Science awards

Victoria Prizes for Science and Innovation

11 May 2015


The Victorian government has opened applications for two prestigious science and innovation award programs.


Vic Science PrizeThe government will offer two Victoria Prizes for Science and Innovation, in physical sciences and life sciences, alongside 12 Victoria Fellowships – six in physical sciences and six in life sciences.

The 2015 Victoria Prizes for Science and Innovation, valued at $50,000 each, are to recognise outstanding leaders in science and their research contributions to the Victorian community.

The Victoria Fellowships, valued at $18,000 each, support researchers in science, engineering and technology, who are in the early stages of their career and would benefit from an international study mission.

Recipients of these awards in 2014 included researchers in nanomedicines for the treatment of cancers and cardiovascular disease, and translational neuroscience in the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.

Other research areas included sports engineering, cloud computing, materials science, environmental health, preventative therapies and mental health.

The two Victoria Prize recipients and 12 Victoria Fellows will be announced at an awards ceremony later this year.

Applications and will close Thursday 25 June 2015.

For further information and to apply visit


The Scan | #142 | 1 November 2013


The state of Australian education

A report  by the Council of Australian Governments Reform Council shows mixed progress on education.COAG

Participation in preschool is high and school outcomes in the early years are improving. Nationally, average scores improved in Years 3 and 5 in reading and in Year 5 in numeracy, but there were no improvements in Years 7 and 9.  Australia is also performing behind top countries in these key areas. Year 12 attainment has increased, particularly for Indigenous students. More than a quarter of young people are not fully engaged in work or study after leaving school and this has worsened over five years……[ READ MORE ]…

UNSW seeks to refocus refugee debate

Australia’s first centre specialising in international refugee law has been launched

UNSW Logo2The centre’s founding director Professor Janice McAdam said one of its  priorities will be to provide “thought leadership to re-orient the approach to asylum law and policy in this country”.  She said we need  to “move beyond the sound bites and slogans that dumb down public policy, and will open up a space for questions, debate, and informed opinion-making”…..[ READ MORE ]…

ANU considers its future

A smaller institution, more focussed on post graduate and research training

The vice-chancellor of the Australian National University, Ian Young, has confirmed that the university is contemplating changes after a ANUrecent speech by Nobel laureate Brian Schmidt, which argued that the university should cut undergraduate numbers to ”about 8000” (from around 12,000).  Schmidt proposed a reduction in tenured jobs and the introduction of interviews for potential students.  He also called for the introduction of classes offering students ”life skills”….[ READ MORE ]

Redundancies at Brisbane TAFE

50 staff set to lose their jobs at Brisbane North Institute of TAFE.

Brisbane North LogoQueensland Teacher’s Union president Kevin Bates said it was the latest hit to the sector still reeling from hundreds of job losses in the past 18 months.  Figures released in July showed 349 redundancies had been accepted by TAFE staff around the state between March 2012 and June 30 this year. But Kaylene Harth, director TAFE reform for Brisbane Metropolitan Region, says its just normal business practice for TAFEs to review their operations, including  staffing levels in line with student demand.….[ READ MORE ] 

Court rules Swinburne breached work laws

Failure to consult on campuses closures draws apology and financial contributions to community educationnteu-logo

The Federal Court of Australia has found that Swinburne University of Technology was guilty of four breaches of the Fair Work Act in that it failed to consult with staff and the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) over its decision last July to shut its Lilydale campus and relocate the design faculty from the Prahran campus in the wake of the Victorian Coalition Government’s $290 million cuts to TAFE..….[ READ MORE ]


This week’s headlines

Government loosens student visa restrictions

30 October 2013    |    The Abbott government has moved to loosen visa restrictions to attract international students….[ READ MORE ]…

Why privatising HECS might not make much sense

29 October 2013    |   Privatising HECS is kind of bananas, writes economist Leith van Onselen. …[ READ MORE ]…

Pyne rules in privatising HECS debt

29 October 2013     |   Education Minister Christopher Pyne says he is keeping an open mind about the idea of selling off the debt the government is owed under the Higher Education Contribution Scheme.  .[ READ MORE ]….

Probe into Vic TAFE contracts

28 October 2013    |     The Ombudsman is to investigate a contentious decision by Victoria’s top education bureaucrat to pay a former colleague’s company $1 million to oversee TAFE reforms without putting the contract to a competitive tender.…..[ READ MORE ]….

TEQSA call for submissions on red tape

Red tape 227 October 2013     |    The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) has issued a call for submissions on future directions for TEQSA’s regulatory processes and its regulatory risk framework.…[ READ MORE]…

Victoria to provide limited transport concessions flags1

26 October 2013    |    Victorian premier Denis Napthine has announced Victoria’s latest international education strategy, at a cost of $17.5 million over the four years, including a trial of limited public transport concessions.…[ READ MORE]….



Fighting cancer by the numbers

Terry Speed1 November 2013    |    For his contribution to making sense of genomics and related technologies, the head of Bioinformatics at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, Emeritus Professor Terry Speed has been awarded the 2013 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science.  A mathematician and statistician, he has written elegant theoretical papers that almost no-one reads.  he has also testified in court, helped farmers and diamond miners, and given biologists statistical tools to help them cope with the genetic revolution…..[ READ MORE ]….

Beating child gastro

1 November 2013    |    The 2013 Florey Medal for significant achievements in biomedical science has been awarded to  Professor Ruth Ruth BishopBishop for her work on understanding the rotavirus and the creation of a vaccine. This vaccine has saved countless children and around the world from the debilitating and possibly deadly effects of gastronenteritis at an early age.  Ruth and her team are now working to develop a vaccine that can be administered to babies to help further protect children in developing countries…..[ READ MORE]….

NMIT’s millionth student

Millionth Student Photos 28thOct 002After 101 years of operation NMIT (Northern Metropolitan Institute of TAFE) is celebrating its one millionth enrolment: Gina Fasanella who has enrolled in NMIT’s Diploma of Business at the Preston campus.  After completing the short course “How to Start a Successful Business” at NMIT, Gina decided to enrol at NMIT full-time.….[ READ MORE]….


Comment & analysis

Is securitisation an ugly word?


With the 25th anniversary of the Dawkins higher education reforms being commemorated, maybe the funding structure – notably the HECS scheme – introduced by those reforms is about to undergo fundamental change.  Education minister Christopher Pyne has put “securitisation” of HECS  firmly on the agenda of the government’s commission of audit.  Some commentators think the idea of securitisation is “bananas“.  Others are somewhat more sanguine: Bruce Chapman – the architect of HECS – says it doesn’t really matter who owns the debt, so long as the essential characteristics are maintained (particularly recovery through the tax system).  In these two articles, usefully published in tandem on The Conversation,  we get alternative (though not diametrically opposed) views.  Andrew Norton (Grattan Institute) argues that the current HECS system should be retained but with significant reforms to make the scheme more economical – such as a real interest rate.    Rodney Maddock (Monash University) is of the “it doesn’t matter who owns the debt” school but enthuses that securitisation would be a great new investment vehicle for the super industry.   The word “student” doesn’t make an appearance.  Securitisation is just one of the issues before the commission of audit: headed as it is is by the current chair of the Business Council of Australia (BCA),  with the commission’s secretariat headed by the BCA’s chief policy wallah, it’s worth looking at the BCA’s own agenda to divine the possible future. Who knows where this might all end up?  

Reforming student loans could bring in real savings

andrew_nortonThere are also many potential changes other than securitisation that are worth considering.  These include lowering the threshold at which HELP repayment starts, collecting from HELP debtors working overseas, charging real interest, and removing the death write-off of remaining HELP debt. Other countries with similar loan schemes already do the first three things on this list, and we could too if the public believed the savings would be well spent. A Grattan Institute project is looking into these options in more detail. Selling HELP debt to private investors could give the government billions of dollars in the short term, but reforming HELP could lead to billions more in repayments over the long run.


Selling off the HECS debt could be a super solutionRodney Maddock

The key attraction for the government is it could convert a stream of payments in the future into cash today. This may or may not be a good idea, it simply depends on whether the government can make better use of the money today rather than by waiting. The new government clearly feels constrained from making investments today (for example in infrastructure) by the amount of debt it currently has. Selling off some assets to reduce those constraints may let it invest more in other areas…It would be unfortunate if the debate about the extent of subsidisation of students was conflated with the issue of privatising the repayment flows…The HECS repayment flows could be a valuable new asset for Australian superannuation fund, adding to the suite of alternative assets they have available for investment.



Bastard Dawkins and his revolution

The recollections of a petty official

The Dawkins reforms of higher education in the late 1980s thoroughly transformed higher education, turning  “colleges into Trevor Cookuniversities, free education into HECS, elite education into mass education, local focuses into international outlooks, vice-chancellors into corporate leaders, teachers into teachers and researchers”.   A lot of people hated it and damned the reforms as “instrumentalism” (something nasty, one assumes).  Trevor Cook worked for John Dawkins in his personal office from October 1987 for about 3 years as variously a political adviser, an adviser on training policy, media relations and finally as chief of staff . In this article recalling the “Dawkins revolution”, Cook observes that working for Dawkins was a tough gig:  he could be a complete and utter bastard , and was sometimes referred to as “dirty Syd”.  But equally he could be charming and considerate.   He also had a most lateral way of thinking and could visualise paths to a goal not apparent to “ordinary” folk.   And he was a fighter.  Cook was at the recent launch of a book on the reforms – The Dawkins revolution: 25 years on.  This recollection is from Cook’s blog which is well  worth visiting – full of interesting stuff.

. . . . . . . . . . . .

John Dawkins, c.1988

The Dawkins revolution was not reform by consensus, it was not watered down to an extent that made it essentially meaningless, but broadly acceptable to all stakeholders.

Dawkins was in a fight that he could have easily lost but he took on his critics and sought to overwhelm them and out-manoeuvre them.

The demands of that fight put a lot of pressure on his staff and his departmental officers, as well as himself.

quote marksPolitical reform is not for the faint hearted.  It is not a parlour game.

Dawkins chose to play the game hard.  He was determined to win the argument and get the biggest changes he could.

He would never have been content with ‘canniness’.

Dawkins always knew, perhaps intuited, that big changes have the best chance of lasting the distance.  Too often reforms like these get captured by the internal stakeholders, those with most at stake in an immediate sense.

The Dawkins revolution was not about universities: it was about delivering economic and social benefits from a bigger higher education sector to the Australian community.

This approach helped Dawkins win the political argument, but it did not endear him to many people in the higher education sector.

But now it is 25 years later, and about 8 ministers from both sides of politics have succeeded Dawkins as higher education minister.

Despite some tinkering, the essential architecture of the Dawkins reforms are intact.




Life & stuff

The Juxtaposition

2013 Tafeclips Video Competition

Tafeclips, organised TAFE New England, by  is a competition is open to all TAFE NSW and TVET students.  This year’s winning entry was The Juxtaposition by Riley Cope , who is doing a Certificate IV in Live Production at Northern Sydney Institute of TAFE.  The storyline:

We follow a man on his way down the street. We see how one simple decision he makes can have an opposite effect on his future.


Learning @work

11-13 November 2013 | Australian Technology Park, Sydney



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Pioneer in fight agains child virus awarded Florey Medal

Fairfax Media     |   29 October 2013Ruth Bishop

Until 40 years ago the cause of one of the most common types of gastro was a mystery.   But the consequences of infection were obvious.

In developed and developing countries alike, babies and young children died from acute diarrhoea, which was sometimes called cholera infantum.

Murdoch Children’s Research Institute microbiologist Ruth Bishop explains:

It was similar to cholera in that there was a huge outpouring of fluid and electrolytes.  And it’s that loss that put the child’s life at risk.

It was Professor Bishop’s pioneering work ”following the clues” as she described it on Monday that led to her discovering the cause of the potentially fatal infection, which she first cited in a black and white electron microscope image in 1973.

Using samples from Royal Children’s Hospital patients, Professor Bishop and colleagues from Melbourne University were able to link the damaged cells observed in the lining of the gut with the acute gastro symptoms that left children dangerously dehydrated and at risk of death.

”Children can’t lose more than 10 per cent of their body weight in fluid without being close to death,” she said. Her identification of the culprit – a new virus called rotavirus because of the round shape of virus particles – resulted in global control of the virus via two oral vaccines now licensed in 100 countries.

In Australia, the number of children with the condition admitted to hospital fell from 10,000 a year before the vaccine’s arrival in 2007 to about 2300 now.

Four decades after the discovery was published in The Lancet, Professor Bishop became the first woman to be awarded the prestigious $50,000 CSL Florey Medal.

 About the CSL Florey MedalFlorey Medal


2013 Eureka Awards

4 September 2013eureka-section

Presented annually by the Australian Museum, the Eureka Prizes reward excellence in the fields of research and innovation, leadership and commercialisation, school science and science journalism and  communication.

quote marksThe University of Melbourne together with Monash University  won this year’s University of New South Wales Eureka Prize for Scientific Research for an accidental discovery that revealed the purpose of ‘mystery’ immune cells in the gut. The study shows how our immune system interacts with the complex bacteria ecology in our gut, and opens new paths for drug discovery that could revolutionise the design of modern vaccines, improve outcomes for people suffering inflammatory bowel disease and infection and deliver new drugs to patients more safely .

The 2013 Eureka Prizes

CSIRO Eureka Prize for Leadership in Science

Winner: Professor Frank Caruso, University of Melbourne

Macquarie University Eureka Prize for Outstanding Young Researcher

Winner: Dr Kerrie Wilson, University of Queensland

University of New South Wales Eureka Prize for Scientific Research

Winner: Dr Lars Kjer-Nielsen and Professor James McCluskey, University of Melbourne, and Professor Jamie Rossjohn, Monash University

University of New South Wales Eureka Prize for Excellence in Interdisciplinary Scientific Research

WInner: Quantum Bio-probes, University of Melbourne

University of Sydney Sleek Geeks Science Eureka Prize – Primary

Winner: What is Friction?, Nathan Gori, Reuben Shepherd, Billy McLeod, Jack Dougall and Sacha Balme, Beauty Point Public School, NSW

Caring for our Country Landcare Eureka Prize for Sustainable Agriculture

Winner: The Future Farm Industries CRC Enrich Project Team, CSIRO, University of Western Australia and South Australian Research and Development Institute

ANSTO Eureka Prize for Innovative Use of Technology

Winner: Zebedee Team, CSIRO

Australian Government Eureka Prize for Science Journalism

Winner: Ian Townsend, ABC

Australian Government Eureka Prize for Promoting Understanding of Australian Science Research

Winner: Professor Rob Brooks, University of New South Wales

NSW Health Jamie Callachor Eureka Prize for Medical Research Translation

Winner: Professor Steve Wilton and Professor Sue Fletcher, Murdoch University

University of Technology, Sydney Eureka Prize for Outstanding Mentor of Young Researchers

Winnner: Professor Rick Shine AM FAA, University of Sydney

Australian Museum University of Sydney Sleek Geeks Science Eureka Prize – Secondary

Winner: The Spectacular Spider, Brandon Gifford, Casino High School, NSW

Rio Tinto Eureka Prize for Commercialisation of Innovation

Winner: Scanalyse/Outotec, Scanalyse Pty Ltd/Outotec and Curtin University

NSW Office of Environment and Heritage Eureka Prize for Environmental Research

Winner: Professor Chris Johnson, University of Tasmania; Dr Michael Letnic, University of New South Wales; Dr Euan Ritchie, Deakin University; Dr Arian Wallach, James Cook University; and Adam O’Neill, Evelyn Downs Station

New Scientist Eureka Prize for Science Photography

Winner: Richard Wylie, Euakafa Island Research Centre

Defence Science and Technology Organisation Eureka Prize for Outstanding Science in Safeguarding Australia

Winner: DMTC Armour Applications Program, Defence Materials Technology Centre

2013 Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre Eureka Prize for Infectious Diseases Research

Winners: Professor Scott O’Neill, Monash University; Professor Ary Hoffmann, University of Melbourne; Professor Scott Ritchie, James Cook University; Dr Elizabeth McGraw, Monash University; Dr Luciano Moreira, Oswaldo Cruz Foundation; and Professor Brian Kay, Queensland Institute of Medical Research

2013 3M Eureka Prize for Emerging Leader in Science

Associate Professor David Wilson, Kirby Institute, University of New South Wales

Eminent physicist wins international award

UNSW Newsroom    |    12 February 2013

UNSW logoScientia Professor Victor Flambaum, of the UNSW School of Physics, has received a prestigious Humboldt Research Award in recognition of lifetime achievements in research. The award honours academics who have made an outstanding contribution through fundamental discoveries, new theories, or insights that have a significant impact on their field of endeavour.

Professor Flambaum has the distinction of having published scientific papers in many branches of physics, including atomic physics, nuclear physics, elementary particles, solid state physics and astrophysics.

He said the current trend in science was for narrow specialisation, but his more traditional, wide-ranging approach allows him to collaborate with many different people: “I have very broad research interests.”

Professor Flambaum, who is head of Theoretical Physics at UNSW, will use the EUR 60,000 prize to travel to Germany and continue research with colleagues there.

He is a member of a team led by UNSW’s Professor John Webb that won the 2012 Eureka Award for Scientific Research for the extraordinary discovery that the one of the four fundamental forces in the universe – electromagnetism – may not be constant throughout space and time.

Their study of 300 distant galaxies found the strength of electromagnetism appeared to change gradually from one side of the universe to the other.

Australian Financial Review Education Supplement 15 October 2012

As the Australian Financial Review is a subscription service, links will not work unless you or your organisation is a paid subscriber.


Uni limits fee rises as it cuts costs

Private Bond University will keep fee rises below the inflation rate next year as it attempts to stem a 10 per cent decline in new students.

Curtin leads the way on pay rises
Curtin University staff will receive a 16 per cent salary rise over four years following a ground-breaking deal reached by university executives and the National Tertiary Education Union.

More students get taste of the real world
When the University of Newcastle investigated its undergraduate programs in 2008 to see which allowed students to get real-world work experience, just 35 per cent had that option. Today, Newcastle says 90 per cent of the programs offer work-integrated learning (WIL) and the list is growing.

Save the cyberbole – here’s the reality
It’s great that the Australian government commissioned a study of what threats and opportunities massive open online courses, or MOOCs, will have on Australia’s multibillion-dollar education export industry.

Nobel Prizes salute top research
Let’s get the local angle out of the way first. No Nobels for Australia this year. No plaudits for their Australian alma maters and no stories about us “punching above our weight” in the intellectual arena.

Asian approach to free speech ‘different’
The head of the National University of Singapore, Tan Chorh Chuan, has defended his university’s approach to free speech and free intellectual inquiry as it prepares to launch a liberal arts college next year in conjunction with Yale University.

A postgrad chance to learn and earn
Amit Majumder entered postgraduate studies at the University of Sydney Business School straight after his undergraduate degree – which meant no time to gain work experience on the way.

The 2012 Ig Nobel Prizes for Improbable Research

11 October 2012

Nobel Prize laureates Eric Maskin, Rich Roberts and Dudley Herschbach lean over behind a mini Eiffel Tower during a performance at the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

It’s the Nobel Prize season, with daily announcements coming from Nobel Foundation in Stockholm, Sweden of this year’s recipients of the prestigious awards.  Late in September the Ig Nobel Prizes for “improbable research that makes people laugh and then think” were announced in a ceremony at Harvard University.   This year’s recipients include Dutch researchers who won the psychology prize for studying why leaning to the left makes the Eiffel Tower look smaller; four Americans who took the neuroscience prize for demonstrating that sophisticated equipment can detect brain activity in dead fish;  and a British-American team that won the physics prize for explaining how and why ponytails bounce.   This year’s literature prize was awarded to the US Government General Accountability Office, for issuing a report about reports about reports that recommends the preparation of a report about the report about reports about reports.

L’Oréal recognises three young scientists their life-transforming work

Science in Public    17 August 2012

The $25,000 L’Oréal Australia and New Zealand For Women in Science Fellowships for 2012 have been awarded to three remarkable young women scientists from Melbourne and Christchurch.

Giving patients more control of their lives

Dr Suetonia Palmer, University of Otago, Christchurch, New Zealand
Suetonia is challenging the status quo for kidney disease treatment and helping millions of people with chronic kidney disease take back control of their lives.

Working from temporary facilities as Christchurch rebuilds, she is guiding doctors and policy makers across the world as they attempt to make the best decisions for their patients.

“I believe we can do much more to help people with kidney disease feel better, get back to work, and give them control of their own treatment,” she says.

For her full citation click here.

More efficient solar cells with quantum dots

Dr Baohua Jia, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, Australia

The global race for for high efficiency, low cost solar energy is fierce. Baohua and her team are front runners in that race.

Using Baohua’s knowledge of nanotechnology they have already created thin-film solar cells that increase efficiency by 23 per cent, and two patents have been lodged. Baohua thinks she can do much much better.

Thin-cells efficiently capture visible light but miss the ultraviolet light. But quantum dots can convert ultraviolet to visible light. So she is developing thin-cells with embedded quantum dots. Her team is working closely with Suntech Power, the world’s largest producer of silicon solar modules.

For her full citation click here.

New treatments for blood cancers

Dr Kylie Mason, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research/Royal Melbourne Hospital, Melbourne, Australia

Fifty years ago your chances of surviving leukaemia and other blood cancers were low. Today your chances are much better. But the treatments still take a long time and have significant side effects. And some adult blood cancers are still very difficult to treat.

As a teenager Kylie Mason survived leukaemia. Today she both treats and researches blood cancers. She is developing a new group of anti-cancer drugs that build on our understanding of why cancer cells ‘forget to die’. Some are already in clinical trials in Melbourne. Her work has also suggested a way to extend the life of platelets, the cell fragments that manage blood clotting.

For her full citation click here.


The Fellows were chosen from 142 applicants by a panel of scientists comprising: four past L’Oréal international laureates (Professor Suzanne Cory, Professor Jenny Graves, Professor Margaret Brimble, and Professor Ingrid Scheffer); two past Fellows (Dr Erika Cretney and Dr Tamara Davis); and CSIRO’s Dr Cathy Foley.

The Fellowship funds are intended to further the Fellows’ research and may be used for any expenses they incur, including childcare. The program is part of L’Oréal’s global support for women in science.