Five members of UNSW Science in the running for the 'Oscars' of Australian science

Finalists in the 2018 Eureka Prize Professor Andrew Pitman, Dr Jakub Stoklosa, Scientia Professor Justin Gooding, Dr Parisa Khiabani and Dr Alexander Soeriyadi
Wednesday, 25 July, 2018

The genetic rescue of one our tiniest possums, wearable sunburn sensors and leading climate science are among the projects headed by members of UNSW Science that have been named finalists in the Eureka Prizes for 2018.

The prestigious awards, presented by the Australia Museum, represent the best in science research, recognising excellence in innovation and research, leadership, science engagement and school science.

The finalists from UNSW come from School of Mathematics and Statistics, the School of Chemistry and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes.

UNSW Science Dean, Emma Johnston, says the nomination of five members of the UNSW Science community is an acknowledgment that UNSW is working at the cutting edge of a broad range of scientific research.

“I am thrilled to see UNSW Science represented so significantly among this year’s finalists – this really shows what an impressive group of talented researchers we have here at UNSW Science.

“Looking at the categories that Science finalists are in the running for, two themes stand out to me: environmental research and innovation. Our academics are constantly exploring new ways to solve the challenges that today’s society faces, and that’s why they’re seen as leaders in innovative science.

“I congratulate all finalists on being recognised in Australia’s leading science awards and wish them the best of luck.”

Now in their 29th year, the Eureka Prizes, or ‘Oscars of Australian science’, will be announced at a gala award dinner at Sydney Town Hall on 29 August.

The UNSW Science finalists are:

Scientia Professor Justin Gooding, Dr Parisa Khiabani and Dr Alexander Soeriyadi, School of Chemistry - ANSTO Eureka Prize for Innovative Use of Technology

With one in three Australians are diagnosed with skin cancer by age 70, knowing when you’ve had too much sun is crucial. Professor Gooding, Dr Khiabani and Dr Soeriyadi have created a simple and affordable paper-based sensor that indicates to the wearer when to seek shade or apply more sunscreen. Created with off-the-shelf components and existing materials and manufacturing technologies, the sensor has the potential to be widely deployed and deliver long-term benefits to public health.

Professor Andrew Pitman, Director, ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes -CSIRO Eureka Prize for Leadership in Innovation and Science

Professor Pitman has transformed how Australian climate science thinks and works – moving from competitive silos to a collaborative community focused on national and global outcomes. Over the past 15 years he has demonstrated visionary leadership in the field of climate science. By bringing together and maintaining a consortium of leading universities and institutions, he has transformed the scale and impact of Australian climate science research. Professor Pitman leads the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes (CLEX), based at UNSW.

Dr Jakub Stoklosa, School of Mathematics and Statistics, UNSW Science. In collaboration with researchers from the University of Melbourne; La Trobe University and Mount Buller Mount Stirling Resort Management - NSW Office of Environment and Heritage Eureka Prize for Environmental Research

The unique Mountain Pygmy Possum population of Mt Buller had been isolated for 20,000 years but was facing imminent extinction just ten years after it was discovered. Through a program of cross breeding isolated populations of the threatened species, the Burramys Genetic Rescue Team was able to boost genetic variation, translating to population growth, healthy breeding and improved survival rates. Australia’s first genetic rescue has become a template for saving other species under threat.

Dr Stoklosa’s role as a statistician was to provide reliable and accurate estimates of mountain pygmy possums abundances using statistical methods and recapture data collected over 20 years.

After the successful translocation of possums to Mt Buller, a rapid recovery in the target population translated to population growth, healthy breeding and improved survival rates over the last seven years. In fact, the adult population is now 68% larger than when this population was first discovered in 1996. Very few studies around the world have been able to achieve this with threatened species and reproduce such successful results. A paper about the project has been published in Nature Communications.

Other UNSW finalists include:

Professor Sally Dunwoodie, Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute - UNSW Eureka Prize for Scientific Research

What if a vitamin could prevent miscarriage, foetal death and birth defects? Professor Sally Dunwoodie and her multidisciplinary team have discovered the potential of vitamin B3 to treat a molecular deficiency causing miscarriages and multiple types of birth defects. Their finding could prevent developmental defects through a common dietary supplement, which may transform the way pregnant women are cared for around the world.

Professor Michelle Haber AM, Children's Cancer Institute and UNSW - CSIRO Eureka Prize for Leadership in Innovation and Science.

Professor Haber is a global authority in childhood cancer research, setting the agenda for the field in Australia. She is the driving force behind Zero Childhood Cancer, a world-leading initiative that unites researchers and clinicians from every child cancer research and clinical care facility nationwide.

Dr Brett Hallam, Research Director for Advanced Hydrogenation/SPREE - 3M Eureka Prize for Emerging Leader in Science

Dr Brett Hallam is an international leader in the field of crystalline silicon photovoltaics. He supervises and mentors a world-class research team, and the effects of his innovation have a major impact on a global scale in the solar energy sector. Dr Hallam is currently an Australian Research Council Discovery and Early Career Research Award (DECRA) Fellow and the Research Director for Advanced Hydrogenation in the School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering at UNSW. Dr Hallam is recognised internationally for his work on crystalline silicon PV, being regarded as the leading expert globally for hydrogen passivation in silicon solar cells; an area that has been considered as ‘black magic’ for decades.

Professor Guy Marks, working with a multi-institutional team of four from UNSW, University of Sydney and the Woolcock Institute for Medical Research, including Dr Jennifer Ho, a former UNSW PhD student - Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre Eureka Prize for Infectious Diseases Research

Tuberculosis is the leading infectious disease killer in the world, yet one third of cases are not diagnosed. Using innovative screening techniques in robustly-designed clinical trials, the Act Now for Tuberculosis Control Team has made major breakthroughs that promise to transform global efforts to eliminate the disease. In their study, the team found pro-actively screening people who share households with other TB patients has more than doubled the detection rate of TB and reduced the mortality rate by 40%.

Associate Professor Darren Saunders, School of Medical Sciences, UNSW Medicine -Celestino Eureka Prize for Promoting Understanding of Science

A gifted and intuitive communicator, Associate Professor Darren Saunders gives medical research a clear, authoritative voice across a diverse range of media. He makes evidence-based science accessible to the general public, with particular emphasis on platforms through which vulnerable audiences are seeking health advice. Associate Professor Saunders particular areas of research are cancer, cell Biology, gene regulation and biochemistry.