Two NSW Science and Engineering Award winners

24 November 2011

Professor Rick Shine was recognised for his research on Australian reptiles and amphibians
Professor Rick Shine was recognised for his research on Australian reptiles and amphibians

A professor who has led Australia's battle against the cane toad, and a researcher who led a novel, open source research project resulting in medicine for a disease that afflicts millions of the world's poorest people, have been honoured in the NSW Science and Engineering Awards.

Professor Rick Shine from the School of Biological Sciences won the Plant and Animal Research category, while Dr Mat Todd from the School of Chemistry won the Emerging Research category in a tie with a researcher from UNSW.

They received their $5000 prizes from the Honourable Andrew Stoner MP, Deputy Premier of NSW, Minister for Trade and Investment, Minister for Regional Infrastructure and Services, at an awards ceremony at Government House last night (Wednesday 23 November).

Previously known as the NSW Scientist of the Year Awards, the newly named NSW Science and Engineering Awards recognise the state's leading researchers conducting cutting edge work that generates economic, health, environmental or technological benefits for NSW.

Professor Rick Shine won his NSW Science and Engineering Award for the excellence and impact of his research on the ecology and evolutionary biology of Australian reptiles and amphibians. His research has transformed our understanding of big questions in biology, but also paved the way for innovative and effective solutions to practical problems in wildlife conservation.

"It's an honour to win the NSW Science and Engineering Award for Plant and Animal Research. It's a great recognition of my lab's work on a number of problems facing native reptiles and amphibians, as well as research on introduced amphibians such as cane toads," said Professor Shine.

The award recognises work conducted over the past five years, a period in which Professor Shine has published 230 scientific papers and been cited by other scientists in their papers more than 6000 times.

"Our work has identified processes that endanger NSW snakes and lizards, and we've devised and field-tested solutions to those threats. The award also recognises the fact that I've worked closely with state-based management agencies to implement my results," said Professor Shine.

"Working on the ecological impacts of invasive cane toads, our results have led to a major re-think by federal authorities on how to mitigate those impacts. Specific work on cane toad pheromones has revealed novel opportunities to control cane toads by exploiting the chemical arsenal that toads use to compete with each other."

In addition to his outstanding research Professor Shine has invested considerable effort in communicating his research to the general public through many media appearances, articles in popular magazines and developing and contributing to websites for non-scientists.

The School of Biological Sciences has dominated these awards since their creation in 2008, with Professor Chris Dickman winning the Plant and Animal Sciences category in 2010 and Professor Steve Simpson winning NSW Scientist of the Year in 2009.

Dr Mat Todd won the Emerging Research category of the awards for the open source project he led that discovered a new way to produce medicine now used worldwide for the treatment of Bilharzia, a terrible parasitic disease that afflicts millions of the world's poorest people.

As an organic chemist Dr Todd works on drug development, but this project was innovative in applying open source principles to experimental research by freely sharing ideas and making results available online.

"I'm really excited to have won a NSW Science and Engineering Award for our open science research. By sharing all our data and ideas, and by working with anyone on the project, we solved a tough scientific problem faster than if we had approached it in a traditional way where everything is behind closed doors," said Dr Todd.

"This prize is for the project, and the team behind it, rather than just me. I think our success has quite significant and general implications for how we should be doing research in the future."

The discovery of a new way of producing this medicine solved several of the drug's problems and met a key strategic objective of the World Health Organization.

"The scientific challenge was difficult because the medicine was needed at a very low price. This is a really serious constraint that meant we couldn't solve the problem through traditional academic or industrial research," explained Dr Todd.

"Contrary to how science is usually practiced, all laboratory notebooks were placed online, and all ideas freely shared. Anyone could contribute. This stimulated a great deal of advice from the scientific community, including real experimental input that provided the crucial breakthrough.

"We have now begun a more challenging project - to find a new drug for malaria using open source drug discovery. For it to work, people need to come and join in - that means you!"

In addition to the two University of Sydney winners, seven other categories of NSW Science and Engineering Awards were presented on 23 November, including the categories of Climate Change and Environment; Mathematics, Earth Sciences, Chemistry, Physics and Astronomy; Biomedical Sciences and Engineering; Engineering and Information and Communications Technology; Invention; Innovation in Public Sector Sciences and Engineering; and Innovation in Science and Mathematics Education.

Follow University of Sydney Media on Twitter

Media enquiries: Kath Kenny (Mon, Wed, Thurs), 0478 303 173, 02 9351 1584,

Victoria Hollick (Tues, Fri), 0401 711 361, 02 9351 2579,