Research

Alumni award for international success

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As we swelter through a Bendigo January, spare a thought for former resident Dr Simon McIlroy and researcher at Denmark’s Aalborg University, where the month’s mercury reaches an average two degrees. Simon said adapting to the country’s winter months has been a challenge, but another year ahead chasing his goals certainly puts the weather into perspective.

“As an Australian it’s a little bit difficult to adapt to the cold and dark winters, but I really love living here and I love the experience of being here,” he said.

Dr McIlroy was recently awarded the 2016 La Trobe University Distinguished Alumni Young Achiever award for his research into the microbiology of wastewater treatment systems.

“Every city in the world produces thousands of litres of nutrient-rich waste every day and that needs to be treated for environmental and health reasons,” he said.

It’s a pursuit that’s got him noticed in academic circles here and abroad. In 2015 Dr McIlroy received a Sapere Aude Research Talent Award from the Danish Research Council.

The award included $100,000 for his research and was presented by the Danish Minister for Research and Innovation at a ceremony attended by Crown Princess Mary of Denmark. “The idea of that award is to retain talented scientists in Denmark,” Dr McIlroy said. “I felt honoured to receive that award, especially from a country that wasn’t my own.”

Dr McIlroy has made several important discoveries, including the first genome sequences from several organisms important to wastewater treatment and the very first physiological information from a previously uncharacterised bacterial phylum.

He has published more than 30 research articles in international peer reviewed journals, including 16 published from his time as a PhD student, and contributed to several scholarly book chapters.

He said much of what he has achieved in life so far can be attributed to his lecturers at La Trobe, and in particular his PhD supervisor Professor Robert Seviour. “He taught me a lot about what it is to be a research scientist,” he said. “I was always provided with a challenge in that it didn’t matter what I had done or what I knew, I could always do more and always learn more.

“I have a lot of fond memories of La Trobe, mainly of the people I was privileged to study and work with, and I also met my wife at La Trobe, so we share a lot of memories together.”

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