UNSW researchers conducting one of the largest waterbird surveys in the world, promoting public engagement and understanding of AI, and using novel ink to 3D print bones are among seven UNSW Sydney projects recognised in the 2023 Australian Museum Eureka Prizes.
They have been selected as finalists for their exceptional achievements in the fields of science, innovative technology, sustainability, environmental research, and infectious diseases.
The UNSW finalists are:
Professor David Keith, UNSW Science
Australian Institute of Botanical Science Eureka Prize for Excellence in Botanical Science
Prof. Keith has created a new universal framework that classifies ecosystems based on their shared ecological processes. This tool, adopted by the United Nations and already applied in Australia, has been instrumental in formulating effective conservation strategies and is helping to maintain plant diversity in the face of increasing environmental change.
"Recognition of our work on the Global Ecosystem Typology in a Eureka Prize reaffirms Australian leadership in botanical and conservation science,” Prof. Keith said.
“It also provides solid foundations to re-establish Australia's global leadership in conservation policy and action."
Scientia Professor Toby Walsh, UNSW Engineering
Celestino Eureka Prize for Promoting Understanding of Science
Prof. Walsh is a leading researcher in Artificial Intelligence (AI). He applies AI to help attack many of the UN's sustainable development goals. Prof. Walsh has taken a major role in the media, addressing the societal impact of AI. Indeed, his advocacy around the use of AI in warfare has resulted in him being banned from Russia indefinitely.
He writes for many media outlets including The Guardian, Sydney Morning Herald, and The Conversation and over the past three years, Prof. Walsh has been interviewed by the media almost every day. Prof. Walsh has spoken at clubs, festivals, schools, and to boards, government departments, industry associations, and heads of state about AI.
“As AI becomes an ever more important part of our lives, it’s important the public understand better the technology, and the choices we need to make about its use,” Prof. Walsh said.
Scientia Associate Professor Kate Quinlan and Professor Merlin Crossley, UNSW Science
UNSW Eureka Prize for Scientific Research
A/Prof. Quinlan and Prof. Crossley, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Academic Quality, have carried out pioneering work to treat widespread genetic disorders – such as Sickle Cell Disease and beta-thalassaemia. 350,000 children are born with these conditions each year.
“I’m delighted to once again be nominated for an Australian Museum Eureka Prize in collaboration with A/Prof. Quinlan and feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to work with cutting-edge technology on the development of new therapeutic treatments for sickle cell disease, which is one of the world’s most devastating genetic blood disorders,” Prof. Crossley said.
“We studied naturally occurring beneficial human mutations that alleviate the symptoms of sickle cell disease. The outcomes from our CRISPR gene editing research pave the way for important new treatments,” A/Prof. Quinlan said.
The UNSW Nanotechnology for Food and Medicine Laboratory, led by Associate Professor Rona Chandrawati, UNSW Engineering
University of Sydney Eureka Prize for Innovative Research in Sustainability
The current, flawed system for use-by dates contributes to 1.3 billion tonnes of food waste globally each year. To better signal when perishable products can be consumed safely, the UNSW Nanotechnology for Food and Medicine (NanoFAM) Laboratory has developed patented colour-changing sensors that indicate the freshness or spoilage of food products in real time.
“We are thrilled to be named as the finalist for the Eureka Prize for Innovative Research in Sustainability,” A/Prof. Chandrawati said.
“Our colorimetric food sensor technology has the potential to address some of the most pressing global challenges facing us today. With its ability to monitor changes in food quality, this technology can help reduce food waste, prevent foodborne illnesses, and ensure that consumers have access to safe food. In a world where food security and sustainability are becoming increasingly critical issues, our technology has the potential to make a real difference.”
The UNSW Bone Ink Printing Team, led by Associate Professor Kristopher Kilian, UNSW Science
ANSTO Eureka Prize for Innovative Use of Technology
The UNSW Bone Ink Printing Team has demonstrated it is possible to 3D print bone mimics with living cells – providing scope for direct bone repair or replacement in a patient’s body. Combining ceramic engineering and biofabrication, their innovative method has significant potential for application in the fields of regenerative medicine, orthopaedics, and dentistry.
“It’s really quite astonishing how quickly the ink sets into a bone-like material after contact with water. Once we’ve defined the bone architecture, the resident cells migrate to the material and proliferate. This combination of mineralisation and cell activity is much closer to what happens during natural bone formation, which we hope will lead to better more effective treatments,” Prof. Kilian said.
“The ability to directly print a bone within a patient could be transformational to these clinical procedures. Not only does this approach have potential to reduce surgery time and cost but could also lead to better integration within the patient.”
The Waterbirds Aerial Survey Team, led by Professor Richard Kingsford, UNSW Science
NSW Environment and Heritage Eureka Prize for Applied Environmental Research
The Waterbirds Aerial Survey Team (UNSW and NSW Department of Planning and Environment) has conducted one of the largest and longest-running wildlife surveys in the world. As well as influencing the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and nomination and management of Ramsar-listed wetlands, their data has contributed to the gazettal of three new national parks as well as conservation of waterbirds and freshwater ecosystems, including rivers.
“It is so important for us to invest in long term environmental data sets to try and track and separate out human changes from natural variation. Our aerial survey of waterbirds is one of the longest and most extensive wildlife surveys in the world, going into its 41st year and supported by eastern mainland states,” Prof. Kingsford said.
“It is able to have a major influence on policy and management because it has been going for so long. We are very excited to be recognised with our major partner the NSW Department of Planning and Environment for our ongoing work in delivering high quality research, as well as long term monitoring data on up to 2,000 wetlands each year. “
Immunity to COVID Team, Professor Miles Davenport, Dr David Khoury and Associate Professor Deborah Cromer from the Kirby Institute, UNSW Medicine & Health, a collaboration between Doherty Institute (University of Melbourne) and UNSW Sydney
Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre Eureka Prize for Infectious Diseases Research
The Immunity to COVID team shed crucial light on the role of antibodies in combating COVID-19. Their insights, derived from integrating in-depth virological and immunological studies with mathematical modelling, shaped global vaccination policies and accelerated vaccine distribution. Their unique approach also offers a novel method for future infectious disease research.
“The COVID-19 pandemic presented an enormous challenge to the infectious diseases and immunology communities. The response was one of great cooperation, collaboration, and innovation between research groups,” Prof. Davenport said.
“Our team was fortunate that our combination of experimental and mathematical skills was able to contribute to understanding immunity and vaccine effectiveness for COVID-19.”
Presented annually by the Australian Museum, 18 Australian Museum Eureka Prizes are awarded across four categories including research & innovation, leadership, science engagement and school science. Winners will be announced at an Award Ceremony on Wednesday 23 August 2023.