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Westpac STEM Ph.D. Program

Big congratulations to Kate Montgomery, a Ph.D. student in the Ferrari Lab, for being a successful applicant in Westpac's prestigious 2018 STEM program. We wish her all the best in her new and exciting role. 

The STEM Ph.D. Program offers Ph.D. students with a focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics disciplines part-time employment with the Westpac Group while they complete their Ph.D.

Based in Sydney, participants work three days a week at the Westpac Group, gaining valuable business and commercial experience in a supportive environment with a structured development program tailored specifically to STEM students.

During the program participants will complete two, 24-month rotations in two different Westpac Group Business Units.
— Westpac

Reddit's Top 10 Science Stories of the Year

Image:  Getty Images. 

Image: Getty Images. 

#9 Breatharian bacteria

In the frozen wastes of Antarctica, scientists found bacteria that can survive by drawing energy from trace gases in the atmosphere without the aid of sunlight or geothermal energy. The discovery redraws the parameters of whatmight be possible for life, on Earth or elsewhere.


Air-Eating Bacteria

Congratulations to Belinda Ferrari and her team whose article had been accepted by Nature in December 2017. 

The research has found that microbes in Antarctica can scavenge hydrogen, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide from the air to stay alive in such extreme conditions, and this has implications for the search for life on other planets. 

The article has also garnered international interest, read more about it here:

  1. https://newsroom.unsw.edu.au/news/science-tech/living-thin-air-microbe-mystery-solved
  2. https://cosmosmagazine.com/biology/air-eating-bacteria-found-in-antarctica
  3. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/antarctic-alien-life-other-planets-possible-sustained-microbes-scientific-discovery-a8095411.html
  4. https://phys.org/news/2017-12-thin-airmicrobe-mystery.html
Antarctica is one of the most extreme environments on Earth. Yet the cold, dark and dry desert regions are home to a surprisingly rich diversity of microbial communities.
— Belinda Ferrari
Image:  Adam's Flat - A hyper arid sampling site.&nbsp;Image taken by the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD).&nbsp;

Image: Adam's Flat - A hyper arid sampling site. Image taken by the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD). 

Guinness World Record attempt: UNSW Science Showcase

On Monday 27 November 2017, we celebrated our diversity, broke a world record and celebrated our achievements at the end of year faculty celebrations. 

To break the world record, we’ll need everyone in the one area dressed in a laundered lab coat, safety goggles, and holding a piece of (safe and uncontaminated) lab equipment for 5 minutes. We will supply this kit if you need it. To break the stereotype, we’ll then take off our lab coats and goggles and show the world what real scientists look like. The contrasting images will be used in a major campaign to engage communities with our work”
— Emma Johnston 2017
UNSW Science Participants.

UNSW Science Participants.

Congratulations to our new Associate Professor!

It is my great pleasure to announce that Belinda Ferrari has been successful in her applications for promotion to Associate Professor, effective 1 January 2018.

Belinda joined BABS as a Senior Lecturer in 2008 as part of the Environmental Microbiology discipline. Her research focus is microbial diversity of soil bacteria in the Antarctic region in collaboration with the Australian Antarctic Division. In recent years, Belinda has headed the School’s Industry Outreach Committee, and this year was successful in being awarded a prestigious ARC Future Fellowship, which she will take up at the beginning of 2018.


FEMS 2017; the 7th Congress of European Microbiologists.

In July, Nicole Benaud was fortunate enough to attend FEMS 2017; the 7th Congress of European Microbiologists, held in the beautiful city of Valencia, Spain. The congress focused on antimicrobial resistance and infections, sustainability and climate change.

Nicole presented the results of recent work by Ferrari Lab members (herself and Eden), with a poster titled ‘Harnessing Long Read SMRT Sequencing Technology for Natural Product Gene Discovery in Polar Desert Soils’.


Image:  Nicole looking proud next to her poster. Image taken by Nicole.

Image: Nicole looking proud next to her poster. Image taken by Nicole.

ARC Future Fellowship

A huge congratulations to Dr. Belinda Ferrari, a successful applicant for the highly competitive ARC Future Fellowship award. 

Atmospheric carbon fixation: a novel microbial process in Antarctic soils. This project aims to challenge our global understanding of carbon fixation. In most ecosystems, phototrophy supports higher-trophic life, yet no genetic evidence for photosynthesis exists in Antarctic desert soils. The project will determine the significance of atmospheric chemotrophy, a microbial driven process based on the consumption of atmospheric gases that it is proposed supports energy maintenance and biomass assimilation in nutrient-starved Antarctic desert soils. Additionally, the project will establish if these processes are structuring soil microbial communities, particularly in response to climate change. The expected project outcome is knowledge of primary production at the nutritional limits of life. This should provide significant benefit, such as a shift in our knowledge of the biological sciences as a new minimalistic mode of primary production.