Charles Sturt University
Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation

Summer Internships Projects

Summer Internships - project opportunities 2019-2020

The range of research undertaken by the Graham Centre is diverse, with both short-term and long-term impact. To learn what it is like to undertake real research while working alongside a researcher connected with the Graham Centre, consider one of the projects listed, or talk to our Members about another project they are working on. More information is listed under each Research Pathway on Our Projects page.

Remember, you must discuss your research interests and/or potential project with one or more Graham Centre Members before submitting your application.

Improving flowering performance of walnuts in the Riverina region

Working on this project, you will have the opportunity to engage with the Walnut Australia (Webster) and obtain valued experience on light microscopy and scanning electronic microscopy (SEM). The project will monitor and develop a comprehensive understanding of flower induction/initiation process and later differentiation stages in walnuts in Riverina. Therefore explain the female flower dropping issue and potentially improve flower performance under Riverina ecological conditions.

The student will engage with horticultural scientists from Webster. The student will work on walnut flower sampling, walnut flower dissection and observations using light microscopy and scanning electronic microscopy. The student will get experience on plant tissue fixation, staining technique, plant tissue sectioning, sputter coating, light microscopy and SEM.

CONTACT for this project: Dr Xiaocheng Zhu   Email:  xzhu@csu.edu.au Tel:  0420 855 893

Dung Beetle Ecosystem Engineers Project

Study the ecology, biology and reproduction of imported dung beetles as biocontrol agents for management of livestock pests. The project will focus on monitoring and surveillance to 1) determine abundance and species diversity in these regions, 2) perform experimentation to optimise the rearing and fecundity of imported beetle species under controlled conditions and under natural settings, 3) evaluate the chemical cues involved with attraction of various beetle species to dung, and 4) determine the rate of dung burial as influenced by soil type and species. Dung beetles are important to the livestock industry, as they control the accumulation of dung by dung burial over time, and can reduce the fly and pest burdens for grazing livestock, while enhancing soil quality and pasture growth.

Students will gain experience in outreach extension, insect rearing, monitoring, analytical chemistry, soil science, and data handling and analysis. Students can gain experience working with stakeholder producers on monitoring as well as performing research in the field and laboratory, as well as under controlled environment conditions.

CONTACT for this project: Prof Leslie Weston  Email: leweston@csu.edu.au Tel: 02 6933 4689
with Prof Geoff Gurr

Health benefits of cereals and pulses

The projects being investigated by this research team include in vitro, ex vivo and in vivo analysis that evaluates the potential of cereal and pulses in modulating risk factors of cardiovascular disease, metabolic disorders such as diabetes and obesity; and cancer.

Student/s would be engaged in cell culture, chemical profiling of cereal/pulse extracts, ELISAs, and other really cool stuff.

CONTACT for this project: Dr Abishek Santhakumar   Email: asanthakumar@csu.edu.au Tel: 02 6933 2678
with Dr Nidhish Francis  /  Dr Ken Chinkwo  /  A/Prof Dan Waters  /  Prof Chris Blanchard

Comparison of lamb growth rates under different backgrounding and feeding regimens

Two lamb feeding projects are scheduled over the summer using the CSU lamb feeding facility at Wagga. The first (Dec/Jan) is comparing lamb growth rates on feed following different backgrounding regimens, with lambs fed through to a finished weight. The second project (Jan-April – TBC) plans to compare commercial diets (pellets and grain) for finishing lambs.

Students would be involved in daily feeding and checking lambs, including regularly (weekly or fortnightly) weighing lambs. Could also include CT scanning lambs and/or collection of carcase data at the abattoir. There may also be opportunity for the student to engage with another commercial trial in December/January with ewes from the CSU flock treated with a mineral injection and weighed pre-joining. This component will be 3-4 days work.

CONTACT for this project: Dr Shawn McGrath   Email: shmcgrath@csu.edu.au Tel: 6933 2825

Effectively address subsoil constraints by incorporation of chemically-balanced nano-amendments

The purpose of this research is to develop and assess the effectiveness of nano-structured amendments to ameliorate subsoil constraints in various farming systems. This project will evaluate the performance of these newly developed nano-products (i) in improving soil characteristics (such as exchangeable cations, non-exchangeable Ca2+, undissolved carbonate, soil aggregation); and (ii) the spatial distribution profile of retained nano-products in soil profiles, under laboratory conditions.

Students will work full-time during the project and be involved in the following activities:

  • Set up nano-lime and nano-gypsum soil column incubation experiments
  • Lime and gypsum dissolution measurement
  • Soil solution extraction using Rhizon samplers
  • Using various analytical tools to analyse soil properties.

CONTACT for this project: Dr Ehsan Tavakkoli Email: ehsan.tavakkoli@dpi.nsw.gov.au    Tel: 02 6938 1992  Mob: 0421 018 075
with Dr Yunying Fang   /    Dr Naveed Aslam

Elemental toxicity in wheat associated with sodic subsoil under waterlogged conditions

Almost 30% of the Australian landmass - including 80% of the irrigated agricultural area - is occupied by sodic soils. The dispersive nature of sodic soils can result in a low level of macroporosity and, therefore, reduced hydraulic conductivity. Restricted water intake and internal drainage results in waterlogging in sodic subsoil conditions even after a small rainfall events in medium to low rainfall regions of Australia. Major physiological effects of waterlogging are reduced uptake and transport of mineral ions by roots. Similarly, interactive stress of waterlogging and sodicity causes reduction in ion uptake, especially of N, P, K, Ca, Mg, and Zn and leads to higher absorption of Na, Fe, and Mn. Differences in Mn, Fe, and Al content of shoots also account for a substantial proportion of the genetic diversity in waterlogging tolerance in sodic soil, i.e., higher shoot Na, Fe and Mn correlate with improved waterlogging tolerance. Whether this correlation of waterlogging tolerance and micronutrient content is the cause or the result of waterlogging tolerance clearly needs further investigation.

To address the above issues, we will conduct a pilot study in glasshouse by growing two near isogenic wheat lines of contrasting Na toxicity tolerance in a factorial combination of sodic and non-sodic (check soil) soils with two water regimes (waterlogged and control). Students will participate in setting up water treatments, collecting plant morpho-physiological data, processing plant and soil samples for further chemical analyses. Activities over the course of this project may include:

  • Maintaining waterlogging treatment in a PVC column experiment
  • Periodically recording tiller number, leaf number and plant height
  • Harvesting plant and measuring their dry weights after oven drying them at 70°C temperature
  • Grinding and weighing leaves for ICP analysis
  • Processing soil samples for laboratory analysis.

CONTACT for this project: Dr Ehsan Tavakkoli   Email: ehsan.tavakkoli@dpi.nsw.gov.au Tel: 02 6938 1992  Mob: 0421 018 075
with Dr Shihab Uddin

Design of new targets against foot and mouth disease

The project will perform bioinformatics analysis of the foot and mouth disease virus. The student will be shown how to perform BLAST analysis in the Protein Data Bank, and identify which proteins have been solved, and which proteins may be imported specifically to the nucleus using host nuclear import receptors.

The student will be involved in computational work in the first instance. They will also gain laboratory experience in expressing / purifying proteins. When targets are identified, they will form the basis of an Honours project. The CI has a good track record in progressing this type of work to drug therapies. The project will delineate and validate virus-host nuclear import receptor interfaces as viable targets for therapeutic approaches. Related research has been undertaken by the research group in Zika, Hendra, and Nipah. The work is performed in collaboration with leading national and international scientists.

CONTACT for this project: Prof Jade Forwood    Email: jforwood@csu.edu.au Tel: 02 6933 2317

Optimal irrigation scheduling of soybean

The experiment involves two sowing dates and four watering regimes between November and April. All irrigations to be done on the same day but run for different lengths of time.  Irrigation will be applied only when needed i.e. when there is no rainfall. Before applying irrigation, predicted rainfall will be checked and irrigation applied only if there is no rainfall in the coming days and the plant is stressed. Pre-irrigation will be done to bring the soil water content of all the plots to the same level as the previous season experiment has resulted in different amounts of soil water depletion.

The student will be involved in setting up temporary bird netting over the experimental area, sowing the crop into the small plot area (small area with instrumentation – needs to be hand sown), weeding when required, dry matter sampling, NDVI reading, canopy temperature (infrared) reading, managing (operating) the irrigation treatments, recording crop phenology, harvesting and harvest parameters.

CONTACT for this project: Dr Ketema Zeleke    Email: kzeleke@csu.edu.au Tel: 02 6933 4998