2023 Westpac Research Fellows driven to create a more sustainable future

2023 Westpac Research Fellows

Two early-career researchers from The University of Queensland and the Australian National University have received close to $1 million in combined funding to support critical sustainability research and invest in them as leaders.

As the urgency for climate solutions increases globally, Westpac Scholars Trust has awarded two Research Fellowships to inspiring academics Dr Andrea La Nauze and Dr Kai Xun Chan who are both undertaking research to solve some of Australia’s greatest environmental challenges.

Dr La Nauze and Dr Chan are two of 100 recipients awarded scholarships by Westpac Scholars Trust across five programs in 2023. The Research Fellowship, the Trust’s highest value program, awards a minimum of $400,000 in flexible funding to recipients over five years. The Trust partners with four universities to deliver this program.

La Nauze, an Environmental Economist at The University of Queensland will use her Fellowship funding to measure the economic cost of air pollution to inform better policy responses in the future.

“Australia’s air quality doesn’t meet current WHO guidelines and around 3,000 people die every year because of air pollution, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Yet few Australians appreciate the magnitude of the problem, including economists.”

“My research will deploy low-cost monitoring technologies to track air quality, inform communities and measure behavioural responses to generate new estimates of the economic costs of air pollution,” she said.

The Westpac Research Fellowship is a generous package that also includes a bespoke leadership 360 program to enhance each researchers’ capabilities and foster cross-sector collaboration to continue driving innovation in Australia.

Westpac Research Fellows also gain access to extensive networks to connect with senior business leaders and industry experts, as well as lifelong membership to the W100 Alumni Network, which includes over 740 Westpac Scholars, growing by 100 scholars every year.

When asked what it meant to be given such a unique opportunity, La Nauze said: “The Westpac Research Fellowship is a recognition of the importance of economic and behavioural research for tackling Australia's environmental challenges.”

“It is an important next step in my efforts to generate new knowledge that will improve how Australia thinks and acts for the environment. It is also an opportunity to highlight the diversity of economists and economic thought and boost the economic literacy of the public.”

Investigating another significant environmental challenge currently facing Australia is Dr Kai Xun Chan, a biology lecturer at the Australian National University. His Fellowship research seeks to solve how plants sense and respond to challenging environments to improve crop yields in the face of climate change.

“According to the CSIRO, we need to produce more food in the next thirty years than in the entire history of human civilisation. This is a huge challenge in itself but in Australia we also have to contend with drought and heat stress which decreases agricultural productivity by up to 80 per cent and costs the economy $1.1 billion annually,” said Chan.

“My research addresses the urgent need for transformative solutions in improving crop resilience, thus providing a step change in the race against time to achieve food security.”

Chan has already contributed to several fundamental advances in plant biology to date, however he believes with the support of the Westpac Research Fellowship he can continue to make significant contributions to the scientific community.

“Becoming a Westpac Research Fellow at this point in my career is transformational,” said Chan.

“I see tremendous opportunities to unlock key elements for an impactful research program: resources to concurrently drive fundamental discovery and real-world outcomes, professional development, and access to lifelong networks. I am excited and honoured to work alongside Australia's best and brightest.”

These Westpac Research Fellows will create a better future for Australia.  

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