The Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science were presented by the Prime Minister assisted by the Hon Bob Baldwin, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Industry at the Prize Dinner in the Great Hall of Parliament House on Wednesday 30 October.
More about the winners below.
The recipients on stage with PM Tony Abbott and Parliamentary Secretary Bob Balwin (credit:Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science)
Terry Speed doesn’t expect to see headlines reading “Statistician cures cancer” any time soon. But he knows that the right mathematics and statistics can help researchers understand the underlying causes of cancer and reduce the need for surgery.
A mathematician and statistician, he has written elegant theoretical papers that almost no-one reads. But he has also testified in court, helped farmers and diamond miners, and given biologists statistical tools to help them cope with the genetic revolution.
If you were a pharmaceutical company searching for a natural plant compound to use as the basis for a new line of drugs, where would you begin?
Until recently, this question was a no-brainer. Everyone knows that tropical forests contain the widest diversity of species, all fighting for survival and defending themselves physically and chemically against being invaded or eaten. So the tropics should naturally provide the greatest selection of biologically active compounds.
People have speculated about the potential of quantum computers for decades—how they would make child’s play of constructing and testing new drugs, searching through huge amounts of data and ensuring that information was fundamentally secure.
But it all seemed like science fiction. No-one really knew how to build one, despite lots of clever ideas for using exotic materials and light. But 15 years of work at the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology and its predecessors have changed everything. The building blocks of a quantum computer have been created and tested in a high tech basement at the University of New South Wales (UNSW). And within a few years Andrea Morello and his colleagues expect to have a small working prototype.
Each year in early July, when its 700 students are on holiday, Townsville State High School becomes the headquarters for one of the races in Australia’s V8 Supercar series. But before and after the race the Year 11 science students are hard at work, slopping their way through the nearby mangroves, and wading into the estuary that borders the school.
They are taking measurements to assess the impact of the race on the surrounding environment. Afterwards, the students report their results and pass them on to the local council and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. The data is also assisting a program in which the biology students are collaborating with James Cook University as part of the National Estuary Restorative Study.
Model pterosaurs flying overhead, a new insect in the terrarium by the window, a cool video on non-Newtonian fluids on the SMART board down the front—every time the students of Rostrata Primary School in Perth’s southern suburbs enter Mr Johnson’s science lab, there’s something new. Nothing keeps them away from school on science days.
The laboratory is the realisation of something Ric Johnson recognised in more than 30 years as a primary school teacher—the power of science to engage children in the classroom. The problem, says Ric, is that primary teachers are typically not confident in their own knowledge and ability to teach science. Many simply avoid it.