Environmental science recognised

Eureka Prizes, Media releases
  • Speaking science underwater
  • Vaccines for oysters
  • A global standard for environmental threats, from coral reefs to desert dunes
  • Melting salt to store solar power

Last night four outstanding environmental researchers were among the winners of the 2015 Australian Museum Eureka Prizes, announced at a gala Award Dinner at Sydney Town Hall. A total of 16 prizes were given for outstanding contributions to Australian science

Established in 1827, the Australian Museum is the nation’s first museum and one of its foremost scientific research, educational and cultural institutions. The Eureka Prizes are the most comprehensive national science awards, honouring excellence in Research and Innovation, Leadership, Science Communication and Journalism, and School Science.


Speaking science underwater

Professor Emma Johnston describes Sydney Harbour as her laboratory. It’s a laboratory that bears the impacts of four million people living nearby, not to mention a century of industry.

It’s important that those human impacts are properly understood by governments and the public.

Professor Johnston uses a variety of channels to bring marine research to a broad audience and ensure that policy-makers and the public understand the effects of their own actions.

For her work in educating the public on Australian marine science, Professor Emma Johnston of the University of New South Wales has been awarded the Department of Industry and Science Eureka Prize for Promoting Understanding of Australian Science Research.

Via her outreach program Run Off and Reach Out, she has opened people’s eyes to the effect that their lifestyle and actions have on stormwater run-off and thus their impact on our immediate marine environment.

Watch the video. Read the full release.

Vaccines for oysters

Disease can wipe out an oyster population in a single day, which can mean ruin for small oyster farmers and hurt for the surrounding rural communities.

Now, research by Professor David Raftos and researchers at Macquarie University promises disease protection for entire populations of oyster.

Working with oyster farmers along Australia’s east coast, Professor Raftos has already helped breed stronger, more disease-resistant oysters that promise a 10 to 20 per cent increase in yield for this $200 million industry.

For work safeguarding and improving Australia’s iconic oyster industry, Professor Raftos has been awarded the Rural Research and Development Corporations Eureka Prize for Rural Innovation.

The next step may be to immunise entire crops of oysters against a particular virus. The team’s results show that immunising one oyster also protects its descendants. Potentially, immunising just a few oysters could create a population of disease-resistant offspring.

An unexpected result from the work was that the new disease-proofed oysters were also less susceptible to climate change. After initially filing this in the ‘weird things happen’ box, Professor Raftos has now determined that the oysters selected for their better capacity to switch on infection-fighting genes are also better able to cope with environmental stresses. By disease proofing Australia’s oysters, the team is also protecting them against the warming climate.

Watch the video. Read the full release.

A global standard for environmental threats, from coral reefs to desert dunes

How can environmental threats to coral reefs be compared with the threats to the plant-life of arid deserts? How can the effect of river flow on wetland health be compared with damage caused by introduced animals?

The answer seems to lie in a new system developed by University of New South Wales biologist Professor David Keith.

Working with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Professor Keith and his team have established a single global standard for assessing environmentally threatened ecosystems.

For their establishment of a universal standard for assessing ecosystem risks, Professor Keith and the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems Team have been awarded the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage Eureka Prize for Environmental Research.

Previous studies have established extinction risks in particular ecological communities, but the difficulty of comparing such risks across different ecosystems has made it more difficult to persuade politicians or public of the need for policy change.

Watch the video. Read the full release.

Melting salt to store solar power

Fast-melting salts could solve solar power’s big challenge: the mismatch between peak sunlight hours and peak, evening electricity use.

A University of South Australia team has developed a new phase-change system that provides energy storage at a tenth of the cost of batteries. By melting and solidifying an inexpensive liquid salt solution, energy can be stored and released quickly and cheaply.

As well as extending the potential reach of renewable energy, the system also allows Australian produce companies to reduce multibillion-dollar refrigeration electricity costs by ‘charging’ the system (freezing the solution) during inexpensive off-peak hours and ‘discharging’ (remelting) during expensive peak hours.

For their development of the low-cost energy storage system, Associate Professor Frank Bruno, Dr Martin Belusko and Dr Steven Tay of the University of South Australia have been awarded the ANSTO Eureka Prize for Innovative Use of Technology.

The phase-change system:

  • Resolves the mismatch between generation hours and electricity use, so that solar and wind power can form an even larger slice of the national generation grid.
  • Reduces refrigeration electricity costs by up to 50 per cent by charging during non-peak hours to discharge during peak-cost hours (Australia’s refrigeration electricity costs are $14 billion per year).
  • Smooths out electricity use, reducing the need for expensive, peak-driven infrastructure, and for extra fossil-fuel generation of power during daylight hours.

“The potential this technology offers for renewable energy to form a much larger slice of Australia’s electricity generation through low-cost energy storage is very exciting,” Kim McKay AO, Executive Director and CEO of the Australian Museum said.

Watch the video. Read the full release.

For media enquiries please contact the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes media team:

For more information about all the winners visit australianmuseum.net.au/eureka