Academy awards reflect the excellence and diversity in Australian science

March 03, 2020
The Australian Academy of Science's 2020 honorific awardees

Outstanding contributions to science have been recognised by the Australian Academy of Science today 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 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 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 and 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)

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

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

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. 

Read more about each of the Academy’s 2020 honorific awardees

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.

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