The finalists for the Premier’s Science Awards 2019 were announced on 19 June 2019.

Premier’s Science Awards – Finalists

Scientist of the Year

Professor Phil Bland
John Curtin Distinguished Professor of Planetary Science (Curtin University)

Professor Bland’s research explores the origin and evolution of the solar system through analysis of meteorites. This work has taken Professor Bland to meteorite ‘hot spots’ across the globe, ultimately leading to the establishment of the Desert Fireball Network in Western Australia, the multi award-winning Fireballs in the Sky outreach and citizen science program, and a partnership with global security and aerospace company, Lockheed Martin. Most recently, Professor Bland led the formation of the Space Science and Technology Centre at Curtin University – home to the largest group of planetary scientists in the Southern Hemisphere. The asteroid ‘(6580) Philbland’ is named in recognition of Professor Bland’s contributions to planetary science.

Professor Wendy Erber
Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine (the University of Western Australia), Haematologist (PathWest).

Professor Erber is internationally renowned for her research on blood diseases. Her achievements include an impressive list of international publications, the establishment of a highly successful translational cancer pathology laboratory, and seminal discoveries that have improved disease diagnosis, monitoring and patient care. This includes her Eureka prize-winning immuno-flowFISH method for assessing the appearance of leukaemia cells in ways that were previously thought impossible. A role model for women in STEM, Professor Erber was recognised as Cancer Council WA Researcher of the Year (2015). She is also a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences, and a Board member of the International Council for Standardisation in Haematology.

Professor Ryan Lister
Professor of Genome Sciences (Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research, Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology, the University of Western Australia)

Professor Lister is a pioneer in the field of epigenomics, the study of the molecular code that controls gene activity. He generated the world’s first complete maps of the human epigenome, and his groundbreaking research in plant and animal systems has revolutionised our understanding of genome regulation, stem cell biology and brain development. These major advances in knowledge underpin future improvements to human health and agriculture, with his discoveries already being used in dozens of patents in diverse fields, including prenatal testing, cancer detection, and regenerative medicine technologies. Professor Lister has also spearheaded the formation of cutting-edge new genomics research facilities to serve scientists across Western Australia.

Professor Robert Newton
Associate Dean, School of Medical and Health Sciences (Edith Cowan University)

Professor Newton is internationally renowned for his research on the applications of exercise medicine in cancer suppression and treatment. By advocating for exercise, he successfully challenges long-standing myths in the medical profession about the impact of targeted exercise on cancer prognosis. This work has resulted in substantial improvements in health outcomes and quality of life for cancer survivors. For his significant publications, citations, impact and community contributions, Professor Newton has been awarded over $35 million in competitive research funds and is on numerous advisory boards. Professor Newton co-authored the Western Australian and national guidelines for exercise and cancer, a body of work that resulted in Cancer Council WA’s development of the first-ever exercise medicine service for cancer patients and changed best practice patient management internationally.

Woodside Early Career Scientist of the Year

Dr Philipp Bayer
Forrest Fellow (the University of Western Australia)

Dr Bayer is a research scientist who uses big data to understand plant evolution and crop breeding in relation to climate change. He has identified hundreds of plant disease-resistant genes and developed novel computational algorithms that led to improved canola and chickpea varieties that are currently growing on Australian farms. Dr Bayer’s industry achievements are matched by his commitment and passion for sharing STEM knowledge. He regularly organises and teaches programming events around Western Australia and uses social media to encourage and generate open discussions about research. In 2017 Dr Bayer founded Hacky Hour, the first institution at UWA that lends training and support to researchers who are struggling with data-based problem solving

Dr Belinda Brown
Senior Research Fellow (Murdoch University)

Dr Brown’s research identifies measurable relationships between physical activity, enhanced cognition and reduced markers of dementia in Australia. Dr Brown’s contributions to the field of cognitive health are highlighted by her impressive citations and commitment to innovative research. She is currently undertaking the Australian Imaging Biomarkers and Lifestyle Study of Ageing, internationally renowned for its high quality biological samples and use of state-of-the-art neuroimaging. The results of her Intense Physical Activity and Cognition study at Murdoch University will be used to develop physical activity recommendations among the ageing population in Australia – ultimately improving the quality of life of our ageing population. Dr Brown is a proud advocate of STEM in Western Australia. As the 2017 Convener of the Western Australian Committee of the Australian Society of Medical Research, she was involved in the development of political advocacy movements and mentoring for junior members.

Dr Adam Cross
Research Fellow, Curtin University

Dr Cross is a passionate ecologist and conservationist whose research transforms sterile mining landscapes into healthy ecosystems. His techniques are currently assisting the Australian mining industry in meeting regulatory requirements on landforms for which no previous rehabilitation strategies existed, and for which no successful revegetation has been demonstrated globally. The results are practical, scalable and economical, ensuring fundamental restoration science has been translated into end-user outcomes for industry partners. Dr Cross is also an internationally renowned expert on carnivorous plants, considered the world authority on two iconic genera (Aldrovanda vesiculosa and Cephalotus follicularis). Recognition of Dr Cross’s research excellence is highlighted by the award of the 2014 Perth Zoo Prize for Conservation Research for his seed biology studies. 

Dr Haibo Jiang
Group Leader and Research Fellow (the University of Western Australia)

Dr Jiang’s research has led to the development of innovative imaging technologies to ‘see’ biological processes. His work has produced valuable insights into fat transport mechanisms that underpin human diseases and improved understandings of brain cancer that will likely lead to better monitoring and treatments. Dr Jiang has extensive national and international collaborative networks, from academia to industry. His collaboration with global companies such as GlaxoSmithKline and Proctor and Gamble has contributed to novel ideas to improve the efficiency of drug development, and the development of new cosmetic products launched globally. Dr Jiang is currently establishing a research group following his receipt of the prestigious Discovery Early Career Research Award (Australian Research Council).

ExxonMobil Student Scientist of the Year

Mr Mustafa Atee
PhD Candidate (Curtin University)

As part of his PhD in clinical pain management, Mr Atee developed a novel artificial intelligence-assisted pain assessment system to evaluate the presence and intensity of pain in people with dementia. The results of his PhD will have a direct impact on the care of dementia patients, and also of non-verbal populations such as preverbal children and the critically ill. This will help to reduce suffering and improve quality of life for non-verbal individuals who suffer from pain. Mr Atee’s work has been recognised in a number of Western Australian and national innovation, research and technology awards such as Innovator of the Year, Incite Awards, iAwards, and AMY Awards. In 2016, Mr Atee won the Creative Innovation Global Scholarship and the ACS Gold Disruptor ICT Researcher of the Year Award.

Ms Jessica Kretzmann
PhD Candidate (the University of Western Australia)

Ms Kretzmann’s research focuses on the design and evaluation of new gene therapies that have the potential to revolutionise cancer treatment and avoid traditional side effects of chemotherapy. As a recipient of the 2018 Fulbright Postgraduate Scholarship, Ms Kretzmann was selected by the Australian Academy of Sciences to attend the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting and was 1 of 80 women worldwide selected for the Antarctic leadership and science initiative, Homeward Bound. Growing up in rural Western Australia, Ms Kretzmann learnt firsthand how beneficial outreach programs are for science education and passionately pursues outreach programs for local and rural students as an Australian Nanotechnology Network Young Nanotechnology Ambassador. She is currently committed to a range of voluntary science engagement activities through Scitech, Education Lab and Ignite Mentoring.

Ms Belinda Martin
PhD Candidate (the University of Western Australia)

Ms Martin’s PhD works toward developing innovative ways of managing and protecting seagrass ecosystems via their associated microbes. As microbes underpin all of Earth’s ecosystems, there is great potential to utilise knowledge of microbes in seagrass ecosystems to predict and prevent further declines of these essential systems and protect our coasts in the future. The high quality, originality and depth of Ms Martin’s research is reflected in the high standard of the journals that have published her work, as well as a variety of awards and grants totalling over $150,000. Ms Martin is a co-founder of OOID Scientific, a company that strives to enhance science communication and outreach through a visual language and has completed over 15 projects since its establishment in October 2018.

Mr Samuel McSweeney
PhD Candidate (Curtin University)

Mr McSweeney’s research yields important insights on the physical mechanism responsible for producing radio emission pulses from super-dense neutron stars that cannot be studied in Earth-based experiments. Aside from tackling one of the outstanding problems in astrophysics, known as the ‘radio pulsar emission mechanism,’ this work has broader implications for developing high powered telescopes used in gravitational-wave science. Mr McSweeney’s work has received formal recognition, most notably the 2018 Ken and Julie Michael Prize for the most outstanding piece of research in the field of radio astronomy science, and the prize for best research presentation at the 2018 International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research Student Day conference. His work currently informs and directs future research on pulsars proposed for the Square Kilometre Array, an international project to build the world’s largest radio telescope.

Ms Hayley Passmore
PhD Candidate (Telethon Kids Institute, the University of Western Australia)

Ms Passmore has pioneered a workforce training intervention for justice professionals as part of the first Australian study to determine the prevalence of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) among young people in the justice system. This work has led to the development of a clinically and empirically grounded approach to the management and support of young people in the justice system with FASD and neurodevelopmental impairments. For her work, Ms Passmore has received praise and support from service-providers and government agencies. Multiple sectors have sought access to her training, including the police, justice, child protection, education and health sectors. She was also a finalist for the Best Instructional/Training Video or Website Award at the 2018 Australian Teachers of Media Awards.

Shell Aboriginal STEM Student of the Year

Mr Jedd Bell
Masters Candidate (the University of Western Australia)

As a recipient of the competitive Cooperative Education for Enterprise Development scholarship, Mr Bell is completing a Master of Engineering thesis on calcium deposits. In 2015, Mr Bell was awarded a Chevron Cadetship, which he has maintained while working as an intern engineer. Impressed by his abilities, Chevron has offered Mr Bell a graduate placement as a Facilities Engineer – a position that Mr Bell looks forward to filling in 2020. In the meantime, he remains committed to advocating for Indigenous representation in the engineering profession. He takes an active part in many university activities, including mentoring, tutoring and volunteering, and uses the knowledge and professional skills that he gained as an intern to guide and mentor other Indigenous students.

Ms Sharynne Hamilton
PhD Candidate (the University of Western Australia, Telethon Kids Institute)

Ms Hamilton’s doctorate seeks to merge western neurodevelopmental science with the social determinants of Aboriginal health to provide a framework which promotes healing in Western Australian communities. Her research has led to peer-reviewed publications and invitations to publish in one of Australia’s most influential research-policy interface blogs, Power to Persuade. Ms Hamilton’s work on family inclusion in child welfare, sporting initiatives in the Kimberley and with Elders and senior Aboriginal women documenting their ‘on-country’ birthing stories provide insights into initiatives that have positive impacts for Aboriginal communities. Her research excellence is recognised through an impressive list of awards and study grants, including the Neville Bonner Honours Scholarship (2013) and the Peter and Anne Hector Award for Aboriginal Health (2017).

Simone Harrington
Masters and PhD Candidate (the University of Western Australia)

Simone is the first Aboriginal student to undertake the combined Doctor of Philosophy and Master of Clinical Psychology at the University of Western Australia. While working toward her goal to become a clinical psychologist, she advocates for increased Indigenous representation in the psychology profession. By means of introducing psychology sessions into outreach programs, Indigenous high school students are presented with the diverse Psychology career options available to them. Simone also advocates for alternative pathways for Indigenous students into fourth year Psychology. She hopes her assistance to increase appropriate Indigenous content within Psychology at UWA, will generate Psychologists better equipped to understand and provide culturally safe options for the social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Ms Kirsty McLean
Medical Student (the University of Western Australia)

Ms McLean’s research focuses on mammographic density, one of the strongest risk factors for breast cancer. Together with her colleagues, she investigated the knowledge of breast density within the BreastScreen WA program and explored the impact of breast density notification on women’s post screening behaviour. As part of her research project, Ms McLean liaised with consumer groups and BreastScreen WA staff to implement the largest survey of its kind, receiving almost 7,000 responses. The results of this study have the potential to inform the development of breast density notification protocols in other screening programs throughout Australia. As the Western Australian Medical Students Society Indigenous Chair, Ms McLean advocates for Aboriginal medical students and runs Aboriginal health focused events.

Chevron Science Engagement Initiative of the Year

Astrofest – Astronomy WA

Astrofest has grown to become one of the biggest science events in Perth and the largest astronomy festival in Australia. About 4,000 people attend each year to view the night sky through giant telescopes and hear local researchers and science communicators talk about astronomy. Every astronomy organisation in Perth takes part in the festival, providing a showcase of Western Australia’s expertise and capacity in space sciences to the public. The event has a lasting impact on visitors’ awareness of and participation in WA astronomy.

Autism Academy for Software Quality Assurance – Curtin University

The Autism Academy for Software Quality Assurance (AASQA) is an innovative social initiative that takes evidence-based, engaging and effective approaches to support individuals with autism and their families, at all stages of life. Drawing on the wealth of autism research at Curtin University, AASQA has designed a suite of resources for people with autism, starting in their first years of high school, building interest in STEM education and providing pathways to training and employment in STEM industries. For its outstanding contribution to the community and economy, AASQA has won the Business and Higher Education Roundtable Award for Outstanding Collaboration for National Benefit (2018) and the WAITTA/Incite Award for Most Impactful Social Benefit (2016). Tele Tan from AASQA won the 2016 ACS Gold Disruptor Award for IT Education in Australia.

Perth Observatory, Gateway to the Universe – Perth Observatory Volunteer Group Inc.

Perth Observatory is managed by the Perth Observatory Volunteer Group Inc. (POVG), a not for profit, volunteer-run organisation dedicated to stimulating public interest in astronomy and its history. The observatory hosts more than 200 viewing events annually, offering thousands of visitors an intimate, interactive experience of the vastness of space on a site where history is tactile and accessible. By gaining the support of local astronomy enthusiasts, in just four years the 12.5-hectare site has been rejuvenated, the volunteer group has grown, key staff have been recruited, and education and tourism offerings have been expanded – all accomplished with very little core funding. In 2017, POVG received the Volunteering WA Community Organisation of the Year Award in recognition of the rapid transition to volunteer management. 

STEMinist Project – Curtin University

Established in 2015, the STEMinist Project aims to increase the percentage of women in STEM professions by increasing visibility of STEM women in the community, empowering primary school students to engage in science, and developing STEM capacity in the next generation of female educators. The project also impacts on the upskilling of preservice educators in STEM with workshops delivered in metropolitan, regional and rural areas in Western Australia and internationally. Initially self-funded by Curtin University project leaders, STEMinist received additional support from Belmont Rotary Club and has grown to become an international initiative with STEMinists being created in Indonesia and Malaysia. In 2017, the team won a UNESCO (AUS) and a National Association for Research in Science grant to take the STEMinist concept to India.

Photo credit: MCB Photographics and Cathy Fogliani

Video credit: In Shot Productions

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