The Australian Museum Eureka Prize celebrates outstanding achievement in science and science engagement in the community. Engineers feature prominently among the 2022 winners.
Announced earlier this month, fifteen individual and team winners were recognised by the Eureka Prize, including engineers in the fields of biomedicine, innovative materials, sustainability and more.
The Eureka Prize for an Emerging Leader in Science was awarded to RMIT University’s Sumeet Walia, an electronics engineer who was recognised for his public outreach, as well as his work on artificial vision technologies, smart window coatings, ultraviolet exposure skin sensors and infection prevention platforms.
Walia was listed as one of create’s most innovative engineers in 2018 for his work on nanoscale electronics, and has also worked to develop electronic chips that mimic the human brain and sensors that monitor aged care residents in case of falls.
“My research delivers technologies that make our quality of life better,” Walia said.
“I do this by unlocking new physical phenomena in material to create small, fast and smart systems for healthcare, advanced manufacturing and sensing. Ultimately I collaborate and innovate across disciplines to shape lasting systemic synergies between research and industry.”
Also recognised for outreach activities was University of New South Wales Professor Veena Sahajwalla, who was awarded the Celestino Eureka Prize for Promoting Understanding of Science.
A pioneer in developing circular economy concepts such as micro-recyling and green steel, Sahajweela was named the 2022 NSW Australian of the Year and one of Australia’s Top 100 Innovators, along with being a Australian Research Council Laureate and an Engineers Australia Honorary Fellow and Chartered Engineer.
Sahajwalla is also founder and Director of the UNSW Sustainable Materials Research and Technology — SMaRT — Centre, and heads the ARC Microrecycling Research Hub and the Sustainable Communities and Waste Hub.
“Here at the SMaRT Centre we’re looking at some of the most challenging waste resources: our waste tyres, glass, textiles, electronic waste,” she said.
“We’re converting those waste materials into value-added products, like green steel and green ceramics, delivering a win-win outcome for our environment and for our people.”
Claiming the ANSTO Eureka Prize for Innovative Use of Technology was a collaboration between La Trobe University, the University of Melbourne, the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre.
Their project, the NanoMslide, turns the glass slides used in microscopes into a diagnostic label thanks to a coating created with nanofabrication technology. The slide induces cancer cells to change colour when they interact with the coating, permitting simple and straightforward diagnosis.
“From the beginning, our team set out to solve a very real problem: how to improve outcomes for cancer patients,” said La Trobe University engineer Professor Brian Abbey.
“Using our slide is as though you’ve been seeing in black and white your whole life and then suddenly someone shows you colour. And because it can be used with any microscope, the possibilities are endless.”
The engineering of food
University of Sydney Postdoctoral Research Fellow Dr Mengyu Li was another engineer recognised for her team contribution, winning the Eureka Prize for Excellence in Interdisciplinary Scientific Research with colleagues Professor Manfred Lenzen, Professor David Raubenheimer, Dr Arunima Malik and Navoda Liyana Pathirana.
Collaborating with physicists, ecologists and data scientists, Li’s work with the team explored dietary choice and encompasses economics, engineering and nutrition. Their findings measure how eating habits affect carbon emissions and the consequences of protein and fibre level in our diets, and contribute to policy at international bodies including the United Nations.
“This integration of data will support decision-making that addresses public health, economic and environmental objectives holistically,” Li said.
Also recognised by the awards was Monash University’s Dr Kirsten Ellis, who received the Department of Industry, Science and Resources Eureka Prize for STEM Inclusion. Seeking to include people living with disability in creative circuit making activities, Ellis devised TapeBlocks, a series of interchangeable foam components that can be arranged to form circuits due to the conductive tape connecting them together.
A full list of this year’s Eureka Prize winners can be seen here.