Groundbreaking research on water toxins and biosensors has earned UNSW's Brett Neilan and Justin Gooding coveted wins in the 2009 Australian Museum Eureka Prizes, the country's most prestigious science awards.
This is the third Eureka Prize for Professor Neilan, a Federation Fellow in the School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences, making him the most awarded scientist in the history of the awards.
The prizes, worth more than $180,000, were presented at a black-tie dinner in Sydney. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the 'Oscars' of Australian science.
The who's who of the science world was in the audience with special guests including the Governor-General Quentin Bryce and the NSW Premier Nathan Rees. Presenters included the great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin and actress Cate Blanchett, who presented the People's Choice award.
Professor Neilan was awarded the Land & Water Australia, Professor Peter Cullen Eureka Prize for Water Research and Innovation, which recognises work that makes an outstanding contribution to the sustainable use and management of Australia's water resources.
His world-first research has identified all four biochemical pathways responsible for the production of potent toxins formed in cyanobacteria (blue-green algae). He recently discovered a link between the high salinity of the Murray-Darling River system and the growth of cyanobacteria.
In a measure of the significance and impact of his work, many international groups, including the World Health Organisation, have adopted Professor Neilan's techniques for the rapid and accurate detection of toxic cyanobacteria in drinking water supplies, and these patented tests are now the standard means of assessing environmental health.
Professor Gooding, from the School of Chemistry, won the University of NSW Eureka Prize for Scientific Research, awarded for outstanding curiosity-driven investigation.
He has pioneered the use of advanced surface chemistry to allow the fabrication of new and better types of biosensors. His work on these portable analytical devices has broad application, including pesticide detection in drinking water, determining the effectiveness of diabetes treatments and developing next-generation cell chips.
Five individual UNSW researchers and a research team were vying for the top honours. Professors Levon Khachigian and Stuart Wenham were finalists for Leadership in Science, Associate Professor Greg Leslie was a finalist alongside Professor Neilan in the Water Research and Innovation category, and the iCinema Centre for Interactive Cinema Research was a finalist for Excellence in Research by an Interdisciplinary Team.
Details of all winners are on the Australian Museum website.
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