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Cats, vax and milkshakes – 2020 Australian Museum Eureka Prize finalists announced

FINALISTS ANNOUNCED FOR 2020 AUSTRALIAN MUSEUM EUREKA PRIZES

30TH ANNIVERSARY OF AUSTRALIA’S LEADING SCIENCE AWARDS

51 finalists have been announced in the 2020 Australian Museum Eureka Prizes, Australia’s leading science awards. Selected from hundreds of entries, the finalists span the full spectrum of science, from solving global environmental challenges to finding unique solutions to deliver life-saving medication. With $170,000 in prize money and recognition nationally and internationally for winners, the AM Eureka Prizes are seen as the ‘Oscars’ of Australian science.

Finalists include pandemic preparation research, a single-dose cure for malaria, citizen scientists studying brush-turkey behaviour in suburbia, research on the origins of modern humans, technology which creates a virtual 3D-model of a cancer cell and two projects looking at the impact of feral cats on native fauna and biodiversity.

The finalists are now in the running for 17 AM Eureka Prizes to be awarded across four categories:

  • Research & Innovation
  • Leadership
  • Science Engagement
  • School Science

It took 74 judges more than 400 hours to sift through hundreds of entries from every state and territory before settling on the final selection. Winners will be announced on the evening of Tuesday 24 November 2020.

For the first time in the program’s 30-year history, the 2020 AM Eureka Prize winners will be announced during a live, digital event with an interactive app to allow the online audience to take part in the proceedings. The digital event will be open to everyone and is free to attend.

Director and CEO of the Australian Museum, Kim McKay AO, said the AM Eureka Prizes are a key part of the AM’s role at the forefront of Australian scientific research, education and outreach.

“For 30 years, the AM Eureka Prizes have recognised the ground-breaking work of Australian scientists,” Ms McKay said.

“The Eureka Prizes are a unique co-operative partnership between government, education and research institutions and the private sector to support scientific excellence. Since the prizes first began, more than $4 million in prize money and a total of 416 AM Eureka Prizes have been awarded.

“The AM is both a holder of knowledge and a seeker of new understanding – our role is to nurture and encourage scientific endeavour, curiosity and wonder and we do this daily through the work of the Australian Museum Research Institute.

“The finalists for this year’s AM Eureka Prizes embody those ideals and their work is making a difference both here and globally – they will lead us all into new areas of discovery, conservation and economic growth,” she said.

 

THE 2020 AUSTRALIAN MUSEUM EUREKA PRIZE FINALISTS ARE:

 

RESEARCH & INNOVATION

NSW Environment, Energy and Science (DPIE) Eureka Prize for Applied Environmental Research

Cat Ecology, Impact and Management Team, The Threatened Species Recovery Hub of the National Environmental Science Program

The impact of feral cats on Australia’s wildlife is severe, however a lack of robust evidence has made their effective management a long-standing challenge. This collaborative team of scientists and land managers has undertaken national-scale research on the ecology of cats, tested management options and influenced biodiversity conservation policy.

Rebuilding Australia’s Lost Shellfish Reefs, The Nature Conservancy; James Cook University; University of Adelaide; and University of Tasmania

Shellfish reefs, once common across the temperate bays and estuaries of southern Australia, have been overexploited to near extinction. This research has documented the decline and provided the knowledge required to successfully commence restoring them and their vital ecosystem services, such as cleaner water, more fish and protected shorelines.

Tackling Prey Naivety Team, UNSW; Arid Recovery; University of California; and Bush Heritage Australia

One of the most significant drivers of native mammal extinction and decline in Australia is predation by introduced cats and foxes. By exposing populations of threatened burrowing bettongs and greater bilbies to low densities of novel predators over extended time periods, the Tackling Prey Naivety Team has improved their anti-predator traits.

 

University of Technology Sydney Eureka Prize for Excellence in Data Science

Professor Dinh Phung, Monash University

Professor Dinh Phung’s pioneering research has led to the development of algorithms that can uncover infinite hidden patterns from big data. He has revealed how next-generation theory and tools can harness big data for the coming artificial intelligence revolution and advance fundamental science, delivering considerable social and economic impacts.

Professor Dacheng Tao, University of Sydney

Deep learning has been shown to reduce human bias, however practical challenges — such as accidents caused by driverless cars — have lowered society’s trust in artificial intelligence. Professor Dacheng Tao has advanced deep learning theory and technologies, enabling the design of innovative algorithms for tasks that include object detection and image enhancement.

 

UNSW Eureka Prize for Excellence in Interdisciplinary Scientific Research

Professor Vanessa Hayes, Garvan Institute of Medical Research and University of Sydney

Skilfully bringing together a team of paleo-geologists, archaeologists, anthropologists, geneticists and climate change researchers, this landmark study led by Professor Vanessa Hayes pinpoints the homeland of modern humans in southern Africa. The findings provide a window into the first 100,000 years of modern human history and suggest how climate change may have driven the original migrations.

Ridge to Reef Fisheries, University of Queensland

Some of the most significant threats to coastal fisheries come from logging and farming, yet they are typically ignored in fisheries management. The Ridge to Reef Fisheries team has developed the first scientific theory to integrate the processes that link changes in land use to coastal ecosystems, fisheries and the human populations dependent on these marine resources.

Social-Ecological Research Frontiers, James Cook University; University of Tasmania; Macquarie University; University of Technology Sydney; Australia Institute of Marine Science; Western Australia Department of Biodiversity, Conservation, and Attractions; and The Nature Conservancy

Coral reefs that are thriving despite human and environmental pressures can provide novel insights into confronting complex problems. The Social-Ecological Research Frontiers team assembled the largest dataset of its type on conditions in over 6,000 reefs across 46 countries, allowing them to locate and learn from these coral reef ‘bright spots’.

 

Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre Eureka Prize for Infectious Diseases Research

Australian Paediatric Influenza Immunisation Research Group, Wesfarmers Centre of Vaccines and Infectious Diseases, Telethon Kids Institute; University of Western Australia; Western Australian Department of Health; National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance; AusVaxSafety Consortium; The Paediatric Active Enhanced Disease Surveillance Network; and InFLUenza Complications Alert Network.

The Australian Paediatric Influenza Immunisation Research Group built upon a decade of research and scientific evidence to successfully demonstrate the flu vaccine’s safety and efficacy to policymakers. In 2020, their efforts resulted in universal influenza vaccination for young children being introduced on the National Immunisation Program for the first time in Australia’s history.

Professor Gregory Dore, Kirby Institute

People who inject drugs are a key population affected by hepatitis C, but often excluded from therapy trials due to perceived poor compliance. Professor Gregory Dore has led the first international trials to include a range of study populations from this marginalised group. His research informs clinical practices and improves these groups’ access to hepatitis C therapy globally.

Team StrepA, Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity

Group A Streptococcus has severe and ongoing public health impacts, predominantly in remote regions or settings of poverty. Using cutting-edge sequencing technology to identify the evolutionary dynamics of this bacterial pathogen, Team StrepA has provided a global framework for understanding infection management and advancing vaccine design.

 

ANSTO Eureka Prize for Innovative Use of Technology

BioNanoVR, University of Queensland; UNSW; and Monash University

Visualisation of scientific data plays a crucial role in scientific discovery and communicating findings to both expert and general audiences. BioNanoVR has developed a new way of interacting with complex biological data, which allows miniaturised viewers to explore a virtual 3D model of a cancer cell or watch nanoparticles target tumours inside the body.

Adjunct Professor Dennis Delic, Defence Science and Technology Group

Adjunct Professor Dennis Delic is designing, and leading the commercialisation of, miniature smart sensors that can identify single photons of light. His patented technology can form rapid and accurate 3D images of objects that are hidden underwater, concealed on land or travelling through the air, which will lead to substantial gains for Australia’s defence capabilities.

Monash Pharmaceutical Milkshake Team, Monash University and ANSTO

The Monash Milk Team has developed novel synchrotron-based methods for studying the interaction of milk and milk-like systems, with drugs. Their work has potential applications across a wide range of drug classes and diseases, and has already advanced the development of safe and effective drug formulations for children, including the first single dose cure for malaria.

 

Macquarie University Eureka Prize for Outstanding Early Career Researcher

Dr Nathalie Bock, Queensland University of Technology

Dr Nathalie Bock proposes to address the limitations of current preclinical models through the development of innovative 3D bioengineered human platforms for cancer research. Using a multidisciplinary mindset, she has merged tissue engineering, materials science and cancer biology to better mimic the human tissue microenvironment, enabling comprehensive study of bone metastasis — a currently incurable condition.

Dr Lining (Arnold) Ju, University of Sydney

Dr Lining (Arnold) Ju’s research has advanced our understanding of how ‘force-sensing’ proteins in the cardiovascular system trigger blood clotting. Inspired by mechanobiology, he has developed novel bioengineering approaches that efficiently prevent disease-forming clots, a breakthrough that will have life-saving implications for diabetics who are resistant to conventional anti-clotting drugs.

Dr Qilin Wang, University of Technology Sydney

Dr Qilin Wang has developed a technology that would transform energy-consuming, high-emission sewage treatment plants into energy-producing, low-emission plants. This transformation is achieved by utilising a by-product of the sewerage treatment process, creating a closed-loop system. His technology, which is being commercialised globally, could provide major benefits for water utilities and communities worldwide.

 

Department of Defence Eureka Prize for Outstanding Science in Safeguarding Australia

Professor Benjamin Eggleton, Dr Eric Mägi, Dr Moritz Merklein, Dr Alvaro Casas Bedoya and Dr Yang Liu, University of Sydney and Associate Professor Stephen Madden, Australian National University

By harnessing the delicate interaction between light and sound, Professor Benjamin Eggleton and his team have produced a microchip that provides a unique advantage for defence platforms. With prototypes already developed in Australia and internationally, this compact technology heralds a new era in microwave signal processing and represents real gains in performance, efficiency and cost.

UNSW Biodefense

UNSW Biodefence has combined public health and military expertise to develop a simulated method for pandemic response, which facilitates collaboration across a wide range of sectors. Underpinned by mathematical modelling and published research, this work provides a concrete, actionable blueprint relevant to any respiratory pandemic — including COVID-19.

Professor Ba-Ngu Vo and Professor Ba Tuong Vo, Curtin University and Dr Michael Beard, Solinnov Pty Ltd Professor Ba-Ngu Vo and his team have developed an innovative approach to situational awareness that has the potential to process large volumes of data from multiple environmental elements and events. Facilitating comprehensive intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance over vast areas, this capability is well suited to Australia’s need to defend a large region with a relatively small force.

 

UNSW Eureka Prize for Scientific Research

The Australian Quantum Vortex Team, University of Queensland; Monash University; and Swinburne University of Technology

Turbulence is a ubiquitous phenomenon that causes giant vortices to form, influencing global weather, flight and even galaxies. The Australian Quantum Vortex Team has developed pioneering laser technologies to observe the microscopic origins of turbulence for the first time. Their results verify 70-year-old predictions that these vortices emerge in quantum fluids and have important implications for the design of future quantum technologies.

Coote-Ciampi-Darwish, Australian National University and Curtin University

Developing efficient ways to catalyse reactions has been an important quest for scientific research. The Coote-Ciampi-Darwish team has shown that electric fields can be used to manipulate chemical reactions, a breakthrough that may enable greener and safer methods for fabricating materials ranging from drugs to plastics.

Professor Mark Febbraio, Monash University

Despite the existence of several established treatments for type 2 diabetes, a drug that halts or reverses disease progression is not yet available. Through his metabolic disease research, Professor Mark Febbraio has discovered that a compound called IC7Fc could improve glucose metabolism, progressing new drug therapies for people living with diabetes.

 

LEADERSHIP

 

3M Eureka Prize Emerging Leader in Science

Associate Professor Asha Bowen, Wesfarmers Centre of Vaccines and Infectious Diseases, Telethon Kids Institute Regarded as one of the brightest clinician-scientists of her generation, Associate Professor Asha Bowen is a world-class early career researcher and rising leader in infectious disease research. Her passion for ending skin disease has driven breakthrough knowledge and policy change that is reducing the burden of skin infections for Aboriginal children living in remote communities.

Associate Professor Sumeet Walia, RMIT University

Associate Professor Sumeet Walia is a cross-disciplinary researcher whose innovations include futuristic electronics, sensing technologies and devices that mimic the functionality of the human brain. His work Is having a rounded impact at a national level, as he actively promotes diversity and inclusion in STEM, advocates for evidence-based policies and is a leader in accessible science communication.

Dr Jiajia Zhou, University of Technology Sydney

Dr Jiajia Zhou has emerged as an international leader in the application of single particle spectroscopy. She has developed a global network of collaborators across a range of disciplines, opening up new research directions and accelerating developments in areas that include visual display technology, security inks and personalised medicine.

 

CSIRO Eureka Prize for Leadership in Innovation and Science

Professor Maria Kavallaris AM, UNSW and Children’s Cancer Institute

Internationally renowned as an authority in cancer biology research and therapeutics, Professor Maria Kavallaris is a champion for childhood cancer. An innovator, advocate and powerful role model for young women in STEM, she has created an enduring legacy of excellence in both research and shaping the next generation of cancer research leaders.

Professor Robert F. Park, University of Sydney

For nearly two decades, Professor Robert F. Park has led world-class efforts to develop cereal varieties with inbuilt genetic disease resistance. He is one of the few plant pathologists who has successfully translated their biological discoveries to the real world, his research having a sustained global impact on the economic viability of cereal production and food security.

Professor Geordie Williamson, University of Sydney

As inaugural director of the University of Sydney Mathematical Research Institute, Professor Geordie Williamson is leading research collaborations between local and international mathematicians. He has made fundamental contributions to Australia’s research capacity in pure mathematics and his unique leadership vision is transforming the discipline and helping shape the mathematical tools of the future.

 

University of Technology Sydney Eureka Prize for Outstanding Mentor of Young Researchers

Professor Carol Armour AM, Woolcock Institute of Medical Research and University of Sydney

Professor Carol Armour has devoted the past 20 years of her academic career to enhancing Australia’s research capacity. Harnessing her passion for mentoring and career development, she has created transformative programs and unique opportunities that are advancing the careers of Australia’s next generation of researchers.

Professor Karu Esselle, University of Technology Sydney

Professor Karu Esselle has a passion for nurturing the careers of young researchers, empowering his mentees to think freely and critically while helping them integrate into the wider scientific community. Driven by a desire to develop confident, skilled and workforce-ready graduates, he has implemented a range of programs and policies that facilitate broader researcher development.

 

SCIENCE ENGAGEMENT

 

Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources Eureka Prize for Innovation in Citizen Science

The AstroQuest Team, International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research

AstroQuest is an online citizen science initiative that helps astronomers better understand how distant galaxies grow and evolve. Volunteers are motivated by game features, such as quests and rewards, to check images that have been processed by sophisticated computer algorithms. Their feedback helps research teams study galaxies and improve machine learning.

Team Brush-turkey, University of Sydney and Taronga Conservation Society Australia

Once a rare species due to overhunting, the Australian Brush-turkey is now commonly found in urban areas on the country’s east coast. Team Brush-turkey has developed a project that engages the community to report sightings while learning about this unique species. The information helps scientists better understand their evolving distribution and the behaviours that enable recolonisation.

Victorian Coastal Monitoring Program, University of Melbourne; Deakin University; Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning; and Propeller Aerobotics

A world-first initiative, the Victorian Coastal Monitoring Program is empowering local communities to predict how beaches respond to storms and rising sea levels. Using lightweight drones, citizen scientists produce 3D models that precisely measure shoreline change. The open-source data informs coastal management and policy decisions.

 

Finkel Foundation Eureka Prize for Long-Form Science Journalism

Dr Paul Biegler, Monash University

A new device to create embryo-like structures is shedding light on the mystery of early human development and the blight of miscarriage and birth defects. But could these embryoids one day supply transplant organs or even make a baby? In Biology’s Black Box, Dr Paul Biegler asks bioengineers and policymakers how far we can take the ‘embryo in a dish’. Published in Cosmos, 5 March 2020

Ceridwen Dovey

In Mining the Moon, Ceridwen Dovey questions the headlong rush among private industry to commercialise space activities and normalise the idea of mining the moon. She provides a detailed analysis of Australia’s proud, yet little known, history as a leader in space diplomacy and sustainability, and suggests it could continue to advocate for internationally binding protections for the moon. Published in The Monthly, 1 July 2019

 

Celestino Eureka Prize for Promoting Understanding of Science

Dr Sophie Calabretto, Macquarie University

The number of Australians, especially young women, studying higher mathematics is declining and Dr Sophie Calabretto is committed to changing this. From community outreach to appearing on national media, she seeks to illustrate the pervasiveness of maths in everyday life. Serial killers, neuron firing, mixing martinis and radioactive decay — maths truly is everywhere.

Associate Professor Alice Motion, University of Sydney

Associate Professor Alice Motion is a chemistry researcher, educator and public communicator of science who is committed to engaging new and underrepresented audiences. An important voice for the popularisation of science, she has reached millions of Australians through a range of methods that include original podcasts, musical festivals, television appearances and social media.

Dr Gemma Sharp, Monash University

Known for her ability to tackle stigmatised and misunderstood issues, particularly in mental health, Dr Gemma Sharp is a skilled science communicator who extends her influence across multiple media platforms. Her engaging and relatable approach has led to greater mental health awareness and treatment seeking in the community.

 

Australian Museum Eureka Prize for Science Journalism

Dr Jackson Ryan, CNET

From the earliest days of the coronavirus pandemic, Dr Jackson Ryan has explored the science, technology and people at the forefront of the COVID-19 response. His reports have been an important source of advice, debunking misinformation and detailing the innovative ways science is helping us through the worst health crisis in a century. Published by CNET on 23 January, 5 February, 3 March, 2 April and 11 May 2020

Carl Smith, Natasha Mitchell, Brendan O’Neill and Hamish Camilleri, Australian Broadcasting Corporation Australian women have a deep and rich history in computing stretching back to the 1800s, when some worked as ‘computers’ themselves, calculating mathematical problems. They have played important roles in scientific discoveries but were often omitted from history. Their pioneering contributions — and their obstacles — are revealed in this timely multimedia series, ‘The Hidden Women of Australian Computing.’ Published by ABC on 10, 17 and 28 November 2019

Tegan Taylor, Dr Norman Swan and Will Ockenden, Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Coronacast is a podcast that breaks down the latest news and research to help listeners understand how the world is living through a pandemic. Hosted by physician Dr Norman Swan and health reporter Tegan Taylor, it gives evidence-based answers to audience questions and has emerged to become many Australians’ primary source of trusted information about the coronavirus pandemic.

Episodes submitted for this prize were published by ABC on 16, 26 and 27 March; and 8 and 17 April 2020

 

Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources Eureka Prize for STEM Inclusion

CSIRO Indigenous STEM Education Project

CSIRO’s Indigenous STEM Education Project is an evidence-based, national initiative that improves Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student aspiration, achievement and participation in STEM. The project has reached beyond the walls of classrooms to increase the skills, capability and ambition of whole communities. For some, the program has been life changing.

Kakadu NESP Team, CSIRO; University of Western Australia; Charles Darwin University; Kakadu National Park Board and Traditional Owners; Northern Land Council; Microsoft and National Environmental Science Program Indigenous custodians, together with scientists, have developed new ways to apply science and Indigenous knowledge to managing Kakadu National Park. Traditional Owners and Rangers are now sing technologies that include artificial intelligence, drones, time-lapse cameras and participatory videos to adaptively co-manage important landscapes within this World Heritage Area.

Corey Tutt, University of Sydney

Indigenous Australians are significantly underrepresented in all areas of STEM. Corey Tutt’s DeadlyScience initiative for remote and regional schools across Australia is changing this by connecting young Indigenous people with mentors, providing culturally appropriate science resources and delivering virtual STEM lessons. His activities are gaining widespread support among these communities.

 

SCHOOL SCIENCE

 

University of Sydney Sleek Geeks Science Eureka Prize – Primary

Scarlett P and Scarlett O, Oak Flats Primary School, NSW

Super Cooled Science examines how water turns into ice and explains ‘supercooling,’ the process of chilling a liquid below its freezing point, without it becoming solid. Using claymation and dance, Scarlett and Scarlett illustrate the role that energy plays in this transformation and describe one of the ways supercooled water is being used by scientists. 

Clara P, Maribyrnong Primary School, ACT

Have you ever wondered why some bugs can walk on water? In Stretching the Tension, Clara explores the role of surface tension, revealing how water acts like an elastic membrane that stretches when forces are applied to it — just like a trampoline. 

Levi S, Norwood Primary School, Tas

The Leidenfrost Effect investigates what occurs when a liquid heated past its boiling point doesn’t evaporate, but instead glides across the surface it’s resting on. Levi demonstrates this effect using water droplets in a hot pan and shares a series of diagrams to explain what takes place at a molecular level. 

 

University of Sydney Sleek Geeks Science Eureka Prize – Secondary

Aneirin G, St Leonard’s College, Vic

Synovial Fluid and Subatomic Particles is an investigation into how quantum effects in water help our joints move. Taking to his local sports field, Aneirin explains the important role of synovial fluid in the human body and reveals how recent scientific discoveries have transformed scientists’ understanding of how this fluid behaves. 

Himalaya J, Balwyn High School, Vic

Look at your windowpane on a rainy day and you’ll almost certainly see tiny water droplets move closer together until they merge. In The Secret Life of Droplets, Himalaya uses a lively combination of song and animation to explain the science behind this phenomenon. 

Jessica N and Zacharie N, St Matthews Catholic School, NSW

In Rebellious Water, Jessica and Zacharie examine why water seemingly defies the rules of chemistry. They use animation to illustrate the forces at play between water molecules, known as hydrogen bonds, and describe how this impacts the physical properties of water in its different states. 

 

 

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