Australian Academy of Science awards two ANU researchers

Barcham 31 May 2013

Professor Ken Freeman and Dr Ulrike Mathesius have both received rather prestigious awards this week from the Australian Academy of Science.

The Matthew Flinders Medal is the highest honour that the Academy awards and Duffield Professor of Astronomy Ken Freeman is this year’s recipient.

Dark matter is the subject of Professor Freeman’s study, and there is more of it out there than you’d think.

In fact, in galaxies like our Milky Way, only about 5 per cent of the mass is made up of visible stars and gas and the rest of it is dark matter.

“The nature of dark matter remains one of the great problems of contemporary astrophysics,” Professor Freeman said.

“Depending on the nature of dark matter, there is a faint hope it might give off some detectable gamma rays as the dark matter particles annihilate.”

Just what dark matter is remains mysterious and the subject of further studies.

Another ANU scientist, Dr Ulrike Mathesius, was presented with the Fenner Medal by the Australian Academy of Science for her research on how soil microbes shape plants.

There are millions of microbes that surround plants in the soil, and over millions of years mutually beneficial relationships have formed between plants and microorganisms.

But like any good relationship, communication is key.

Just how plants and the nitrogen-fixing bacteria ‘rhisobia’ communicate is one of the focuses of the work taken into account for the Fenner Medal.

Dr Mathesius’ has found that plants can eavesdrop on the bacteria surrounding them, and use that information to their advantage.

She said that receiving the Fenner Medal will boost her motivation because she knows that other scientists value her work.

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