A motor neuron disease researcher living with the disease, a nanomaterials engineer and a recycling pioneer were among those who received the Eureka awards at the Australian Museum on Wednesday evening.
Established in 1990, the Eureka Awards recognize the work of Australian scientists and science communicators.
Professor Justin Yerbury of the University of Wollongong received the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Eureka Prize for Scientific Research for his work on motor neuron disease (MND).
Yerbury, who has lived with MND since 2016, first heard about the condition when her uncle was diagnosed.
“At the time … we had no idea what MND was and we had no idea what was going to happen,” Yerbury told Guardian Australia via email. “In the next few years we would lose cousins, aunts, my grandmother and my mother”.
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The need to understand the condition eventually led Yerbury to a career in MND research.
“I needed to know why there were no drugs that could slow the disease,” he said.
“Having not studied biology before, I struggled to understand. It was like reading another language … I decided to enroll in some biology courses at the local university to deepen my knowledge ”.
His lab’s work expanded understanding of MND and explained why motor neurons, the nerve cells that control muscles, die in this condition.
“As a field, we need to better understand the molecular causes of MND to discover or design effective drugs,” he said.
Yerbury said he was “truly humiliated” just to be considered for a Eureka award. “The award is a reflection of the effort and support of many people, without whom my work would not be possible”.
RMIT University Prof Sumeet Walia received the Eureka Award as an emerging leader in science. His research on nanomaterials – on scales thousands of times smaller than the width of a human hair – has applications including window coverings to maximize thermal efficiency and machine vision technologies.
Walia’s interest in science lasted a lifetime. “As a child I was always curious,” said Walia. “Every time I took the toys, instead of playing with them, I opened them.”
Walia, who grew up in a small town in India, moved to Australia 16 years ago to pursue a career in engineering.
“Everything we do in our daily life is influenced by science,” he said. “We need to make sure that science is well supported, that evidence-based decisions are made, and that there is more equality and diversity in our science sector.”
Materials researcher Prof. Veena Sahajwalla from UNSW received the Celestino Eureka Award for promoting understanding of science. Sahajwalla is renowned as a recycling pioneer and inventor of sustainable products and in 2018 launched the world’s first “e-waste microfactory”.
“The exciting thing about micro-laundering is that technically nothing should go to landfill,” Sahajwalla said. Copper and tin used in printed circuit boards for electronic devices, for example, could be reused in “interesting new alloys,” while rare earth metals such as cobalt would need to be recycled from lithium-ion battery electrodes, she said. she.
Sahajwalla said the award was “the ultimate recognition that science and scientific endeavors will be so important … [in] shaping a sustainable future “.
The teacher. Raina MacIntyre of UNSW received the Department of Defense’s Eureka Award for Leadership in Science and Innovation.
MacIntyre, who heads the biosafety research program at the Kirby Institute, was honored for her “significant leadership role in the international response to the Covid-19 pandemic” and for her contributions to international public health policy.
Other winners in 14 award categories included scientists researching how diets affect the environment, how to improve the treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, and how wildlife responds to changes in farm management.