Three University of Melbourne academics have been elected as fellows of the Australian Academy of Science in recognition of their role in advancing the sum of scientific knowledge.

The Academy is a fellowship of the nation’s most distinguished scientists, elected by their peers for outstanding research. Twenty-one scientists were elected to the 481-member fellowship this year.

Academy president Suzanne Cory congratulated all of the new Fellows.

“All of these scientists are doing amazing and significant work in their chosen fields – they are the Olympic athletes of science,” she said.

The new fellows will be formally admitted at the Australian Academy of Science’s annual general meeting in May.

Professor Ingrid Scheffer was elected for her revolutionary research into the genetic causes of epilepsy and defining new epilepsy syndromes.

In the last year, she led a study that found the first gene for common forms of focal epilepsy and in several other studies, genes that cause severe seizure disorders beginning in childhood associated with developmental disability.

Her work has informed clinical diagnosis and led to genetic testing which enables optimisation of therapy and has the potential to improve long-term outcome of these devastating disorders.

Professor Ivan Marusic from the Department of Mechanical Engineering was recognised for his work on turbulent flows in applications from aquatic ecosystems to aircraft drag reduction.

Aircraft spend about half of their fuel overcoming turbulence, meaning that any improvement in this area has implications for not only the cost of air travel, but also its contribution to carbon emissions.

Professor Marusic said it was not only an honour for him, but his team and Australian fluid mechanics researchers more generally.

“This is an area in which Australia has been traditionally very strong – it’s a great recognition for the field as well,” he said.

The  Academy also elected Professor Barbara Howlett in recognition of her discoveries about fungal diseases of crops, which have led to strategies that Australian farmers use to minimize yield losses.

This research has led to savings of $15 million for canola growers on the Eyre Peninsula in 2012 alone.

Professor Howlett acknowledged the work of her colleagues.

“I am very fortunate to lead a multidisciplinary team with laboratory and field –based skills, which we use to tackle practical issues for farmers,” she said.

The team is now applying its expertise on a national scale to predict and minimise disease losses in canola.