Outstanding contributions to science have been recognised by the Australian Academy of Science with eighteen of Australia’s leading scientists receiving a 2018 honorific award.
School of Chemistry
Professor Doug MacFarlane’s research has focused on the discovery and development of novel liquid salt compounds that offer unique properties as media and solvents for a wide range of applications. Research into these ‘ionic liquids’ has experienced major expansion over the last 25 years. The discoveries of Professor MacFarlane’s group have contributed to the study and use of ionic liquids, helping to establish the area as a major field of chemistry. His group has explored application of ionic liquids in sustainable energy technologies, producing major advances in energy storage in advanced batteries, as chemical energy storage as hydrogen and ammonia, and as thermal energy storage materials for domestic use. The intellectual property arising from some of these developments has been spun out into several start-up companies. His group has also pioneered the use of biocompatible families of these liquid salts as media for therapeutic proteins and as novel pharmaceuticals. These developments have opened up new treatment modalities, including as a topical treatment for skin cancer.
ARC Centre of Excellence in Ore Deposits
University of Tasmania
Professor David Cooke’s main research theme is the geological, chemical and fluid processes that produce the world’s major copper-gold deposits, known as ‘porphyry copper deposits’. His recent research has focused on documenting changes in the chemistry of minerals surrounding these magmatic copper-gold deposits. Particular minerals retain trace elements relative abundances which vary in patterns set by the temperature gradient and wall-rock compositions. Systematic, rapid sampling of a prospective area can define mineral chemical vector techniques that companies can employ to assist targeting of drill holes designed to discover deeply buried deposits. The importance of this work has been recognised by many companies that now employ the techniques as a routine procedure in exploration for magmatic copper–gold deposits. His other significant contribution has been the mentoring of a large number of PhD students who have gone on to fill important geoscience roles in many mineral exploration companies worldwide.
School of Land and Food
University of Tasmania
Professor Matt King has made seminal contributions to the understanding of the function and threat posed by the two great ice sheets, Greenland and Antarctica. With a commitment to meticulous field measurements, his research has opened new arenas of research and changed thinking on the timescales over which ice sheets and solid Earth beneath them are responding to external forces. He has made international contributions to at least three major areas of polar research: demonstration of the great sensitivity of the ice sheets to small changes in forces acting upon them; the first agreed estimate of the contribution of the Antarctic Ice Sheet to sea level change; and a dramatic revision to the understanding of the timescale of interactions between the Antarctic Ice Sheet and solid Earth beneath it. His work has had substantial influence on international practice, conventions and climate change assessments.
Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research and Innovation
Professor Calum Drummond has made outstanding contributions to advancing the fundamental understanding of the key factors governing molecular assembly, and particle and surface interactions in liquids. A hallmark of his research has been the use of sophisticated high-throughput preparation and characterisation techniques to fast track the creation of materials, and the determination of the structure and properties of materials, at the nanoscale. This fundamental research in chemistry has enabled the development and commercialisation of advanced high-performance materials for economic and societal benefit. The materials have been applied in diverse areas including energy storage, medical therapy and diagnosis, household consumer and industrial large-scale uses.
Autonomic Neuroscience Centre
University College London
Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics
Professor Geoffrey Burnstock is internationally recognised for the discovery of purinergic neurotransmission, a novel signalling system between cells that is of central importance for many biological processes. His 1976 discovery challenged established concepts of the biology of cell messengers and neurotransmission. More recently, he has focused on a cell communication process that takes place in metabolism known as purinergic signalling. This research has had an impact on the understanding of pain mechanisms, bone formation and skin and bladder cancer and kidney disease. He continues to be an inspiration for many and his vision and creativity have enabled and driven the research of a very large number of laboratories around the world. He has had a very large impact on this field by his initial discovery and its elaboration, involving challenge to Dale’s principle of ‘One nerve terminal—one transmitter’.
George Institute for Global Health
University of New South Wales Sydney
Professor Anushka Patel, Chief Scientist at The George Institute for Global Health,is an international leader in our understanding of cardiovascular disease management in global populations. With her focus on low‐ and middle‐income countries, she has not only made ground‐breaking research discoveries that have overturned conventional thinking about cardiovascular disease risk factor management, she has also made a significant impact on disruptive low‐cost strategies to deliver effective care. As one of the few clinician scientists globally working in this area, Professor Patel’s work is inspired by the epidemic of chronic non‐communicable diseases affecting populations around the world, but particularly disadvantaged groups in Asia.
School of Molecular Sciences
The University of Western Australia
Professor Swaminathan Iyer in the School of Molecular Sciences at the University of Western Australia, leads an internationally recognised research program in the field of bionanotechnology. His transdisciplinary research program focuses on integrating fundamental concepts of cell and molecular biology with bioengineering to develop innovative nanoformulations that are designed for the treatment of currently untreatable medical emergencies like traumatic brain injuries, cardiovascular diseases, placental disorders in pregnancy and cancers (breast, cervical, colorectal). The nanoformulations developed by Iyer’s research group are able to track the localisation of the drug and pathological process simultaneously during treatment: a single procedure potentially leads to both diagnosis and therapy in one hit. The ultimate goal of his research is to enable an overall increase in quality and length of life for patients, through informed decisions about timing, dosage, drug choice, and treatment strategies for personalised medicine, with improved efficacy and lower off-target toxicity.
Stem Cells and Cancer Division
The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research
Dr Marie-Liesse Asselin-Labat is internationally recognised as a leading researcher in cancer biology, tissue-specific stem cells and development and is emerging as one of Australia’s young leaders in medical research in the lung stem cell and cancer research field. Using multiple strategies combining genetic approaches as well as computational studies, her team has demonstrated that some lung cell types are efficient in repairing their DNA following exposure to DNA damaging agents while others are not so proficient. These results provide novel insights into the pathogenesis of lung diseases such as lung cancer and emphysema. She also identified key regulators of basal stem cell production in the embryonic lung. Her work sheds lights on the molecular events that are critical in normal lung formation and maintenance that may be altered in lung disorders and impacts therapeutic applications.
School of Engineering
University of Newcastle
Associate Professor Shanyong Wang’s research focuses on the development of novel computer codes and advanced engineering testing, and his expertise actively bridges the gap between academia and industrial practice. His major achievements include developing an innovative, flexible, cost-effective and environmentally friendly technique of dynamic compaction grouting (DCG), and an efficient soil nailing system for enhancing its pull-out resistance for soil improvement. He also developed a new 3D finite element code which features advanced methods to model the failure mechanism of geomaterials. These achievements have been used to tackle numerous coupled multi-physics problems in untreated fill slopes, tunnels, retaining walls and other civil infrastructure. His contributions to his field are of major significance and of direct benefit to geotechnical practice in Australia and worldwide.
Fenner School of Environment and Society
Australian National University
Dr Ceridwen Fraser’s research combines genetic with environmental and ecological data to discover the processes that drive biodiversity patterns. She has contributed extensively to our understanding of how plants and animals can travel long distances to colonise new lands, and to our knowledge of how species responded to past climate change. For example, her work has revealed evidence that, during past ice ages, many shallow-water marine species were scoured from sub-Antarctic shores by sea ice, while land-based Antarctic species sheltered near warm volcanoes. Her research has also helped us to understand how established populations can block immigrants, and how large-scale disturbances (such as earthquakes) that wipe out communities can thus create opportunities for immigration and change. Her research is grounded in assessment of how past processes have influenced contemporary biodiversity patterns, but has important implications for management of biodiversity into the future, particularly in the face of rapid environmental change.
School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences
University of New South Wales Sydney
Dr Irina Voineagu's research has made significant contributions to the genetics of neurodevelopmental disorders, including work on molecular mechanisms of DNA instability, autism genomics and transcriptomics. Among her many research achievements to date, she has elucidated the role of DNA repeat expansions in neurodevelopmental disorders as well as identified a novel syndrome of intellectual disability caused by mutations in the CCDC22 gene. Most notably, in the first landmark large-scale transcriptome study of autistic brain, Dr Voineagu identified networks of genes that showed altered expression in autistic brain tissue.
School of Psychological Sciences
Associate Professor Alex Fornito’s research aims to understand what the extraordinarily complex network of nerve cells connected by trillions of fibres means for human brain function, and how disruptions of brain connectivity can lead to mental illness. His innovative research combines brain imaging with techniques from psychology, psychiatry, neuroscience, genetics, physics and mathematics to map and model the brain as an interconnected system. The ultimate aim is to understand how brain network function supports behaviour and track how disruption to this process causes disease.
The Research School of Earth Sciences
The Australian National University
Dr Rhodri Davies has made outstanding contributions to understanding solid Earth structure and evolution through the development and implementation of powerful computational tools for simulating geodynamical processes. His work builds on a multi-disciplinary base, combining a keen geological insight with a clear understanding of geophysical processes and exploitation of advances in mineral physics under conditions of high temperature and pressure. He has made fundamental contributions by testing controversial hypotheses relating to the nature of the variations in material properties in the Earth's mantle and the way in which these interact with the patterns of flow, showing that purely temperature effects can explain more of the behaviour than hitherto recognised. His recent work on intra-plate volcanism in eastern Australia and the evolution of Pacific hot-spot chains has achieved a very high profile around the world, by its innovative synthesis of careful geodynamic modelling with geophysical and geochemical input.
School of Mathematics and Statistics
University of New South Wales Sydney
Dr Zdravko Botev has developed innovative methodologies that aim to understand the probability structures underlying the occurrence of high-cost, hard-to-predict events. The novel rare-event simulation algorithms he has derived have not only advanced the fields of computational statistics and applied probability, but have been applied in multiple domains, including communication and computer network design, digital watermarking, safety assessment of debris collision in space and chemical geology. His well-cited research further demonstrates the significant influence of his work in his field of applied probability, as well as applications in many areas. His work has also had significant influence in the field of computational statistics, where his methods have been used in innovative ways to develop very fast algorithms for fitting flexible, smooth models to noisy data.
ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
James Cook University
Associate Professor Tracy Ainsworth’s research aims to determine the impact of environmental stress on reef-building corals, their host-microbe interactions, symbioses and disease outbreaks. Her studies on the bacterial associates of corals have led to an improved understanding of how coral diseases occur and progress. She has also identified a variety of novel intracellular bacteria that appear to play a key role in the success of corals. She has found that the same bacteria can be found within the tissues of corals in Hawaii and Australia, from the shallows to depths of over 100 metres. She has also extensively researched how increased temperatures affect coral now and will into the future. She has discovered that while small increases in sea temperatures can negatively impact the health of corals, under the right circumstances some corals appear to be able to acclimate to higher temperatures.
School of Physics and Astronomy
Dr Paul Lasky has dedicated his career to furthering our understanding of the most exotic regions of the universe. He is an active member of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration that, in 2016, transformed the very foundations of astrophysics by announcing the first detection of gravitational waves—tiny ripples in the fabric of spacetime—coming from two colliding black holes over one billion light years from Earth. He has identified new ways of studying the interiors of neutron stars using their gravitational-wave signatures, as well as new ways of testing Einstein’s theory of gravity in regions of the universe where new physics is most likely to occur—at the surfaces of black holes. He has also recruited and led an international team that provided direct, empirical measurements that deepen our understanding of the universe from when it was less than one second old.
School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences
The University of New South Wales Sydney
Dr Alex Sen Gupta is one of Australia’s foremost experts in large‐scale climate variability and change with a particular focus on the Southern Hemisphere ocean and atmosphere. His work spans a large array of areas and has led to a greater understanding of large‐scale climate variability and change. His world‐class research achievements have provided new insights into improving seasonal forecasts; identifying and correcting errors in modern climate models, improving climate projections, and improving our understanding of how physical changes to our oceans affect marine biology and important fisheries.
School of Molecular Sciences
The University of Western Australia
Due to major advances in theory and high-performance supercomputer technology computational quantum chemistry has become one of the most powerful means for examining chemical processes at the molecular and atomic levels. Today computational chemistry is working hand-in-hand with experimental techniques to tackle challenging chemical problems. Associate Professor Amir Karton has played a leading role in the development of quantum chemical methods for highly accurate calculations of chemical properties such as reaction barrier heights. These methods have been thoroughly tested and demonstrate a high level of applicability over a wide range of chemical systems and their properties. Due to their unprecedented predictive capabilities, these methods have been widely used over the past decade to understand and predict chemical processes. He has applied these methods in his own research for explaining the mechanisms of challenging reactions, predicting molecular properties, and designing new molecules.
Central to the purpose of the Academy is the recognition and support of outstanding contributions to the advancement of science. The honorific awards were established to recognise distinguished research in three categories: awards of medals and prizes to early-career scientists up to 10 years post PhD, mid-career scientists 8 to 15 years post PhD, and the prestigious career awards which are made to scientists for life-long achievement. All honorific awards offer a medal, and some offer honorariums and/or lecture tour funding.
For more information on these and other Academy awards and funding schemes please visit the Academy's opportunities for scientists page.
© 2018 Australian Academy of Science