Royal Society of WA presents the Royal Society’s Student Medals to
the most outstanding graduating science student in the Physical and
Biological Sciences in each of Western Australia’s five
universities. Here we profile the 2012 recipients.
James Tsakalos – Edith Cowan University
Edith Cowan University provided a solid educational foundation where
James completed his undergraduate degree – a Bachelor of Science in
Conservation & Wildlife Biology. Throughout this experience he
earned memberships and awards at the Golden Key International Honour
Society and the Royal Society of Western Australia.
Post completion of his degree James pursued his passions in
vegetation ecology by commencing studies in February 2013 towards a
Bachelor of Science (Honours in Botany) at The University of Western
Australia. For this honours project James is re-analysing an
exemplar of vegetation classification from an environmental
consultant’s work which is based in the Kwongan vegetation complex
of Western Australia under supervision of Professor Ladislav Mucina
and Assistant Professor Etienne Laliberté.
The topic for his honours project was sparked by the rapid
development of new novel data analytical techniques and software
used for vegetation classification. Consequently this new system
presents a serious challenge to the users of existing methodologies,
especially when they do not fully grasp the improved possibilities
on offer and solutions provided which overcome the existing
limitations with current procedures.
The outcomes of his work aim at developing and providing guidance
protocols to ensure robust and ecologically meaningful vegetation
classification. These outcomes will lead towards the improvement of
guidance statements such as those prescribed for vegetation surveys
for Environmental Impact Assessment in Western Australia by the
Environmental Protection Authority. These documents are used broadly
by proponents and consultants of such assessments and for the
general interest of the public.
James plans on further developing these passions by continuing his
career at The University of Western Australia with PhD research
commencing 2014 and providing ad-hoc environmental consulting
services including vegetation surveys and assessment utilising the
Georgina Sauzier – Curtin University
completed her Bachelor’s degree in Forensic & Analytical Chemistry
at Curtin University in 2011. Research conducted in her final
semester (focussing on the detection of latent fingermarks on paper)
was published in the Journal of Forensic Identification, as well as
being presented at the 21st ANZFSS International Symposium on the
Forensic Sciences in 2012. For her final semester she was awarded
three School of Science awards (including the RACI Prize for most
outstanding graduating student), in addition to a place on the Vice
Chancellor’s List (awarded to the top 1% of undergraduate students).
In 2012 Georgina undertook an Honours
degree, looking into the characterisation of forensic trace evidence
using infrared spectroscopy and advanced statistical techniques. Her
research studied the impact of weathering on the characterisation of
automotive paint samples by a statistical model, capable of
predicting the country of vehicle manufacture for a sample based
upon its infrared spectrum. Georgina’s findings showed the model to
be unaffected by short- to medium-term environmental exposure of
samples, suggesting that this model could be used to quickly and
accurately generate useful leads from paint samples recovered during
forensic investigation. The results of this research have recently
been published in a special issue of the journal Analytical Methods.
At the end of the year Georgina achieved first-class Honours (90%)
and was awarded the School prize for most outstanding Honours
Georgina commenced her PhD at Curtin sponsored by an Australian
Postgraduate Award, while also working as a laboratory supervisor
teaching first- and second-year undergraduate chemistry. Her current
project is aimed at applying the statistical techniques used in her
Honours work to additional forms of forensic trace evidence, such as
fibres and explosive residues. A secondary line of this research is
aimed at identifying factors that may affect the results obtained
using these techniques. It is hoped that this will establish
statistically validated protocols for collecting, handling or
analysing forensic evidence
Jessica Skelton – Murdoch University
has completed a double degree at Murdoch University:
Bachelor of Forensics in Forensic Biology and Toxicology, and
Bachelor of Science in Molecular Biology.
She also concurrently completed Postgraduate Certificates in
Forensic Science and Business Administration as part of Murdoch’s
During her time at Murdoch, Jessica has achieved straight High
Distinctions for all units she has studies, and has twice been
awarded a Vice Chancellor’s Commendation for Academic Excellence.
In 2011, Jessica was awarded a University Medal, which
recognises outstanding academic performance by undergraduate
As the recipient of Murdoch University’s
Banksia Association Honours Scholarship, Jessica is currently
undertaking a clinical honours project at Fremantle Hospital.
Her research is looking at the role of dietary iron in the
development of colorectal cancer.
Colorectal cancer is highly prevalent in
Western Society with more than 13,000 patients diagnosed, and 4,000
deaths in Australia annually.
Colorectal cancer is caused by both genetic and environmental
factors, with studies suggesting that diets high in iron are capable
of promoting colorectal carcinogenesis.
Jessica’s research is evaluating the effect that various iron
concentrations have on enhancing the development of colorectal
At the completion of her honours project,
Jessica is looking forward to spending some quality time with her
two young children before commencing her PhD in 2014.
Luke Barrett – UWA
completed a Bachelor of Science in June 2012, with majors in zoology
and marine biology. At the completion of his degree, he was awarded
the RSWA Medal for the highest weighted average mark in the Faculty
of Natural and Agricultural Sciences (84 %, GPA 6.8/7.0). He was
also awarded the Oceanica Consulting Marine Science Prize for UWA,
and while on exchange at the University of Otago (New Zealand) in
2011, was awarded the Elizabeth Batham Prize in Marine Science.
went on to complete a first class honours degree (86 %, GPA 7.0/7.0)
in zoology and marine biology in June 2013. His research project,
titled “Effect of expected future mating opportunities on patterns
of reproductive investment by male guppies (Poecilia
reticulata)”, was supervised by Prof. Jonathan Evans and Dr.
Clelia Gasparini at the Centre for Evolutionary Biology, UWA.
experiment was designed to examine the way in which males decide to
invest effort in reproduction, using guppies as a model system.
Courtship and sperm production are costly for male guppies, so it
was expected that males would invest more sparingly when future
mating opportunities were likely, thus conserving resources for
future mating attempts. However, Luke’s findings showed that the
response was more complex than predicted, in that the male’s sexual
behaviour was also influenced by his own body size (a trait
correlated with attractiveness). Luke is currently preparing a
publication based on his research, while also working full-time at
DPaW’s Threatened Flora Seed Centre.
In 2014 he will commence a PhD in marine ecology at the University
of Melbourne (pending acceptance). He is interested in whether
anthropogenic structures and invasive habitat-forming species can
affect the ability of marine fauna to distinguish between suitable
and unsuitable habitats, and whether there is widespread settlement
of fish into attractive but nonetheless unsuitable habitats.
Identifying and mitigating these so-called ‘ecological traps’ may
improve the resilience of exploited fish populations.
Harriet Carter - Notre Dame
completed a Bachelor of Science majoring in Environmental Science
and Biology in 2012. She achieved 4 HD and 15 D across her degree
(of the 21 graded units).
For her final
year research project (not Honours), Harriet investigated sediment
transportation processes in Geographe Bay. The research was
undertaken for the Department of Transport and to investigate the
nature and composition of these dunes and sand bars, to establish
whether or not they are a primary source of sediment to beaches
along Geographe Bay. She was awarded a Distinction (77%).
the recipient of School awards:
Academic Performance (First Year) in Science in 2011
Highest Academic Performance (Upper Year) in
Science in 2012