Scientist of the Year
Winthrop Professor Hans Lambers
Head of the School of Plant Biology, The University of Western Australia
Professor Hans Lambers is a highly cited author in plant science who has made a pioneering contribution to four research areas: plant respiration and carbon metabolism, plant growth analysis, phosphorus nutrition and rhizospere biology.
Australia’s unique flora evolved in ancient, severely nutrient impoverished landscapes. Lambers has focussed on understanding how these native plants thrive in such difficult conditions. His research offers opportunities to develop new crops and cropping systems that exhibit some of the same desirable traits. These traits would and allow future crops to access large stores of phosphate accumulated in soils during decades of fertilisation that are unavailable to most current crops. His research has applications in agriculture, such as more phosphorus- efficient crops and pasture legume.
Lambers’ contribution was acknowledged by his election as Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science this year. He has also been elected as a Fellow of the Dutch Academy of Sciences and Fellow of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Winthrop Professor Stephen Powles
Director Australian Herbicide Resistance Initiative, The University of Western Australia
Professor Stephen Powles is as an international expert on herbicide resistance in crops and weeds and he has made significant contributions to Australian agriculture. He has strongly influenced Australian and global thinking on sustainable herbicide usage by reducing herbicide reliance and increasing diversity in agro-ecosystems.
Powles has made several ground breaking discoveries. He was the first to reveal the biochemical basis of multiple herbicide resistance in plants and the first to report glyphosate resistance evolution. At all stages Powles has ensured that his research outcomes have been communicated to end-users, resulting in practice change. Owning a farm himself, he has demonstrated what is possible at the applied level.
Powles’ industry leadership has been recognised by the Grains Research and Development Council with a Seed of Light Award (2010) for his contribution to Western Australian agriculture and he is the only Australian ever elected as an International Honorary Fellow of the WSSA, USA. He received the Centenary Medal in 2001; he is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science and the Australian Academy of Technological Science & Engineering.
Professor Peter Quinn
Director, International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research
Professor Peter Quinn is a world renowned astrophysicist who has conducted pioneering research in galaxy formation and dark matter using large astronomical facilities and high performance supercomputing and data intensive technologies. His career has seen him work on the Hubble Space Telescope, and he has lead the team which designed, built and operated the science systems for the world’s largest optical observatory.
Quinn was awarded a Western Australian Premier’s Fellowship in late 2005. On arrival to Western Australia in 2006, he began to build a research community based around radio astronomy and pushed for the SKA project to be located in Western Australia.
As the founding Director of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR), Quinn has built up a research organisation of more than 100 staff and students, attracting some of the best researchers in the world to Western Australia. ICRAR has recently been recognised as one of the top 10 centres of its kind in the world. It has raised $26 million in Federal and International grants and it has awarded contracts of more than $3 million to local industries - all within the first three years of its existence. For a State that had no significant role in national or international astronomy before 2005, this is a major achievement.
Quinn’s effort to create ICRAR, plus his role as deputy chair of the ANZ SKA Coordination Committee - the committee that guided the strategy and development of the Australian SKA bid - has played a central role in the success of the Australian SKA campaign.
Early Career Scientist of the Year
Dr Ullrich Ecker
Australian Postdoctoral Fellow, The University of Western Australia
Assistant Professor Ullrich Ecker undertook his PhD in neuroscience and is now working in cognitive psychology. His most recent research in the area of misinformation is providing in-depth understanding of the challenges we face with modern media, and our ability to rationally assess the information presented to us. Awareness of our behaviours in this rapidly changing social environment is necessary for a balanced society and this has been the focus and contribution of Ecker’s research.
Understanding the issue of misinformation is particularly important when disseminating corrective information tocounteract false and misleading claims. Ecker’s work has implications for education, journalism, science communication, and the design of public information campaigns, and it is making an impact both on a local and international level. The value of Ecker’s work is exemplified in the wide-ranging collaborations he is now buildingto address communication challenges in science, including those associated with climate change.
Ecker has produced 22 peer-reviewed articles in prominent international journals, including a recent review paper in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, as well as articles for magazines and online. His fresh approach to transferring his research results ensures that his message reaches a broad section of the public.
Associate Professor Ajmal Mian
Australian Research Fellow, The University of Western Australia
Assoc Professor Ajmal Mian has pioneered research in Australia on the challenging problems of 3D face and object recognition at a time when there was little general expertise in this field. His contributions to the scientific literature and research community are evident in the high number of citations to his research articles and visitors to his website.
Mian has published over 60 scientific papers. His research has proposed mathematical solutions to the following core Artificial Intelligence problems: 3D face recognition and 3D object recognition in complex scenes; automatic fish measurement using underwater stereo video; 3D facial morphometric analysis to detect neurological disorders; and a unique hand identification system that uses a hyperspectral camera to capture palm lines and the veins underneath for biometric identification.
Within five years of graduation, Mian has built a research team of seven comprising himself, one postdoctoral fellow and five PhD students. Together with his research team, he endeavours to find solutions to core Artificial Intelligence problems for a range of multidisciplinary applications.
Dr Mark Paskevicius
Research Fellow, Department of Imaging and Applied Physics, Fuels and Energy Technology Institute, Curtin University
Dr Mark Paskevicius's research is addressing the global need for clean and renewable energy by contributing to the creation of economically viable and practically feasible hydrogen storage systems, in the move towards a solar hydrogen-based economy.
He is developing hydrogen storage materials for use as a hydrogen ‘fuel tank’ in vehicles. He is also investigating hydrogen storage for concentrating solar thermal energy generation, which can effectively enable full-time, stable power generation from a solar source.
Paskevicius is collaborating with private Western Australian company EMC Solar, which has already built the first off grid connected photovoltaic plant in Australia, near Carnarvon. Paskevicius’s latest research is focused on building working prototypes to realistically test the performance of the most promising metal hydrides for thermal energy storage.
The significance and impact of Paskevicius's research has been recognised by being awarded the Australian Institute of Nuclear Science and Engineering (AINSE) gold medal for research excellence in 2011 and an Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage grant in 2012. He is an author of 30peer-reviewed journal papers since 2007 (with a further one currently in submission) and one book chapter.
Student Scientist of the Year
Mr Terry Boyle
Research Officer, The Western Australian Institute for Medical Research
Terry Boyle’s research aims to identity and improve our understanding of modifiable risk factors for cancer.
He recently submitted his PhD, from which he has published seven papers. The studies from Boyle’s PhD research were among the first to investigate the effects of long-term sedentary work, physical activity timing and intensity, and resistance training on the risk of colorectal cancer. These studies have provided new insights into the cancer-preventive effects of physical activity. Put simply, the public health message from his PhD research is to sit less and move more! He has published a total of 13 papers (10 as first author) in peer-reviewed journals since beginning his research career. He is currently investigating the effects of sedentary work and physical activity on the risks of breast and prostate cancers, and is also investigating the effect that physical activity has on physical and psychosocial health and survival after a colon cancer diagnosis.
He was also involved in the first large-scale evaluation of the impact and effectiveness of a mainstream anti-smoking campaign among Aboriginal smokers. The results of this study had an impact on the strategies employed by The Cancer Council Western Australia to reduce the prevalence of smoking in Aboriginal people, and the research has also proven to be very valuable to the wider tobacco control community.
Mr David Erceg-Hurn
Master of Clinical Psychology / PhD Student, The University of Western Australia
David Erceg-Hurn’s PhD research has focused on the evaluation of strategies to reduce the stigma associated with seeking professional treatment for clinical depression. He has also been involved in several extracurricular research projects investigating other important public health problems including evaluating the effectiveness of a graphic anti-methamphetamine advertising campaign, the ‘Meth Project’, and supporting the design, implementation and evaluation of a program to reduce excessive alcohol consumption amongst Western Australian university students. His research into the Meth Project attracted considerable media attention from local, national and international media outlets, gaining the attention of the Governor of the American state of Montana who invited Erceg-Hurn to provide him with drug policy advice.
Erceg-Hurn graduated with first class honours in undergraduate psychology. As a postgraduate student, he has been the first author on six peer reviewed journal publications, including publications in high impact journals. One paper advocating for the greater use of evidence based statistics was published in American Psychologist, which is the flagship journal of the world’s largest psychology association. This paper is now part of the curriculum in research methods classes at several universities. He has also written a book chapter that was invited by Oxford University Press, and has several additional manuscripts currently under review.
Ms Jennifer Girschik
PhD Candidate, The University of Western Australia
Ms Jennifer Girschik is a highly motivated researcher who demonstrates her dedication to the field of epidemiology through commitment to activities that support the growth of epidemiological knowledge in Western Australia. She has been a committee member of the Perth Epidemiology Group since 2008 and has also contributed to the development of a book about consumer and community participation in health and medical research. This book was written as a guide to help health researchers involve community members in their research.
Ms Girschik’s PhD research involves investigating sleep as a potential risk factor for breast cancer. While many of the known causes of breast cancer, like genetics, can not be avoided sleep habits are factors that could be changed by women with a view to preventing breast cancer. To date, she has published 12 papers (seven of them as first author). One of the papers arising out of her PhD was recently accepted by the American Journal of Epidemiology. In addition, this paper was selected for an invited commentary by the editorial board.
Ms Girschik has also worked as a volunteer project officer at the Centre for Health Policy and Management, Shandong University in China as part of AusAID’s Youth Ambassadors for Development program.
Science Ambassador of the Year
Professor Kevin Kenneally AM
Adjunct Professor, The University of Western Australia; President, WA Gould League Inc
Professor Kevin Kenneally AM is a widely published botanist who for over four decades has become an internationally acknowledged expert on the flora of the remote and diverse Kimberley region of Western Australia. He believes that cooperative science and published outcomes is what is needed in order to achieve large scale projects.
His book “Broome and Beyond” is a testament to his involvement in biodiversity research and also exemplifies his community involvement, as it was produced through a collaborative project with members of the Broome Botanical Society and Aboriginal communities of the Dampier Peninsula. The book and project were awarded a medal for research achievement by the CSIRO.
Professor Kenneally has been instrumental in the development of a number of significant engagement initiatives. He encouraged the formation of the Broome Botanical Society and fostered its activities in its early years. He lobbied, through the WA Gould League, for the establishment of a Wildlife Centre at Herdsman Lake. He was also a founding member of the Kimberley Society an incorporated, non-profit organisation formed to encourage research on and dissemination of information about the far north of Western Australia. It has a broad focus, and brings together experts and Kimberley identities to promote understanding of this remote region of the State
Professor Jessica Meeuwig
Research Professor and Director, Centre for Marine Futures. School of Animal Biology and Oceans Institute, The University of Western Australia
Professor Jessica Meeuwig works to increase public awareness about the state of our oceans, particularly the ecological importance of Western Australia’s waters and the intensifying pressures placed on them. She presents science-driven solutions for the long term protection and sustainable use of our marine environment.
Her work uses seabed stereo video cameras which generate both quantitative data about the state of fish populations and highly attractive video footage which is used as an effective mechanism for public outreach.
Meeuwig’s outreach activities have had a significant impact on ocean awareness. She has been invited to present at Federal Parliament on marine science and the state of Australian oceans twice. She was included in the West’s 2012 list of 100 most influential Western Australian, heading the environment category. Her research has been profiled in over 80 TV, radio, internet and print articles over the last several years, including most recently, the BBC.
She believes that sharing knowledge generated by research in marine science with the broader community and decision makers is fundamental to establishing an active and informed community that support ocean protection.
Professor Steven Tingay
Director, Curtin Institute of Radio Astronomy; Director, Murchison Widefield Array; Deputy Director, International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research; Premier’s Research Fellow
Professor Steven Tingay has played a key role in communicating the significance of radio astronomy and the SKA to the public, to the science community, to industry and to governments, at state, national and international levels. He is a co-instigator of “Ilgarijiri – Things Belonging to the Sky”, an art-meets-astronomy project that inspires young Indigenous people to consider careers in science and technology related fields.
Tingay creates many opportunities to engage young people, demonstrating that careers in science are diverse, challenging, enjoyable and highly relevant to modern society. This carries over into his undergraduate teaching in astronomy and physics and his supervision of graduate research students.
Tingay’s excellence in science ambassadorship stems from his status as an internationally renowned researcher in his field. He has been the recipient of over $20m of competitive research funding, and more in collaboration with other researchers. He has published 113 papers in international refereed journals and a further 187 in conference proceedings and other un‐refereed outlets. These papers have amassed 2541 citations in the literature. His top cited paper (in the prestigious journal Nature) has 232 citations.
Science Engagement Initiative of the Year
High School Outreach Program
Engineers without Borders
Engineers Without Borders (EWB) High School Outreach Program focuses on improving understanding of issues related to water, climate change, sustainability and appropriate technology. It was developed by the Western Australian Chapter of EWB and has now in use by EWB Chapters in Queensland, Victoria, New South Wales, the ACT and New Zealand with facilitation from Western Australia.
During 2011, the program reached 2,741 students in the State through the delivery of 81 workshops, including seminars and workshops engaging with Year 12 Aboriginal students in Karratha. The program focused on accessing less-advantaged high schools to encourage enthusiasm and pathways towards careers in science and engineering. In 2012, there is an increased focus on the regional areas and an increased goal to reach 3,500 students.
The program has gained a reputation as an excellent resource for engaging high school students, as an assessment tool for university engineering students and as professional development for experienced engineers. Two Western Australian universities have used the program to equip their students’ skills in science communication and engagement, and many of EWB’s corporate partners are now integrating the High School Outreach Program into their social responsibility plans.
The Kimberley Marine Research Station
The Kimberley Marine Research Station (KMRS) was founded on the ethos of generating the highest standard of truly independent, peer-reviewed scientific output for the greater public good; providing critical support services and marine expertise towards bridging the knowledge gaps on this remarkable yet largely under-studied marine region. A subsidiary of Cygnet Bay Pearls, the KMRS is the only privately funded marine research facility in the country.
The KMRS team has worked towards developing and diversifying a research profile for the region and, over the past 18 months, has utilised a range of approaches to communicate with and actively engage both the wider science community and the general public in marine science in the region. As a result, research presence in the field continues to grow, as does the open-access library of information on marine science in the Kimberley.
KMRS now provides a platform to channel community interest in marine science in the Kimberley from local, regional, national and international contexts alike. Likewise, the venture is creating a means through which people can both observe and participate in marine research endeavours in the region; directly contributing to community awareness, understanding and appreciation of the region’s extraordinary marine environments.
International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research
Curtin University and the University of Western Australia
theSkyNet is a distributed computing initiative that aims to raise the public profile of science and radio astronomy while simultaneously creating a research grade data processing resource for scientists. Through theSkyNet the public can now use a portion of their “spare” computing power from a personal computer to help process radio astronomy data. By creating a network of thousands of computers, it’s possible to simulate a single very powerful machine capable of doing real and relevant scientific research.
Since launching in September 2011, theSkyNet has received over a quarter of a million hits with around 2,500 machines online and contributing at any given time, day or night. This adds up to a distributed network capable of performing more than one million processing tasks per day, placing theSkyNet on par with a supercomputer with between 15 and 20 TFlops of computer power.
Through theSkyNet forum pages as well as a popular Facebook and Twitter feed, theSkyNet provides a social networking hub for a growing community interested in helping scientists and contributing to a good cause.
Department of Education, the University of Western Australia
SPICE is a secondary teachers' enrichment program. It provides science teachers with access to professional development, supported by new curriculum resources and opportunities for interaction with leading scientists, science educators and multimedia developers. Established in 2006, SPICE is a partnership between The University of Western Australia and the Department of Education Western Australia.
The SPICE program literally ‘spices-up’ science teaching. This is achieved by providing targeted professional learning for teachers, an extensive range of curriculum resources for student use, and forging links between science teachers in schools and science researchers in universities. Resources are designed for years 7 to 12, with those for younger years focusing on scientific methodology and inquiry skills. For middle and upper years, there is particular emphasis on support for emerging areas of astronomy and molecular biology.
Whilst focused on government sector high schools, SPICE events are also open to teachers from the private education sector, and SPICE resources are made available to all teachers in Australia and New Zealand.
Educator of the Year
The finalist and winner will be announced at the Awards Ceremony on Thursday 11 October 2012.