Australian Science Prizes 2016

Clunies Ross Awards

Dr Elaine Saunders has made premium hearing aids more affordable and easier to use. She and her team have built on Australia’s bionic ear technologies to create a system where you can: test your hearing online; buy your hearing aid online and receive it set up ready for you; and adjust the hearing aid with your smartphone while you’re at the pub, dancing, or watching TV.

Credit: Blamey Saunders

Professor Maree Smith hopes to change the lives of millions of people worldwide who live with chronic pain. She’s the inventor of the new EMA401 oral drug, currently in clinical trials, to treat neuropathic pain and chronic inflammatory pain. The drug avoids the central nervous system side-effects commonly produced by pain medicines. Maree holds 11 patents in pain relief, with analgesics technologies licensed to three University of Queensland spin-out companies.

Professor Peter Murphy has led an industry-focused research team specialising in thin-film coating science to develop a plastic automotive rear-view mirror. The Plastic Mirror is the world’s first light-weight, injection-compression moulded polycarbonate automotive rear-view mirror. It’s half the weight of traditional glass mirrors, distortion-free, shatterproof, resistant to UV weathering, abrasion resistant, withstands temperature extremes and offers design freedom and a simplified assembly process not possible with glass. More than 1.5 million mirror assemblies have been manufactured in Adelaide and exported to the USA.

The Clunies Ross Awards are presented by the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering.

2016 Eureka Prize highlights

FANTOM5 project: 260 specialists from 20 countries, including 22 Australian researchers, are mapping the sets of genes expressed in each of our cell types to interpret genetic diseases and engineer new cells for therapeutic use.

Protecting Australian soldiers: Traditional light-weight military vehicles are susceptible to battlefield damage from Improvised Explosive Devices and small arms fire. The new Hawkei, developed by Thales, provides Australian soldiers with potentially life-saving protection against roadside bombs and other threats by combining several existing technologies to produce a novel design.

A kidney in a dish: Professor Melissa Little and Dr Minoru Takasato of the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute recreated human kidney tissue from stem cells, opening the door to disease modelling, drug screening, and ultimately replacement organs.

Other winners included:

Identifying the sources and distribution of marine debris at a national scale around Australia’s coastline—CSIRO Marine Debris Team.

Understanding the connections between plate tectonics, past ocean chemistry and the evolution and extinction of life on Earth—CODES – ARC Centre of Excellence, University of Tasmania; Flinders University; Russian Academy of Science; and University of California.

Using the colour of cells and tissues as a non-invasive medical diagnostic tool—Professor Ewa Goldys, Macquarie University and ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics; and Dr Martin Gosnell, Quantitative Pty Ltd.

For more on the 2016 Australian Museum Eureka Prizes visit

State awards

Protecting Australia’s snakes and lizards: Professor Rick Shine was the 2016 NSW Scientist of the Year. More on p.26.

Credit: The University of Sydney

Professor Kingsley Dixon discovered the chemical in smoke responsible for germination in Australian species—finally explaining why the Australian bush blooms after fire. Kingsley was the 2016 WA Scientist of the Year.

Understanding of the human immune system—how T-cells recognise foreign tissues during transplant rejection, drug hypersensitivities and the wheat allergy that causes celiac disease: Professors Jamie Rossjohn and James McCluskey were jointly awarded the 2016 Victoria Prize (Life Sciences).

Nanophotonics, biophotonics, optical data storage and solar cells: Professor Min Gu is an expert in three-dimensional optical imaging theory and was awarded the 2016 Victoria Prize (Physical Sciences).

Detailing the first genome of an extinct species, reconstructing the genomic history of Europe, and creating detailed pictures of climate change, human history, and disease—Professor Alan Cooper was the 2016 SA Scientist of the Year.

Australian Academy of Science

Career awards

Professor Jeffrey Reimers applies chemical quantum theory to photosynthesis and consciousness. He received the 2016 David Craig Medal.

The discovery and development of the Lisheen lead-zinc mine in the Republic of Ireland, leadership in the recognition and characterisation of a new type of mineral deposit, and the origin of the sediment-hosted copper deposits of Central Africa—Professor Murray Hitzman received the 2016 Haddon Forrester King Medal.

Past sea level changes, coastal evolution and what marine mollusc shells can tell us about environmental changes—Professor Colin Vincent Murray-Wallace received the 2016 Mawson Medal.

Scientia Professor Martin Green and his team have led the world in silicon cell efficiency since 1983, paving the way for the solar panels used on our homes. Dubbed “the father of photovoltaics,” Martin received the 2016 Ian Wark Medal.

Professor Graham Farquhar’s models of plant biophysics have been used to understand cells, plants, 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. He received the 2016 Macfarlane Burnet Medal.

Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear

Early-and-mid-career awards

Professor David Wilson is recognised internationally for his work in mathematical modelling, impact evaluation and public health strategy development, developing innovative approaches to HIV monitoring and reporting, viral hepatitis and sexually transmitted infections. David received the 2016 Gustav Nossal Medal for Global Health.

Associate Professor Katherine Kedzierska identifies key factors that drive the severe and fatal influenza disease in high-risk groups, including the young, elderly, pregnant women, immunosuppressed individuals and Indigenous Australians. Katherine received the 2016 Jacques Miller Medal for experimental biomedicine.

Dr Elena Belousova and her colleagues at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Core to Crust Fluid Systems developed TerraneChron®, a tool that dates zircons in geological samples, helping define patterns in how Earth’s crust evolved. It can also be used to find where many mineral deposits such as gold, nickel and diamond are, and is widely used by global mining giants including BHP Billiton. Elena received the 2016 Nancy Millis Medal for Women in Science.

Credit: (left) Will Powell; (right) Julia Galin

Professor Paolo Falcaro engineers nano-materials to bring materials with exceptional functional properties to our everyday life, including magnetic materials for the decontamination of water from carcinogens and heavy metals, and new carriers for the encapsulation, preservation and release of pharmaceuticals. Paolo received the 2016 John Booker Medal.

Associate Professor Jane Elith asks where are the plants and animals we want to conserve, and the invaders we want to control? She develops and evaluates species distribution models, and her guides and novel tools for modelling species and ecological communities have been used by government and environmental management agencies in Australia and internationally. Jane received the 2016 Fenner Medal.

Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear

Associate Professor Geoffrey John Faulkner combines computers with high-throughput machines to analyse the DNA found in individual human cells. His work has major implications for how we view healthy brain function, and may provide opportunities to better understand mental health and neurodegenerative conditions. Geoffrey received the 2016 Ruth Stephens Gani Medal.

Professor Ostoja Steve Vucic has identified important processes that contribute to the triggering of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), leading to the identification of novel therapeutic targets and therapeutic approaches, and invented a diagnostic technique for ALS, enabling an earlier diagnosis at a point where the disease may be amenable to neuroprotective therapies. Ostoja received the 2016 Gottschalk Medal.

Credit: The University of Sydney

Professor John Paterson uses Australian fossils to answer major questions relating to evolution, biogeography and palaeoecology during the two greatest radiations in the history of animal life—the Cambrian explosion and the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event. John received the 2016 Anton Hales Medal.

Credit: University of New England

How are waves—from acoustic ones to those in the ocean—affected by objects, either solitary or in groups, in their paths? Dr Luke Bennetts is a mathematician applying computational methods to real-world problems, such as how ocean waves interact with ice floes in the polar seas, and his work is applicable to climate forecasting. He was awarded the 2016 Christopher Heyde Medal.

Dr Andréa Sardinha Taschetto’s research has substantially advanced our understanding of the role of the oceans on regional climate variability, from seasonal to multi‐decadal timescales and future projections. Andréa was awarded the 2016 Dorothy Hill Award.

Associate Professor Ilya Shadrivov is creating new kinds of metamaterials—composites with properties not found in nature—for uses such as next-generation security cameras and radar-type sensors to increase car safety. Ilya was awarded the 2016 Pawsey Medal.

Associate Professor Michael James Ireland develops optical and infrared technology to probe the lifecycles of stars and planets, and to create tools to understand how planets form and evolve. He’s shown dying solar-type stars shed their outer layers in a wind of molecules and tiny transparent dust grains, and is building astronomical instruments for Australian and international telescopes to detect planets around other stars. He was awarded the 2016 Frederick White Prize.

Associate Professor Cyrille Boyer uses light to make new and complex polymers. It’s the latest in a series of techniques that have enabled him to create materials which are being applied in areas as widespread as non-stick coatings, anti-fouling technology, precision drug delivery, medical diagnosis and imaging. Cyrille was awarded the 2016 Le Févre Memorial Prize.