PhD Candidate Stories

Interested in making your own history and pursuing a research degree at UoA? Check out what some of our current PhD candidates are achieving.

Lightning-fast Internet, super-safe med-tech

Harrison Lees
PhD candidate in applied electromagnetics

Imagine if we could all access home Internet speeds around 1,000 times faster than currently possible. Or have biomedical images taken that show everything an X-ray does, but with zero risk of tissue damage.

These are just two of the incredible potential outcomes that Harrison鈥檚 PhD research could deliver. He鈥檚 leading development of a tiny, all-silicon integrated circuit platform that will be the world鈥檚 lowest-loss broadband terahertz waveguide鈥攅nabling humanity to harness the remarkable properties of terahertz radiation.

Harrison鈥檚 work has already attracted R&D partners in the defence, medical, and agricultural industries, and he couldn鈥檛 be happier. "The process of seeing a system you conceived, designed and tested come to life is hugely satisfying," he says.

Safeguarding against antisocial media聽

Bridget Smart
MPhil candidate in applied mathematics and statistics聽

Social media's role in shaping our worldview is not yet fully understood. But when it comes to malicious posting, the effects are certainly being felt鈥攊n all areas of society, from politics to public health.聽

What impact does disinformation have on democracy? How susceptible are we to fake news? What happens when we get stuck in echo chambers? Bridget is finding answers through her MPhil, using large volumes of data and complex mathematics from various fields.聽

"It鈥檚 awesome to approach real-world issues from a mathematical perspective," Bridget says. "I鈥檓 excited by the possibility of making online spaces safer and stopping malicious actors from reaching and influencing vulnerable individuals."

Reducing chronic pain for millions

Diksha Sirohi
PhD candidate in digital health

Endometriosis is a big problem; it causes chronic, severe pain for 11% of natal females globally. And when that pain hits, everyday life becomes all but impossible.

Diksha鈥攖hrough her PhD research鈥攊s making a difference. In consultation with the Australian endometriosis community, she鈥檚 co-creating the world鈥檚 first evidence-based endometriosis digital health resource: EndoZone.

Crucially, EndoZone鈥檚 online tools will enable early diagnosis, which can significantly reduce future complications and minimise the condition鈥檚 impact. "I love being able to support and empower this community," says Diksha. "It鈥檚 incredibly rewarding."

Alleviating chemotherapy side-effects

Shu Yie Janine Tam
PhD candidate in biomedicine聽

We鈥檝e all seen devastating chemotherapy side effects in cancer patients鈥攚hether depicted in media or experienced by loved ones. We often notice hair loss, but equally as common are vomiting and diarrhoea.聽

PhD candidate Shu Yie is conducting research into chemotherapy-induced gastrointestinal disorders with the aim of developing an intervention. Her findings indicate it may be possible to prevent diarrhoea during therapy and significantly reduce intestinal tissue injuries.聽

"Carrying out carefully planned lab work is so fulfilling," she says. "I love seeing the results and knowing I鈥檓 the first person ever to comprehend them and their implications."

Halting heart attacks

Harry Carpenter
PhD candidate in mechanical engineering and medicine

Issues with his own heart鈥攂rought about by a background as an endurance cyclist鈥攕parked PhD candidate Harry鈥檚 interest in heart health.聽

What he discovered was that the main contributor to heart attacks is coronary artery disease, where dangerous fatty plaques develop and restrict our arteries. Since heart attacks are one of the costliest and most significant causes of death worldwide, Harry decided to develop computer simulations to help predict who鈥檚 most at risk鈥攁nd he鈥檚 succeeding.

"As a mechanical engineer鈥攚hose bread and butter is pumps and pipes鈥擨 think I have a unique ability to help doctors," Harry explains, "because the heart is the most complex and fascinating pump and pipe system in the world."

Harry鈥檚 simulations may also help triage patients and target effective treatments.

Predicting prostate cancer responses

Joshua Hodgson
PhD candidate in medicine

Every prostate cancer patient is unique and will respond differently to different treatments鈥攚hether chemo, hormone, or radiation therapy. Unfortunately, many patients are treated ineffectively, wasting time on costly鈥攁nd potentially harmful鈥攁nti-cancer medications.聽

Through his PhD and work with the 成人大片鈥檚 South Australian Immunogenomics Cancer Institute, Joshua is uncovering biological markers that can actually predict the way an individual might respond to a given therapy. His project involves taking patient tissues鈥攁cquired during prostate removal surgery鈥攁nd culturing them in the lab, then studying how the tissues鈥 proteins change in response to therapeutics.聽

"I have the fortune of being able to investigate the changes I observe in our patient model in clinical trials," says Joshua. "This means I get to directly translate my research into the clinic and immediately impact patients' lives."聽

Understanding prostate cancer metabolism聽

Jacob Truong
PhD candidate in medicine

Prostate cancer is the most diagnosed malignancy in men. While it鈥檚 treatable in its early localised stages, a small percentage of sufferers will experience disease relapse.聽

Jacob鈥檚 PhD research aims to identify molecular markers associated with these relapses. With this knowledge, patients who require further treatment after surgery can receive it, while those who don鈥檛 can avoid the side effects.

Jacob鈥檚 work involves studying the distribution of lipids and fatty acids in patient tissue. These can indicate when tumours are present鈥攁nd some molecular compositions offer clues as to how aggressive the prostate cancer is.聽

"My research involves using complex imaging technology," says Jacob, "It鈥檚 exciting to be working with such cutting-edge equipment in an area that I know has the potential to change so many lives."

Making more green power more affordable

Sahand Karimi Arpanahi
PhD candidate in power systems engineering

Sahand鈥檚 PhD research could help make possible a critical step in Australia鈥檚 efforts to achieve its Net Zero target: cost-effectively adding more clean, renewable energy to the grid, while simultaneously lowering households鈥 electricity costs.

He鈥檚 developing novel methods for battery storage sizing and operation that reduce the unpredictable fluctuations in solar and wind power generation, enabling higher profit for renewable power stations and lower bills for consumers.

The CSIRO is now closely involved, and AEMO鈥檚 also interested. "I鈥檝e really enjoyed the University鈥檚 research-focused environment," says Sahand, "and my supervisors鈥 focus on research quality, rather than quantity."

Advancing industry toward zero emissions

Xiaopeng Bi
PhD candidate in mechanical engineering

With heavy industry accounting for around 30% of global carbon emissions, the race is on to develop clean energy technology capable of providing the extreme heat required by industrial processes.

Particle-based energy sources, such as concentrated solar thermal energy, show promise. But upscaling and optimising them to meet real-world industrial demands has proven difficult. Enter Xiaopeng.

Through his PhD research鈥攃onducted in collaboration with US-based Sandia National Laboratories鈥擷iaopeng has developed a world-first, laser-based method for understanding the complex behavioural characteristics of particle-laden flows. More accurate and affordable than any existing technology, it promises to help make green heavy industry processes a reality.

"I鈥檓 driven by the sense of achievement in making a change for the future," he says.

Predicting orbiting objects鈥 paths

Chee-Kheng Chng
PhD candidate in machine learning

Things are getting pretty crowded up there; the US Space Command now tracks almost 35,000 objects in low Earth orbit. So in the interests of keeping valuable items safe, such as satellites, it pays to be able to accurately calculate their path, as quickly and easily as possible.

Through his PhD project Al4SPACE, Chee-Kheng is finding an answer. With support from defence prime Lockheed Martin, he鈥檚 developing a novel algorithm that can accurately estimate a satellite鈥檚 orbit simply by evaluating a long-exposure digital image of it.

Chee-Kheng is also exploring the use of various techniques to help identify distant stars, and reconstruct the shape of objects in space. "I love learning new stuff," he says. "The privilege of being able to sit down and ponder every day is something I don鈥檛 take for granted."

Improving quantum capabilities聽

Thomas Kong
MPhil candidate in applied physics, engineering and material science

Chances are you鈥檙e familiar with ocean-going squid. You may even know of Netflix鈥檚 hit Squid Game. But nanotech SQUIDs? The latter stands for 鈥榮uperconducting quantum interference devices鈥, a class of ultra-high-precision magnetic field sensors鈥攁nd they can do amazing things.

The defence sector is interested in their remote border-protection capabilities; they鈥檙e used in medical imaging to detect tiny signals generated by the brain; and they may one day play a central role in establishing communication between Earth and Mars!

To the delight of MPhil candidate Thomas鈥攁nd the Department of Defence鈥攈is project on improving SQUID computer modelling has resulted in simulations that are more accurate, more realistic, applicable to a broader range of devices, and 10x faster.聽

"Working with the defence industry has been an invaluable experience," he says. "They鈥檝e provided me with significant professional development and leads for potential future career opportunities."

Detecting hypersonic hardware

David Mcafee
PhD candidate in physical sciences聽

Hypersonic weapons and vehicles travel at extreme speeds and are highly manoeuvrable. Unsurprisingly, developing countermeasures for them is a huge area of interest for national security.聽

David鈥檚 PhD surrounds the use, prototyping, and packaging of lasers for deployment in this cutting-edge area. While the lasers he works with are designed for hypersonic vehicle detection, the work will likely also be useful for 3D mapping and LiDAR (light detection and ranging) technology. A large part of his team鈥檚 vision is having multiple purposes and applications for anything they develop.聽

High-level collaboration on this project鈥攕pecifically with the Defence Science and Technology Group鈥攎eans that field testing is anticipated to occur within just a few years.聽

"Experimenting with the latest lasers鈥攕ome of the most advanced technology out there鈥攊s a huge privilege", David says, "not to mention a lot of fun."

Making sustainable agriculture attainable

Sara Qanti
PhD candidate in global food and resources

Government policy has a critical role to play in soil and water conservation. But its impact can be minimal if gender鈥檚 influence on farming household decision-making isn鈥檛 well understood.

Sara鈥檚 PhD research is filling that gap. She鈥檚 analysing the decision-making process within smallholder agricultural households in rural Indonesia鈥攁nd particularly women鈥檚 role in that process鈥攖o gauge how it affects the adoption of conservation practices.

Sara鈥檚 work is part of an umbrella project funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, and also involves Indonesia鈥檚 Ministry of Agriculture, and non-government Indonesian research agencies. "I love learning new things outside my comfort zone," she says, "and meeting new people from all kinds of backgrounds."

Mapping vino鈥檚 many moods

Claire Armstrong
PhD candidate in wine chemistry

So many factors influence the final product from a grapevine. Fruit left to mature for just one extra week can produce different aromas, flavours, colours, mouthfeels, and tastes.聽

Managing variance in grape metabolites can vastly improve a drop of "cab sav"鈥攁nd that鈥檚 precisely what Claire aims to achieve through her PhD. By developing an index that rapidly determines variability within vineyards, she鈥檚 supporting the wine industry to make more informed viticulture and winemaking decisions.聽

"I love the diversity of experience in this field; one day I鈥檓 indoors in the lab, the next I鈥檓 out and about in a vineyard,鈥 Claire says. 鈥淚t鈥檚 also really rewarding to share research and watch real people apply my learnings and benefit from them."

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