International Laureates receive awards in Paris

23 March

US-based Australian Professor Jillian Banfield was one of the five winners of the 2011 L’Oréal-UNESCO Awards to receive her $US100,000 prize in a ceremony in Paris on 3 March 2011.

Banfield is Professor of Earth and Planetary Science, of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, and of Materials Science and Engineering, at the University of California, Berkeley, United States.

She won for her work on bacterial and material behaviour under extreme conditions relevant to the environment and the Earth. Her citation says: Professor Jillian Banfield has specialised in the association of minerals and microscopic forms of life, two areas of science that at first glance appear to have little in common.

From her unique vantage point at the interface of these fields, she has revealed rich secrets about their fundamental interactions. She has even proven that microorganisms have the capacity to influence large-scale geological processes like erosion, and to construct unique materials from molecular building blocks.

Banfield studies the interactions among microbes in extreme physical environments, such as highly acidic mines in California that have been declared Superfund hazard sites. She has shown how microbes have adapted to these extreme conditions, using metal sulfide ores as sources of energy.

She and her students also have used cutting-edge techniques to sequence the genomes of the different species of bacteria and primitive microbes called Archaea within this community and to catalogue the proteins they produce, fully characterising this unique microbial ecosystem. Her work has improved the understanding of how life survives in the most unlikely places, and could assist humans in finding the signature of life on other planets.

Banfield received her bachelor's and master's degrees in Geology from the Australian National University. She completed a PhD in Earth and Planetary Science at Johns Hopkins University in 1990, and from 1990-2001 she was a professor in the Geology, Geophysics and Materials Science Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Since then, she has been a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and an affiliate scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Banfield has been honoured with numerous prestigious awards, including a MacArthur Fellowship (1999-2004), the Dana Medal of the Mineralogical Society of America (2010), and a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship (2000). She was elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in 2006.

The other four Laureates are:

  • Africa & the Arab States: Professor Faiza Al-Kharafi, Professor of Chemistry, Kuwait University, Safat, Kuwait, for her work on corrosion, a problem of fundamental importance to water treatment and the oil industry.
  • Asia-Pacific: Professor Vivian Wing-Wah Yam, Professor of Chemistry and Energy, The University of Hong Kong, China, for her work on light-emitting materials and innovative ways of capturing solar energy.
  • Europe: Professor Anne L’Huillier, Professor of Atomic Physics, Lund University, Sweden, for her work on the development of the fastest camera for recording events in attoseconds (a billionth of a billionth of a second).
  • Latin America: Professor Silvia Torres-Peimbert, Professor Emeritus, Institute of Astronomy, Mexico City University (UNAM), Mexico City, Mexico, for her work on the chemical composition of nebulae which is fundamental to our understanding of the origin of the universe.

They were chosen from nominations made by a network of more than 1000 members of the international scientific community. A jury of 16 eminent scientists led by Professor Ahmed Zewail, recipient of the 1999 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, selected the final winners from the shortlisted applicants.

For more L’Oréal Laureate information: http://www.forwomeninscience.com.

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