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Sydney dominates Academy’s Awards

18 November 2016
Winners in each category of the Australian Academy of Science's awards

Sydney has again won the most awards for science and medical research, in today's Australian Academy of Science awards announcement – capping an outstanding year – which has included the Prime Minister's Prize for Science.

Joss Bland-Hawthorn

Joss Bland-Hawthorn has gained recognition for lifetime achievement.

The University of Sydney science and health researchers will dominate the Australian Academy of Science’s annual Awards, with four awards going to Sydney – the biggest number associated with any institution.

Each year the Academy presents its awards to recognise Australian research excellence, comprising early- to mid-career and career honorifics categories for life-time achievement.

The awards will be presented at the Academy’s annual Science at the Shine Dome in Canberra in May.

The University of Sydney winners are:

Thomas Ranken Lyle Medal Professor Joss Bland-Hawthorn FAA
Gustav Nossal Medal for Global Health Professor Barend Marais
Fenner Medal Professor Simon Ho
Le Févre Memorial Prize Dr Deanna D'Alessandro

Professor Joss Bland-Hawthorn is the first University of Sydney academic to win the prestigious biennial 2017 Thomas Ranken Lyle Medal medal in 30 years, and is the first astronomer to do so in over 40 years. He was recognised for his seminal contributions to astrophysics and instrumentation.

Since 1935, there have only been five previous Sydney recipients: D.B. Melrose (1987), R. Hanbury Brown (1970), S.T. Butler (1966), H.O. Lancaster (1961), and K.E. Bullen (1949).

This has been an excellent year for Professor Bland-Hawthorn. He was recently awarded the 2016 NSW Premier’s Prize for the Excellence in mathematics, earth sciences, chemistry and physics category. Professor Bland-Hawthorn and Sydney Institute for Astronomy colleagues have also been awarded the triennial 2016 Peter McGregor Prize for innovations in astronomical instrumentation, which recognised the international impact of hexabundle technology developed in the SAIL labs here at the University.

Professor Barend (Ben) Marais is deputy-Director of the Marie Bashir Institute for Infectious Diseases and Biosecurity at the University of Sydney, with a focus on research to combat the killer tuberculosis (TB).

TB is the biggest infectious disease killer on the planet, but the fact that young children suffer high rates of disease and death is rarely appreciated. In addition, the emergence and spread of multidrug-resistant (MDR)-TB threatens global TB control efforts.

Professor Marais, a paediatrician at The Children’s Hospital Westmead, helps measure and characterise the TB disease burden suffered by children, highlighting the absence of care in places where this is needed most. His research has been acknowledged by the World Health Organisation and the non-governmental agency for children UNICEF, with renewed commitments to find pragmatic solutions to prevent and treat TB in children. Professor Marais has also raised awareness that MDR-TB is actively transmitted within communities, which puts children at risk and requires urgent strategies. He wrote the first “survival guide” for paediatricians caring for children with MDR-TB, and contributed to global and regional initiatives to limit its spread.

Professor Simon Ho has made important contributions to the field of molecular evolution. His most notable achievements come from his work on molecular clocks, which provide a statistical method of estimating evolutionary rates and timescales from DNA sequences.

The young scientist’s research has critically changed the way biologists use molecular clocks when studying the timescales of recent events in evolution and human prehistory. This has had important impacts on a broad range of studies in conservation genetics, domestication of animals and plants, and the population dynamics of pathogens. As part of an international genomics consortium, Professor Ho has also resolved the evolutionary timescale of modern birds and shown how they diversified after the extinction of the dinosaurs.

The influence of Professor Ho’s research has already been recognised in the form of several major awards, significant grants, and research fellowships – an outstanding track record for an early career researcher.

Dr Deanna D'Alessandro’s research is delivering insights into an exciting area in nanoporous molecular materials, namely, their electronic and conducting properties. These fundamental advances have enormous potential as the basis of new devices for applications including electrocatalysis, sensing and solar energy conversion.

In addition to her work in the area of theoretical and experimental aspects of electron transfer, for which Dr D’Alessandro has gained international recognition, she has also played a role in the development of new nanoporous materials for the capture of greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide. A common theme of her research has been a desire to tackle significant scientific challenges by probing fundamental chemical questions.

A recipient of the IUPAC [International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry] Prize for young chemists upon completing her PhD in chemistry, she has received numerous awards, including:  2010 L’Oréal-Australia For Women in Science Fellowship, 2011 Tall Poppy award, 2012 Distinguished Lectureship Award from the Chemical Society of Japan, 2014 RACI Rennie Medal and 2015 ChemComm Emerging Investigator Lectureship from the Royal Society of Chemistry.

The AAS Awards is the fourth consecutive science prizes the University of Sydney has led in as many weeks, recently claiming the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science, achieving the most awards of any institution at the NSW Premier’s Prizes for Science & Engineering and gaining two out of three Australian  L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellowships.

Vivienne Reiner

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