Three Melbourne academics finalists in prestigious Eureka prize

July 15 / 163

Professor Snow Barlow, Dr Phillip Urquijo, Professor Marilyn Renfree (L-R) are finalists in the 2015 Eureka Prize
Professor Snow Barlow, Dr Phillip Urquijo, Professor Marilyn Renfree (L-R) are finalists in the 2015 Eureka Prize

Plant physiologist and agricultural scientist Professor Snow Barlow, biologist Professor Marilyn Renfree AO, and physicist Dr Phillip Urquijo have been selected finalists in the 2015 Australian Museum’s Eureka Prize.


Dr Urquijo, from the School of Physics and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Particle Physics at the Terascale has been nominated for the Eureka Prize for Emerging Leader in Science.


At just 33, Dr Urquijo is the Physics Coordinator of the Belle II experiment based at the KEK laboratory in Japan where he leads an international team of 600 physicists. The Belle II experiment will use the SuperKEKB particle accelerator to smash electrons into positrons in the search for new physics.


Dr Urquijo said being a finalist for the Eureka Prizes was a real honour, and not just for him, but also for the researchers he works with.


“In years to come, I know that Belle II will provide unique insights into some of the remaining puzzles in fundamental physics,” he said.


Professor Renfree, who studies mammalian reproduction and development in the School of BioSciences, has been nominated for Outstanding Mentor of Young Researchers. Her nomination recognises her more than three decades of inspirational supervision and long-term career mentoring for young researchers, particularly for women working in the field of life sciences.


"I am delighted and honoured to be shortlisted for this award, which in turn honours my many postgraduate students,” Professor Renfree said.


"They really are an extended family to me, and I have kept in close contact with most of them through their careers. Postgrads are the life-blood of any research group. Because of the nature of our research on marsupials, we have always had to work closely together as a team in the field as well as in the lab, and this has cemented the camaraderie and on-going friendships between all our lab members.


"As a mother and scientist, I especially have encouraged the women in my group to continue their careers in science."


Professor Barlow was nominated for the CSIRO Eureka Prize for Leadership in Science for his role in shaping Australia’s response to climate change through his research, advocacy and involvement in policy and research work.


Professor Barlow’s research has examined the impacts of climate change on agriculture, viticulture, water management and global food security.


“I’d like to thank the people who nominated me,” Professor Barlow said. “It’s a privilege and a pleasure to be one of the finalists.


“Australian agriculture and food production is uniquely vulnerable to climate change,” he said.


Since the cessation of the Department of Agriculture’s Filling the Research Gap program, which supported projects that targeted research gaps around carbon abatement technologies and practices, Professor Barlow said Australia’s agriculture industry lacks dedicated programs to help it adapt to climate change.


“So it’s a very serious situation at present.


“Some very significant work that was funded by the program Filling the Research Gap now needs to continue to integrate mitigation actions into Australian agricultural production systems,” he said.


“That could lead to Australia being one of the most greenhouse gas-efficient food producers in the world.”


The Eureka Prizes are presented by the Australian Museum and reward excellence in research and innovation, science communication and journalism, leadership and school science.


The winners of the 16 prizes will be announced at the Eureka Prizes Award Dinner at Sydney Town Hall on 26 August.


Story by Daryl Holland and Stuart Winthrope

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