Eureka winners celebrated at Melbourne

September 14 / 144

Joelle Gergis (middle) with former PhD students Linden Ashcroft and Claire Fenby, who worked on the SEARCH project
Joelle Gergis (middle) with former PhD students Linden Ashcroft and Claire Fenby, who worked on the SEARCH project

University of Melbourne researchers have been recognised in the 2014 Australian Museum Eureka prizes for a climate history of unprecedented scope, leadership in medical data analysis and the discovery of the workings of antibody-generating cells.

The Eureka prizes reward outstanding achievements in Australian science and science communication.

The University’s SEARCH (South-Eastern Australian Recent Climate History) team won the prize for Excellence in Interdisciplinary Scientific Research.

Prior to the team’s efforts, detailed knowledge of Australian climate history began with the start of official records in 1908.

The team led by Dr Joelle Gergis used human records such as newspaper and gazette articles and also conducted interdisciplinary study of natural indicators like tree rings, coral records and cave deposits to build a comprehensive history of the Australian climate that reaches back 1000 years.

Dr Gergis is an Australian Research Council (ARC) DECRA Fellow in the School of Earth Sciences.

The SEARCH team’s findings show temperatures since the 1950s are the highest in the last 1000 years, and that the Murray River ran at a 1500-year low during the 1997-2009 drought.

Professor Terry Speed, Bioinformatics Division Head at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, won the CSIRO Eureka Prize for Leadership in Science, in recognition of his guidance of the bioinformatics team at the Institute, and his contributions to the wider field.

Professor Speed is also a Professorial Fellow in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics.

His team used computational mathematics to help researchers analyse massive amounts of experimental data.

Professor Speed’s techniques for DNA analysis are freely distributed and used by thousands of researchers around the world.

Additionally, Professor Philip Hodgkin’s B-cell team at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute won the University of New South Wales Eureka Prize for Scientific Research.

Professor Hodgkin is an Honorary of the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences.

The team unravelled the process by which B-cells in the bone marrow become antibody secreting cells (ASCs) – specialised cells in blood that generate antibodies to fight infection and disease.

Until now the lack of understanding of the workings of these has been a barrier to the design of efficient vaccines and immune deficiency treatments.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) James McCluskey said outstanding research was the University’s great strength.

“On behalf of the University, I congratulate our winners and all our teams and individuals who were nominated for the 2014 Eureka Science prizes,” Professor McCluskey said.

“It is a reflection of our innovative scientific leaders and our partnerships. Research at the University of Melbourne represents a driving force for the transformation of society.”

University finalists also included:

• Professor Elizabeth Hartland and Dr Jaclyn Pearson for their discovery of new E. coli immune pathways.

• The FREO2 team for their work on a low-cost electricity-free oxygen treatment for pneumonia victims in developing countries.

• Professor Bob Williamson for his mentorship of young researchers.

• Professor Philip Batterham for his work to engage the general public with communication of genetics, evolution, agriculture and health research.

• Members of the AIBL (Australian Imaging, Biomarkers and Lifestyle) Research Team for their ground-breaking inroads towards understanding the progression of Alzheimer’s Disease and strategies for its prevention.

• University Honorary Associate Professor Lynn Corcoran for her mentorship of young researchers.

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