Introducing Food Agility's Scientists!

August 19, 2021
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Blog

Introducing Food Agility's Scientists!

In celebration of National Science Week, get to know our in-house research team.

August 19, 2021
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Chief Scientist David Lamb at the UNE Smart Farm

Adj. Professor David Lamb

Chief Scientist at Food Agility CRC, and Adjunct Professor of Applied Physics and Precision agriculture at the University of New England.

What inspired you to pursue a career in science?

My love of physics and the ability of physics to explain the world around me

What is the most exciting/your favourite bit of research you've ever worked on?

High voltage electric discharges in air and airborne remote sensing of crops (I was a pilot and a scientist at the same time)

What are you working on right now?

I effectively run the research engine in a large collaborative research centre. That means I get to connect into a large array of science projects- and yes I can’t help the urge to duck under the bonnet of projects with any hint of physics in them

What is your advice to people considering a career in research?

Pursue it but ensure you create your ideal conditions early. By that I mean create a career path that is aligned to your passion and  where you define what and how you do it. The rest follows naturally because you’ll be having a ball. And don’t be afraid to chop and change across disciplines and applications as you go.

Dr Julia Easton

Dr Julia Easton

WA Node Leader at Food Agility CRC and Curtin 4 Agribusiness Profitability (C4AP) Initiative Lead at Curtin University.

What inspired you to pursue a career in science?

I have always had an interest in nature, from a very young age. I won a science competition in primary school and received a membership to the double helix club (run by CSIRO). I got to do experiments in the Double Helix Club lab and watched the voyager 2 satellite pass by Neptune at SciTech. My parents trained in Chemistry and Medicine and encouraged my interest in science and nature.

What is the most exciting/your favourite bit of research you've ever worked on?

My favourite piece of research that I ever worked on was the WA Soils Constraints Initiative. This was a series of research projects in various aspects of soil constraints for WA that was driven by industry need and research and development capability. Project were co-designed and co-innovated with researchers, agronomists and farmers and drove significant practice change across the state. This initiative developed into a $42 million dollar research partnership over five years.

What are you working on right now?

I am currently working on a number of projects in grains and horticulture within the Curtin for Agribusiness Profitability (C4AP) initiative, including the Food Agility On Farm Water Demand project. C4AP is delivering the next generation of agribusiness research, to underpin future farm profitability and sustainability. We work with farm businesses to make more from their agribusiness and spatial data through the synthesis of data science and advanced modelling. The C4AP initiative uses agribusiness data analytics to target the utility gap between research outputs and farmer adoption by providing a robust economic framework for innovation. This is achieved through cycles of co-innovation between researchers, farm businesses and their advisors, which jointly facilitates development of industry capability with research progression and ultimately practice change. This research aims to optimise the sustainability of the farmed landscape by delineating areas of highest return and lowest risk and by facilitation of innovation in both farm and landscape management.

What is your advice to people considering a career in research?

Follow your passion, approach your work with curiosity and an open mind.

Dr Madeline Mitchell

Dr Madeline Mitchell

Constellation Lead, Natural Capital for Climate Resilient Farm Systems at Food Agility CRC, and Research Fellow, School of Global, Urban and Social Studies at RMIT University

What inspired you to pursue a career in science?

Working in science gives me opportunities to be creative and engage with a community of people who care about making a positive difference in the world. I also fell in love with plants! They are fascinating, beautiful and diverse and so important for producing food, fibre, fuel and shelter.

What is the most exciting/your favourite bit of research you've ever worked on?

At CSIRO, I was leading a project to engineer novel plant-based fibres to make naturally renewable and biodegradable alternatives to polluting plastic-based artificial fibres. As proof of concept, we tried to make cotton plants that would grow pink fibres. It was so exciting to see these pink plants when most of my previous work involved lots of lab-based steps and data analysis before I could tell if an experiment had worked. The project (which my colleagues are continuing) is also a great way to start conversations about sustainable textiles and the environmental impact of our clothes.

What are you working on right now?

I’m excited to be in the early stages of a project with NAB and a team of researchers from Federation and RMIT Universities. The aim is to identify key climate and sustainability risks and opportunities for the major agricultural subsectors and to provide practical support for farmers to adapt and make their businesses more resilient.

What is your advice to people considering a career in research?

Stay curious! Being curious about the world is an essential trait for a researcher but it should also help you navigate your career as you learn and try new things. For example, when I was in high school, I thought I’d be a graphic designer! But over the years I became drawn to science because I could do work that aligned with my values, interests and strengths.

Dr Birgita Hansen

Dr Birgita Hansen

Senior Research Fellow, and Better Data for Better Decisions Constellation Leader at Food Agility CRC

What inspired you to pursue a career in science?

A strong interest in animals and the environment.

What is the most exciting/your favourite bit of research you've ever worked on?

Shorebird migration and understanding changes to shorebird populations at regional and global scales.

Dr Birgita Hansen getting 'hands on' with her shorebird research.

What are you working on right now?

Working with the FedUni and Food Agility CRC team to build a portfolio of projects under a new 'Carbon Pillar'.

What is your advice to people considering a career in research?

Be clear on why you want to do research and stick to the research area you are most interested in. Changing research directions part way through your career is extremely challenging.

Dr Sara Hely

Portfolio Performance Manager at Food Agility CRC, and Company Director at Field Applied Research.

What inspired you to pursue a career in science?

When I was studying Applied Science at University, the research was starting to become equivocal that climate change was driven by human activity. I was deeply concerned and wanted to help prevent that. I was also a lover of Australian native ecosystems so when I finished my undergraduate, I chose to study the effect of elevated CO2 associated with climate on native and invasive grasslands species in my honours year.  I then went on to study this further in my PhD. My career afterwards was inspired by opportunities to apply what I had learned in my research and influence research agendas and policy to create a food secure and sustainable future for the next generation. 

What is the most exciting/your favourite bit of research you've ever worked on?

It was both exciting and terrifying that mt findings from my PhD so early in my research career started to shift a research paradigm, where what we understood about how plants would respond to climate change, was not being seen in experimental results (including my own). Having to challenge experts in the field and writing a case for this in my thesis was one of the hardest and most rewarding experiences in my career.

What are you working on right now?

I am supporting the delivery of Food Agility's research portfolio, but more broadly my interests are on assisting farmers adopt strategies that build reliance into their farming enterprises either through uptake of research on farm management strategies and/or using agritech and digital ag to assist them in decision making. 

What is your advice to people considering a career in research?

Don't worry if you don't know exactly what gets you excited about science when you first start. Try a few things, Applied Science degrees are great in giving you broad exposure to lots of different fields. Travel the world for a bit, work on a farm for a bit, have adventures... it will be come clear what it is that is most important to you as a career later. Life is short, and long at the same time!

Dr Mick Schaefer

Dr Mick Schaefer

Head of Research and Portfolio Operations at Food Agility CRC

What inspired you to pursue a career in science?

Always wanted to be a marine biologist as a kid, and I guess I always had a natural inquisitiveness towards nature, animals and the environment. That led me to studying science and later physics.

What is the most exciting/your favourite bit of research you've ever worked on?

In my previous role at CSIRO I was fortunate enough to be part of a team that developed a unique dual-wavelength laser scanning system that was designed for monitoring forest biomass. This was the first sensor of its kind in this class of laser scanning sensors and was built in collaboration with scientist from the USA.

Figure 1: Intensity image created from the 1556 nm laser output of Dual Wavelength Echidna Lidar (DWEL). Scan was taken in the Himalayan Cedar forest at the National Arboretum Canberra. No – this is not a photo, or a painting. Each pixel is actually a data-point that contains information about the intensity of a reflected laser beam from a different surface.

What are you working on right now?

At the moment I am not personally working on any scientific projects. However, I am lucky enough to be involved in all of the research projects that we run through Food Agility CRC.

What is your advice to people considering a career in research?

Find something that excites you and you are passionate about. Then once you land that job, make the job suit your interests, this is the best way to stay excited about a role.

Non-project publications

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