Science innovators, teachers recognised

Tiffanie Turnbull
(Australian Associated Press)

 

A record number of women have been awarded the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science, on the 20th anniversary of the awards.

* Prime Minister’s Prize for Science – Emeritus Professor Cheryl Praeger AM, The University of Western Australia

If you appreciate secure banking, robust internet communications and internet search engines that actually find the results you’re looking for, then you are a fan of Prof Praeger’s work. She has researched fundamental mathematics and algorithms to international acclaim for over four decades.

* Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation – Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medial Research

The team from Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medial Research won for their life-changing development of an anti-cancer drug that has the potential to help cure cancer and can replace chemotherapy for specific blood cancers. Professor David Huang, Professor Andrew Roberts, Associate Professor Guillaume Lessene and Associate Professor Peter Czabotar worked with their team to create venetoclax, which is already saving lives.

* Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year – Associate Professor Laura Mackay, The University of Melbourne

Ways of treating malaria, HIV, melanoma and other cancers and infectious diseases are being revolutionised by Laura Mackay’s work. She learnt that white blood cells embedded in body tissue – which researchers didn’t even know existed until recently – are more effective at fighting off infection than their blood-borne counterparts, and this discovery has seen development begin on treatments to boost these cells.

* Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year – Associate Professor Elizabeth New, The University of Sydney

One of the biggest challenges in medical research is being able to see the chemistry that is causing disease, but Elizabeth New’s invention changes that. She created fluorescent molecules that, when taken up by a cell, emit light that makes the observation of complex chemical processes possible. It’s hoped the molecules will help identify potential treatments for cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and more.

* Prize for New Innovators – Dr Luke Campbell, Nura Operations

Prescription earphones sound far-fetched, but Dr Luke Campbell didn’t think so. He developed earphones that – using tiny microphones that measure the sensitivity of a person’s hearing across a number of frequencies – automatically adjust to give them perfect sound in less than a minute. His “nuraphones” are now sold in about 100 countries.

* Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools – Sarah Finney, Stirling East Primary School, South Australia

Mrs Finney took out the prize for introducing hundreds of children of all ages to the joys of studying science. She developed a scientific inquiry unit for year three and four students at her school, to engage them in critical thinking in a topic that interests them.

* Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools – Dr Samantha Moyle, Brighton Secondary School, South Australia

Creating rainbow fire pumpkin jack-o-lanterns or a giant 50-metre walk-through model of the digestive system doesn’t sound like a normal school activity, but for Dr Samantha Moyle’s students, it is. Not only is she studying herself while providing a first class science education, she runs a Facebook page and YouTube channel, posting learning tips, tutorials and industry trend explainers for students.

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