Prime Minister's Science Prizes 2011, the Nobel, and Dark Energy

Bulletins, Media bulletins

The $500,000 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science will be announced Wednesday evening at Parliament and are strictly embargoed to 5 pm Wednesday afternoon, 12 October.

The winners are from Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney. They are all remarkable achievers whose work is largely unknown outside of their discipline.

Details are available now at But you’ll need to call or email to get the password

Also this week, a young astrophysicist, inspired by Nobel Laureate Brian Schmidt, is searching for dark energy – the mysterious stuff inferred by Brian’s discovery that the Universe is getting bigger, faster.

Tamara Davis is an L’Oréal Australia Fellow, the 2011 national Women in Physics lecturer, an astrophysicist at the Universities of Queensland and Copenhagen, and good talent.

This week she is speaking in Melbourne, Ballarat, with Geelong. Perth and Brisbane dates to come.

And the recipient of the inaugural Centenary Institute Lawrence Creative prize will be announced in Sydney next Wednesday 19 October.

More information below.

2011 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science – Embargoed 5pm Wednesday 12 October

The 2011 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science will be presented by the Prime Minister and the Innovation Minister at the Prize Dinner in the Great Hall of Parliament House on Wednesday 12 October.

There are five prizes:

  • The $300,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science and
  • The $50,000 Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year
  • The $50,000 Science Minister’s Prize for Life Scientist of the Year
  • The $50,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence for Science Teaching in Primary Schools
  • The $50,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence for Science Teaching in Secondary Schools.

We’re currently briefing journalists, under embargo.

If you would like to access the winners’ information, including their full citations, videos and photos, visit and then give me a call on 0417 131 977 for the password.

What’s behind Australia’s Physics Nobel

Revealing the dark side…in Melbourne, Geelong and Ballarat

What we see in the night sky is only five per cent of what’s there. The other 95 per cent of the Universe is a mystery. A young physicist mentored by Brian Schmidt, Australia’s new Nobel Laureate, has answers.

Monday 10 October 2011

One of Australia’s leading young physicists will reveal the dark secrets of the Universe at a public talk in Melbourne and at school talks in Geelong and Ballarat and she’s available for interview.

Dr Tamara Davis is a L’Oréal Australia Fellow, the 2011 national Women in Physics lecturer, an astrophysicist at the Universities of Queensland and Copenhagen, and good talent.

Tamara’s work is directly inspired by the Nobel Prize-winning research done by teams led by Brian Schmidt at The Australian National University and Saul Perlmutter and Adam Riess in the US, and she’s worked with all three.

In 1998 Australian astronomers were competing head to head with the US team to measure if the Universe was expanding or contracting—by using supernovae as ‘standard candles’. Their results turned astronomy on its head. Both teams found that the Universe was not just expanding, but that the expansion was accelerating.

“The discovery of acceleration was an enormous shock, because it broke our models of how the Universe works,” Tamara says.

The models were fixed by invoking dark energy. The question was: is dark energy real?

“The discovery of dark energy came just at the time when I was considering what research I should pursue,” says Tamara, “and it is no overstatement to say that the entire direction of my research career has been determined by Brian, Saul, and Adam’s discovery.

“As a young researcher there was just nothing nearly as exciting as trying to figure out what had broken our understanding of gravity.”

Earlier this year, she and her colleagues on the WiggleZ Dark Energy Survey confirmed that dark energy is real—by observing thousands of ancient exploding stars. The work confirms again Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, the ‘standard model’ of our Universe.

Tamara was one of 26 astronomers from 14 different institutions who took four years to look at over 200,000 galaxies. The team, led by Dr Chris Blake from Swinburne University and Professor Michael Drinkwater from The University of Queensland, used the Anglo-Australian Telescope near Coonabarabran, NSW, to provide an independent check on the supernova results. They measured the pattern of how galaxies are distributed in space and how quickly clusters of galaxies formed over time, to confirm the observations from supernovae.

So now we know that everything we can see in the night sky— planets, stars, gas clouds, galaxies etc.—make up only five per cent of the Universe. 24 per cent is dark matter. But most of our Universe (over 70 per cent) is dark energy.

Tamara is giving a free public talk at 10am Wednesday 12 October at the Victorian Space Science Education Centre, at Strathmore Secondary College, 400 Pascoe Vale Road, Strathmore.

She’s also visiting Matthew Flinders Girls High, Geelong, and Ballarat University on Tuesday 11 October.

The Australian Institute of Physics Women in Physics Lecture Tour celebrates the contribution of women to advances in physics.

For interviews contact Tamara Davis on 0432 526 989

The Centenary Institute Lawrence Creative Prize

The Centenary Institute Lawrence Creative Prize is a $25,000 award for outstanding creativity in biomedical research by young scientists.

The award is named in honour of Neil Lawrence who was inaugural chair of the Centenary Institute Medical Research Foundation.

The Prize will be awarded in Sydney on Wednesday 19 October, 2011.

If you want to know more about the prize, or this year’s winner drop me an email at