Feeding the world, and asking where the wind went

Life on land depends on plants. And every plant balances opening its pores to let in carbon dioxide for photosynthesis; and closing its pores to retain water.

Graham Farquhar’s work has transformed our understanding of photosynthesis.

His models of plant biophysics have been used to understand cells, whole plants, whole forests, and to create new water-efficient wheat varieties.

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Making polymers with light

Polymers are being used for non-stick coatings, anti-fouling technology, precision drug delivery, medical diagnosis, imaging, and many other applications.

Cyrille Boyer (Photo credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear)
Cyrille uses light to make new and complex polymers. Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear

Associate Professor Cyrille Boyer’s ideas are built on the revolutionary RAFT techniques (a technique to precisely control how small molecules are linked together to form large polymer chains) for which Professor David Solomon and Dr Ezio Rizzardo received the 2011 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science. His latest technology uses light and chlorophyll to catalyse the production of polymers.

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Improved primary science teaching at no extra cost

Two science teachers from New South Wales and Queensland are using fresh approaches to get kids interested in science – and keep them interested.

Ken Silburn (Photo credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear)
Casula High School has gone from just eight students taking science to two-thirds of Year 11 and 12 students. Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear

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Trillions of bubbles at work for Australia

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

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 tiny mineral particles and carry them to the surface.

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Where are the plants and animals we want to conserve, and the invaders we want to control?

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

Jane Elith (Photo credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear)
In the field of environment and ecology, Jane is the 11th most cited author worldwide over the past 10 years. Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear

She develops and assesses species distribution models, which are used by governments, land and catchment managers and conservationists around the world—in short, for applying the lessons of ecology.

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Why are cells different?

Genes are not enough to explain the difference between a skin cell and a stem cell, a leaf cell and a root cell, or the complexity of the human brain. Genes don’t explain the subtle ways in which your parents’ environment before you were conceived might affect your offspring.

Ryan Lister’s work transcends plants, animals and humans. Credit: The University of Western Australia
Ryan Lister’s work transcends plants, animals and humans. Credit: The University of Western Australia

Another layer of complexity—the epigenome— is at work determining when and where genes are turned on and off.

Ryan Lister is unravelling this complexity. He’s created ways of mapping the millions of molecular markers of where genes have been switched on or off, has made the first maps of these markers in plants and humans, and has revealed key differences between the markers in cells with different fates.

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Using Japanese to inspire students

Many teachers struggle to make science fun for their students. For a Canberra teacher, this means creating an environment where every student can see the impact of science in daily life. And an Adelaide teacher is keeping kids engaged by teaching science in Japanese.

Brian Schiller says “students can play and create, and relate their learning to the world around them”. Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear
Brian Schiller says “students can play and create, and relate their learning to the world around them”. Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear

Geoff McNamara from Melrose High School in Canberra has created a hothouse of science learning—complete with a seismometer, GPS antenna and weather station, each transmitting real-time data straight into the classroom.

“We all need science literacy to navigate the complexity of the modern world,” says Geoff. So he reaches out to each student’s interests— from genetics to driving to cosmology— to demonstrate the inevitable relevance of science.

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Australian crystals clean gas, food, air…

Forty per cent of the energy consumed by industry is used to separate things— in natural gas production, mineral processing, food production, pollution control. The list goes on.

Matthew Hill’s crystals will save energy across industry. Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear
Matthew Hill’s crystals will save energy across industry. Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear

Each offers an application for Matthew Hill’s crystals. He has demonstrated that the space inside metal–organic frameworks (MOFs)—the world’s most porous materials—can be used as efficient and long-lasting filters.

By choosing different combinations of metals and plastics, Matthew’s CSIRO team can make a wide range of customised crystals. Then, using antimatter and synchrotron light, they map the internal pores, determine what each crystal can do and explore potential applications.

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Terry Speed: fighting cancer by the numbers

Terry Speed doesn’t expect to see headlines reading “Statistician cures cancer” any time soon. But he knows that maths and stats can help researchers understand the underlying causes of cancer and reduce the need for surgery.

Terry Speed. Credit: WEHI

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.

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