Media overview: 2015 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science

Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science

Announced Wednesday 21 October 2015

This post includes: media call information, summary of recipients and links to the full profiles, photos and videos.

Prizes were announced at a press call: 12.30 pm Wednesday 21 October 2015, Great Hall, Parliament House, Canberra with the winners, and the Chief Scientist.

Dinner: from 7 pm 21 October, Great Hall Parliament House

The winners are:

  • Graham Farquhar (ANU, Canberra)—Prime Minister’s Prize for Science
  • Graeme Jameson (University of Newcastle)—Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation
  • Cyrille Boyer (UNSW)—Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year
  • Jane Elith (University of Melbourne)—Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year
  • Ken Silburn (Casula High School)—Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools
  • Rebecca Johnson (Windaroo State School)—Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools

Read on for more about the 2015 winners.

Distinguished Professor Graham Farquhar—$250 000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science (ANU, Canberra).

Graham Farquhar’s work has transformed our understanding of the world’s most important biological reaction: photosynthesis.

His models of plant biophysics have been used to understand cells, whole plants, whole forests, and to create new water-efficient wheat varieties. His latest project will determine which trees will grow faster in a high carbon dioxide world.

His work has also revealed a global climate mystery. Evaporation rates and wind speeds are slowing around the world, contrary to the predictions of most climate models. Life under climate change may be wetter than we expected.

Laureate Professor Graeme Jameson—$250 000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation (University of Newcastle).

Graeme Jameson’s technologies use trillions of bubbles to add billions of dollars to the value of Australia’s mineral and energy industries.

He created the Jameson Cell in the 1980s to concentrate base metals such as copper, lead, and zinc. Graeme took flotation, a century old technology developed in Broken Hill and transformed it. A turbulent cloud of minute bubbles are pushed through a slurry of ground- up ore where they pick up mineral particles and carry them to the surface.

The technology found many more applications, most profitably in the Australian coal industry, where the Jameson Cell has retrieved fine export coal particles worth more than $36 billion.

Associate Professor Cyrille Boyer —$50 000 Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year (UNSW, Sydney).

Cyrille Boyer uses light to make new and complex polymers.

His ideas are built on the revolutionary RAFT techniques for which David Solomon and Ezio Rizzardo received the 2011 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science. His latest technology uses light and chlorophyll to catalyse the creation of polymers using up to ten building blocks.

He’s using it to create nanoparticles that can carry drugs into the human body to break down bacterial biofilms associated with implants, cystic fibrosis, and sticky ear.

His patented technologies will herald a new era of smart polymers and eventually he believes he will be able to reconstruct complex polymers such as proteins and even DNA.

Dr Jane Elith—$50 000 Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year (University of Melbourne).

Jane Elith is one of the most influential environmental scientists in the world, though she rarely ventures into the field.

She creates and assesses species distribution models which are used by governments, land and catchment managers, and conservationists around the world—in short, anything to do with applying the lessons of ecology.

In Australia for example her models can help farmers restore damaged soils, map the spread of cane toads, and compare the implications of development options in the Tiwi Islands for threatened plants and animals that have largely disappeared from the mainland.

Dr Ken Silburn—$50 000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools (Sydney).

Ken has transformed science teaching at Casula High School in Sydney’s south-western suburbs. Two-thirds of Year 11 and 12 students choose science subjects thanks to his work.

Mrs Rebecca Johnson—$50 000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools (Brisbane).

Rebecca leads the science team at Windaroo State School at Logan, south of Brisbane. She has developed a new model of primary teaching that gives every student in the school access to a specialist science teacher.