Australian researchers pushing the boundaries of quantum computing are among those to have been rewarded at this year’s Australian Museum Eureka Prizes, announced Wednesday night at the Sydney Town Hall.
The annual awards celebrate the best in science, innovation, leadership, research and science journalism in Australia.
Michelle Simmons won the CSIRO Eureka Prize for Leadership in Science for her work as director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology at the University of New South Wales.
The Australian Museum’s CEO and executive director Kim McKay said Simmons’ leadership of a team of 180 researchers helps to keep Australia at the forefront of what promises to be a “multi-billion dollar industry”.
Quantum computing was also the focus of work by Associate Prof Michael Biercuk. The University of Sydney physicist won the Macquarie University Eureka Prize for Outstanding Early Career Researcher.
He was praised for his work in reducing information loss from quantum information systems and for setting the record for the smallest force ever measured. The force was measured in yocto Newtons (10-24) which is about a million million billion times smaller than the force of a feather pressing down on a table.
The University of South Australia team has developed a new system of low-cost energy storage. This has potential for the solar power industry in helping reduce the miss-match between peak sunlight in the day and peak usage in the evening.
Capturing the beauty of science marked success for the second year running for Queensland Museum photographer Gary Cranitch. After coming third last year he was this year’s winner of the New Scientist Eureka Prize for Science Photography for his image Soft Corals.
Soft corals are more diverse and widespread that harder corals, but we know less about them. A third of the world’s soft coral species are found on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
“Gary’s striking image highlights the need to understand the Great Barrier Reef’s often-ignored soft corals,” Ms McKay said.
Second place in the photographic prize went to Murdoch University’s Aileen Elliot with her photograph Thorny-Headed Worm (above). In third place was NSW’s Justin Gilligan image Saltwater Crocodile (below).
The Eureka Prizes don’t just honour those working in science and innovation, they also reward those potential future scientists still studying at school.
The video Cry Stopper, which explored the science behind what happens when you cut an onion, won fifth-graders Georgia Souyave-Murphy and Ella Woods, from Brisbane’s St Margaret’s Anglican Girls School, the University of Sydney Sleek Geeks Science Eureka Prize – Primary.
The University of Sydney Sleek Geeks Science Eureka Prize – Secondary category went to Paige Bebee, a ninth-grader from Ivanhoe Girls’ Grammar School in Victoria. Her video, The Secret of the Appendix, was about the normal role of the appendix in our gut, how to keep it healthy and what can go wrong with it.
Paige also explained a few popular myths about the appendix and its purpose in our body, which was praised by the museum’s Ms McKay.
“Scientific mythbusting to correct long-standing misunderstandings – as Paige has done in her film – is part of a building a scientifically-literate community,” she said.
Other winners of the 2015 Eureka Prize awards
Dr Phillip Urquijo, from the University of Melbourne, won the 3M Eureka Prize for Emerging Leader in Science. The prize honours the Melbourne’s leadership work as physics coordinator on Belle II particle accelerator in Japan.
Prof Marilyn Renfree, from the University of Melbourne, won the University of Technology Sydney Eureka Prize for Outstanding Mentor of Young Researchers. She’s been a mentor and inspiration to young researchers for three decades and says she tries to protect them from the “day to day trivia that gets in the way of the exciting thing that is discovery of science”.
Prof David Keith, from the University of New South Wales, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Ecosystems Team won the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage Eureka Prize for Environmental Research. Together they have set a single global standard for assessing environmentally threatened ecosystems.
Dr Marc Pellegrini and Dr Greg Ebert, from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, won the Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre Eureka Prize for Infectious Diseases Research. The Melbourne researchers led a team that found a new use for an anti-cancer drug can be used to eliminate hepatitis B.
Prof David Raftos, from Macquarie University, won the new Rural Research and Development Corporations Eureka Prize for Rural Innovation. Working with oyster farmers along Australia’s east coast, he helped breed stronger, more disease-resistant oysters that promise a 10% to 20% increase in yield.
Northrop Grumman M5 Network Security, in Canberra, won the Defence Science and Technology Group Eureka Prize for Outstanding Science for Safeguarding Australia. It developed secure, handheld communication tools that simultaneously use multiple available mobile-phone networks, Wi-Fi and satellites to make sure the signal never drops out.
Professors Dayong Jin, from the University of Technology Sydney and Macquarie University, Tanya Monro, from the University of South Australia and University of Adelaide, and Bradley Walsh, from Minomic International and Macquarie University, won the University of New South Wales Eureka Prize for Excellence in Interdisciplinary Scientific Research. They created tiny crystals that can be implanted in the body to reveal diseased cells.
Prof Dacheng Tao, from the University of Technology Sydney, won the Scopus Eureka Prize for Excellence in International Scientific Collaboration. He’s part of a team that has developed subspace learning models that can help reduce the complexity of captured data.
Prof Emma Johnston, from the University of New South Wales, won the Department of Industry and Science Eureka Prize for Promoting Understanding of Australian Science Research. She brings marine research to a broad audience using a variety of methods including appearance in print, radio and television including BBC/Foxtel series Coast Australia.
Prof Peter Currie and Phong Nguyen, both from Monash University, and Dr Georgina Hollway, from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, won the University of New South Wales Eureka Prize for Scientific Research. They unlocked a mechanism that triggers stem cell production in blood, making the production of blood cells in the laboratory more achievable, reducing the pressure on blood banks.