Researcher wins Prize for Life Scientist of the Year

3 November 2011

Associate Profess Min Chen.
Associate Profess Min Chen.

Associate Professor Min Chen from the School of Biological Sciences has won the Science Minister's Prize for Life Scientist of the Year. The award is part of the prestigious Prime Minister's Prizes for Science.

Associate Professor Chen received her $50,000 award from Senator Kim Carr, Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, at an awards dinner held in the Great Hall of Parliament House, Canberra, on 12 October 2011.

Having discovered the first new chlorophyll in 67 years in 2010, Associate Professor Chen won the award for her contribution to our knowledge of chlorophyll - photosynthetic pigments found in plants, algae and cyanobacteria.

Chlorophyll is central to life on Earth - it is the key molecule in photosynthesis, the process by which plants harness sunlight. Chlorophyll provides our food, our fossil fuels and the oxygen we breathe.

"I was surprised and pleased when I found out about winning the Science Minister's Prize for Life Scientist of the Year. I received a phone call telling me about the prize at 5am in the morning when I was at a conference in Finland, but I couldn't share my news with others at the time, because the news was confidential, so it was hard to keep quiet!" said Associate Professor Chen.

"The prize means a lot to me - not only does it recognise my research, but it also recognises the importance of the research field of chlorophylls and cyanobacteria. It is very gratifying to have been selected for this prize by my scientific peers from Australia."

Associate Professor Chen with her team discovered the new form of chlorophyll - called chlorophyll f - in samples of single-celled cyanobacteria from ancient rock-like accumulations called stromatolites collected from Shark Bay, Western Australia.

Her discovery of chlorophyll f and work to determine its structure and function was published in the journal Science in August 2010 and attracted huge interest not only within the scientific world, but also industries related to agriculture, biofuels and solar cells. The newly discovered chlorophyll is able to utilise lower light energy than any other known chlorophyll, with its ability to absorb far-red light, and therefore has excited industries where capturing light energy is key.

Read the full story on the Faculty of Science website.