Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science
Each year the Australian Government honours Australia’s best scientists, innovators, and science teachers through the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science.
The 2018 winners were announced at a prize ceremony in Canberra on Wednesday 17 October.
Media materials for the PM’s Prize winners are available below. Contact Niall on 0417 131 977 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange interviews with the winners.
Read more about the history of the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science and all past recipients at the Australian Government’s Science website.
Recipients from Brisbane, Townsville, Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, Cessnock available for interview.
Photos from the awards presentation are available. Please credit ‘Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science, Commonwealth Department of Industry, Innovation and Science’.
Winners of the 2018 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science (Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science, Commonwealth Department of Industry, Innovation and Science)
Profiles, more photos, and broadcast quality video are available below.
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.
The Finisar team: Dr Simon Poole, Mr Andrew Bartos, Dr Glenn Baxter and Dr Steven Frisken
Finisar 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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Photos and videos of the winners available. And photos from the award presentation.
Read the Minister’s media release.
The winners of the 2017 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science are:
- Jenny Graves (La Trobe University, Melbourne)—Prime Minister’s Prize for Science
- Eric Reynolds (The University of Melbourne/Oral Health CRC)—Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation
- Jian Yang (The University of Queensland)—Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year
- Dayong Jin (University of Technology Sydney)—Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year
- Neil Bramsen (Mount Ousley Public School, Wollongong)—Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools
- Brett McKay (Kirrawee High School, Sydney)—Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools
18 October 2017
Joint media release with the Prime Minster, the Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP and Acting Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science and the Minister for Women, Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash
The Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science recognises the extraordinary contribution that Australia’s scientists and science teachers make to our nation.
These awards celebrate excellence and innovation and offer us an opportunity to bring the entire industry together to celebrate Australia’s world leading role.
What can kangaroos and platypus tell us about sex and humanity?
Jenny Graves (Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear)
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.
How Australian dairy milk is saving the world’s teeth
Eric Reynolds (Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear)
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.
Unravelling the complexity of height, intelligence, obesity and schizophrenia
Jian Yang (Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear)
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’.
Watching the processes of life
Dayong Jin (Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear)
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.
The outdoor classroom
Neil Bramsen (Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear)
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.
Bringing science alive
Brett McKay (Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear)
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.
The 2016 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science recipients are:
- Defending Australia’s snakes and lizards: Prime Minister’s Prize for Science Professor Richard Shine (The University of Sydney)
- Making stock markets fair and efficient: Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation Professor Michael Aitken (Capital Markets CRC)
- Re-engineering nature to fight for global health: Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year Professor Richard Payne (The University of Sydney)
- Turning the next generation of primary teachers on to science: Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools Mr Gary Tilley (Seaforth Public School).
- Creating new manufacturing jobs by replacing glass and metal with plastic: Prize for New Innovators Dr Colin Hall (University of South Australia)
- Conservation that works for government, ecosystems and people: Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year Associate Professor Kerrie Wilson (University of Queensland)
- Turning students into scientists, setting them up for jobs in mining, conservation, tourism and more: Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools Ms Suzy Urbaniak (Kent Street Senior High School)