A team that was instrumental in the world-first detection of gravitational waves has won this year’s Prime Minister’s Prize for Science.
Emeritus Professor David Blair, Professor David McClelland, Professor Susan Scott and Professor Peter Veitch from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery received the $250,000 prize for their contributions to the international effort that led to the 2015 discovery.
The team was involved in a number of ways, from designing systems to ensure the stability of high-powered laser beams to developing mathematical models used to identify the source of the first signal detected.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the discovery embodied the very best of Australia’s scientific community.
“This year more than ever we have turned to our scientists in the face of one of our biggest challenges in recent memory, the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Prime Minister said.
“Discoveries such as the detection of gravitational waves were led by Australian technology and insight, and practical applications of scientific breakthroughs will continue to play a vital role in ensuring that science, innovation and education are key components of Australia’s economic future.
“Australia’s scientific community is and will continue to be at the forefront of Australia’s recovery and the recipients are a testament to the incredible work undertaken by our nation’s scientists.”
Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews said the immense value and importance of the work of Australian scientists has been highlighted in 2020.
“This year has really reminded us all just how crucial science is to our lives. In the midst of devastating bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic, we have turned to our scientists to help shine a light on the unknown and map a path for the future,” Minister Andrews said.
“But the field of science is far broader than these issues alone. The prizes show how Australian scientists are coming up with innovative solutions to improve our lives, from new cancer treatments to global sustainability issues.”
Additional prizes presented on the night were:
- The $250,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation was presented to Professor Thomas Maschmeyer from the University of Sydney, for his dual work in developing commercially viable processes to recycle mixed plastics and developing a new low‑cost battery technology to store renewable energy.
- The $50,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools was presented to Willetton Senior High School (WA) teacher Darren Hamley, for his work establishing extracurricular programs to help students relate their scientific learnings to real-world applications.
- The $50,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools was presented to Bonython Primary School (ACT) STEM Specialist Teacher Sarah Fletcher, for her outstanding contribution to not only the school’s STEM program but also the wider education community.
- The $50,000 Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year was presented to Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre clinician-scientist Professor Mark Dawson for world-leading research in the field of epigenetics, including the development of new treatment strategies and therapies for blood cancers.
- The $50,000 Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year was presented to UNSW Scientia Associate Professor Xiaojing Hao, who has emerged as a world-renowned leader in thin-film solar photovoltaics. Associate Professor Hao’s work developing more environmentally friendly and efficient solar cells has set global records for energy conversion efficiency.
- The $50,000 Prize for New Innovators was presented to Flinders University Associate Professor Justin Chalker for his invention of a new class of polymers that turn waste plastics into global sustainability solutions. These include a range of materials that can remove mercury from polluted soil and water, help absorb oil from ocean spills, and provide more effective slow-release fertilisers.
The Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science are Australia’s most prestigious awards for outstanding achievements in scientific research, research-based innovation and excellence in science teaching.
Due to COVID-19, the 2020 awards presentation was held online and can be viewed at industry.gov.au/pmscienceprizes.