From little things big things grow, but sometimes you first need the opportunity to have a go at the little things. That’s the value Dr Julie Culbert from the University of Adelaide gained from winning the 2015 Science and Innovation Award in the Viticulture and Oenology category, sponsored by Wine Australia.
She used her award funding to support an innovative 12-month project testing whether computational modelling could be used to quickly and cheaply predict the interactions of fining agents with desirable and undesirable wine volatiles – and if so, which fining agents could be used to remove volatile compounds associated with common wine taints.
Computational modelling has rarely been used in the wine sector, but is common in many other fields. The pharmaceutical industry, for example, regularly models the biochemical behaviour of target compounds to inform drug design.
Central to Dr Culbert’s work was access to a computer program for atomic-scale materials modelling that is available on high-powered computers at the Australian National University in Canberra.
Results have come more slowly than hoped, with a number of common fining agents proving more complex to model than expected. However, a start has been made and Dr Culbert is continuing to work with a collaborator at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston.
She was also able to present her work at two conferences in Europe this year, where the idea created interest.
‘It’s been great to be able to try something new that possibly may not have been funded otherwise’, she said.
‘By covering operational costs, the award provided the opportunity to investigate the proof of concept of an innovative idea and in the process allowed me to make some really good contacts and attend some important conferences.
‘It’s as much about personal development as it is about as the specific project so from that perspective it is certainly a great opportunity.’
Applications for this year’s Science and Innovation Awards for Young People in Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry close on Friday 14 October 2016.
The Science and Innovation Awards are run annually by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, coordinated by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARES).
Wine Australia is a partner of the awards, which encourage young scientists, researchers and innovators to apply for a grant of up to $22,000 to fund a project on an innovative or emerging scientific issue that will benefit Australia’s primary industries.
The Science and Innovation Awards have helped more than 210 young Australian researchers make their ideas a reality, with Australia’s wine sector researchers supported through a viticulture and oenology category.