Melbourne scientists win Prime Minister's Prize

13 October

The 2011 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science has been awarded to Professors Ezio Rizzardo and David Solomon from the CSIRO and the University of Melbourne.

The $300,000 prize recognises their work in reinventing polymer science by devising a means of custom building plastics and other polymers for plastic solar cells, drug delivery, paints, adhesives, lubricants and everything in between.

Their techniques are employed in the laboratories and factories of DuPont, L’Oréal, IBM, 3M, Dulux and more than 60 other companies. Their work has been cited more than 12,000 times in the scientific literature and is integral to more than 500 patents.

The $50,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools was awarded to Mrs Brooke Topelberg from Perth’s Westminster Primary School.

Using puppets, a garden, boundless enthusiasm and an initial science budget of just $1,500 a year, she has bypassed language barriers, bringing science to migrant students and turning her school into Western Australia’s Science School of the Year in 2008. Mrs Topelberg was Western Australian Primary Science Educator of 2010.

The $50,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools was awarded to Dr Jane Wright, science co-ordinator at Adelaide’s Loreto College for leadership in her school and amongst her peers.

Dr Wright recently led her 26th annual camp in the Flinders Ranges, introducing her students to ecology, landforms and Aboriginal knowledge. Her broader service has included presidency of both the South Australian and the Australian Science Teachers’ Associations.

Innovation Minister Senator Kim Carr awarded the Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year to Professor Stuart Wyithe of the University of Melbourne.

This young theoretical physicist is writing the history of the early Universe and defining the questions to be researched by the next generation of telescopes. The Science Minister's Prize for Life Scientist of the Year was awarded to Associate Professor Min Chen of the University of Sydney.

She discovered a new form of chlorophyll – the molecule central to photosynthesis – on which we depend for food, shelter, and the oxygen we breathe. Her discovery has implications for solar energy and agriculture. The achievements of these scientists and teachers remind us of the critical role of science in creating a sustainable economic future for Australia.

In particular, the work of Professors Rizzardo, Solomon and Chen is contributing to Australia’s clean energy future, while Dr Wright and Mrs Topelberg are nurturing the science literacy needed to make informed decisions about our future directions.

veski congratulates all recipients of the 2011 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science.

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