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Prime Minister's Prize for Science

2018 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science

Main image: Winners of the 2018 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science (Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science, Commonwealth Department of Industry, Innovation and Science)

Prime Minister’s Prize for Science: Revealing the breathing Earth

 

Kurt Lambeck. (Photo Cedit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear)

Emeritus Professor Kurt Lambeck AO

Emeritus Professor Kurt Lambeck AO has revealed how our planet changes shape—every second, every day, and over millennia. These changes influence sea levels, the movement of continents, and the orbits of satellites.

Kurt’s original work in the 1960s enabled accurate planning of space missions. It led him to use the deformation of continents during the ice ages to study changes deep in the mantle of the planet. It also led to a better understanding of the impact of sea level changes on human civilization in the past, present and future.

Today’s highly accurate GPS-based systems build on his work and enable precision agriculture, new ways to explore for minerals, and the remarkable navigation tools we all use in our smartphones.

For transforming our understanding of our living planet, Kurt Lambeck receives the $250,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science. He is an Emeritus Professor at the Australian National University in Canberra.

Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation: Switching light for faster, more reliable internet

Prime Minister's Prize for Science

The Finisar team: (L to R) Steven Frisken, Simon Poole, Andrew Bartos, and Glenn Baxter (Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear)

inisar have created technologies that make global internet connections faster and more efficient. About half of the world’s internet traffic travels through devices developed by the team and made in Sydney.

The global internet we rely on is carried by optical fibres that link continents, countries and cities. The speed and volume of internet traffic was limited by the need to convert data from light to electrical signals for switching and processing. To tackle the problem, the Finisar team created light-bending switches using prisms, liquid crystals and silicon, which have dramatically improved the capacity and reliability of the internet. One switch can handle a million simultaneous high-definition streaming videos. The team are now working on boosting the capacity of their devices further to meet the demands of 5G and the Internet of Things.

For creating and commercialising technologies that underpin the global internet, Dr Simon Poole, Mr Andrew Bartos, Dr Glenn Baxter and Dr Steven Frisken receive the $250,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation. Their company, Finisar Australia, is based in Sydney.

Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year: Saving frogs, and revealing new extinction threats

Prime Minister's Prize for Science

Lee Berger (Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear)

Dr Lee Berger

Dr Lee Berger solved the global mystery of disappearing frogs and challenged paradigms about wildlife health, all in the course of her PhD.

Starting in the 1970s frogs disappeared in pristine habitats in Queensland and in Central America. Whole species vanished; there was worldwide concern. Was it pollution or UV from the hole in the ozone layer? Were frogs the ‘canary in the coal mine’? Would we be next?

Lee and her mentors thought that an introduced infection such as a virus could explain the pattern of declines. The dogma of the time was that infectious diseases don’t cause extinctions. Now, thanks to Lee, we know they do. She didn’t find a virus, but she did find a fungus growing on the skin of sick frogs. This chytrid fungus is now known to be the cause of a global mass extinction of frogs. Hundreds of species have declined, and at least six species have disappeared entirely in Australia.

It took over a decade of research and debate to persuade the sceptics. Today, quarantine protocols recognise the threat of disease to biodiversity, recovery programs are designed to reduce the risk of infection, and wildlife health experts are alert to the spread of diseases such as those found in bats and salamanders in recent years.

For solving the mystery of frog extinction, Dr Lee Berger receives the $50,000 Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year. Lee is based in Townsville and holds Adjunct Research Fellowships at James Cook University and the University of Melbourne.

Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year: Making flexible crystals and new separation technologies

Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science

Jack Clegg (Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear)

Associate Professor Jack Clegg

Our smartphones, like all modern electronic devices, are packed with crystal semiconductors. When we drop them, it’s not just the screen that breaks. Crystals as we know them are brittle, but that will change in the future. Associate Professor Jack Clegg has designed new kinds of crystals that are so flexible you can tie them in a knot. These crystals use common elements such as iron, copper, carbon, oxygen and hydrogen.

He has also created molecules that can be customised to act as sieves for a vast range of manufacturing processes from the oil industry to water filtration and pharmaceuticals. He hopes the first applications will be in drug production where much of the cost of making new drugs is in the purification process. About 15 per cent of the world’s energy use is for separation processes, so more efficient technologies will find eager customers.

For creating flexible crystals and new separation technologies, Associate Professor Jack Clegg receives the $50,000 Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year.

Prize for New Innovators: A steerable guidewire to improve the treatment of heart disease

Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science

Geoff Rogers (Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear)

Dr Geoff Rogers

Dr Geoff Rogers has created a robotic guidewire that cardiologists can steer with a joystick through the body to reach a damaged artery.

The use of guidewires has replaced open heart surgery for many cardiac patients. However, about 20 per cent of cardiac patients can’t be treated using current guidewire technology, which the cardiologist has to twist and turn by hand to guide it through the arteries. The guidewires can’t always get through.

As an undergraduate engineering student Geoff heard a clinician express his frustration with the technology. So, for his undergraduate project and PhD Geoff invented a steerable guidewire with a diameter of just two human hairs. Following his PhD, he co-founded a company and worked with cardiologists at the Epworth and Melbourne Private Hospitals to develop the IntelliWire.

In 2017 the guidewire and the company were purchased by Merit Medical Systems, a global leader in surgical devices, which is now working to bring the guidewire to market.

Now Geoff is leading two new initiatives: the first as CEO of a biomedical start-up company developing new solutions to antibiotic resistance; the second is a real-time system to adjust car wheel alignment. He’s also mentoring future biomedical entrepreneurs.

For creating and commercialising his pioneering biomedical engineering, Dr Geoff Rogers receives the $50,000 Prize for New Innovators.

Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools: A school where everyone teaches science

Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science

Brett Crawford (Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear)

Mr Brett Crawford

Mr Brett Crawford has transformed science teaching at Warrigal Road State School in Brisbane. All the school’s 50-plus teachers now actively teach science in their classes.

Warrigal Road is a large primary school in Brisbane with more than 1,300 students. The students are from 54 cultures, English is a second language for 60 per cent of them, and there’s also a cohort of hearing-impaired children.

The local high schools have recognised that Warrigal Road students come to them curious about the world and ready for secondary science. Test results back that up, showing the school’s science performance is well above national averages.
Brett is the lead science teacher at the school. He believes that science teaching in primary schools is easy.

Primary school students are curious about the world. You can engage them with simple, inexpensive experiments.

But Brett also knows that many primary school teachers are anxious about teaching science.

So, at Warrigal Road he led a program in which he spent two days every week mentoring his fellow teachers.

The results speak for themselves and other schools are now picking up his ideas and programs.

For creating an environment in which every teacher is engaged in science, Brett Crawford receives the $50,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools. Brett is the lead science teacher at Warrigal Road State School in Brisbane.

Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Teaching in Secondary Schools: Opening young eyes to careers in science, technology, engineering and maths

Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science

Scott Sleap (Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear)

Dr Scott Sleap

Cessnock in New South Wales was traditionally a mining town, but today’s high-value jobs in the Hunter Valley are in agriculture, tourism and increasingly in aerospace. Williamtown is already a maintenance base for Australia’s F/A-18 fighters. Soon it will be a maintenance hub for the Joint Strike Fighter in the Asia-Pacific.

Many of Cessnock’s students don’t believe that the new jobs are for them. Dr Scott Sleap is opening their eyes and showing them that they can participate in the new economy. He’s done that by creating the Cessnock Academy of STEM Excellence, a partnership between Cessnock High School, its feeder primary schools, and local industry.

Students struggling with numeracy are catching up with the help of robotics. A team of Aboriginal girls are making and racing model F1 cars, mentored by Boeing engineers. And the number of students signing up for STEM subjects is growing. NSW Education is now rolling out similar programs in other regional centres.

Dr Scott Sleap receives the $50,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Teaching in Secondary Schools. Scott is Deputy Principal, STEM, for the Cessnock Learning Community.

Originally published by Science in Public.

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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