2015 Category Prize Winners

Excellence in Mathematics, Earth Sciences, Chemistry and Physics

Winner: Scientia Professor Victor Flambaum

A Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, Professor Victor Flambaum is Scientia Professor at the University of NSW. He started on the pathway to scientific discovery at the age of 15, when, as a Physics Olympiad winner, he was selected to study at the Novosibirsk Scientific Centre. Professor Flambaum worked at the Institute of Nuclear Physics where he attained his PhD and Doctor of Science degrees and became Leading Scientist. Simultaneously, he was appointed at the Novosibirsk University. During this time he received the Academy of Science Award and the Lenin Komsomol Prize – the highest USSR prize for young scientists.

Professor Flambaum was appointed Professor of Theoretical Physics at the University of NSW in 1991.

Professor Flambaum tackles highly challenging problems in atomic, molecular, nuclear, elementary particle, astrophysics and general relativity. He has performed crucial calculations and suggested new highly efficient methods for the astrophysical and laboratory search for space-time variation of the fundamental constants and dark matter, as well as developed new schemes for super-precise atomic, ionic and nuclear clocks needed for next-generation GPS and autopilot systems as well as advancement of fundamental science. Professor Flambaum also created a general theory of chaotic quantum systems – explaining, in particular, the huge rate of electron recombination within tungsten ions, which dramatically affects thermonuclear reactor performance.

He has produced over 400 publications in atomic, nuclear, particle, molecular, condensed matter, statistical, astrophysics and general relativity. He has received many awards including Humboldt and Eureka Prizes; Academy of Science, Institute of Physics and Centenary medals; and Harvard, Princeton, Argonne, Princeton Institute for Advanced Study and JILA visiting Fellowships.

Excellence in Biological Sciences (Ecology, environmental, agricultural, organismal)                   

Winner: Emeritus Professor John Patrick

John Patrick is an Emeritus Professor in Biological Sciences at the University of Newcastle. He completed an undergraduate degree in Agricultural Science at the University of Sydney and a PhD in plant physiology at Macquarie University. 

In 1973, following three years of postdoctoral research on plant development at the University College of Wales, Britain, he took up a lectureship in the newly-established Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Newcastle where he has remained throughout his career.

Professor Patrick is recognised for his theoretical and experimental advances in the regulation of nutrient transport and partitioning in plants. He has developed a novel theoretical framework that identifies control points for the regulation of nutrient transport in, and unloading from, plant vascular networks. His experimental approaches have shown how metabolic demand for nutrients is coordinated with vascular transport by phytohormones, cell hydrostatic pressure and nutrient pool sizes. These discoveries have laid a conceptual framework to further elucidate nutrient transport and partitioning mechanisms and to identify novel targets for improving crop yield. 

Professor Patrick has authored more than 180 peer-reviewed original and review articles. He serves on the editorial boards of several international journals.

Excellence in Medical Biological Sciences (Cell and molecular, medical, veterinary and genetics)

Winner: Scientia Professor George Paxinos AO

George Paxinos AO is an NHMRC Senior Principal Research Fellow at Neuroscience Research Australia and Scientia Professor at the University of New South Wales. He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia and a corresponding member of the Academy of Athens.

After completing high school in Ithaca, Greece, he received his BA in Psychology at the University of California at Berkeley and his PhD at McGill University. Following a postdoctoral year at Yale University, he came to UNSW in 1994 where he used the chemical phenotype of neurons as a criterion for identifying brain regions and for establishing brain correspondences across experimental animals and humans.

Professor Paxinos works in a broad field of neuroscience, from the olfactory bulb to the spinal cord, from mouse to human and across development. His lab has identified more nuclei in mammals and birds than any other lab in over a century and more human homologues to nuclei identified in other animals than any other lab in over a century. Paxinos' atlases are particularly helpful to those who study diseases of the human brain. His work allows scientists and clinicians to navigate seamlessly between the brain of humans and experimental animals to test hypotheses inspired by human considerations and relate their observations to humans.

In 1982, Professor Paxinos and Charles Watson published The Rat Brain in Stereotaxic Coordinates, which is among the most cited scientific texts ever published. He has, added to that, another 45 books on the structure of the brain and spinal cord of humans and experimental animals.

Excellence in Engineering and Information and Communications Technologies

Winner: Scientia Professor Mark Bradford

Professor Mark Bradford is an Australian Laureate Fellow, Professor of Civil Engineering and a Scientia Professor at the University of NSW. He is the founding Director of UNSW's Centre for Infrastructure Engineering and Safety and is currently its Director of Research.

Professor Bradford has been proactive in translating university research into industry practice, especially through design standards and textbooks. Having built a team of critical mass through his Federation and Laureate Fellowships in the areas of steel and steel-concrete structural engineering, he has been concentrating in recent times on progressing these disciplines into the broader paradigms of sustainable and low-carbon full-life cycle structural engineering practice, which is a challenge of immense significance in the construction sector.

Specifically, Professor Bradford has been researching an innovative deconstructable steel-concrete composite frame system to minimise wasteful and environmentally-intrusive demolition at the end of the structural life of a building, and to maximise the reuse and recyclability of the building's structural elements.

Among many awards, Professor Bradford was bestowed Distinguished Membership of the American Society of Civil Engineers in 2013 – becoming only the second Australian so honoured in the 164-year history of the Society. 

NSW Early Career Researcher of the Year

Winner: Dr Michael Bowen

Dr Michael Bowen is a National Health & Medical Research Council Early Career Fellow (Peter Doherty Biomedical Fellow) at the School of Psychology, the University of Sydney, and is also a casual lecturer for the Faculty of Pharmacy at the University. While still in the early stages of his career, Dr Michael Bowen has already made many significant contributions to his field of research.

Some of his most important work to date has been co-inventing a novel drug treatment for alcohol-use disorders and a novel series of compounds targeting social deficits in psychiatric and neurological disorders, such as autism. These disorders affect the lives of scores of Australians and many millions more around the world, and unfortunately the treatment options currently available for these disorders are severely limited. Dr Bowen is hopeful that his work will help to change this.

An example of Dr Bowen's recent research demonstrated positive behavioural effects of oxytocin on alcohol-affected rats which may translate to reducing alcohol cravings and consumption in humans.

In recent years, Dr Bowen's research has led to clinical trials, patents, many highly-cited papers in top scientific journals, competitive research funding, the prestigious NHMRC Fellowship, numerous high-profile national and international research awards, more than 20 invited talks at national and international conferences and public forums, as well as worldwide media coverage. 

Leadership in Innovation in NSW

Winner: Professor Christoph Arns

Professor Christoph Arns is Professor and ARC Future Fellow in the School of Petroleum Engineering at the University of New South Wales.

Professor Arns specialises in the area of pore-scale petrophysics on the basis of micro-tomographic images and has developed leading-edge massively parallel algorithms and software for the interpretation and characterisation of the microstructure of geomaterials (the "morphy" toolkit). He is a key inventor of the intellectual property that underpinned the ANU/UNSW spin-off company Digital Core (now FEI).

His recent work has focused in particular on the integration of digital and conventional core analysis including low field NMR methods.

The value of his work in enhancing the understanding of processes critical to oil and gas recovery for improving exploration outcomes has been demonstrated and widely recognised by the international scientific and industrial communities.

Professor Arns has received a number of awards including the Distinguished Technical Achievement Award in Formation Evaluation from FESAus (2012), UNSW Inventor of the Year Awards in 2012 and 2014, and the Australian Museum Rio Tinto Eureka Prize for Commercialisation of Innovation (Team Award). 

Innovation in Public Sector Science & Engineering

Winner: Dr Hutton Oddy

Dr Hutton Oddy is a Principal Research Scientist in the NSW Department of Primary Industries. An adjunct Professor at the University of New England, Dr Oddy has been a Deputy Director of the Beef CRC and Strategic Research Manager for Meat and Livestock Australia.

Dr Oddy's work has been influential in animal science particularly in understanding host animal control of intestinal function. He is currently engaged in research to reduce methane emissions from livestock and to increase efficiency of nutrient utilisation through understanding the interaction between host animal and rumen microbial genomes. He has developed modern drought feeding standards and a Feeds Evaluation Service to support delivery of that information.

Dr Oddy was responsible for establishing a major beef industry extension initiative, "More Beef from Pastures", and has led the development of complementary tools to improve livestock productivity and reduce waste.

He fostered the development of resources for the Sheep Genomics discipline including a reference genome of the sheep, and associated genotyping and transcriptomic tools. Dr Oddy's development of sheep SNP chips and reference genome sequence resources have enabled the sheep industry to make rapid improvement in hard-to-measure, product quality and environmental impact traits. 

Innovation in Science and Mathematics Education in NSW

Joint Winner: Ms Sheila Pooviah

Ms Sheila Pooviah is Head Teacher, Science at James Ruse Agricultural High School.

Determined to differentiate the curriculum for gifted and talented science students, Ms Pooviah has created and implemented weekly extracurricular lessons to train students to compete in the Olympiad examinations in Biology, Chemistry and Physics, unlocking their potential and challenging students to be the best they can be.

Ms Pooviah has also developed flexible, professional partnerships through the Scientist in School Program. She founded and led the school's Robotics Club taking two teams in the last three years to represent Australia at the FIRST Robotics Challenge in the USA and raising the profile of STEM activities at James Ruse.

Through mentoring partnerships with university students and academics at universities Ms Pooviah's students are learning to build, program and test their robots to compete in technically challenging games while conserving resources.

Currently working alongside a NASA astronaut as mentor, her students are participating in a programming competition aboard the International Space Station.

Ms Pooviah has volunteered each week for many years to tutor disadvantaged youth in HSC sciences and continues to mentor science teachers in remote areas.

Innovation in Science and Mathematics Education in NSW

Joint Winner: Mr Eddie Woo

Mr Eddie Woo is Head Teacher, Mathematics at Cherrybrook Technology High School. He has a passion for helping students see mathematics as profoundly elegant and deeply practical, which has led him to explore the teaching of mathematics through technology, in the context of an authentic narrative, and as an integrated STEM experience.

His roles include leading a team of 18 teachers to implement a range of effective teaching, learning and assessment strategies for mathematics, as well as having a primary role in the school's development of STEM curricula. His priority in STEM is to ensure that students develop a level of mathematical understanding that coheres effectively with their learning and working methods in science, technology and engineering. Previously, he led the pilot case study in Google Apps for Education in NSW Department of Education schools and constructed the business case for its adoption as a 21st Century learning tool for students and teachers across the state.

Mr Woo is known for championing blended learning by combining his engaging live classroom teaching with online delivery, centred upon 'Wootube', his popular Youtube channel. Wootube provides open access to his classroom lessons for people all over the world. The channel has received over a million views, more than 10,000 subscribers from all over the world, and has attracted national media attention.