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Tall poppies cultivate insights into conservation and brain insulation

Two outstanding early-career researchers at the University of Tasmania have been recognised with prestigious Tasmanian 2021 Young Tall Poppy Science Awards.

Dr Vanessa Adams, from the School of Geography, Planning and Spatial Sciences and Dr Carlie Cullen from the Menzies Institute for Medical Research and the MS Research Flagship were honoured to be named among this year’s recipients.

Dr Adams’ research focuses on modelling dynamic social-ecological systems to inform conservation decisions that improve ecosystems and the communities they support.

“There are many ways that we rely on the environment – for work, for play, and for rest – and it’s important to understand and value those uses so that we protect nature not only for its own sake but for the important roles it plays in our lives,” Dr Adams said.

“My research to date has focused on understanding people’s relationships to places to support decisions that are good for people and the environment. I realised that environmental decisions are complex, and so going forward my research is focused on using tools that are built to embrace complexity rather than ignoring it.”

Dr Cullen’s research focuses on understanding how brain insulation helps us learn and maintain healthy brain function throughout life.

“The nerve cells in our brain connect and communicate with other nerve cells through electrical signals. Our capacity to move, think, learn, and remember relies on these electrical signals arriving at the right place at the right time. The insulation of nerve cells by a fatty substance called myelin ensures that these electrical signals travel along the nerve both quickly and reliably," Dr Cullen said.

“I recently discovered that this insulation adapts during learning to speed up the transfer of electrical information in certain brain circuits and improve learning outcomes. I have also found that a non-invasive form of brain stimulation, called transcranial magnetic stimulation, can provide new insulation to the brain. We are now testing this as a potential brain repair therapy for people living with multiple sclerosis.”

The Australian Institute of Policy and Science’s Tall Poppy Campaign aims to grow the next generation of science leaders and is Australia’s longest running award for excellence in science and science communication. The official awards ceremony will be held at a date yet to be determined.

(Pictured): 2021 Young Tall Poppy Science Award winners, Dr Vanessa Adams (left) and Dr Carlie Cullen (right).

Published on: 06 Sep 2021 11:20am