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Source: University of Canterbury

24 September 2021

Two University of Canterbury academics from the School of Physical and Chemical Sciences will receive the UC Early & Emerging Career Researcher Award this year – one is a pioneer in airborne microplastics research and the other has an asteroid named in her honour.

Tumu Tuarua Rangahau | Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Ian Wright has announced Dr Laura Revell and Dr Michele Bannister, both UC graduates, have won the 2021 UC Early & Emerging Career Researcher Award. The award, which recognises emerging researchers and their contributions to research in their fields, includes a research prize of $10,000.

“Laura and Michele are outstanding UC academics who are carving out very impressive research profiles that demonstrate not only their ability to undertake world-leading research, but also to engage with the wider public, sharing a sense of discovery and the real-world relevance of their research,” Professor Wright says.

“They represent two exceptional academics from a significant cohort of dynamic and impressive emerging researchers at UC who are making their mark across the university.”

Dr Laura Revell, gained her Chemistry PhD from the University of Canterbury in 2012, after earning her BSc and MSc from Waikato University.

Dr Revell is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Physical and Chemical Sciences and an internationally recognised researcher on climate change and its interaction with atmospheric chemistry. Her research informs international bodies such as the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). She currently leads a group of six postgraduate students (four PhD students, one master’s, one honours). Over her career she has amassed $2.2million in external funding ($1.5m since arriving at UC in 2018, of which $1.3m as Principal Investigator and $200,000 as Associate Investigator).

Dr Revell has published 42 papers in international peer-reviewed journals, of which 26 were published in the last 3 years. She has an h-index of 20 and has been cited more than 1100 times.

Before joining UC, Dr Revell worked as an ETH Zurich-Marie Curie postdoctoral fellow in Switzerland on the Chemistry-Climate Model Initiative (CCMI), which was an international assessment involving 20 modelling groups from 10 countries. She collaborated with other groups internationally over several years to synthesise the results and form our present understanding of how the ozone layer will be impacted by climate change, based on state-of-the-art model projections.

Since returning to New Zealand, Dr Revell became a developer of Aotearoa’s own climate model, the New Zealand Earth System Model. The results of her model development and improvement efforts are used internationally by researchers in New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom.

Dr Revell is leading pioneering work on airborne microplastics. Her group carried out the first study quantifying the contribution of airborne microplastics to global climate change. This study represents a significant advance in our understanding of airborne microplastics and their role in the climate system.

Along with carrying out modelling of airborne microplastics, Dr Revell’s group have discovered airborne microplastics in Antarctica, and they produced the first report of airborne microplastics in New Zealand. She has generated media interest (including contributing to The Press/Stuff, on Radio NZ,, and The Conversation). Dr Revell has worked with Antarctica New Zealand and Gateway Antarctica to implement a long-term monitoring plan for airborne microplastics at Scott Base in Antarctica.

She leads the Deep South National Science Challenge’s ‘Clouds and Aerosols’ Earth System Modelling project with Associate Investigators at NIWA, CSIRO (Australia) and the UK MetOffice ($1m, 2019-2022). She is also the PI on a Fast-Start Marsden ($300,000, 2020-2023) collaborating with colleagues at UC, Victoria University and ETH Zurich. Due to her recognised expertise in climate modelling and atmospheric chemistry, she was invited to join the MBIE Endeavour ‘Extreme events and the emergence of climate change’ project.

In 2020 Dr Revell was one of 25 experts invited to contribute to a virtual workshop developed by the United Nations Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection (GESAMP) on atmospheric microplastics in the marine environment, due to her recognised expertise internationally in this nascent field.

Dr Revell was an expert reviewer for the second draft of the (forthcoming) sixth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group I report, and a contributing author to the 2014 WMO Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion. She co-organised the first ‘Virtual Composition Climate Interactions Conference’, involving researchers from the UK, NZ, and Australia, and served as a session chair. She served as an invited guest editor for Frontiers in Earth Science’s special topic on The Evolution of Stratospheric Ozone. In recognition of her ongoing contributions to atmospheric and climate science in NZ, Dr Revell was invited to contribute to workshops developing research directions and strategy for the Deep South National Science Challenge in 2019 and 2020.

Last year, she received the Emerging Researcher Award from the College of Science and the 2020 Research award from the New Zealand Meteorological Society.

Dr Michele Bannister graduated with a BSc from the University of Canterbury and gained her Astronomy PhD from the Australian National University in 2014.

A lecturer in Astrophysics in the School of Physical and Chemical Sciences, Dr Bannister is an internationally recognised researcher in planetary science, who early in her career has already achieved prominence in efforts to survey and explore the Solar System. In 2020 her research was recognised by two international awards – the Zel’dovich Medal for COSPAR Scientific Commission B (studies of the Solar System) from the Committee on Space Research and the Russian Academy of Sciences, and the Winton Award of the Royal Astronomical Society (UK) – as well as a Rutherford Discovery Fellowship.

Dr Bannister’s research is focused on fundamental questions about the formation and evolution of planetary systems (planets, asteroids, comets… and their precursors). She has worked extensively on major astronomical surveys designed to improve our understanding of the history of the Solar System, from asteroids to Planet Nine. She also played a key role in characterising the first two interstellar objects. These topics excite exceptionally high public interest, as well as among the research community of astronomers.

Dr Bannister has two major areas of research. The first is in the surveying and discovery of the distant and observationally challenging trans-Neptunian Objects (TNOs) and characterising the physical properties of their populations. Most notably, Dr Bannister played a central role in the design and management of the Outer Solar System Origins Survey (OSSOS), which used the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope to discover and map the orbits of more than 800 TNOs over five years. Since 2016 OSSOS has produced 22 papers directly from its data and seven from closely related work. Dr Bannister led four of these papers, including the key survey design and concluding data release papers in 2016 and 2018. This has led to major advances in understanding processes that shaped the outer Solar System.

Dr Bannister’s two defining OSSOS papers in 2016 and 2018, the second an invited paper in a special issue of Astrophysical Journal Supplement (SNIP 2.29), have together received over 120 citations. Dr Bannister has also had key roles in the launch of several large follow-ups to OSSOS, including Colours of OSSOS, a large program on Gemini North Telescope (five papers so far), Ultraviolet Colours of OSSOS, a simultaneous survey on the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT), and the Solar System Origins Legacy Survey, a 206-orbit program on the Hubble Space Telescope that was one of its largest programmes ever to study the Solar System.

Dr Bannister has also had a significant impact, observationally and theoretically, on the new field of study of interstellar objects, the small worlds that formed around other stars, including ‘Oumuamua and 2I/Borisov. In the 2017 flyby of the first interstellar object, 1I/‘Oumuamua, she was involved in three observational papers from this once-in-a-lifetime event, one of which she led; together, these now have over 170 citations. As part of an invited International Space Science Institute team, she co-wrote a 2019 Perspective in Nature Astronomy reviewing our state of knowledge about ‘Oumuamua and its interstellar population, subsequently cited 40 times. This work led to her involvement in writing the proposals for the European Space Agency’s Comet Interceptor mission – successfully selected only a year later, from a field of 23 proposals, and then from among six finalists, as ESA’s first fast-turnaround mission. In 2019-2020, she led an international collaboration observing the second interstellar object, comet 2I/Borisov.

Dr Bannister’s impact includes over 1000 citations to her papers and an h-index of 20. She has been asked to present 10 conference talks and 27 research seminars at institutes in Europe, the US, Canada, and Australia in the last six years. Among many professional service requests, NASA has twice asked her to serve as a panel reviewer selecting its $US500 million Discovery-class planetary missions.

Dr Bannister is an active science communicator, including appearing on the BBC and TVNZ. She was quoted by international media more than 350 times in 2018-2021, twice for the New York Times in March 2020 alone, and her (mainstream/science media) articles routinely attract readership of over 100,000 views. Dr Bannister (@astrokiwi) has more than 10,000 Twitter followers, with whom she frequently discusses a variety of scientific issues. Her work in planning the Vera Rubin Observatory’s upcoming decade of Solar System surveying will feature in an upcoming cover article of National Geographic.

Since returning to New Zealand in 2020, Dr Bannister has worked on growing on-going relationships with Ngāi Tahu’s Dark Sky Project astrotourism operations at UC’s Mt John Observatory and with aerospace companies in Christchurch. The New Zealand Space Agency has requested her policy advice on multiple topics – including the rapidly developing issue of satellite mega-constellations, which led to a statement in March 2021 by New Zealand at the United Nations’ Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. In May 2020, she gave a popular Tauhere | UC Connect public talk ‘Interstellar worlds – tiny arrivals from other stars’, which was also livestreamed to an international audience.

The major international Early Career Researcher awards Dr Bannister received in 2020 come on top of two awards by the Arthur C. Clarke Foundation and by her previous employer – Queen’s University Belfast (UK) – in 2019, and an official commendation by the CFHT Science Advisory Council in 2017. That year an asteroid (10643) Bannister was named in her honour.