Sex, dragons, toothpaste, lasers and genetics—meet this year’s PM’s Prizes for Science winners

Bulletins, Science stakeholder bulletins

Last night the Prime Minister presented the 2017 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science to six outstanding scientists and science teachers.

  • What kangaroos, platypus and dragons can tell us about sex and humanity: Professor Jenny Graves AO, La Trobe University, Prime Minister’s Prize for Science
  • Saving the world’s teeth with Australian dairy milk: Professor Eric Reynolds AO, The University of Melbourne/Oral Health CRC, Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation
  • Unravelling the genetic complexity of height, intelligence, obesity and schizophrenia: Professor Jian Yang, The University of Queensland, Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year
  • Creating new ways to visualise the processes of life: Professor Dayong Jin, University of Technology Sydney, Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year
  • Using the “outdoor classroom” to make science fun and relevant to the whole curriculum: Neil Bramsen, Mount Ousley Public School, Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools
  • Inspiring his students to love science and to use it in their daily lives: Brett McKay, Kirrawee High School, Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools.

Read more about them below.

Eric Reynolds, Brett McKay, Dayong Jin, Minister Michaelia Cash, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Jenny Graves, Neil Bramsen, Jian Yang. Credit Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science.

Plus, you can see images, video footage and read more online at

Check out all the action from last night on Twitter #pmprize and feel free to tweet your congratulations.

Also in this bulletin:

2017 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science

What can kangaroos and platypus tell us about sex and humanity?

Jenny Graves, La Trobe University—Prime Minister’s Prize for Science

Jenny Graves (Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear)

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 and 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.

How Australian dairy milk is saving the world’s teeth

Eric Reynolds, The University of Melbourne/Oral Health CRC—Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation

Eric Reynolds (Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear)

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, Laureate Professor 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.

Unravelling the complexity of height, intelligence, obesity and schizophrenia

Jian Yang, The University of Queensland—Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year

Jian Yang (Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear)

The publication of the human genome nearly 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.

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.

Watching the processes of life

Dayong Jin, University of Technology Sydney—Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year

Dayong Jin (Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear)

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.

The outdoor classroom

Neil Bramsen, Mount Ousley Public School—Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools

Neil Bramsen (Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear)

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.

Bringing science alive

Brett McKay, Kirrawee High School—Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools

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

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 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.

$2.5 million awarded to Melbourne scientists Sarah-Jane Dawson and Andrew Murphy

  • How obesity and salt send blood stem cells into overdrive, blocking arteries and causing cardio vascular disease
  • A blood test to reduce biopsies and provide gentler, more thorough cancer testing.

At a ceremony in Melbourne on Tuesday night the two scientists were each awarded a $1.25 million, five-year, CSL Centenary Fellowship to further research into gentler, more effective cancer diagnostics, and to advance understanding of what really causes our arteries to clog.

  • Associate Professor Sarah-Jane Dawson from the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre
  • Associate Professor Andrew Murphy of The Baker Institute

The Fellowships are part of CSL’s “birthday present” to medical research—a $25 million program established by CSL in its Centenary year to support Australia’s best and brightest biomedical researchers—an it’s a big injection of cash for Australia’s early to mid-career researchers.

More at:

Fresh Science in the pub in Brisbane, Adelaide, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth

Come and watch as 10 fresh, young scientists present their work at the pub.

These up-and-coming scientists will describe their scientific discoveries in the time it takes a sparkler to burn out. It’s about a minute–sparklers vary.

Last year we heard about: A DNA test for rhino horn, fighting dust-mite allergies with fish oil, taking cow pee out of our waterways, the secret life of gut bacteria, and how exercise before prostate surgery helps recovery and much more.

So, what’s #FreshSci this year?

Join us to find out at our pub events around the country.

Tickets are free, but booking are essential.

  • Collectors Café at the Queensland Museum in Brisbane on 30 October. Book now.
  • The Lion Hotel, Adelaide on 8 November. Book now.
  • The Forresters in Surry Hills, Sydney on 15 November. Book now.
  • The Belgian Beer Café, Southbank in Melbourne on 29 November. Book now.
  • The Brisbane Hotel, in Perth on 6 December. Book now.

Also, a big thank you to our sponsors and supporters who help us find all this great talent and train them up to be our next spokespeople for science.

This year they are:

Nationally: New Scientist
In VIC: The Royal Society of Victoria, The University of Melbourne, Deakin, Monash University, RMIT, La Trobe University and CSIRO
In QLD: Econnect Communication, the Queensland Government, QUT, University of the Sunshine Coast, Griffith University, and the University of Queensland
In SA: the South Australian Museum, Flinders University, University of South Australia, and the University of Adelaide
In WA: the WA Museum, Edith Cowan University, the University of Western Australia, Murdoch University, and the University of Notre Dame Australia
In NSW: UNSW and the Australian Museum.

Communication and engagement training—final dates for 2017

Do you (or any of your staff) need help shaping your science into a story for stakeholders, the public, industry, or the media?

Our final media and communication training courses for scientists for 2017 will be in:

  • Perth – 7 December
  • Melbourne – 12 December

Registration is now open for all courses via EventBrite.

In these courses, we’ll help you shape the story of your research into a form that works for the media, as well as for government, industry and other stakeholders. The day’s insights and training will help you feel more comfortable in dealing with journalists when media opportunities arise.

Over the years we’ve helped Monash launch the world’s first printed jet engine, revealed the loss of half the coral on the Great Barrier Reef, helped CERN announce the Higgs boson, and revealed the link between CSIRO’s Wi-Fi patent and Aussie astronomy.

Working journalists from television, print and radio will join us over the course of the day to explain what makes news for them. And you’ll get the chance to practise being interviewed in front of a camera and on tape.

Want to build your own training?

We also offer a flexible range of training programs to help your researchers understand their audiences, the essence of their story, and how to build their profile with the audiences and stakeholders that matter for their projects and for their long-term career development.

Our offerings include:

  • Meet your audience: from government, business, and/or the media
  • Make your pitch: what’s the essence of your story
  • Build your profile: websites, media, social media
  • Make your story work for mainstream media
  • Presentation training: make your story come to life
  • Photography and videography for scientists.

“The biggest prize I received as a Fresh Science finalist was intensive media training by Science in Public,” says astrophysicist Alan Duffy.

“I gained experience in different media formats such as radio and TV with practise interviewing, and invaluable coaching in how to tailor my message that I use to this day.”

For more information on a bespoke course, visit or call us on 03 9398 1416.

Other prizes and events


Got a MedTech idea ready for the next step?

Introducing The Actuator flagship accelerator (from the team who brought you MedTech’s Got Talent).

The Actuator Accelerator program will consist of a 15-month intensive venture and technology development program—accelerating seed-stage ventures to Series A investment. Applicants must have a functional prototype for a medical device at a Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of at least four to apply.

Funded participants will receive $200,000 equity investment, and can leverage follow-on investments to achieve a total of $2.7M in facilitated fundraising. R&D tax incentive allows promising MedTech startups a pathway to nearly $4M within 15 months—an unprecedented accelerated pathway to market in Australia.

Stage 1 Applications close 5pm Monday 30 October.

For more information, or to apply for 2018 visit:

2018 Clunies Ross Awards nominations close 27 October

The Clunies Ross Awards recognise contributions by dedicated individuals to the application of technology for the benefit of Australia.

The Academy of Technology and Engineering will honour 2018 Clunies Ross Award winners in three categories: Entrepreneur of the Year, Knowledge Commercialisation, and Innovation.

Nominations close 2pm (AEDT) Friday 27 October 2017.

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Fellowships in Japan

The Academy of Science is inviting applications from Australian researchers, who are within six years of receiving their PhD, for the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) Postdoctoral Fellowships.

The Fellowships commence between 1 April and 30 November 2018 and fund research for one to two years at a university or research institution in Japan.

The deadline for applications is 5pm (AEDT) Monday 30 October.

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