2016 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science

For complete profiles, photos and videos, and more information on the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science, visit www.science.gov.au/pmscienceprizes  

Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear

Defending Australia’s snakes and lizards

Northern Australia’s peak predators—snakes and lizards—are more likely to survive the cane-toad invasion thanks to the work of Professor Richard Shine.

Using behavioural conditioning, Rick and his team have successfully protected these native predators against toad invasion in WA.

He has created traps for cane toads, taught quolls and goannas that toads are ‘bad,’ and now plans to release small cane toads ahead of the invasion front, a counterintuitive ‘genetic backburn’ based on ‘old-school’ ideas that his hero Charles Darwin would have recognised.

For his work using evolutionary principles to address conservation challenges, Richard, from The University of Sydney, was awarded the 2016 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science.


Credit: The University of Sydney

Conservation that works for government, ecosystems and people:

Associate Professor Kerrie Wilson can put a value on clean air, water, food, tourism and the other benefits that forests, rivers, oceans and other ecosystems provide.

With that, she can calculate the most effective way to protect and restore those ecosystems. For example, in Borneo she and her colleagues have shown how the three nations that share the island could retain half the land as forest, provide adequate habitat for the orangutan and Bornean elephant, and achieve an opportunity cost saving of over $50 billion.

Around the world she is helping governments to make smart investments in conservation. For her work with the Australian Research Council Centre for Excellence for Environmental Decisions, Kerrie received the 2016 Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year.

Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear

Making stock markets fair and efficient

Professor Michael Aitken developed a software program that’s made global stock markets fairer and more efficient. Now he’s applying the same technology framework and markets know-how to improve health, mortgage and other markets.

He says there are billions of dollars of potential savings in health expenditure in Australia alone, which can go hand in glove with significant improvements in consumers’ health.

A powerful advocate of scientific and technological innovation, Michael, from Capital Markets Cooperative Research Centre, was awarded the 2016 Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation.

Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear

Creating new manufacturing jobs by replacing glass and metal with plastic

Dr Colin Hall has created a new manufacturing process that allows plastic to replace glass and metal, making aircraft, spacecraft and even whitegoods lighter and more efficient.

His team’s first commercial success is a plastic car side-mirror. And it all started with spectacles.

For his contribution to creating a new manufacturing technology, Colin, from the University of South Australia, received the inaugural 2016 Prize for New Innovators.

Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear

Re-engineering nature to fight for global health

Professor Richard Payne is re-engineering nature to fight for global health. He makes peptides and proteins. He sees an interesting peptide or protein in nature, such as in a blood-sucking tick, then recreates and re-engineers the molecule to create powerful new drugs, including anti-clotting agents to treat stroke.

His team at The University of Sydney is developing new drugs for the global health challenge including tuberculosis, malaria and antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections.

For his revolutionary drug development technologies, Richard was awarded the 2016 Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year.

Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear

Turning primary teachers and students onto science

Suzy Urbaniak is a geoscientist who has turned classrooms into rooms full of young scientists, giving them the freedom to develop their own investigations and find their own solutions. Suzy received the 2016 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools.

Gary Tilley is mentoring the next generation of maths and science teachers to improve the way these subjects are taught in primary schools. At Seaforth Public School in Sydney, he’s encouraged excitement and a love for science in his students who have painted almost every wall in their school with murals of dinosaurs and marine reptiles. Gary received the 2016 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools.

Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear