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Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science go to…

Winner of the 2017 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science

What can kangaroos and platypus tell us about sex and humanity?

Distinguished Professor Jenny Graves AO FAA

Professor Jenny Graves AO has transformed our understanding of how humans and all vertebrate animals evolved and function. In the course of her work, she has kick-started genomic and epigenetic research in Australia, and predicted the disappearance of the male chromosome.

Australia’s pouched and egg-laying mammals are a fantastic source of genetic variation because they last shared a common ancestor with placental mammals so long ago. They are truly independent experiments in mammalian evolution.

Jenny Graves’ life’s work has used marsupials and monotremes, birds and lizards, to understand the complexity of the human genome and to reveal new human genes.

She has transformed our understanding of how sex chromosomes work and how they evolved, predicting the decline of the Y chromosome.

Her research has contributed to a deeper understanding of the immune system; prion diseases, blood proteins, and helped understand the tumour driving the Tasmanian devil to extinction.

In a collaboration between La Trobe University and The University of Canberra, she’s studying how bearded dragons change sex in response to temperature, a critical issue as the climate warms.

For her pioneering investigations of the genetics of sex, Professor Jenny Graves AO receives the $250,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science.

2017 Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation

How Australian dairy milk is saving the world’s teeth

 

Laureate Professor Eric Reynolds AO FICD FTSE FRACDS

Thirty years ago, a young dental researcher discovered a protein in dairy milk that repairs and strengthens teeth. Today, that protein, sold as Recaldent, is used by millions of people every day as they chew gum and visit the dentist.

The inventor, Eric Reynolds, now leads the University of Melbourne’s dental school and travels the world, working with Australian and global businesses to create new products to further improve oral health.

Products using Recaldent have generated sales of over $2 billion to-date, and it has been estimated they’ve saved over $12 billion in dental treatment costs worldwide.

But he’s not finished on his mission to save the world’s teeth. His team have also developed a test and vaccine for severe gum disease which are now being commercialised by CSL and their partners.

“Oral diseases are the most prevalent diseases of humankind,” Eric says. One in four Australians have cavities and/or gum disease and the cost of treatment in Australia alone is over $8 billion.

For inventing and commercialising Recaldent, Professor Eric Reynolds receives the $250,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation.

2017 Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year

Unravelling the complexity of height, intelligence, obesity and schizophrenia

 

Professor Jian Yang

The publication of the human genome near fifteen years ago revealed that the human genome is complicated. Jian Yang has created pioneering new techniques to unravel that complexity and solve the ‘missing heritability paradox’.

His work will enable researchers to determine the genetic factors behind complex diseases, opening the way to new drugs and better genomic risk prediction.

Some aspects of the human genome are ‘simple’ – red hair, Huntington’s disease, and haemophilia for example are determined by changes on one or a few  genes. Most inherited traits are far more complex and current gene analysis tools can only track down a small fraction of the DNA variants responsible for many inherited conditions.

Jian Yang developed a new statistical method to analyse genomic variation and showed that genetic variation in obesity, cognitive ability, and schizophrenia are due to the contribution of a large number of genetic variants across the genome.

So, to understand the heritability of complex traits and diseases we will have to analyse the genomes of hundreds of thousands, even millions of people. Jian is now creating the tools to enable these large analyses. Thousands of geneticists around the world are already using his software.

Professor Jian Yang receives the $50,000 Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year for creating ways to understand inherited traits and the human genome.

2017 Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year

Watching the processes of life

 

Professor Dayong Jin

We need new ways to detect the early stages of disease and cancer. Dayong Jin believes the key is for physicists, biologists, engineers and doctors to work together. And that’s what he’s doing with his team at the University of Technology, Sydney

He has created new kinds of microscopes that allow us to watch molecules at work inside living cells. Using quantum dots, lasers, nanocrystals and other technologies, these microscopes will allow us to watch the inner workings of our immune system, see how bacteria become resistant to antibiotics, and to find one cancer cell amongst millions of healthy cells. He’s working with Olympus to commercialise his inventions.

But his personal vision goes much further.

He believes that his technologies will enable portable, easy to use devices to detect the first signs of disease, evidence of drugs, or of toxins in food and the environment. With the support of the Australian Research Council he’s working to give Australian companies the opportunity to create these new devices.

For creating new technologies to image the processes of life, Professor Dayong Jin receives the $50,000 Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year.

2017 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools

The outdoor classroom

 

Mr Neil Bramsen

In the outdoor classroom at Mount Ousley Public School in Wollongong, primary students are watching and recording bird sightings. They’re down at the beach assessing the level of marine debris. They’re reading, or just thinking, in the butterfly garden.

“The outdoor classroom is probably my favourite place to be,” says Neil Bramsen, Mount Ousley’s assistant principal. And it extends far beyond the school. Students have talked with astronauts on the International Space Station and made global connections through Skype with schools in Africa and America.

Neil sees science as an enabler of learning across the curriculum. “It’s a way of hooking kids into learning. We want kids to enjoy school. It’s got to be a balance of fun and learning.”

Mr Neil Bramsen receives the Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools for his innovative partnerships with scientists, the community and other schools to foster students’ enthusiasm, knowledge and skills in science.

2017 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools

Bringing science alive

 

Mr Brett McKay

Kirrawee High School has a rich history in sport and music. Its alumni include six Olympic athletes and several leading musicians. Today, thanks to the work of Brett McKay over the past twenty years, Kirrawee has become a force in science education as well.

Brett McKay is Head Teacher Science, at Kirrawee. As a physics and science teacher he has overseen a four-fold increase in students taking physics. Many have gone on to careers in science around the world. He has inspired young women to consider science careers. A recent year 11 student recently said, “Thanks to Mr McKay… I found my love and passion for science and a highly possible career path for me.”

Importantly he’s brought science to life for students not considering science as a career. He recognises that we all need a grounding in science to make informed decisions in the modern world.

And he’s shared his knowledge of science teaching with his peers through the Science Teachers Association of NSW and with primary schools in his area. He is seen as an encouraging, resourceful, and engaging teacher who brings science alive for students.

Mr Brett McKay receives the Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools for his achievements in inspiring his students to love science and to use it in their daily lives.

This information was first published by Science in Public.

Fight club at cybersecurity MOOC

In 2012, the Australian Prime Minister’s Office – together with Cisco, Microsoft and Facebook – established an annual hacking competition to find the next generation of web security talent. Student teams from across the country compete in the 24-hour hackathon. And every year, for the past four, Richard Buckland’s students have blown the competition away – taking 1st, 2nd  and 3rd.  “Every year, we blitz it,” says Buckland, head of the Security Engineering Lab and a professor of cyber security at UNSW’s School of Computer Science and Engineering and creator of a cybersecurity MOOC (massive open online course). “So I think we’re doing something right.”

What he does right is organise courses that teach cybersecurity through a series of hands-on exercises, using cloak-and-dagger collaborative games that ignite his students’ enthusiasm. This approach flips the standard teaching model, so that students are taught offence as a way to develop defence; and, in the process, come to understand the mindset of the hacker.

“In addition, we partner with experts to bring in real-world scenarios to the classroom,” Buckland says. Sometimes, these are industry gurus in banking and telecommunications. Sometimes they are badass hackers.

“I can give the students an overview and tell them the theoretical aspects, but then we have cyber community leaders show them how to actually do it,” he says. “I think the role of teachers is to lift our students up above us.” 

Cyber defender Richard Buckland at work with students.

The program’s alumni have brought this collaborative ethos into the corporate world. “I’ve seen the emergence of a community of security professionals who work together, not just for the interests of their own company, but for security in general,” says Buckland.

There is a huge supply and demand problem for cybersecurity professionals. A recent report by US-based market research company Cybersecurity Ventures estimates cybercrime cost companies US$4 trillion in 2015, and is set to rise to US$8 trillion annually by 2021. 

It’s a criminal epidemic that can only be fought by cybersecurity experts, a profession that is itself growing at a rate of 18% annually, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

Cisco estimates there are more than a million unfilled security jobs worldwide. “In the early days, companies just repurposed rebels and old-style malcontent hackers, dressing them in suits and paying them lots of money,” says Buckland. “That was a really great solution. Until the pool ran dry.”

Now that cybersecurity experts need to be mass produced, the burden is falling to universities. “But no one worldwide really knows how to do it – there isn’t yet expertise on training up the rebels and breakers you want.” 

Teaching the mindset of a hacker via cybersecurity MOOC

To help quench demand, Buckland is developing a series of massive open online courses (MOOCs) for anyone to learn cybersecurity, as part of a A$1.6 million SEC.EDU partnership with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia to expand UNSW’s cybersecurity teaching resources and curriculum.

Already, almost 20,000 budding cyber defenders have signed up to the introductory cybersecurity MOOC, 60% of them from Australia, ranging from information technology professionals wanting to brush up on the latest technical knowhow, to schoolchildren – even miners and taxi drivers who want to reskill.

Perhaps most crucial are the many teachers and lecturers taking the course, exponentially increasing Buckland’s reach. “For university academics who have been brought up in a traditional non-hacker way, cyber is a little bit scary to teach,” he says. “Academics can borrow our lecture notes and course materials, or just be influenced to – I hope – become believers in the particular way we teach cyber.”  

Buckland’s cybersecurity MOOC is hosted on Open Learning, Australia’s first MOOC provider and a company he co-founded in 2012 with former student and now chief executive Adam Brimo. Designed to deliver more engaging courses online, the platform features lecture videos and exercises, along with wikis and social media-style technologies to allow people to interact and collaborate.

And Buckland is not just focusing on young adults and professionals. Aiming to instil a cybersecurity mentality at an early age, he goes into primary schools to teach kids the basic mindset of a hacker and how to protect against cybercrime. “I’m trying to get the kids to scam each other in a controlled way, because I think then they get to understand how scams work and how to be defensive against them.”

– Ben Skuse

Featured image: Suzanne Elworthy

Read about the collaborative opportunities presented by cybersecurity challenges here.

prizes for science

Prestigious science prizes winners announced

Featured image above: Professor Richard Shine is the winner of the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science. The PM’s prizes for science celebrate excellence in scientific research, innovation and teaching. Credit: Terri Shine

Meet the winners of this year’s Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science, worth a total of $750,000.

Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science

Richard Shine – defending Australia’s snakes and lizards

Prizes
Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear

Prime Minister’s Prize for Science

Northern Australia’s peak predators—snakes and lizards—are more likely to survive the cane-toad invasion thanks to the work of Professor Richard Shine.

Using behavioural conditioning, Shine and his team have successfully protected these native predators against toad invasion in WA.

He has created traps for cane toads, taught quolls and goannas that toads are ‘bad,’ and now plans to release small cane toads ahead of the invasion front, a counterintuitive ‘genetic backburn’ based on ‘old school’ ideas that his hero Charles Darwin would have recognised.

Following in the footsteps of Darwin, Shine loves lizards and snakes.

“Some people love model trains, some people love Picasso; for me, it’s snakes.”

For his work using evolutionary principles to address conservation challenges, Professor Richard Shine from The University of Sydney has been awarded the 2016 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science.

Michael Aitken—fairness underpins efficiency: the profitable innovations saving Australia billions

Prizes
Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear

Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation

Global stock markets are fairer and more efficient thanks to the work of Professor Michael Aitken. Now he’s applying his information technology and markets know-how to improve health, mortgage, and other markets. He says there are billions of dollars of potential savings in health expenditure in Australia alone, that can go hand in glove with significant improvements in consumers’ health.

Aitken and his team created a service that captures two million trades per second, enabling rapid analysis of markets.

Then he created the SMARTS system to detect fraud. Bought by Nasdaq Inc., it now watches over most of the world’s stock markets.

One of the companies he established to commercialise his innovations was sold for $100 million and the proceeds are supporting a new generation of researchers in the Capital Markets Cooperative Research Centre.

Now his team of IT researchers are taking on health and other markets with a spin-off company and large-scale R&D program that are identifying large-scale inefficiencies and fraud in Australia’s health markets.

A powerful advocate of scientific and technological innovation, Professor Michael Aitken from the Capital Markets Cooperative Research Centre has been awarded the 2016 Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation for creating and commercialising tools that are making markets fair and efficient.

Colin Hall – creating new manufacturing jobs by replacing glass and metal with plastic

Prizes
Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear

Prize for New Innovators

Dr Colin Hall and his colleagues have created a new manufacturing process that will allow manufacturers to replace components made from traditional materials like glass, in cars, aircraft, spacecraft, and even whitegoods—making them lighter and more efficient.

Their first commercial success is a plastic car wing-mirror. The Ford Motor Company has already purchased more than 1.6 million mirror assemblies for use on their F-Series trucks. The mirrors are made in Adelaide by SMR Automotive and have earned $160 million in exports to date. Other manufacturers are assessing the technology. And it all started with spectacles.

Hall used his experience in the spectacle industry to solve a problem that was holding back the University of South Australia team’s development of their new technology. He developed the magic combination of five layers of materials that will bind to plastic to create a car mirror that performs as well as glass and metal, for a fraction of the weight.

For his contribution to creating a new manufacturing technology, Dr Colin Hall from the University of South Australia receives the inaugural Prize for New Innovators.

Richard Payne – re-engineering nature to fight for global health

Prizes
Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear

Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year

Richard Payne makes peptides and proteins. He sees an interesting peptide or protein in nature, say in a blood-sucking tick. Then he uses chemistry to recreate and re-engineer the molecule to create powerful new drugs, such as anti-clotting agents needed to treat stroke.

His team is developing new drugs for the global challenges in health including tuberculosis (TB), malaria, and antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections. They’re even developing synthetic cancer vaccines. His underlying technologies are being picked up by researchers and pharmaceutical companies around the world and are the subject of four patent applications.

For his revolutionary drug development technologies, Professor Richard Payne from The University of Sydney has been awarded the 2016 Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year.

Kerrie Wilson – conservation that works for governments, ecosystems, and people

Prizes
Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear

Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year

What is the value of the services that ecosystems provide—services such as clean air, water, food, and tourism? And what are the most effective ways to protect ecosystems? Where will governments get the best return on their investment in the environment? These questions are central to the work of Associate Professor Kerrie Wilson.

Wilson can put a value on clean air, water, food, tourism, and the other benefits that forests, rivers, oceans and other ecosystems provide. And she can calculate the most effective way to protect and restore these ecosystems. Around the world she is helping governments to make smart investments in conservation.

For example, in Borneo she and her colleagues have shown how the three nations that share the island could retain half the land as forest, provide adequate habitat for the orangutan and Bornean elephant, and achieve an opportunity cost saving of over $50 billion.

In Chile, they are helping to plan national park extensions that will bring recreation and access to nature to many more Chileans, while also enhancing the conservation of native plants and animals.

On the Gold Coast, they are helping to ensure that a multi-million-dollar local government investment in rehabilitation of degraded farmland is spent wisely—in the areas where it will have the biggest impact for the natural ecosystem and local communities.

For optimising the global allocation of scarce conservation resources Associate Professor Kerrie Wilson receives the 2016 Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year.

Suzy Urbaniak – turning students into scientists

Prizes
Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear

Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools

Geoscientist Suzy Urbaniak combined her two loves—science and education—by becoming a science teacher 30 years after finishing high school. But she couldn’t believe it when she saw how little the teaching styles had changed over the years.

“I decided then that I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to turn the classroom into a room full of young scientists, rather than students learning from textbooks,” Urbaniak says.

Starting out as a geoscientist, Urbaniak found that while she knew all the theory from school and university, she didn’t have any hands-on experience and didn’t feel as though she knew what she was doing.

She realised there needed to be a stronger connection between the classroom and what was happening in the real world, out in the field, and took this philosophy into her teaching career at Kent Street Senior High School.

“The science in my classroom is all about inquiry and investigation, giving the students the freedom to develop their own investigations and find their own solutions. I don’t believe you can really teach science from worksheets and text books.”

For her contributions to science teaching, and inspiring our next generation of scientists, Suzy Urbaniak has been awarded the 2016 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools.

Gary Tilley – creating better science teachers

Prizes
Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear

Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools

Gary Tilley is mentoring the next generation of science and maths teachers to improve the way these subjects are taught in the classroom.

“In over 30 years of teaching, I’ve never seen a primary school student who isn’t curious and doesn’t want to be engaged in science. Once they’re switched onto science, it helps their literacy and numeracy skills, and their investigative skills. Science is the key to the whole thing,” Tilley says.

Tilley recognised a long time ago that the way science was taught in primary schools needed to change. So he has taken it upon himself to mentor the younger teachers at his school, and helps train science and maths student teachers at Macquarie University through their Opening Real Science program.

At Seaforth Public School, he and his students have painted almost every wall in their school with murals of dinosaurs and marine reptiles, and created models of stars and planets, to encourage excitement and a love for science. The school is now known by local parents as the ‘Seaforth Natural History Museum’.

“Communicating science, getting children inspired with science, engaging the community and scientists themselves with science to make it a better place for the kids—that’s my passion,” Tilley says.

For his contributions to science teaching, and mentoring the next generation of science teachers, Gary Tilley has been awarded the 2016 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools.

This information on the 2016 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science was first shared by Science in Public on 20 October 2016. Read the original article and the full profiles here.

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