2020 Prime Minister's Prizes for Science awarded

Thursday, 29 October, 2020

2020 Prime Minister's Prizes for Science awarded

A team that was instrumental in the world-first detection of gravitational waves has won the 2020 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science in an awards ceremony that was held online last night due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Emeritus Professor David Blair, Professor David McClelland, Professor Susan Scott and Professor Peter Veitch from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery (OzGrav) received the $250,000 prize for their contributions to the international effort that led to the 2015 discovery. The team was involved in a number of ways, from designing systems to ensure the stability of high-powered laser beams to developing mathematical models used to identify the source of the first signal detected.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the discovery embodied the very best of Australia’s scientific community.

“Discoveries such as the detection of gravitational waves were led by Australian technology and insight, and practical applications of scientific breakthroughs will continue to play a vital role in ensuring that science, innovation and education are key components of Australia’s economic future,” the Prime Minister said.

“Australia’s scientific community is and will continue to be at the forefront of Australia’s recovery and the recipients are a testament to the incredible work undertaken by our nation’s scientists.”

The Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science are Australia’s most prestigious awards for outstanding achievements in scientific research, research-based innovation and excellence in science teaching. Additional prizes presented on the night were as follows:

  • The $250,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation was presented to Professor Thomas Maschmeyer from the University of Sydney, for his dual work in developing commercially viable processes to recycle mixed plastics and developing a new low-cost battery technology to store renewable energy.
  • The $50,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools was presented to Willetton Senior High School teacher Darren Hamley, for his work establishing extracurricular programs to help students relate their scientific learnings to real-world applications.
  • The $50,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools was presented to Bonython Primary School STEM Specialist Teacher Sarah Fletcher, for her outstanding contribution to not only the school’s STEM program but also the wider education community.
  • The $50,000 Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year was presented to Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre clinician-scientist Professor Mark Dawson for world-leading research in the field of epigenetics, including the development of new treatment strategies and therapies for blood cancers.
  • The $50,000 Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year was presented to UNSW Scientia Associate Professor Xiaojing Hao, who has emerged as a world-renowned leader in thin-film solar photovoltaics and whose work has set global records for energy conversion efficiency.
  • The $50,000 Prize for New Innovators was presented to Flinders University Associate Professor Justin Chalker for his invention of a new class of polymers that turn waste plastics into global sustainability solutions, including materials that can remove mercury from polluted soil and water, help absorb oil from ocean spills and provide more effective slow-release fertilisers.

Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews said the immense value and importance of the work of Australian scientists has been highlighted in 2020.

“This year has really reminded us all just how crucial science is to our lives,” Andrews said. “In the midst of devastating bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic, we have turned to our scientists to help shine a light on the unknown and map a path for the future.

“But the field of science is far broader than these issues alone. The prizes show how Australian scientists are coming up with innovative solutions to improve our lives, from new cancer treatments to global sustainability issues.”

A recording of the awards presentation can be viewed in full below.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/tomertu

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