Academy awards recognise Australia’s top scientists

| March 4, 2020

Outstanding contributions to science have been recognised by the Australian Academy of Science with 18 current and future superstars receiving prestigious 2020 honorific awards.

The scientists’ discoveries cross the breadth of research including new screening approaches to catch the early signs of dementia, the differences between land-based and seafloor volcanic eruptions; and engineering solutions for the complex challenges associated with offshore oil, gas and renewable energy infrastructure.

Ten of the awards go to women while men receive eight of the awards.

Professor Allen Nutman from the University of Wollongong has been awarded one of the Academy’s top career honours, the Mawson Medal and Lecture.

He’s considered one of the leaders in understanding the evolution of early Earth and his techniques have radically reshaped our understanding of Greenland’s geology. He also spends time educating the next generation of scientists and said their work has never been more important.

“Unfortunately, we live increasingly in something called the post truth world where a lie is given as equal weight as truth, so science matters,” said Professor Nutman.

Understanding dark matter is the ultimate challenge for many astrophysicists including Associate Professor Nicole Bell from the University of Melbourne. The mid-career researcher and theoretical physicist is one of two recipients of the Nancy Millis Medal for Women in Science.

Her research focuses on formulating a mathematical description of dark matter.

“We have incredibly precise theories that describe five per cent of the universe but the rest of it is unknown,” said Associate Professor Bell.

“In some sense the search for dark matter is a needle in a haystack challenge, but we’ve got more experimental tools than ever before to find that needle.”

Early-career researcher Associate Professor Marina Pajic from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research & UNSW Sydney is the recipient of the Ruth Stephens Gani Medal.

For the past decade she’s been trying to understand the genetic complexities of pancreatic cancer. Her work centres on identifying the genomic mechanism behind treatment failure and developing new personalised treatments for the disease.

Her team has shown some tumours are characterised by specific genetic signatures that may respond to agents already being used to fight some other cancers.

President of the Australian Academy of Science, Professor John Shine, congratulated all the award winners for their inspiring research.

“Recognising outstanding scientific contributions is important, as award recipients are the STEM role models for the next generation,” Professor Shine said.

“These awards shine a spotlight on the leading and diverse applied and basic research happening throughout the country.

“The Academy continues to seek to increase the diversity of nominees for all our grants and awards and this is reflected in this year’s honorific awardees.”

The Academy’s 2020 honorific awards go to:

Career honorifics (for lifelong achievement)

·        David Craig Medal – Dr Graeme Moad – CSIRO

·        Haddon Forrester King Medal and Lecture – Professor Ian Campbell, ANU

·        Macfarlane Burnet Medal and Lecture – Professor Marilyn Renfree, University of Melbourne (as previously announced)

·        Mawson Medal and Lecture – Professor Allen Nutman, University of Wollongong

Mid-career honorifics (8–15 years post-PhD)

·        Gustav Nossal Medal for Global Health – Adjunct Professor Alexandra Martiniuk, University of Sydney

·        Nancy Millis Medal for Women in Science – Associate Professor Kate Schroder, University of Queensland and Associate Professor Nicole Bell, University of Melbourne (two recipients)

Early-career honorifics (up to 10 years post-PhD)

·        Anton Hales Medal – Dr Jan Zika, UNSW Sydney

·        Christopher Heyde Medal – Professor Ryan Loxton, Curtin University and Dr Jennifer Flegg, University of Melbourne (two recipients)

·        Dorothy Hill Medal – Dr Rebecca Carey, University of Tasmania

·        Fenner Medal – Associate Professor Michael Bode, Queensland University of Technology

·        Gottschalk Medal – Associate Professor Muireann Irish, University of Sydney

·        John Booker Medal – Associate Professor Britta Bienen, University of Western Australia

·        Le Févre Medal – Associate Professor Ivan Kassal, University of Sydney

·        Ruth Stephens Gani Medal – Associate Professor Marina Pajic, Garvan Institute of Medical Research/UNSW Sydney

·        Pawsey Medal – Associate Professor Adam Deller, Swinburne University of Technology

·        Frederick White Medal – Professor Madhu Bhaskaran, RMIT University

The majority of the honorific awards will be presented at the Academy’s annual celebration of science, Science at the Shine Dome on Thursday, 28 May 2020.

Know an amazing Australian scientist? Nominate them for an award.

Nominations are now open for the Academy’s 2021 honorific awards, research conferences, research awards and travelling fellowships.

Two brand new career awards are open in the Academy’s 2021 award round. These awards, the Ruby Payne-Scott Medal and Lecture and the Suzanne Cory Medal, honour two of Australia’s pioneering women scientists.