2018 Prime Minister's Prizes for Science announced

Thursday, 18 October, 2018

2018 Prime Minister's Prizes for Science announced

The 2018 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science were awarded last night, recognising the contributions Australia’s scientists, innovators and science teachers make to the nation’s scientific and commercialisation capabilities.

The night saw a total of 10 winners share in seven prizes, including $750,000 in prize money. Presentation duties were shared between Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews.

The top award on the night, the $250,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science, went to Emeritus Professor Kurt Lambeck AO from the Australian National University (ANU) for revealing how our planet changes shape — every second, every day and over millennia — and how these changes influence sea levels, the movement of continents and the orbits of satellites.

Prof Lambeck’s original work in the 1960s enabled the accurate planning of space missions and led him to use the deformation of continents during the ice ages to study changes deep in the mantle of the planet. It also led to a better understanding of the impact of sea level changes on human civilisation in the past, present and future. Today’s highly accurate GPS-based systems build on his work and enable precision agriculture, new ways to explore for minerals and the navigation tools we all use in our smartphones.

The other major award, the $250,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation, went to the team from Finisar Australia — Dr Simon Poole, Andrew Bartos, Dr Glenn Baxter and Dr Steven Frisken — for creating and commercialising technologies that have made the internet faster and more efficient. About half of the world’s internet traffic travels through devices developed by the team and made in Sydney.

The global internet we rely on is carried by optical fibres that link continents, countries and cities. The speed and volume of internet traffic was limited by the need to convert data from light to electrical signals for switching and processing. To tackle the problem, the Finisar team created light-bending switches using prisms, liquid crystals and silicon, which have improved the capacity and reliability of the internet — one switch can handle a million simultaneous high-definition streaming videos. The team are now working on boosting the capacity of their devices further to meet the demands of 5G and the Internet of Things.

Other awards included:

  • The $50,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools, presented to Dr Scott Sleap — creator of the Cessnock Academy of STEM Excellence in regional NSW — for opening young eyes to careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
  • The $50,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools, presented to Brett Crawford — lead science teacher at Warrigal Road State School in Brisbane — for creating an environment in which every teacher is engaged in science.
  • The $50,000 Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year, presented to Adjunct Professor Lee Berger — based at James Cook University and The University of Melbourne — for saving frogs and revealing new extinction threats, including a particular type of fungus.
  • The $50,000 Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year, presented to Associate Professor Jack Clegg — based at The University of Queensland — for creating flexible crystals that could make smartphones and other electronics more robust.
  • The $50,000 Prize for New Innovators to Dr Geoff Rogers — based in Melbourne — for creating a steerable guidewire that could transform cardiac and other non-invasive cardiac surgery.

Nominations for the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science for 2019 will open early next year.

Image caption: The winner of the 2018 Prime Minister's Prize for Science, Kurt Lambeck. Image credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear.

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