La Trobe University’s Professor Jenny Graves has become the first woman to be awarded the nation’s most prestigious science award, having scooped the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science, for her work in mammalian genomic research.
Six Australian scientists shared a prize pool of $700,000 after being recognised for their research in this year’s Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science. Professor Graves won $250,000 in prize money, which she said will be used to further her research.
“I plan to go even further away from humans. I started off with other mammals like marsupials and reptiles … now I’m seriously involved in work on some wonderful sex changing fish, so you never know, I might end up slipping down and looking at animals that don’t have back bones,” she said.
“I think we can trace the origins of our chromosomes way, way back in time. But that’s the way to do it and make comparisons across very different creatures.”
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and acting Science Minister Michaelia Cash said in a joint statement that Prof Graves was a “role model for all the young women we want to encourage to pursue education and careers in STEM”.
Meanwhile, Professor Eric Reynolds from the University of Melbourne received the $250,000 Prize for Innovation for translating his research into how protein in milk can improve oral health.
The Prize for Innovation category, along with the Prize for New Innovators, were introduced in 2015 and 2016 respectively – both under the direction of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who has been pressing for Australian science prowess to be translated to real-world commercial innovation outcomes.
However, the Prize for New Innovators category, which was designed to recognise an individual who has commercialised their scientific research and it has had substantial economic, social or environmental benefits, appears to be missing in this year’s awards.
The other winners this year included:
Professor Jian Yang from The University of Queensland was awarded the $50,000 Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year for creating tools to unravel the complex heritability of height, intelligence, obesity and schizophrenia.
Professor Dayong Jin from the University of Technology Sydney was awarded the $50,000 Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year for creating new ways to visualise the processes of life and creating low cost portable technologies for disease detection.
Brett McKay from Kirrawee High School in Sydney was awarded the $50,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools for inspiring his students with physics and science.
Neil Bramsen from Mount Ousley Public School in Wollongong was awarded the $50,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools for using science to enable learning across the curriculum.
Australia’s chief scientist Dr Alan Finkel said the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science showcased the enormous strength and dedication of the Australian science community.
“From understanding chromosome control systems; proteins to repair tooth damage; new genetic data techniques; and microscopes that can see individual molecules inside living cells, the 2017 Prizes recognise big breakthroughs played out on a tiny canvas.
“The Prizes also recognise the incredible role played by teachers, who understand that from little things, big things grow! Great teachers provide fertile ground for our children to become tomorrow’s great scientists and innovators in turn.”
Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science was set up in 2000, replacing the Australia Prize that was started in 1990. Over the years, the awards have gradually changed to reflect the growing significance of science and research in Australia.