From left: Mitchell Torok (joint winner in Engineering), Macinley Butson (winner in Investigations and the Innovator to Market award) and Isaac Brain (joint winner in Engineering).
The Science and Engineering awards ceremony took place on 5 February and highlights the achievements of secondary students from around the country. This year’s best projects includes a SMART device designed to reduce excess dosage and side effects of radiotherapy in breast cancer patients, a sticker that checks whether solar disinfected water is biologically safe to drink, and a fall-detecting smart watch designed to monitor the wellbeing of elderly patients in nursing care.
The annual Science and Engineering awards are a collaboration between the CSIRO, BHP Foundation and the Australian Science Teachers Association (ASTA). The awards have three categories; Investigations, Engineering, and Innovator to Market. To qualify for the awards, students must first win an ASTA competition, such as the Young Scientist Awards for NSW.
Each category awards a first place winner, who will receive a prize of $4000. These three first place winners, one from each category, will have the chance to later compete in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) in the USA in May.
They are named for some of Australia’s top research leaders and exemplify commercial outcomes from research. Yet the UNSW Women in Engineering Awards night this year also showed how far there is to go in approaching gender equity in one of the most inequitable fields of employment in Australia.
While some of the world’s leading engineers – responsible for world record solar efficiencies, in high performing perovskite solar cells for example – were recognised through the awards; students, research leaders and industry also heard of the barriers that persist in recruiting young women into engineering.
Engineering skills are central to leadership – trained in analytical approaches, problem solving and focussed on the big picture, it’s a critical path for tomorrow’s leaders.
A problem of supply
In 2016 just 13% of Australian engineers were women. Many come to engineering careers through UNSW Sydney, which as the largest engineering faculty accounts for 20% of the Australian engineering graduates that fill just one-third of the 18,000 engineering positions available each year.
The UNSW Women in Engineering Awards are designed to showcase excellence in engineering and also provide clear role models for young women. The university goes to considerable lengths to improve diversity in student intakes – making individual calls to women offered places at the university to encourage them to accept the offer.
UNSW Women in Engineering Awards showcases strong role models
The Ada Lovelace Medal for an Outstanding Woman Engineer was awarded to Kathryn Fagg, Reserve Bank board member and President, Chief Executive Women. The Maria Skyllas-Kazacos Young Professional Award for Outstanding Achievement was won by Narelle Underwood, Director of Survey Operations at Spatial Services, a division of the NSW Department of Finance, Services. Prof Cordelia Selomulya, Professor, Monash University was awarded The Judy Raper Award for Leadership.
The UNSW Women in Engineering Awards are named after two of Australia’s leading engineer researchers, Maria Skyllas-Kazacos and Judy Raper.
Maria Skylass-Kazacos is one of Australia’s first female professors in chemical engineering. Judy Raper is Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) at University of Wollongong.
The award attributions are included below.
The Ada Lovelace Medal for an Outstanding Woman Engineer
Kathryn Fagg is a chemical engineer by training who has held technical and leadership roles in the petroleum, banking, steel-making and logistics sectors. She now serves on the board of the Reserve Bank of Australia, is Chairman at Melbourne Recital Centre, and holds Non-executive Director roles at Boral, Djerriwarrh Investments, Incitec Pivot and Breast Cancer Network of Australia. She also serves as President of Chief Executive Women and speaks publicly on issues relating to gender equity in business.
The Judy Raper Award for Leadership
Professor Cordelia Selomulya leads the Monash Biotechnology and Food Engineering group and is director of both the Australia-China Joint Research Centre for Future Dairy Manufacturing, and the Graduate Industry Research Partnership for the Food and Dairy industry. Professor Selomulya leads the Monash Advanced Particle Engineering Laboratory in interdisciplinary research on the design of nanoparticle vaccines and mesoporous materials. She has designed a more efficient DNA vaccine delivery system for malaria using magnetic nanoparticles, revealed the role of nanoparticle adjuvants for ovarian cancer vaccines, and developed multi-stage vaccines for malaria.
The Maria Skyllas-Kazacos Young Professional Award for Outstanding Achievement
Narelle Underwood is the Surveyor-General of NSW and Director of Survey Operations at Spatial Services, a division of the NSW Department of Finance, Services and Innovation. She is the first woman to ever be appointed to the role in any Australian state. As Surveyor General she is the President of the Board of Surveying and Spatial Information (BOSSI), Chair of the Geographical Names Board, NSW Surveying Taskforce and the Surveying and Mapping Industry Council.
Australian researchers exploring “dimmer switch” medicines that could help patients with obesity, diabetes and schizophrenia, have won the prestigious GSK Award for Research Excellence.
The ground-breaking research by Professors Arthur Christopoulos and Patrick Sexton from Monash University offers hope for people with chronic conditions. According to the researchers, medicines that can be “turned up” or “turned down” rather than “on and off“ will give doctors more variability to tailor treatment to a patient’s medical needs. Medicines based on this principle will allow patients to lead a more normal life without the side effects associated with existing drugs.
Their research into G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) has begun to unravel the complexities of drug action that could lead to more targeted medicines. The “dimmer switch” of a protein, known as the allosteric site, allows the targeted protein to be dialled up or down in a way that was not previously possible.
Both professors were congratulated on winning the GSK Award for Research Excellence at the annual Research Australia Awards in Sydney. The award is well recognised among the Australian medical research community and includes an $80,000 prize that will help the winners progress their work.
“Many medicines have unwanted side effects because they work by simply turning receptors on or off, even though we know that most of these proteins have the potential for more graded levels of response that can become highly relevant in the contexts of tissue specificity, disease and individual patient profiles. We have discovered a more tailored way to exploit this functionality, by targeting regions on the receptors that act more like dimmer switches rather than on/off switches,” says Sexton.
Both professors are world leaders in the study of G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs), the largest class of drug targets, and the application of analytical pharmacology to understand allosteric modulation. In recent years their work has challenged traditional views of how medicines were thought to work.
“We have found molecules that can subtly dial up or dial down the effect of the receptor protein, or even ‘dictate’ which pathways it can or can’t signal to. This means we could in theory treat a range of diseases with this approach more effectively and safely by avoiding some of the side effects associated with standard on/off-type drugs.”
“Because an allosteric mechanism is more subtle and ‘tuneable’, medicines based on this principle can allow patients to lead a more normal life, especially those with chronic conditions,” says Christopoulos.
The GSK Award for Research Excellence is one of the most prestigious awards available to the Australian medical research community. It has been awarded since 1980 to recognise outstanding achievements in medical research with potential importance to human health.
Dr Andrew Weekes, Medical Director, GSK Australia, said GSK is proud to be able to support local researchers with the Award, now in its 36th year.
“The award has been given to some remarkable people over the years, many of whom are eminent academics in their field. GSK is honoured to support the research community and excited by their discoveries, which we believe will one day help patients,” says Weekes.
Professor Christopoulos said winning the GSK Award for Research Excellence is a great recognition of the efforts of all the scientists who have worked in this area over the years, often in the face of early scepticism.
“Science relies on the efforts and insights generated from dedicated people over many years. For us, this award is thus also an acknowledgement and testament to our colleagues, collaborators, students and postdocs who have helped us take a theoretical concept to the point where today we are creating a new paradigm in drug discovery,” says Christopoulos.
“This award will greatly assist us in progressing our research on allosteric modulation into new areas, and accelerate the possibility of helping patients suffering from a range of diseases that represent global health burdens but remain sub-optimally treated,” says Sexton.
Among the previous recipients of the GSK Award for Research Excellence are Australia’s most noted scientific researchers, including Professor Tony Basten (1980), Professor Nicos Nicola (1993) and Professor Peter Koopman (2007). The 2015 GSK Award for Research Excellence was awarded to James McCluskey (University of Melbourne) and Jamie Rossjohn (Monash University) for their research into the immune system.
This information on the GSK Award for Research Excellence was first shared as a media release by GSK on 17 November 2016.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Featured image above: 2016 WA Scientist of the Year, plant researcher Professor Kingsley Dixon (centre), with Premier Colin Barnett (right) and WA Chief Scientist, Professor Peter Klinken (left). Credit: Office of Science/The Scene Team
Professor Kingsley Dixon has been the Curtin University Professor at Kings Park and Botanic Garden since 2015, but his career in plant research stretches back decades.
He was the Director of Science at Kings Park for 32 years, leading its research efforts and building a team of more than 50 scientists and research students.
With his trademark approach of turning ‘science into practice’ he discovered that bushfire smoke triggers the germination of plants in Australia, as well as other parts of the world.
“This discovery has led to new horticultural products, and the improved restoration and conservation of many rare and threatened Australian plants that are unable to be conserved or propagated by other means,” the Premier and Science Minister Colin Barnett says.
In accepting the award, Dixon paid tribute to his colleagues over the years.
“The incredible verve and enthusiasm of all the young people who came through the Kings Park labs over the years just inspired me in the belief that WA is a great place, it’s the greatest place on earth to do the sort of science that we do,” he says.
Scores of WA’s top scientists and researchers attended the awards ceremony at the Kieran McNamara Conservation Science Centre in Kensington.
The late Professor Ian Ritchie AO was inducted into the WA Science Hall of Fame for his lifelong dedication to science.
Professor Ritchie was instrumental in setting up ChemCentre, as well as establishing the AJ Parker Cooperative Research Centre for Hydrometallurgy (extracting metals from their ores).
Other award winners
Woodside Early Career Scientist of the Year
Dr Scott Draper, a renewable energy engineer investigating wave and tidal energy, based at the School of Civil, Environmental and Mining Engineering (CEME) at UWA.
ExxonMobil Student Scientist of the Year
Christopher Brennan-Jones, a PhD candidate at UWA’s Ear Sciences Centre who led an international consortium assessing the reliability of automated hearing tests.
Chevron Science Engagement Initiative of the Year
Curtin University’s Fireballs in the Sky project, a citizen science initiative which uses digital cameras in the outback to track the fireballs created by meteorites to better understand the solar system.
You’ll find more details on the finalists in each of the four categories here.