Meet the scientists named as Eureka Prize finalists for 2021

Meet the women transforming science in Australia: Eureka Prize finalists

Eureka

Seven of the nine finalist spots of the Leadership category of the Eureka Prize are female, highlighting the power and influence of women rising through the ranks in science.

The finalists have been announced by the Australian Museum overnight, sharing a total of 51 finalists across multiple categories in the countries richest and only national science awards program that unites leading scientists, emerging researchers and young school children.

Finalists are nominated for sixteen Eureka Prizes across four broad categories: Excellence in Research and Innovation, Leadership, Science Engagement and School Science.

Known as the ‘Oscars’ of Australian science, the awards recognise a range of pioneering scientific research across a spectrum of areas, including coral reef regeneration, methane reduction in livestock feed, genetic discrimination in life insurance and COVID-19.

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With so many women featured in the leadership category, the organisers see it as an empowering sign of equality for future generations of women in STEM.

The figure also reflects increasing numbers of women working in the field – jumping from 24 percent in 2016, to 28 percent in 2020, according to this year’s STEM Equity Monitor

 “If the last 18 months has taught us anything, it is that scientists do incredible work and that work has the power to improve our world,” Australian Museum Director and CEO, Kim McKay AO said.

“There has never been a more important time to recognise the achievements of Australian scientists through initiatives like the AM Eureka Prizes.”

“With previous winners including esteemed scientists such as marine biologist, Professor Emma Johnston and world-leading genomics expert, Professor Kathy Belov, the awards traverse the full spectrum of sciences and help bring important new ideas to local and international attention.”

“The Australian Museum is proud to celebrate the trailblazing discoveries of this year’s finalists whose contributions to science will positively impact the lives of those in Australia and across the globe for years to come,” she added. 

Australian Museum Chief Scientist and Director of the Australian Museum Research Institute, Professor Kris Helgen said selecting the finalists of the prizes was lengthy and meticulous.

“From astrophysics to zoology, the AM Eureka Prizes recognise the accomplishments of many of our nation’s most promising researchers and scientists, and during this difficult year, these finalists have been especially resourceful in using their skills to take on and help solve some of our greatest challenges like climate change and pandemics,” he said.

“The AM Eureka Prizes have an illustrious history and play an important role in educating the public about the very latest advances in science as well as identifying future leaders in the fields of technology, innovation, engineering and science communication.” 

Let’s take a closer look at each of the finalists.

AstraZeneca Eureka Prize for Emerging Leader in Science finalists: 

Associate Professor Kristin Carson-Chahhoud, University of South Australia
Carson-Chahhoud nearly failed high school, but has turned things around and now become a scientific leader with a commitment to lung health and innovative augmented reality technology.

Jane Tiller, Monash University
Tiller’s field of genetic discrimination in life insurance has been revolutionising the industry by enacting powerful change through research and community engagement

Eureka Prize for Leadership in Innovation and Science finalist: 

Dr Dana Bergstrom, Australian Antarctic Division
Bergstrom has spent decades championing evidence-based science in biodiversity, biosecurity and the impacts of climate change. She has led the exploration of ecosystem collapse from Australia’s tropics to Antarctica, delivering innovative options for modern conservation. 

Professor Maria Kavallaris AM, UNSW and Children’s Cancer Institute
Kavallaris is a renowned authority in cancer biology research and therapeutics. 

Professor Sharon Robinson, University of Wollongong 
Robinson is a global leader in Antarctic environmental science and known for her pioneering research into the impacts of climate change on Antarctic ecosystems. She wants to see better environmental protection through policy change and public engagement, and champions interdisciplinary research, gender equity and inclusivity to create a supportive environment for everyone to excel. 

University of Technology Sydney Eureka Prize for Outstanding Mentor of Young Researchers Finalists: 

Professor Sara Dolnicar, University of Queensland 
Dolnicar witnessed the immense pressure young researchers face in academia, and has made it her mission to support them in becoming masters of their trade. Through a series of successful programs, she is equipping her mentees with the academic and life skills required to build successful careers as independent scientists. 

Dr Melina Georgousakis, Franklin Women
Georgousakis, a former WALA winner in the Emerging Leader in Science, Health & Medicine category,has demonstrated her impact on the careers of Australian researchers through mentorship. 

Eureka Prize for Excellence in Interdisciplinary Scientific Research Finalists: 

Lindell Bromham, Felicity Meakins, Xia Hua and Cassandra Algy, Australian National University; University of Queensland; and Karungkarni Art and Culture Aboriginal Corporation. 
This unique team brings together an Indigenous community member, linguist, mathematician and biologist to study Gurindji, an Indigenous language of northern Australia. Their research is developing new ways to understand the processes of language change and factors that help keep Indigenous languages strong. 

Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre Eureka Prize for Infectious Diseases Research Finalist: 

Professor Julie Bines, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and University of Melbourne
Bines leading the development of RV3-BB, a safe, effective and affordable newborn rotavirus vaccine that will prevent rotavirus gastroenteritis from birth, potentially saving thousands of lives. Rotavirus is a major cause of death among children and despite evidence of vaccine effectiveness, access to them remains difficult. 

ANSTO Eureka Prize for Innovative Use of Technology Finalist: 

Professor Maria Kavallaris AM, Dr Lakmali Atapattu, Dr Julio Ribeiro, Dr Aidan O’Mahony, Dr Robert Utama, Professor Justin Gooding. UNSW, Australian Centre for NanoMedicine, Children’s Cancer Institute and Inventia Life Science Pty Ltd
This team has developed a breakthrough bioprinting system that can quickly produce 3D cell structures with cell viability — revolutionary for cancer research and therapeutic development.

 
Macquarie University Eureka Prize for Outstanding Early Career Researcher Finalist: 

Dr Emma Camp, University of Technology Sydney
Camp’s discovery of corals thriving in extreme conditions is informing new adaptive management solutions around the world. She is creating better management strategies for coral reefs worldwide, while using her work as a platform to advocate for action on climate change. 

Associate Professor Rona Chandrawati, UNSW
Chandrawati is a prominent researcher in colourimetric polymer sensor technology and a leader in the field of nanozyme development for drug delivery. Her research has already found widespread application in areas including food safety, disease diagnosis and the treatment of glaucoma.

Dr Tess Reynolds, University of Sydney
Reynolds has developed ACROBEAT, a new technology that enables imaging and treatment hardware to operate in sync with the patient, delivering clearer, faster and safer medical images. High-quality imaging is now increasingly commonplace in medical diagnosis and treatment, and there is a growing demand for minimally invasive procedures. 

UNSW Eureka Prize for Scientific Research Finalist:

Professor Anita Ho-Baillie, Dr Martin Bucknall and Dr Lei Shi, University of Sydney and UNSW 
Ho-Baillie and her team are trying to address the limitations of solar cells, which are traditionally made of silicon and prone to damage from heat and humidity. Metal halide perovskites are now the new class of solar material — they are inexpensive, efficient and versatile.

Associate Professor Diane McDougald and Dr Gustavo Espinoza Vergara, University of Technology Sydney
McDougald and her colleague discovered that the bacterium responsible for cholera, Vibrio cholerae, becomes more virulent when passaging through a previously unknown vector. Their research shows where pathogenic bacteria hide before causing infectious disease outbreaks, that will have large impacts on the development of control strategies. 

Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources Eureka Prize for Innovation in Citizen Science Finalist: 

EchidnaCSI Team, University of Adelaide; and Pelican Lagoon Research and Wildlife Centre
This project, created by Tahlia Perry, combines innovative community-based research with molecular and ecological approaches. Their research has generated large data and samples, providing new insights into echidna biology and conservation. Echidnas are one of Australia’s most iconic species, yet large questions about their biology and ecology remain unanswered.  

Finkel Foundation Eureka Prize for Long-Form Science Journalism Finalist: 

Kate Cole-Adams, published in the Griffith Review, Edition 72 
In Love and Fear, Kate Cole-Adams examines the opportunities and risks as we move towards an Australian model of psychedelic mental health. Psychedelic drugs may one day transform the treatment of intractable mental illnesses including deep depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. But how much do we really understand these stigmatised substances and their ‘mystical’ effects?

Dr Dyani Lewis, published in Cosmos, June 2020 
In Role Models in a Time of Pandemic, Lewis describes the discipline of mathematical disease modelling grew into the influential field it is today.

Celestino Eureka Prize for Promoting Understanding of Science Finalist:

Professor Veena Sahajwalla, UNSW
Sahajwalla is Australia’s top expert on materials sustainability. Through her ‘microrecycling science,’ she is creating end-user awareness and solutions to waste, recycling and manufacturing challenges. Her research is shifting the mindset to see end-of-life products not as waste, but a vital resource.

Associate Professor Adriana Vergés, UNSW and Sydney Institute of Marine Science
As a marine ecologist, Vergés is a leading science communication and community engager. Providing a powerful narrative that conveys the feasibility of recovering and rebuilding marine ecosystems is now one of the most important ways to make more people aware about climate change. 

Australian Museum Eureka Prize for Science Journalism Finalist:

Nicole Hasham, Anthea Batsakis, Sunanda Creagh, Wes Mountain, Ben Clark and Michael Lund, The Conversation
Editors from The Conversation teamed with leading scientists to show how Australia’s plants and animals were faring after the tragedy. Through words, photos, maps and interactive graphics, Flora, Fauna, Fire was launched six months after the Black Summer bushfires and delivers stories of adrenalin-fuelled wildlife rescues, ingenious conservation efforts and wild places returning to life.

Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources Eureka Prize for STEM Inclusion Finalist: 

STEM Enrichment Academy, Flinders University

Lasers, Lego and robots – the STEM Enrichment Academy makes learning enjoyable by tapping into natural curiosity. Its inclusive programs have reached hundreds of girls in South Australian schools, reversing attitudes on the difficulty of STEM and driving participant enrolment in year 11 STEM subjects well above the national average.

From the Sleek Geeks category, female school aged students have also been recognised: 

Zara M., PLC Sydney, NSW
Big Problem: Coral Bleaching is an entertaining video about the most widespread issues affecting coral reefs. Inspired by her passion for the ocean, Zara sets out to educate viewers on some of the main causes of coral bleaching, the scientific process behind it and ways that everyone can work together to fix the issue.

Scarlett O. and Scarlett P., Oak Flats Public School, NSW
Super Volcanoes is a film two public school students, Scarlett and Scarlett made to demonstrate the science behind high magnitude eruptions and explain how they could be used as a source of power, providing green energy for future generations.

Sonya R., Eltham High School, Vic
How to Get to Mars – A Big Question is Sonya’s clay modelling explores a series of obstacles that humans would need to overcome before they could live on Mars and proposes some practical solutions for each. 

The Eureka Prizes winners will be announced on Thursday 7 October at a live broadcast event. It will be streaming online and open to the public. Register today

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