1 June 2009

University of Queensland scholarship recipient Alex Ridley is using his mathematical and communication skills to improve future public health.

Mr Ridley is conducting research that hopes to predict the spread of epidemics in the future.

"The recent outbreak of swine flu has shown the importance of understanding epidemics," he said.

"My honours thesis studies how recent developments in mathematics inform probabilistic network-based models of such diseases."

Mr Ridley said that classical models of a disease spreading through a population assumed that the chance of infection between any two individuals was the same, regardless of geographical or social distance.

Yet in reality there was everyday experience of disease spreading through networks of a variety of scales.

"For example, we have recently seen transport networks spreading swine flu from country to country; while via local social networks children have caught the disease from their playmates," Mr Ridley said.

"I'm interested in finding what these more realistic models tell us about the prevention, management and evolution of diseases."

Mr Ridley is also undertaking a research project at the Queensland Brain Institute, modelling axon growth in the brain.

He was recently awarded the Kate McNaughton of Roma Scholarship for 2009.

The scholarship is open to all students that have completed a Bachelor of Arts and are about to enter the final year of their first honours program within the Faculty of Arts.

"I was absolutely delighted to find out I'd won the scholarship. It was a pleasant surprise and I'm very grateful for being nominated," Mr Ridley said.

He aims to do a PhD, and then teach and conduct research within Australia.

"Alex has a truly outstanding academic record," said his Mathematics Honours Coordinator, Dr Victor Scharaschkin from the School of Mathematics and Physics.

"He has received a Dean's Commendation for High Achievement in all of his semesters except one."

At the end of last year, Mr Ridley was awarded the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) Prize for Advanced Statistics.

The Kate McNaughton scholarship was founded in 1931 by gifts under the will of Duncan McNaughton of Roma.

Selection for the scholarship is based on merit and suitability for the award and is awarded to two candidates annually.

Media enquiries contact Lynelle Ross (07) 3346 9935 or l.ross@smp.uq.edu.au.