Outstanding contributions to science have been recognised by the Australian Academy of Science with 18 of Australia’s leading scientists receiving a 2020 honorific award.
Dr Graeme Moad is recognised as a world leader in the field of polymer chemistry. His achievements range from fundamental chemistry, in the areas of polymer design and synthesis, and polymerisation kinetics and mechanism, to new materials for industrial uses, nanotechnology, organic electronics and bioapplications. His research has contributed substantially to the development of new synthetic methods for the controlled synthesis of polymers with defined architecture and composition that have revolutionised the field and resulted in highly cited publications and patent applications.
Professor Ian Campbell is widely recognised internationally as one of the world's leading experts in ore deposit geology. After graduating from the University of Western Australia he spent three years working for Western Mining Corporation at Kambalda where he found the Juan Shoot, one of the richest nickel deposits in Western Australia. He has had a long and distinguished career in mineral exploration and research relating to the origin of magmatic sulfide deposits, particularly platinum group element (PGE) deposits, and later, porphyry copper deposits. His hypothesis for the origin of PGE deposits was initially controversial but recent experiments have confirmed its key predictions. Several of his projects have been directed at discriminating between economically mineralised and barren bodies of rocks; the outcomes of these projects have direct application in exploration.
Professor Allen Nutman
University of Wollongong
Professor Allen Nutman has made some fundamental discoveries concerning the evolution of early Earth, through numerous field campaigns in arduous conditions. He has revolutionised our understanding of Greenland geology by applying necessary, detailed geological mapping and applying necessary geochronological dating obtained through state-of-the-art geochronological techniques which he personally obtained. He is considered to be one of the leaders in the understanding of early history of Earth. Professor Nutman also made significant contributions to ancient rocks through successful international collaboration.
Australia is home to a unique assembly of mammals—the marsupials and monotremes. Professor Marilyn Renfree has pioneered modern research on their reproduction, development, evolution, conservation, molecular and comparative genomics for 40 years, demonstrating their importance for biomedical research as well as providing novel conservation and management approaches for our iconic kangaroos and koalas. Her lifetime passion for these long-neglected Australian fauna has led to pioneering discoveries and insights that challenged assumptions and opened up new areas of biomedical research internationally. Professor Renfree’s research program has advanced our understanding of embryonic development and placentation, how the development of their embryos can be suspended, and how their extraordinary lactation is controlled. Her most important contributions have been to the field of sexual differentiation, overturning established paradigms and showing how genes and hormones interact during early development, providing new understanding of what makes a male and a female mammal—leading to new clinical guidelines and making a contribution to our understanding of human sexual development as well as that of other mammals.
Professor Alexandra Martiniuk is a leader in global research in health systems in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC) and remote Indigenous communities in Australia and Canada. Alexandra uses her pioneering research to identify and deliver solutions to enable better access to primary health care for disadvantaged populations. She has shed light on inequalities and inefficiencies in models of funding between high-income countries and LMICs, enabling greater transparency and informed decision making to build stronger health systems. Her innovative approach to solving global health problems, and her ability to partner with a wide spectrum of key stakeholders and work with the people on the ground have led to policy change for lay health workers in Malawi, revised referral practices in the Solomon Islands, a new educational approach to HIV prevention in all high schools in Belize, and co-development of a large primary care program for LMICs.
Associate Professor Kate Schroder is an international leader in the field of inflammatory biology. Her innovative work is defining the molecular and cellular processes of inflammation. The protein complexes involved in inflammation and disease are known as inflammosomes. Her research has established that inflammasome signalling is crucial in antimicrobial defence and she has established that they drive pathological inflammation in diseases. Associate Professor Schroder’s laboratory seeks to use the understanding of fundamental cellular processes to develop therapeutics for a wide range of inflammatory diseases. Small molecule inflammasome inhibitors co-invented by Associate Professor Schroder are currently under commercialisation as novel anti-inflammatory drugs.
Professor Nicole Bell is an outstanding theoretical astroparticle physicist who has made significant contributions in the areas of dark matter and particle theory, matter-antimatter asymmetries and neutrino astrophysics and cosmology. Her work has helped shape the interpretation of Large Hadron Collider searches for dark matter, using physically self-consistent descriptions of dark matter interactions. She has explored the link between dark matter and matter–antimatter asymmetries and examined whether the accumulation of dark matter in old neutron stars can result in gravitational collapse to black holes. She has also used cosmology and astrophysics to constrain the properties of neutrinos and has examined whether dark matter annihilation can account for unexplained galactic gamma ray and antimatter signals.
Associate Professor Britta Bienen’s world-leading research delivers innovative foundation solutions for the complex challenges associated with offshore oil and gas and renewable energy infrastructure. Through the development of practical predictive methods for soil-structure interaction problems, grounded in sound geotechnical science, her internationally recognised expertise translates scientific findings to significant impact in industry. Her major achievements include developing models that encapsulate foundation response in a way that is compatible with structural engineering and can be integrated into analysis software used by the majority of offshore engineers. This is critical for robust, reliable and cost-effective design of infrastructure one which the global energy supply depends. Her award-winning research on jack-up footing extraction has had marked impact in industry, enhancing safety of personnel and assets. Her contributions to this field are of major significance, have been incorporated in international industry guidelines and are of direct benefit to geotechnical practice in Australia and worldwide.
Associate Professor Michael Bode develops new mathematical theory and tools to better understand the Earth’s threatened ecosystems to more effectively conserve them into the future. His work has repeatedly overturned established beliefs about the best solution to common conservation problems and has used mathematical logic to convince scientists and managers to re-think conservation dogma and decision-making approaches to conservation across the world, especially of coral reef ecosystems. His marine science work has focused on developing new statistical tools to measure dispersal patterns, and new mathematical theories to understand the implications of these patterns. These new mathematical tools have given coastal marine science the first solid empirical understanding of how larval dispersal varies across space and species and have been highlighted in critical reviews of the field.
Pancreatic cancer has an almost uniformly dismal outcome for patients, with only 7% surviving longer than 5 years. The survival rate has remained low for decades, highlighting the urgent need for innovative translational research into this disease. Dr Pajic and her group utilise rapidly evolving genomic technologies, innovative models of disease and patient tumour specimens to improve our understanding of how cancers develop, spread to distant sites (metastasise), and why so many of them are heavily resistant to treatment. This knowledge is used in turn to inform the design of novel, effective and personalised treatment options for pancreatic cancer, as well as other difficult-to-treat cancers, with the aim of patients getting the best treatment tailored based on the “molecular fingerprint” of their tumour.
Dementia is one of the most pressing concerns for our aging society. Despite significant advances in dementia research, it remains challenging to accurately screen for subtle changes in behaviour and cognition at the earliest stages of the disease.
Dr Muireann Irish’s research has systematically mapped how alterations in the brain’s grey and white matter contribute to memory dysfunction across different dementia syndromes. Her ground-breaking work has further uncovered that in parallel with loss of memory for the past, individuals with dementia have marked difficulties thinking about the future.
Dr Irish is now developing novel approaches to screen for the earliest signs of underlying brain pathology, long before overt signs of dementia emerge. Her research vision is to advance early detection and swift intervention in dementia to improve quality of life for all affected.
Dr Jan Zika is an outstanding young physical oceanographer with a clear view of the role and importance of the ocean in the global climate system. He’s revolutionised the quantitative approach to determining the ocean’s circulation and mixing by reformulating the problem in water mass properties (rather than in fixed geographical coordinates). This resulted in improved understanding and more accurate estimates of the ocean’s storage and transport of heat and freshwater.
Dr Zika’s ideas have found direct application in understanding changes in global-scale atmospheric processes and in using ocean observations to more accurately quantify increases in the global hydrological cycle. The combination of Dr Zika’s deep insight, record of innovation, leadership and collegial approach is being recognised globally.
Professor Ryan Loxton is pioneering new mathematical algorithms for optimising complex systems in a wide range of applications such as mining, robotics, agriculture, and industrial process control. Such systems are typically of enormous scale in practice, with hundreds of thousands of inter-related variables and constraints, multiple conflicting objectives, and numerous candidate solutions that can easily exceed the total number of atoms in the solar system, overwhelming even the fastest computers.
Professor Loxton’s research provides new mathematical advances for overcoming this complexity and deriving fast algorithms for real-world use. He has collaborated with many companies with his work leading to innovative mathematical techniques for solving real-world problems such as providing algorithms for an award-winning Quantum technology platform that optimises the sequence and timing of maintenance activities in mine plant shutdowns.
Drug resistance is a growing issue for malaria control. Dr Jennifer Flegg develops predictive statistical models in space and time for the level of drug resistance. These predictive models fill in the gaps where no information is available on drug resistance and have been used by health agencies to develop new polices about where and when certain drugs are appropriate to use.
Dr Flegg also develops mathematical models to describe and help understand the ways that cells and chemicals interact with each other during the healing of a skin wound. By building models that simulate the successful healing of a wound, she provides biological insight into the underlying healing mechanisms. In the case when a wound would not heal without intervention, she uses her models to predict how treatments can help the wound to heal.
Dr Rebecca Carey is internationally recognised for her research in volcanology. She has contributed significantly to the understanding of eruption and hydrothermal processes on land and on the sea-floor. Her achievements in the field of submarine silicic volcanism include demonstration of the influence of confining pressure provided by overlying ocean in modifying the style of volcanic eruption on the seafloor, and pioneering quantification of volatile fluxes through the magma into the surrounding seafloor. Parallel work on basaltic volcanism has identified a previously unrecognised mechanism for explosive basaltic eruptions involving volatile supersaturation, bubble nucleation and explosive fragmentation, triggered by a compression-decompression wave within a shallow magma conduit, and the first quantification of the duration of magma convection using the microtextures of erupted clasts.
Associate Professor Deller uses high angular resolution radio imaging to study neutron stars and black holes, the most compact objects in the Universe. To do so, he has developed new instrumentation capable of jointly processing signals from radio antennas spread across the Earth and even on orbiting satellites, which has been adopted by major astronomical facilities world-wide.
His own usage of these facilities has led to breakthroughs including a time-lapse movie of the high-speed material launched by merging neutron stars in a galaxy 125 million light years away, which determined the orientation of the system first detected via the burst of gravitational waves emitted when they merged. Closer to home, he has pinpointed the location of neutron stars within the Milky Way galaxy with unprecedented precision, using radio observations so precise they could discern motion no greater than the width of a human hair at a distance of 2,000 km.
Professor Madhu Bhaskaran is transforming how we imagine, use, and interact with electronic devices. Professor Bhaskaran’s signature advance is in the field of stretchable electronics where
she has developed techniques to stretch devices to an unprecedented level – allowing them to be worn on the skin. This has realised a range of visionary applications, such as skin-worn sensors that alert miners to dangerous gas levels, or warn civilians about harmful UV levels. Professor Bhaskaran is currently working with industry partners to bring these sensors out from the laboratory into everyday life. These are in the form of sensors in bedding products for aged care which would non-invasively track presence and biometrics of aged people during night.
Associate Professor Ivan Kassal develops new theoretical and computational tools for simulating the dynamics of complex chemical systems, especially those where quantum effects make conventional calculations difficult and time consuming. He has designed algorithms that would allow future quantum computers to dramatically accelerate the simulation of chemical processes, as well as designing quantum simulators, purpose-built devices for solving particular difficult problems. His methods have been widely used and implemented experimentally, contributing to chemistry and materials science being recognised as the likely first applications of quantum computers. He has also studied the transport of energy and charge in disordered materials that lie at the boundary between quantum and classical behaviour, making them difficult to describe. Associate Professor Kassal’s contributions have included explaining quantum effects in light harvesting (and how to engineer them to improve performance), discovering significant quantum effects in photosynthesis, and clarifying fundamental mechanisms of how organic solar cells operate.
Central to the purpose of the Academy is the recognition and support of outstanding contributions to the advancement of science.
© 2020 Australian Academy of Science