Rising stars vying for Eureka Prize

Justin Gooding
Friday, 24 July, 2009

Two of the rising stars in the Faculty of Science were selected today as finalists for the 2009 Eureka Prizes, Australia's most prestigious science awards. They are among five individual UNSW researchers and a research team vying for top honours in four categories.

Professor Justin Gooding, from the School of Chemistry, is a contender for University of New South Wales Eureka Prize for Scientific Research, awarded for outstanding curiosity-driven scientific research.

Professor Gooding has been an innovative pioneer in the field of surface chemistry, producing better biosensors for use in medicine, environmental science, defence and security.

These portable analytical devices have broad applications, including pesticide detection in drinking water, determining the effectiveness of diabetes treatments and developing next-generation cell chips.

After a string of breakthroughs in recent years, research by Professor Gooding's team is also beginning to bear commercial fruit with the licensing of a patent to a US-based biosensing company and several other patents being filed recently.

Professor Brett Neilan, a  Federation Fellow in the School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences, is a contender for the Land & Water Australia Professor Peter Cullen Eureka Prize for Water Research and Innovation, awarded to an individual, team or organisation for research and innovation that has made or has the potential to make an outstanding contribution to the sustainable use and management of Australia's water resources.

Professor Neilan's research group is considered to be one of the world's leaders in the genetics of toxic cyanobacteria (blue-green algae). As its founding member, Professor Neilan has undertaken the research that has led to the discovery of all four biochemical pathways responsible for the production of potent bacterial and algal toxins that contaminate our water supplies and accumulate in seafood.

The results of this basic research and other studies of the evolution of cyanobacteria have revolutionised an entire field of environmental biology.

It has also fundamentally improved our understanding of the circumstances favouring toxin-producing cyanobacterial blooms in lakes, rivers and reservoirs - critical knowledge for both environmental health and water security.

Associate Professor Greg Leslie, from the School of Chemical Science and Engineering is alos a finalist in the same category. Professor Leslie has been working with Professor Bruce Sutton from the University of Sydney on the Reverse Osmosis Capable Drip System, an invention that untaps the potential of saline water.

Professors Levon Kachigian and Stuart Wenham have both been nominated for the CSIRO Eureka Prize for Leadership in Science. Professor Kachigian, Director of UNSW's Centre for Vascular Research, is nominated for his outstanding work in pioneering the next generation of molecular therapeutics. Scientia Professor Wenham, Director of the ARC Photovoltaic Centre of Excellence, is acclaimed as a global leader in the development of solar cell technology.

The iCinema Centre for Interactive Cinema Research is in the bidding for the Australian Research Council Eureka Prize for Excellence in Research by an Interdisciplinary Team.

In addition, the Garvan Institute, affiliated to UNSW, has been named as a finalist for the Australian Government Eureka Prize for Promoting Understanding of Science. Young Garvan is a group of young professionals working to raise awareness and funds for medical research.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes. The winners will be announced on 18 August. Details on all finalists are available on the Australian Museum website.