2012 Prime Minister's Science Prizes: Responses from colleagues and experts

Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science

Here is expert reaction to the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science winners

Ken Freeman

Eric May

Mark Shackleton

Michael van der Ploeg

Anita Trenwith

Ken Freeman

Professor Ken Freeman from the Australian National University will receive the $300,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science. He discovered that what we see of galaxies—as stars, gas and dust—is only a small fraction of their mass. The rest is dark matter. Today he is exploring the archaeology of our own galaxy – the Milky Way, and mentoring the next generation of astronomers.

Prof Brian P Schmidt, Distinguished Professor, Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Australian National University

While Australia’s achievements in Astronomy abound, Ken’s scientific discoveries, his supervision of more than 50 PhD students, and his scientific leadership make him stand out from the crowd.

Over the past century, Astronomy has transcended from essentially having no knowledge of the Universe around us, to its current state where, despite ongoing mysteries, we have a solid description of the Universe from its birth, 13.7 Billion years ago, to the present day. Australia has been at the forefront of this research for the past 50 years, and Kenneth C. Freeman, more than any other single Australian Astronomer, has helped advance our understanding of the Cosmos, through his discovery of Dark Matter in galaxies, studies of the structure of galaxies, and development of the field of Galactic Archaeology.

Kate Brooks, President, Astronomical Society of Australia

I am delighted to see another Australian astronomer receive a distinguished prize for science.  Ken is famous for his incredible contribution to our understanding of Galaxies and dark matter and his impressive publication record. Throughout his career Ken has been committed to training the next generation of astronomers and supporting the Australian astronomy community. Ken has served on many national astronomy committees and was the Secretary for the Astronomical Society of Australia between 1971-1972.  He has supervised more than 50 astronomy students and continues to be a mentor, inspiration and friend to many more. Congratulations Ken for this well-deserved accolade.

Prof Warrick Couch, University Distinguished Professor and Centre Director, Centre for Astrophysics & Computing, Swinburne University

Prof Freeman is Australia’s most eminent and internationally recognised astronomer and astrophysicist whose accomplishments put him head and shoulders above others in his discipline.  Most importantly in the context of the Prime Minister’s Science Prize, his extraordinarily high standing is built upon a series of ground-breaking scientific achievements and discoveries made over the last 40 years…This long and impressive string of scientific advancements, built upon the use of Australia’s major telescopes, has contributed enormously to the iconic status that Australian astronomy and its observatories have enjoyed both nationally and internationally for many decades.

Prof Matthew Colless, Director, Australian Astronomical Observatory

Astronomy is a field in which Australia is unequivocally a world-leader.  Internationally renowned facilities such as the Australian Telescope Compact Array and the Anglo-Australian Telescope have made many major contributions to Australian astronomy’s outstanding track record over several decades.  However, it would not be an exaggeration to say that Australia’s most widely recognised contribution to astronomy over the last four decades is Ken Freeman.

Dr Marc Duldig, President, Australian Institute of Physics

Ken Freeman has been at the forefront of Australian astronomical research for many years and is a world leader on investigations into dark matter in galaxies.  His work has set the benchmark in this field and his international reputation is outstanding.  He is a worthy winner of this prestigious award and alongside Brian Schmidt is further demonstration of the exceptional standing that Australia achieves in astronomical research.  The Australian Institute of Physics congratulates Ken on winning the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science.

Eric May

Eric May from the University of Western Australia will receive the $50,000 Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year for his work towards making liquid natural gas a cleaner resource.

Prof Sir William Wakeham, Senior Vice President, The Royal Academy of Engineering

Professor May is still in an early phase of his career, but his scientific research achievements are already recognised throughout the world as of the highest quality across a wide spectrum of thermophysics. In addition to being an enthusiastic and effective educator, Professor May is an important and articulate advocate and ambassador for his subject, for his university and for his country with both other academic researchers, industry and government. For all of these reasons I was delighted to learn that he had been awarded the Malcolm McIntosh Prize.

Prof Robyn Owens, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), The University of Western Australia

Professor May has conducted significant research in the field of natural gas processing, an area of great importance to humanity globally and to the prosperity of Australian society. His research continues to help make the development of natural gas resources more efficient, with less environmental impact and represents several exceptional scientific achievements within his field.

Dr Marc Duldig, President, Australian Institute of Physics

Australia’s minerals and energy sectors are transforming our economy. We often forget that they don’t just ‘dig it up’ and ship it. Both sectors are highly technological and innovative. Physicists and engineers in particular play critical roles in finding and exploiting new resources and getting them to market.

So I’m delighted to hear that a physicist has received one of the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science for his work in improving the efficiency and sustainability of liquid natural gas. Eric May’s techniques for making accurate measurements of the thermodynamic properties of fluids are central to the engineering of extraction and production facilities and to capturing carbon dioxide in the process. His work improves efficiencies by a few percentage points. In an industry worth tens of billions of dollars that’s a very important contribution.

Mark Shackleton

Mark Shackleton from Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre will receive the $50,000 Science Minister’s Prize for Life Scientist of the Year. Mark’s work on breast cancer and melanoma is transforming our understanding of how cancers grow and resist treatment.

Prof Doug Hilton, Director of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research

I have known Mark for about 10 years. He is a stunningly creative guy. He is that wonderful mix of a trained clinician—an oncologist—who has an absolute verve for research. He made some stellar discoveries on breast cancer at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute as a PhD student, and then again with melanomas as a post-doc in the US and in his current position at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. These are two of the most significant cancers for Australians. I couldn’t think of a better recipient.

Prof Joseph Trapani, Executive Director Cancer Research Division, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre

Over the past five years, Dr Shackleton has made two massively important contributions to medical research that have independently been profoundly influential. These have been, firstly, the identification and isolation of single cells in the mammary gland that are capable of recapitulating all of the functional elements of mature breast tissue; and secondly, a highly efficient in vivo tumorigenesis assay for studying human melanoma biology at the single cell level. In both instances, the expertise, skills and techniques required to develop each project were built ‘from the ground up’. The significance of Dr Shackleton’s contributions is reflected not only in the quality of the highly cited publications that have resulted, but the implications of his work for our understanding of the genesis of breast cancer and melanoma and in turn, the impact of this work for developing new therapies.

Prof Grant McArthur, Head, Cancer Therapeutics & Melanoma Unit, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre

Dr Mark Shackleton is one of Australia’s brightest and rapidly rising medical researchers who is clearly destined to play a major role in shaping cancer research in this country, particularly in the crucially important disease, melanoma.

Ricky Johnstone, Assistant Director of Research, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre

Dr Mark Shackleton is a medical oncologist who has developed an outstanding track record and international renown as a cancer biologist over the last decade…In collaboration with other clinician/researchers, Dr Shackleton’s work has become a cornerstone of Peter Mac’s translational program that aims to understand the basis of melanoma onset and progression and to develop new therapies for this major cause of morbidity and mortality among Australians. He is a true innovator, who has demonstrated a rare ability to develop and use complicated biological systems to answer fundamental questions in cancer cell biology and his results have clearly defined new areas of research in basic and clinical oncology.

Michael van der Ploeg

Michael van der Ploeg, assistant principal and specialist science teacher at Table Cape Primary School in Wynyard has opened the world of science to students on Tasmania’s northwest coast. He will receive the $50,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools.

Elizabeth Fidler, Acting Advance Skills Teacher, Tasmanian Education Department

Michael promotes the learning of science as a worthwhile endeavour as he believes in life-long, on-going learning. Michael is widely read on the latest teaching of science from a professional point of view and through his involvement in science teacher associations he keeps abreast of new advances and changes.  In this capacity Michael enhances the teaching of science within the school by providing students and his teaching colleagues with the capabilities to have success with the teaching of science.

Ann Burke, Vice President, Science Teachers Association of Tasmania

Because of his deep knowledge of science and the role it plays in many industries in northwest Tasmania Michael constantly brings these links to the attention of students and looks for opportunities for industry and community connections with his classes.  In this way science becomes a living, breathing subject with great relevance for students to the family farm, to a parent or relative’s job in a mine or in a sciences-related industry and to problem solving at a very local level. Michael’s classes are exciting places to be, places where trialling, testing and skill building like real scientists takes place in a supportive and safe setting.

Andrew Woodard, Principal, Table Cape Primary School

Science plays a pivotal role in Michael’s teaching and it is his goal to make it accessible to all students, colleagues and the wider educational community. Michael has found science to be a key subject in providing opportunities for community connections with his classes.  Science offers a pathway for Michael and students to unlock many connections in the surrounding world, which facilitates the accumulation of knowledge to become active and productive citizens.

Anita Trenwith

Anita Trenwith, science teacher at Salisbury High School, north of Adelaide, will receive the $50,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools. She has created a unique program that makes science accessible to special‐education students.

Debra Turley, Pathways Manager, UniSA College

Every student in Anita’s classroom matters. She is able to modify curriculum and nurture students to achieve their best. Anita has catered for a range of students with negotiated education plans as well as high achieving students. She is highly committed and willingly spends time with students in addition to their scheduled class. She is patient and is willing to explain concepts in a range of ways to enhance student learning and understanding.


Thank you to the AusSMC for their support in compiling these responses.