Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science

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Each year the Australian Government honours Australia’s best scientists, innovators, and science teachers through the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science.

Prize recipients for 2017 will be announced at a black-tie dinner on Wednesday 18 October 2017 in the Great Hall of Parliament House, Canberra.

Read more about the history of the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science and all past recipients at the Australian Government’s Science website.

Meet the 2016 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science recipients. Full profiles, photos and HD videos are available below.

2015 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science – Graham Farquhar

Graham Farquhar (Photo credit: WildBear)

Graham Farquhar (Photo credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear)

Feeding the world, and asking where the wind went

Life on land depends on plants. Every plant balances opening its pores to let in carbon dioxide for photosynthesis; and closing its pores to retain water.

Graham Farquhar’s work has transformed our understanding of the world’s most important biological reaction: photosynthesis.

His models of plant biophysics have been used to understand cells, whole plants, whole forests, and to create new water-efficient wheat varieties. His latest project will determine which trees will grow faster in a high carbon dioxide world.

His work has also revealed a global climate mystery. Evaporation rates and wind speeds are slowing around the world, contrary to the predictions of most climate models. Life under climate change may be wetter than we expected. [click to continue…]

2015 Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation – Professor Graeme Jameson

How trillions of bubbles earned billions of dollars for Australia

Graeme Jameson_headshot

Graeme Jameson (Photo credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear)

Graeme Jameson’s technologies use trillions of bubbles to add billions of dollars to the value of Australia’s mineral and energy industries.

He created the Jameson Cell in the 1980s to concentrate base metals such as copper, lead, and zinc.

And it’s all done with bubbles. Graeme took flotation, a century old technology developed in Broken Hill, and transformed it. A turbulent cloud of minute bubbles are pushed through a slurry of ground-up ore where they pick up mineral particles and carry them to the surface.

The technology found many more applications, most profitably in the Australian coal industry, where the Jameson Cell has retrieved fine export coal particles worth more than $36 billion.

Now, Graeme Jameson is working on a newer version of his technology. The Novacell can concentrate larger ore particles, and save up to 15 per cent of the total energy expended in extraction and processing in mining—reducing greenhouse gas emissions as well. [click to continue…]

2015 Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year – A/Prof Cyrille Boyer

Making polymers with light

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Cyrille Boyer (Photo credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear)

Cyrille Boyer uses light to make new and complex polymers.

It’s the latest in a series of techniques that have enabled him to create materials which are being applied in areas as widespread as non-stick coatings, anti-fouling technology, precision drug delivery, medical diagnosis and imaging.

His ideas are built on the revolutionary RAFT techniques for which David Solomon and Ezio Rizzardo received the 2011 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science. His latest technology uses light and chlorophyll to catalyse the creation of polymers using up to ten building blocks.

He’s using it to create nanoparticles that can carry drugs into the human body to break down bacterial biofilms associated with implants, cystic fibrosis, and sticky ear.

His patented technologies will herald a new era of smart polymers and eventually he believes he will be able to reconstruct complex polymers such as proteins and even DNA. [click to continue…]

2015 Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year – Jane Elith

Where are the plants and animals we want to conserve, and the invaders we want to control?

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Jane Elith (Photo credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear)

Jane Elith is one of the most influential environmental scientists in the world, though she rarely ventures into the field.

She develops and assesses species distribution models, which are used by governments, land and catchment managers and conservationists around the world—in short, for applying the lessons of ecology.

In Australia for example her models can help farmers restore damaged soils, map the spread of cane toads, and compare the implications of development options in the Tiwi Islands for threatened plants and animals that have largely disappeared from the mainland.

Jane is an early career researcher, yet in the field of environment and ecology, she is the 11th most cited author worldwide over the past 10 years, and is the only Australian woman on the highly cited list, according to the information company Thomson Reuters. [click to continue…]

2015 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science – Secondary teaching – Ken Silburn

Bringing students to science

Kenneth Silburn_headshot

Ken Silburn (Photo credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear)

Fifteen years ago Casula High School was just an average state school in Sydney’s south-western suburbs with just eight students doing science at year 12. But something extraordinary has happened. Two-thirds of Year 11 and 12 students now choose science subjects and they are performing well above the state average.

The transformation is largely due to the work of Dr Ken Silburn, the head of science at Casula.

Ken has transformed the way his students engage with science, through extension programs, interactive and hands-on activities, and a great deal of encouragement.

In the classroom, Ken focuses on what his students are most interested in or fascinated by, and makes it a big part of his science teaching curriculum. A highlight is the use of space science as a core element of the classes.

For his leadership in science teaching, Dr Ken Silburn receives the 2015 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools. [click to continue…]

2015 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science – Primary teaching – Rebecca Johnson

Improved primary science teaching at no extra cost

Rebecca Johnson_headshot

Rebecca Johnson (Photo credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear)

Fifteen years ago Rebecca Johnson, from Windaroo State School, initiated a new method for teaching science more effectively in primary schools without costing the government anything extra.

“No-one ever questions the need to have specialist teachers for subjects such as music, physical education and languages other than English, in primary schools,” says Rebecca.

“Particular skill sets and qualities are required to teach these subjects effectively, and I believe the same applies to teaching science.”

With a fully-resourced science room Rebecca, with her teaching partner, teaches science to every student at Windaroo State School. Because of this designated space and the importance that has been assigned to this subject area, the children are able to experience a depth of science learning usually reserved for high school. And it’s all effectively done during the classroom teachers’ non-contact time, at no extra cost. [click to continue…]

2015 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science – photos of winners

  • For photos from the night, email Niall on niall@scienceinpublic.com.au
  • Graham Farquhar – Prime Minister’s Prize for Science
  • Graeme Jameson – Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation
  • Cyrille Boyer – Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year
  • Jane Elith – Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year
  • Ken Silburn – Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools
  • Rebecca Johnson – Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools

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Media release from the Prime Minister and the Hon. Christopher Pyne MP

21 October 2015
Prime Minister
Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science
The Hon. Christopher Pyne MP

OUR BRIGHTEST SCIENCE MINDS RECEIVE PRESTIGIOUS PM’S PRIZES

An Australian National University professor whose work has transformed our understanding of the world’s most important biological reaction – photosynthesis – is one of the recipients of the prestigious Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science, announced today.

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2014 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science – recipients in brief

The winners of the 2014 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science are:

  • Sam Berkovic and Ingrid Scheffer, the genetics of epilepsy: bringing hope to families, Prime Minister’s Prize for Science
  • Ryan Lister, regulating genes to treat illness, grow food, and understand the brain, Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year
  • Matthew Hill, Australian crystals set to take over industry, Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year
  • Geoff McNamara, a taste of real-world science to take to the real world, Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools
  • Brian Schiller, combining play, science and language, Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools

winners group photo

On this page

The Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science were presented by the Prime Minister and The Minister for Industry at the prize dinner in the Great Hall of Parliament House on Wednesday 29 October. Adam Spencer, mathematician and broadcaster, was the m/c for the dinner.

The official website for the prizes is www.industry.gov.au/scienceprizes. Please use this address in publications. [click to continue…]

Winners’ acceptance speeches for the 2014 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science

This post includes the winners’ acceptance speeches for the 2014 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science award dinner.

Ingrid Scheffer – Prime Minister’s Prize for Scienceingrid

Prime Minister, Members of Parliament and Distinguished Guests.

Thank you for this wonderful honour.

Scientific discovery is about curiosity, critical thinking and above all, passion. It is clear tonight that the winners bring their passion for science to both education and research. [click to continue…]

2014 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science – photos of winners

(left to right) Dr Matthew Hill, Malcolm McIntosh Prize, Physical Scientist of the Year award recipient; Professor Ryan Lister,  Frank Fenner Prize, Life Scientist of the Year Award Recipient; Professor Ingrid Scheffer, Prime Minister’s Prize for Science joint award recipient; The Hon Tony Abbott MP, Prime Minister of Australia; The Hon Ian Macfarlane MP, Minister for Industry; Laureate Professor Sam Berkovic, Prime Minister’s Prize for Science joint award recipient; Mr Geoff McNamara, Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching (Secondary Schools) award recipient; Mr Brian Schiller, Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching (Primary Schools) award recipient.

(left to right) Dr Matthew Hill, Malcolm McIntosh Prize, Physical Scientist of the Year award recipient; Professor Ryan Lister, Frank Fenner Prize, Life Scientist of the Year Award Recipient; Professor Ingrid Scheffer, Prime Minister’s Prize for Science joint award recipient; The Hon Tony Abbott MP, Prime Minister of Australia; The Hon Ian Macfarlane MP, Minister for Industry; Laureate Professor Sam Berkovic, Prime Minister’s Prize for Science joint award recipient; Mr Geoff McNamara, Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching (Secondary Schools) award recipient; Mr Brian Schiller, Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching (Primary Schools) award recipient.

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2014 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science

Download the video footage

The genetics of epilepsy: bringing hope to families

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Ingrid Scheffer (Photo credit: WildBear)

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Sam Berkovic (Photo credit: WildBear)

Sam Berkovic and Ingrid Scheffer have changed the way the world thinks about epilepsy, the debilitating condition that affects about 50 million people.

Twenty years ago doctors tended to regard most forms of epilepsy as acquired rather than inherited. In other words, they believed epilepsy was mostly due to injury: the result of things like a crack on the head in a car accident, a bad fall in the playground, a tumour, or something having gone wrong in labour. Parents felt responsible, and the resulting guilt was enormous.

The two clinician-researchers from the University of Melbourne have led the way in finding a genetic basis for many epilepsies, building on their discovery of the first ever link between a specific gene and a form of epilepsy. Finding that answer has been of profound importance for families.

Along the way, Sam and Ingrid discovered that a particularly severe form of epilepsy, thought to result from vaccination, was actually caused by a gene mutation. This finding dispelled significant concerns about immunisation.

Their discoveries of the connections between epilepsy and genes have opened the way to better targeted research, diagnosis and treatment for epilepsy. Together with collaborators, they have shown that genes can lead to seizures in different ways in different forms of epilepsy. An important cause, for instance, is interference with the movement of nutrients across nerve cell membranes. In one of these cases, treatment using a diet that avoids glucose is effective.

For their contribution to the study of epilepsy, its diagnosis, management and treatment, Laureate Professor Sam Berkovic of the University of Melbourne and Austin Health and Professor Ingrid Scheffer of the University of Melbourne and the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health and Austin Health have been awarded the 2014 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science.

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2014 Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year

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Regulating genes to treat illness, grow food, and understand the brain

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Ryan Lister (Photo credit: WildBear)

Genes are not enough to explain the difference between a skin cell and a stem cell, a leaf cell and a root cell, or the complexity of the human brain. Genes don’t explain the subtle ways in which your parents’ environment before you were conceived might affect your offspring.

Another layer of complexity—the epigenome—is at work determining when and where genes are turned on and off.

Ryan Lister is unravelling this complexity. He’s created ways of mapping the millions of molecular markers of where genes have been switched on or off, has made the first maps of these markers in plants and humans, and revealed key differences between the markers in cells with different fates.

He’s created maps of the epigenome in plants, which could enable plant breeders to modify crops to increase yields without changing the underlying DNA.

He’s explained a challenge for stem cell medicine—showing how, when we persuade, for example, skin cells to turn into stem cells, these cells retain a memory of their past. Their epigenome is different to that of natural embryonic stem cells. He believes this molecular memory could be reversed.

He has also recently explored the most complex system we know—the human brain—discovering that its epigenome is extensively reconfigured in childhood during critical stages when the neural circuits are forming and maturing. These epigenome patterns may even underpin learning and memory. All of this in just 15 years since the beginning of his PhD.

For his contribution to the understanding of gene regulation and its potential ability to change agriculture and the treatment of disease and mental health, Professor Ryan Lister of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology at the University of Western Australia has been awarded the 2014 Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year.

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2014 Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year

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Australian crystals set to take over industry

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Matthew Hill (Photo credit: WildBear)

Forty per cent of the energy consumed by industry is used to separate things—in natural gas production, mineral processing, food production, pollution control. The list is endless. Each offers an application for Matthew Hill’s crystals. He has demonstrated that the space inside metal–organic frameworks (MOFs)—the world’s most porous materials—can be used as an efficient and long-lasting filter.

By choosing different combinations of metals and plastics, Matthew’s CSIRO team can make a wide range of customised crystals. Then, using antimatter and synchrotron light, they map the internal pores, determine what each crystal can do, and explore potential applications.

First cab off the rank is natural gas separation. His team has developed a membrane embedded with crystals that efficiently separates natural gas from contaminants and lasts much longer than traditional membranes. He’s working with gas companies to develop the patented technology that could replace the multistorey processing plants found on gas fields with smaller truck-sized systems.

Patented applications for the food industry are also in the works. And further down the track are: carbon dioxide scrubbers; safe compact storage systems for gas and hydrogen; and even crystals that could deliver drugs on demand.

For his work on the development of metal–organic frameworks for practical industrial application, Dr Matthew Hill, Australian Research Council Future Fellow and leader of the Integrated Nanoporous Materials team at CSIRO, has been awarded the 2014 Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year.

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2014 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools

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A taste of real-world science to take to the real world

Geoff McNamara (Photo credit: WildBear)

Geoff McNamara (Photo credit: WildBear)

From the moment students step into ‘Mr Mac’s Lab’, they’re greeted by dinosaurs, skeletons, spacecraft and a model galaxy that hovers overhead. Their eyes can’t help but gravitate towards the huge solar system at the back of the room. No matter where they look, Geoff McNamara wants his students learn something about science—whether the students realise they’re learning or not.

At Melrose High School in Canberra, science teacher Geoff McNamara (known to his students as Mr Mac) has created a hothouse of science learning—complete with a seismometer, GPS antenna, and weather station, each transmitting real-time data straight into the classroom. In addition, he coordinates regular visits from practising scientists, and science field trips.

It’s an environment where every student can see the impact of science in daily life. “We all need science literacy to navigate the complexity of modern world,” he says. So he reaches out to each student’s interests—from genetics to driving to cosmology— to demonstrate the inevitable relevance of science.

For higher-achieving science students Geoff developed Academic Curriculum Extension (ACE) Science, which he has been piloting at Melrose High School since 2008. The extension program connects students with working scientists and engages them in a wide range of real-world science investigations. ACE Science has been so successful he is now offering it to other schools.

For his contributions to science teaching and inspiring students in science—wherever their further studies and careers may take them—Mr Geoff McNamara has been awarded the 2014 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools.

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2014 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools

Download video footage (Username: pmprizes2014 Password: pmprizes2014)

Combining play, science and language

Brian Schiller (Photo credit: WildBear)

Brian Schiller (Photo credit: WildBear)

At Seacliff Primary School in Adelaide’s south, Brian Schiller’s students are describing states of matter, mixing of materials, and products of chemical reactions—in Japanese.

It’s just one way that Brian is creatively using science to enhance student learning in a range of curriculum areas.

“Science can be a basis for teaching many different subjects, such as language, music, numeracy, reading and writing,” he says. “Students can play and create, and relate their learning to the world around them.

“When my students are given practical experiences and a chance to learn through being active, they are then motivated to plan their paths of enquiry, present their ideas and then write about their discoveries. A good primary science class develops maths skills, language, and problem-solving and critical-thinking skills. The children and their learning are the focus of the classroom, and they inspire each other to such a great extent.”

Brian nurtures this creativity through student-initiated investigations, where the students bring the questions and Brian guides them in setting up investigations to get the answers.

But it’s not just the answers that Brian wants his students to get. It’s the ability to use their imaginations to ask “what if…?” or “why does…?” and to be able to find their own way to an answer using ‘fair testing’ and experimental controls.

For his contributions to science teaching and for taking it in new creative directions, Mr Brian Schiller has been awarded the 2014 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools.

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