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Four Sydney finalists announced in Eureka science awards

28 July 2017
Outstanding researchers in four categories

The University of Sydney boasts four hopefuls to take out the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes, each displaying leadership and innovation in their notable efforts to lead critical advances in Australian science.

Who are the outstanding researchers named as finalists for the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes, and how is their work leading the advancement of Australian science and technology?

Professor Salah Sukkarieh

Professor of Robotics and Intelligent Systems; Director of Research and Innovation at the Australian Centre for Field Robotics
Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies

CSIRO Eureka Prize for Leadership in Innovation and Science

Professor Salah Sukkarieh tweaking his Ladybird agricultural robot

Professor Salah Sukkarieh is a finalist for the CSIRO Eureka Prize for Leadership in Innovation and Science.  

Professor Salah Sukkarieh’s leadership ensures cutting-edge robotics and intelligent systems research is successfully translated into real-world applications. Working across aviation, agriculture, mining, aerospace and logistics, his work places Australian autonomous innovations on the global map.

“My vision is to create operationally intelligent human-machine systems that can continually adapt to meet the demands of large-scale industrial and environmental operations in mining, aviation and agriculture,” he said.

Leading a team of some 50 research fellows, 30 PhD students and 30 engineers, Professor Sukkarieh is passionate about positioning Australia as a world-leader in innovative robotic systems, methodologies and tools.

Already the team’s world-first AutoStrad cargo-handling robots are making Australian Ports more efficient; their flight-planning systems are helping Qantas to fly greener; and enabling Rio Tinto to implement its vision of the Mine of the Future. Professor Sukkarieh’s aerial surveillance systems are mapping the Australian landscape and identifying pests, while his agricultural robots are providing growers with quality information on crops.

“Strong university-government-industry collaborations are highly important in translating end-to-end research of autonomous systems. We are taking projects from the research lab and putting them into operation, and these real-world impacts will put Australia at the forefront of robotics innovation into the future.

“I am honoured, humbled and pleased to be named a finalist, especially when reflecting over previous finalists for whom I have a lot of respect and admiration. Leaders and their teams have a very close, symbiotic relationship, so this is just as much for my team as it is for me,” Salah said.

Professor Dacheng Tao

ARC Laureate Fellow; Professor of Computer Science
School of Information Technologies, Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies

University of Technology Sydney Eureka Prize for Excellence in Data Science

Professor Dacheng Tao

Professor Dacheng Tao is in the running for the University of Technology Sydney Eureka Prize for Excellence in Data Science.  

The age of data science is upon us, and it’s here to stay. Multiview learning plays an important role in most practical applications where multiple sensors are required for information collection.

Professor Dacheng Tao is taking multiview learning from theory to practice in multiple research projects.

“We are working to ensure the safety of driverless cars by fusing the information from the various types of sensors installed in the car.

“My research team has also introduced multiview learning to enable robots to mimic a human’s actions from videos.”

In web image searches, Professor Tao’s research has allowed the simultaneous exploitation of images, text and user click information to improve the user’s search experience.

In the process of facial recognition, where detection, enhancement, key point localisation and final recognition are involved, Professor Tao is exacting various types of features for face representation and has obtained human level performance for video-based recognition, significantly improving accuracy and performance.

Professor Tao said: “It is my great honour to be a finalist for the University of Technology Sydney Eureka Prize for Excellence in Data Science. Not only has it recognised my effort and contributions to date, it has also strengthened my commitment to research in data science and in particular multiview learning. I would like to extend sincere thanks to my students, fellow researchers, collaborators and colleagues who have worked with me over the past years.”

Dr Elizabeth New

Westpac Research Fellow
School of Chemistry, Faculty of Science

3M Eureka Prize for Emerging Leader in Science  

Dr Liz New in her chemistry lab.

Dr Elizabeth New is a finalist for the 3M Eureka Prize for Emerging Leader in Science.  

Dr Elizabeth New has built a large research team and strong network of collaborators to provide tools to visualise the chemical changes that underpin health and disease. She leverages her own research excellence to improve the funding and employment environments for young researchers and develop the next generation of scientists.

The category for emerging leader is awarded to a scientist who has used their leadership skills to create impact inside their institution, amongst their peers, within their discipline or in the wider community. The impacts of Dr New’s work are seen across each of these sectors.

Dr New models research excellence through her highly interdisciplinary research programs.

“My research group has developed novel, fluorescent chemical sensors that help us visualise human biochemical processes. We are building our understanding of diseases such as stroke, heart attack, Alzheimer’s disease, obesity and cancer. We have also developed sensors that help us understand the mechanisms of action of therapeutics such as cancer treatments.”

Elizabeth’s research excellence and leadership is also enabling remote communities to detect toxic metals in soils through her development of chemical sensors.

“The aim is to improve the agricultural potential in remote Australian communities,” Liz said.

Liz is leading multidisciplinary collaborations particularly with medical and biological disciplines, across the University and with other tertiary institutions, organisations and communities, working to find effective and innovative solutions to complex problems.

“These connections are driving the applications of my research and determining where our research efforts will be directed in the future.

“I make concerted efforts to foster research excellence in others. Through mentoring researchers, quality undergraduate teaching and delivering outreach activities, I’m encouraging, inspiring, training and developing the next generation of chemists that will make a difference to our community.

“I feel honoured to be named a finalist for this award and it makes me very proud of the achievements of my dedicated and innovative team. Receiving recognition for our work is incredibly motivating to strive further and I appreciate this vote of confidence in the way I lead research, cultivate collaborations and manage my teams,” Dr Liz New said.  

Dr Pengyi Yang

ARC DECRA Fellow
School of Mathematics and Statistics, Faculty of Science; Charles Perkins Centre

Macquarie University Eureka Prize for Outstanding Early Career Researcher

Dr Pengyi Yang working at his computer.

Dr Pengyi Yang is vying for the Macquarie University Eureka Prize for Outstanding Early Career Researcher.   

Recent advances in mass spectrometry and ultrafast next-generation sequencing have enabled us to profile thousands of genes and proteins inside a cell. Making sense of this massive amount of data is challenging, and without Dr Pengyi Yang’s superior and unique interdisciplinary skills in analysis and interpretation, overcoming this data quantity and methodological bottleneck will stymie critical advances in decoding complex biological processes.

Dr Yang is an extraordinary bioinformatician working at the interface of computer science and systems biology.

“I use innovative machine learning algorithms and data integration approaches to contribute to computational and statistical sciences. The application of these approaches will revolutionise the utilisation of biological data with implications for the diagnosis and treatment of complex diseases.

“My research enables the use of a patient’s genes, environment and lifestyle to diagnose and treat highly complex diseases such as diabetes and birth defects. The ultimate goal is the application of precision medicine,” Dr Yang said.    

The rigour of Dr Yang’s research is unmistakable, and his astounding publication record for one so early in their career is testament to his skills as the lead bioinformatician in collaborative research projects with world-leading experts.

Very few researchers in his field are capable of formulating the algorithms, developing the novel methodologies and performing the analyses he has been able to hone; fewer still can speak the language of biology so fluently. He doesn’t simply ‘do the stats’ for other scientists, Pengyi has learned the language, milieu and intricacies of biology, making him a highly sought after bioinformatician with a decidedly original and interdisciplinary approach.

“I am incredibly honoured to be a finalist for the Macquarie University Eureka Prize for Outstanding Early Career Researcher. It is a humbling recognition of my research and contribution to computational and systems biology,” Pengyi said.

The winners of the Eureka Prizes will be announced at a special awards ceremony on 30 August 2017.