From restoring underwater forests to improving medical masks and developing hydrogen as fuel, a record 12 UNSW and UNSW-affiliated researchers and teams have been named finalists in the prestigious Eureka Prizes.
Presented annually by the Australian Museum, the Eureka Prizes are the country’s most high-profile science awards, recognising excellence in research and innovation, leadership, science engagement and school science.
UNSW's researchers are drawn from the faculties of Science, Engineering and Medicine, including from the Kirby Institute, Children’s Cancer Institute, and the George Institute.
Leading the field as a finalist in two categories is Scientia Professor Justin Gooding, who is nominated as Outstanding Mentor of Young Researchers, and also for the ANSTO Eureka Prize for Innovative Use of Technology.
UNSW Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Nicholas Fisk said the result betters the University’s record of 10 finalists achieved in 2008.
“This impressive field of finalists demonstrates the depth and diversity of the impressive research talent we have across UNSW,” he said.
“Scientia Professor Justin Gooding is in the running for two prizes, both with his team developing a wearable sunscreen sensor and for his outstanding work to role model positive leadership and entrepreneurial thinking.
“I congratulate all finalists on being recognised among our nation’s very best in science and wish them the best of luck.”
The winners of the 'Oscars of Australian science' will be announced at a gala dinner in Sydney on 30 August.
The UNSW finalists are:
Scientia Professor Justin Gooding – Outstanding Mentor of Young Researchers: Professor Gooding is using a program of individualised mentorship to develop the next generation of research leaders in bio nanotechnology and nanomedicine. He has focused on developing innovative, entrepreneurial and passionate researchers who become talented mentors in their own right.
ANSTO Eureka Prize for Innovative Use of Technology – Professor Gooding is also a finalist along with colleagues Dr Parisa Khiabani and Dr Alexander Soeriyadi, for a simple and affordable sensor, which indicates to the wearer when they should seek shade or apply more sunscreen. By using off-the-shelf components and existing technologies, their invention has the potential to be widely deployed, maximising the benefit to society.
Associate Professor Francois Aguey-Zinsou – ANSTO Eureka Prize for Innovative Use of Technology: In its development from wood to coal to oil to electricity, “energy” has been a driver of human evolution. Hydrogen is often thought of as a fuel only for the future, but by providing a readily accessible means for the adoption of hydrogen, Associate Professor Francois Aguey-Zinsou has completely changed our perspective on this technology.
The Operation Crayweed Team, lead nominee Dr Adriana Vergés – NSW OEH Eureka Prize for Environmental Research: The Operation Crayweed team has demonstrated the environmental and ecological benefits of restoring Sydney's coastal crayweed forests. By working with the public, they have put this important marine restoration project into action, enhancing coastal biodiversity.
Scientia Professor Katharina Gaus – Eureka Prize for Scientific Research: Professor Katharina Gaus is at the forefront of deciphering T cell signalling, a critical part of the human immune system. Her research combines new super-resolution ﬂuorescence microscopes and analysis routines to reveal the decision-making process of T cells.
The Boyer Laboratory, team leader Associate Professor Cyrille Boyer – Eureka Prize for Scientific Research: Associate Professor Boyer was a Eureka Prizes finalist last year. This year the Boyer Laboratory is a finalist for its four years of breakthrough contributions to the field of polymer science. Using the chlorophyll available in plants, they have developed a novel polymerisation technique to convert light and energy into a chemical process.
Professor Michelle Haber – CSIRO Eureka Prize for Leadership in Innovation and Science: Professor Michelle Haber is a global authority in childhood cancer research, setting the agenda for the field in Australia. She is the driving force behind Zero Childhood Cancer, a world-leading initiative that brings together clinicians from every paediatric oncology facility nationwide.
Professor Andy Pitman – CSIRO Eureka Prize for Leadership in Innovation and Science: Over the past 15 years, Professor Andrew Pitman has demonstrated visionary leadership in the field of climate science. By bringing together a consortium of leading universities and institutions he has transformed the scale and impact of Australian climate science research.
Team MacIntyre – Eureka Prize for Infectious Diseases Research: Professor Raina MacIntyre and her team have produced the largest body of work on the effectiveness of medical masks and respirators against the spread of infectious diseases. Their work has improved protections for healthcare workers by informing policy and practice at both a national and international level.
The Scabies Research Team – Eureka Prize for Infectious Diseases Research: Through two landmark trials the team comprising Murdoch Children’s Research Institute; the Kirby Institute; St Vincent's Hospital Sydney; and Menzies School of Health has shown that mass drug administration with the oral drug ivermectin is highly effective in controlling scabies and related bacterial skin sores. These results have transformed the global conversation on integrated programs for neglected tropical diseases.
The George Institute for Global Health – Johnson & Johnson Eureka Prize for Innovation in Medical Research: Millions of people around the world die of kidney failure each year because they can’t afford treatment. By miniaturising existing technology, the Affordable Dialysis System Team has the potential to provide treatment at a cost that is less than five percent of existing systems, making life-saving dialysis available to many more people around the world.
MS Biomarker Team – Johnson & Johnson Eureka Prize for Innovation in Medical Research: The team includes Sonia Bustamante, Senior Analytical Chemist at the UNSW Bioanalytical Mass Spectrometry Facility. Led by Professor Gilles Guillemin, the team has developed a simple blood test that allows clinicians to rapidly and accurately determine which of the three types of multiple sclerosis a patient has. This world-first discovery enables faster personalised treatment, which has the potential to slow the disease and limit damage to the brain and spinal cord.