technique’ (SIT) programs in which hundreds of millions of sterile flies are reared in factories and released in the field to mate with the pest population, inducing reproductive failure so that the pest populations are suppressed or eradicated without use of insecticides. For SIT to succeed the mass-reared flies must be of high quality; my research focuses on how the factory environment affects the flies’ physiology and behaviour, and hence their compatibility with wild populations and their suitability for use in SIT programs.

“Sterile insect technique offers an environmentally and economically sustainable solution for some major insect pests.”

What can your field of research contribute to the world? For generations fruit growers around the world have relied on insecticides to protect their crops from fruit flies and other pests, but this has resulted in significant exposure of the environment and consumers to hazardous residues. With increased public awareness and sensitivity to such contamination, many insecticides that have been used widely for decades are now heavily restricted or banned, leaving growers and rural communities more vulnerable to the impacts of insect pests. Sterile insect technique offers an environmentally and economically sustainable solution for some major insect pests, improving economic and food security for rural communities.

Why are you a scientist? I feel a great sense of achievement when findings of our research are used in decision-making processes by the Australian government, or are picked up as exciting new research directions by other teams around the world. It is also very rewarding to tell family, friends and people in the community that what I do to make a living helps to protect the environment, human health and economic development by controlling a serious pest without using pesticides.

“I feel a great sense of achievement when findings of our research are used in decision-making processes by the Australian government.”

What advice would you give to younger students regarding attending a conference? Personal connections can bring opportunities that electronic communication alone cannot. In a competitive environment it is especially important that younger students make themselves known in their community by attending relevant conferences to make contacts that will be important for future collaborations and opportunities. Attending conferences is a very effective way of meeting influential people in the field and is especially effective if those people come to associate you personally with your research.

Read more about Vivian’s research here.


Akhilesh Kumar Patel

PhD student at Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, India

#magnetic #cooling #engineering

Akhilesh will speak at the 2018 IEEE International Magnetic Conference in Singapore in April 2018.

How would you introduce your research to a non-expert? I am a physicist, working on various magnetic materials to unravel the magnetic properties through diverse magnetic measurements, experimentally. The research is mainly focused to develop magnetic-cooling system which is environmental friendly, no hazardous and less expensive as against to the conventional refrigerators (releasing harmful gases). To reach out this, a discovery of suitable compound (material) is basic. My current ongoing research, leading to my PhD, is mainly to tune the magneto-caloric properties of some of the Heusler magnetic compounds, in order to achieve enhanced magnetocaloric effect near room temperature with a wide range of adiabatic temperatures.

“My research would be a worthy contribution to the world of ‘next generation’ magnetic-refrigerators.”

What can your field of research contribute to the world? My current research area addresses the coupled magnetic and caloric properties in magnetic compounds, which is of topical interest. There are very a few materials which show large magnetocaloric effect (magnetic-refrigeration) properties. However, these are based on expensive rare-earth based compounds. I work on compounds prepared by less expensive alloys of transition-metals. Achieving large magnetic-refrigeration properties using less expensive materials is a big challenge currently. Therefore, with an aim to achieve the above mentioned goal, my research would be really a worthy contribution to the world of ‘next generation’ magnetic-refrigerators.

Why are you a scientist? As a researcher, especially an experimental materials (condensed matter) physicist, I am excited when I see new results (with data posing lots of new questions). I feel proud when I am able to get a logical conclusion to experimental observations. I cherish doing my research in the laboratory and am happy to think that I am a part of scientific society contributing to social life. Outside research, I always enjoy my fellow-beings’ companionship, tours and family meetings. In fact, conferences are a big relief from the laboratory, allowing scientists to enjoy and to interact with diverse minds.

“It should be young students’ objective to interact with experts, question boldly and learn as much as they can.”

What advice would you give to younger students regarding attending a conference? I fully support younger students to attend conferences suitable to their field of research, and to frequently present their results. Conference are free-knowledge hubs to interact with world-class eminent faculty andsubject experts. It should be young students’ objective to interact with experts, question boldly and learn as much as they can. During the poster/oral sessions, there is ample scope to view the scientific data in new directions (which the presenter did not think of previously). Such criticism/comments/suggestions will greatly stimulate the thought process and will be helpful to have better research output. Research discussions aside, some conferences present the details of science funding, the world’s current scenario, what society is really looking for from scientists, etc. Therefore, active participation in conferences is highly suggested.

Read more about Akhilesh’s research here.


Nosaibeh Nosrati Ghods

PhD student, University of Cape Town

#renewables #bioethanol #fossilfuels

Nosaibeh spoke at the 10th World Congress of Chemical Engineering in Barcelona, Spain in October 2017.

How would you introduce your research to a non-expert? With growing fears that oil reserves are running low and that the continued generation of CO2 and other greenhouse gases in such large quantities are affecting the environment to the point where it may be irreparably damaged, the use of renewable energy is being sought as an alternative. Among renewable energy, bioethanol which has suitable specific energy but low pollution is sought as an addition to fossil fuels; according to National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), 10% ethanol additive to gasoline will lessen the overall pollution produced by cars by 54%. In this direction, my research focuses on the maximisation of the bioethanol yield and productivity from sugarcane bagasse which is a waste material from the sugar industry and is not produced from edible food crops to prevent increase in demand of vacant lands for food production, and subsequently prevent an increase in the cost of food manufacturing through manipulation of process condition.

“Bioethanol — which is renewable energy — would cut carbon emissions greatly and drastically reduce air pollution, global warming, and smog.”

What can your field of research contribute to the world? Bioethanol — which is renewable energy — would cut carbon emissions greatly and drastically reduce air pollution, global warming, and smog. Research of Argonne National Laboratory shows a 35–46% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and a 50–60% reduction in fossil energy use due to the use of ethanol as a motor fuel. My research seeks to increase bioethanol production from sugarcane bagasse (2nd generation crops) using novel process which is in the direction of bio-economy development and bioprocess technology targeted as one of world’s grand challenges. The key decision-making criteria in this project are sustainability, environmental impacts and economic considerations. Modelling, process route optimisation and validation through experimental work have been done in my research to be able to scale them up and use in industry effectively.

“I have no doubt that educated and knowledgeable people are more productive and beneficial for the world.”

Why are you a scientist? Being helpful and useful makes me happy. My life both inside and outside of research follows the same direction and I cannot separate it. In addition to my personal desire to pursue my studies, I would like to benefit the world and its people. I think all people deserve to have a clean environment along with using high-technology. New technology is coming with or without our desires and we should be well-prepared to use it correctly. I have no doubt that educated and knowledgeable people are more productive and beneficial for the world. I would love to exchange the ideas and knowledge in my work place, at university, company or other institutions. I would like to be a hand-holder and mentor for other people if I can. I believe that all the people on our planet are members of one family.

What advice would you give to younger students regarding attending a conference? Conferences are the ideal place to expand knowledge. I believe there is a great opportunity to gain invaluable experience in research through attending related sessions either presented by industrial companies or universities. I think one of the main achievements of attending conferences is meeting experts in the related research field, and the chance to talk with them closely and as a result building up a framework for future collaborations. Most importantly, it is exciting to exchange ideas with experts across the world.

Read more about Nosaibeh’s research here.


The above applicants are finalists in Sparrho’s Early Career Researcher Prize that awards £500 to early career scientists who are presenting their work at an academic conference. To apply, follow this link to the 5-minute application form and use the Sparrho platform to share your research. Applications close at the end of each month and are reviewed on a rolling basis.

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