Another 'Eureka' moment for Sydney science

10 August 2005

Dr Peter Tuthill with his aperture masking technology
Dr Peter Tuthill with his aperture masking technology


Two University of Sydney researchers have received awards in the 16th annual Australian Museum Eureka Prizes which were presented at a gala prize dinner at Sydney’s Royal Hall of Industries last night (9 August, 2005).

Sydney University astrophysicist, Dr Peter Tuthill shares the $10,000 University of New South Wales Eureka Prize for Scientific Research for resurrecting a 130 year old imaging technique known as aperture masking. With a modern makeover on the world's largest telescope, Dr Tuthill’s approach has delivered the highest resolution infrared images yet attained, establishing the ground rules for a new generation of telescope arrays.

'In a field as driven by new technology as Astronomy, it is truly startling to find a winner in the antiques cabinet like this.' Dr Tuthill says. ‘At the heart of the technique is a metal plate used to mask the primary mirror of the telescope, only passing a small amount of light from selected areas. This has the effect of turning the telescope into a giant zoom lens, capable of resolving detail at scales equivalent to the head of a pin viewed from 5km away.’

'The experiment has yielded our first glimpses into some fascinating episodes in the lives of stars,' Dr Tuthill says. 'These spectacular images include some of the first pictures stars being born, stars dying, and the enigmatic and beautiful spiral pinwheels from the massive binary Wolf-Rayet stars. Astronomers often study things that are incredibly remote and take millennia to evolve, so it is particularly exciting to zoom in and watch the cosmos in motion, with dramatic plumes and wakes flung into space from these stars.

Welcoming the award Dr Tuthill said: 'This is the first time that the Eureka Prize for Scientific Research has gone to someone in physics. It is just awesome to see physics recognized in this way as 2005 is the International Year of Physics, marking 100 years since Einstein's astounding "miracle" year of 1905 when he revolutionized our understanding of the universe overnight.'

Professor Jon Patrick, Chair of Language Technology at the University of Sydney’s School of Information Technologies received the $10,000 Australian Computer Society Eureka Prize for ICT Innovation. The award is made for his development of Scamseek, a language technology computer system for automatic detection of financial scams on the Internet.

Scamseek is used by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) to target internet fraud. By using unique software technologies, Scamseek saves ASIC hundreds of hours of manual searching and further enables them to protect Australian web users from internet fraud, the first time it was used it identified a multi-million dollar scam running out of Adelaide.
Professor Patrick says that Scamseek is only the beginning. ‘It gives us the opportunity to open a new industry niche with worldwide market opportunities. Our methods are applicable to all types of security and policing domains as wells as commercial applications for monitoring corporate reputation, consumer opinions, drug reactions and much more,’ he said.


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Notes to Editors:

  • The Australian Museum Eureka Prizes are Australia’s most comprehensive national science awards, recognising scientific and industrial achievements by acknowledging and rewarding outstanding achievements in research, leadership and innovation, education and science communication.
  • Further information regarding the work of Dr Peter Tuthill is available online at: www.physics
  • Further information about the work of Professor Jon Patrick and Scamseek can be found online at: