Lily Serna might have been headed for an international career in banking and finance, but instead she'll be using her skills in mathematical modelling to assess human impacts on the Great Barrier Reef.
After completing a combined mathematics and finance/international studies degree at UTS, Lily has taken a sharp turn into environmental science with an honours project to model the movement of pesticides in one of the largest rivers feeding into the Great Barrier Reef Lagoon.
Backed by two scholarships – one from the CSIRO and another from the Plant Functional Biology and Climate Change Cluster (C3) in the UTS Faculty of Science – she will add to modelling of the hydrodynamics, sediment and nutrient dynamics of the Fitzroy River estuary.
"When Professor Peter Ralph spoke about the opportunities at C3 I knew it was for me," Lily said. "I've developed a passion for environmental issues and wanted to do something positive and rewarding with my qualifications."
As part of her international studies degree Lily attended the University of Bordeaux and she credits this and her other travels with opening her mind to global issues.
As the first maths graduate to be awarded a C3 scholarship her decision to use her skills to tackle environmental issues has been reinforced by the award of a coveted CSIRO Office of the Chief Executive (OCE) Scholarship.
"While herbicide concentrations have been measured at worrying levels in the Fitzroy estuary, agricultural pesticides are another concern that has not yet been addressed," Lily said. "The model I'm working on aims to help us explain and predict how they move through the estuary towards the reef."
Lily's CSIRO supervisor, Dr Barbara Robson, said the OCE scholarship addressed a priority research area of new scientific tools to assess human impacts on marine ecosystems while also introducing students to CSIRO laboratories and research activities and increasing the pool of potential students for future PhD projects.
Professor Ralph said it also fulfilled a C3 charter to support undergraduate teaching, giving the next generation of researchers the skills and tools to improve understanding of climate change issues.
"This type of quantitative biology is imperative to be able to improve and refine current climate change models," he said. "As C3 research embraces emerging oceanographic and bio-optic disciplines we need graduates who have the skills and passion to get us there."
Lily will be based at UTS under supervision of Associate Professor Tim Langtry. She will also spend time at the CSIRO in Canberra under the supervision of Dr Robson, who is Team Leader Aquatic Systems Modelling.