Nicole Webster during a research trip to Antarctica. Image: Andrew Negri.

A prestigious national award recognising the work of young, female scientists was won by AIMS sponge researcher, Dr Nicole Webster. The Dorothy Hill Award is announced annually by the Australian Academy of Science and recognises excellence by female researchers in the field of earth and marine sciences. For Dr Webster, the award was particularly sweet, as she has raised three small children while breaking new ground in her field of expertise, where she is now considered a world leader.

Though primitive animals, sponges play a significant role in marine ecosystems. Sponges host a complex community of microbes in a mutually-beneficial relationship. Scientists such as Dr Webster are trying to understand how these microbes interact with their hosts and how the relationships are affected by environmental stress.

The work is being done through the AIMS Centre for Marine Microbiology and Genetics. A priority for the Centre is understanding the relationship between marine microbes, the smallest creatures known, and their marine hosts. These relationships drive many of the vital systems of life.

Dr Webster is now a leader in the AIMS research program titled "Understanding the role of microbes in the functioning of healthy and stressed reefs."