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.