Premier's Science Awards

The Premier's Science Awards recognise and celebrate the outstanding scientific research and engagement taking place in Western Australia.
Government of WA logo; Premier's Science Awards 2021 logo; Celebrating 20 years logo

The awards are a keystone in the Western Australian government’s efforts to raise the profile of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in Western Australia. Over the years, awards alumni have become important ambassadors for the state, helping to inspire future generations to take up courses and careers in STEM.

Meet the 2021 finalists

Meet the finalists for the 2021 Awards below.

You can follow the Premier’s Science Awards using the hashtag #WASciAwards. View the previous Premier’s Science Award winners.

Scientist of the Year

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Awarded to a world class scientist who, over the past 10 years, has demonstrated excellence in a field of science, scientific research or technological advancement.

Professor Johannes (Hans) Thieo Lambers
The University of Western Australia

Professor Johannes (Hans) Thieo Lambers’ research in the field of plant physiological ecology has transformed our understanding of plant-environment interactions and plant nutrition. His work has impacted practices in mine site restoration, increased our understanding of Western Australia’s hyperdiverse communities, informed efficient use of phosphorus in farming systems and provided guidance on effective combinations of intercrops for more sustainable agriculture. Beyond his own research, Professor Lambers has shown strong leadership in outreach. As founder of the Kwongan Foundation, he has organised regular colloquia, field trips and workshops to inform the public and industry about our State’s spectacular environment. His contributions to education have motivated many young scientists to pursue careers in plant physiological ecology, to benefit conservation, restoration and agricultural industries.

Professor Zheng-Xiang Li
Curtin University

Professor Zheng-Xiang Li is a geoscientist taking a holistic approach to rocks and magnetism to discover how the Earth works. He has made foundational contributions toward understanding the evolution of the massive tectonic plates comprising the planet’s outer shell, and their geodynamic driving forces. His work describes how plate movements interact with the deep mantle, catalysing major mineral and petroleum systems as well as climate and environmental shifts. His work has produced insights into the evolution of Australia and fundamentally shifted the thinking of the iron ore community, making mineral exploration in WA more efficient and economical. His work has helped to make WA a leader in global geoscience research.

Professor Eric May
The University of Western Australia

Professor Eric May is an internationally recognised leader in the areas of fluid science, thermodynamics, metrology and natural gas engineering. His development and use of measurement technology has produced explanations for long-standing scientific mysteries, revealed unexpected physical phenomena, and helped improve industrial processes. Real-world outcomes of Professor May’s research include reducing the cost and environmental impact of liquefied natural gas (LNG) production, decreasing greenhouse gas emissions from coal mines and optimising air conditioning cycles based on new, environmentally-friendly refrigerants. His work has also helped difficult offshore gas reserves be developed and advanced carbon capture and storage operations. He is now leading the new Future Energy Exports Cooperative Research Centre with major industry partners to help grow Australia’s hydrogen export industry.

Professor Britta Regli-von Ungern-Sternberg
The University of Western Australia | Perth Children’s Hospital | Telethon Kids Institute

Professor Britta Regli-von Ungern-Sternberg is a paediatric anaesthetist who has gained global recognition as a research leader in her field. Professor Ungern-Sternberg has achieved this by identifying key issues for clinicians, children and families, and by driving collaborations that extend the reach and impact of her research. Professor Ungern-Sternberg’s patient-centred research has led to significant global practice changes to paediatric anaesthesia and consequently, a reduction in complications. Her goal is to ensure that when a child needs a vital operation, it is as safe and pain-free as possible. She mentors junior researchers and emerging research leaders with her vision, generosity and enthusiasm having long-lasting positive effects in Western Australia, both on paediatric anaesthesia research and on patient care.

Professor Christopher Reid
Curtin University

Professor Christopher Reid is a renowned clinical trialist and epidemiologist. He is leading research that saves lives and identifies better ways to prevent and treat individuals and communities in order to reduce one of Australia’s major causes of death and disease burden.  Professor Reid’s research into the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease has led to improved health outcomes at both the individual and community level. He has established world class capability in the conduct of large-scale community based clinical trials and leads the development of Australian cardiovascular clinical quality registries in cardiac surgery, interventional cardiology and heart failure.  Professor Reid’s work has had an impact on clinical guidelines around the world, starting in the Western Australian healthcare system.

Professor Craig Valli
Edith Cowan University

Professor Craig Valli is a cyber-security expert conducting research on securing networks and critical infrastructures, detection of network borne threats and forensic analysis of cyber security incidents. His achievements include: the co-development of a bespoke portable tool to help WA Police discover illegal imagery; the development of an advanced digital forensics laboratory to extract digital artefacts from devices; and collaborations with international, federal and state agencies to strengthen cyber security and combat cybercrime. Professor Valli established and leads ECU’s internationally recognised, multidisciplinary cyber security research program and led the successful bid for the Cyber Security Cooperative Research Centre headquartered in WA.

Woodside Early Career Scientist of the Year

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Awarded to an outstanding scientist who is within the first five years of completing their highest degree and who has demonstrated excellence in a field of science, scientific research or technological advancement.

Dr Naveed Akhtar
The University of Western Australia

Dr Naveed Akhtar is a Research Fellow with the Office of National Intelligence. His pioneering research in trustworthy Artificial Intelligence (AI) at The University of Western Australia has been internationally recognised and has shaped the upcoming industrial standards for this technology. Dr Akhtar is enabling accountability of Artificial Intelligence (AI) through transparent algorithms. He has developed practical and economical solutions for secure AI in safety-critical applications. Dr Akhtar is also the inventor of the algorithm that allowed enhancing the resolution of satellite images without requiring a hardware upgrade, an outcome recognised as one of the two highest impact contributions across multiple scientific fields.

Associate Professor Edward Litton
The University of Western Australia | Fiona Stanley Hospital

Associate Professor Edward Litton is an intensive care specialist whose goal is to improve the outcomes for critically ill patients requiring treatment in intensive care. Recently, his contribution to the COVID-19 response includes developing and helping to implement a large international clinical trial that has identified effective treatments for severe COVID-19, leading a study to inform Australian intensive care COVID-19 preparedness, and evaluating, reporting, and feeding back Australian intensive care COVID-19 outcomes. His research findings have been incorporated into international guidelines, informing intensive care policy and practice, and helping to improve outcomes for more than 10,000 Western Australians who require intensive care treatment each year.

Dr Eleanor Sansom
Curtin University

Dr Eleanor Sansom researches the origins of our solar system, via the study of shooting stars (meteors). She has significantly advanced our understanding small celestial bodies, and how they interact with planetary atmospheres. Her work can predict where meteorite samples may land and has led field trips to recover pristine samples that are now held by the WA Museum. She is mapping out where hazardous asteroids come from to know when the next big asteroid might hit. Dr Sansom is on the mission science team for NASA’s Insight lander on Mars. She recently led the scientific observation campaign in South Australia for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency Hayabusa-2 sample capsule. Her expertise has led to strong collaborations with industry and defence to develop new techniques for satellite tracking.

Dr Arman Siahvashi
The University of Western Australia

Awarded two prestigious Forrest and Fulbright fellowships, Dr Arman Siahvashi is conducting a world-class research and developing cutting-edge technologies to reduce the costs and eliminate the safety hazards associated with clean energy production such as liquid hydrogen. He has developed a multi-award-winning apparatus to accurately measure the freezing temperatures of trace impurities at extreme cryogenic temperatures and high pressures. His research has led to collaborations with scientists at NASA and Jet Propulsion Laboratory on liquid hydrogen as a rocket fuel and also dissolution geology of Saturn’s moon, Titan. His work helps the environment by reducing carbon emissions, while also improving plant operation safety and risk assessments, and driving economic growth and sustainable development.

Dr Alex Tang
The University of Western Australia

Dr Alex Tang leads a research team that seeks to develop novel treatments to promote ‘healthy brain ageing’ for aging patients and those with brain injuries. His research has investigated how brain stimulation can be used to promote neuroplasticity in health and disease. Key achievements include the development of novel brain stimulation devices to study and alter the brain in an experimental setting, now used in laboratories in Australia, New Zealand, France and the USA, and the development of critical brain stimulation safety data that is being adopted in clinical practice worldwide. Outside of the lab, Dr Tang is a passionate science communicator and enjoys participating in STEM activities both locally and internationally.

ExxonMobil Student Scientist of the Year

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Awarded to an outstanding postgraduate student who has demonstrated a commitment to science at an early stage and shows great promise in reaching the highest levels of excellence.

Nikhilesh Bappoo
The Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research | The University of Western Australia

Nikhilesh Bappoo is a passionate biomedical engineer specialising in vascular engineering research and medical devices. He has a vision to use medical research and engineering innovation to modernize and improve the quality, delivery and equity of global healthcare. His research spans from “engineering the placenta” by simulating the blood flow to predict developmental abnormalities during pregnancy to predicting aneurysm rupture, hence assisting vascular surgeons best plan treatment. Nik’s entrepreneurial mindset has led to the formation of VeinTech, a WA medical device company, aiming to reduce the high rate of failure of first pass cannulation. He also manages product development, regulatory affairs and quality management for VitalTrace, another WA medical device company developing a novel biosensor device to improve the childbirth process for mothers, clinicians and babies.

Eleanor Dunlop
Curtin University

Eleanor Dunlop is a dietitian and final-year PhD student at Curtin University, with a focus on dietary vitamin D. Eleanor’s research has determined the vitamin D content of commonly-consumed foods in Australia and the amount of vitamin D Australians usually consume from food. Eleanor is assessing whether increasing vitamin D in the food supply would safely and effectively improve vitamin D status in the Australian population. During her research training she has published extensively, attracted significant research funding and her findings have been presented at ten national and international conferences. She supervises Master of Dietetics students, and engages actively with the community through presentations to community groups and organisations.

Katherine Landwehr
Curtin University | Telethon Kids Institute

Katherine Landwehr is a final-year PhD student studying the health impacts of exposure to biodiesel exhaust. Employing a suite of advanced pre-clinical exposure models, Katherine has shown for the first time that the type of biodiesel used is critical when assessing exhaust toxicity and that there is a spectrum of toxicity related to the chemical properties of the fuel. Her research has provided evidence for targeted future investment in certain renewable oils and has been widely disseminated at numerous local, national and international conferences and meetings, and published in high-impact journals. She is the recipient of multiple awards and has initiated and fostered several collaborations between teams in Western Australia.

Liam Scarlett
Curtin University

Liam Scarlett is completing a PhD in theoretical physics, focussing on modelling the fundamental reactions which take place in fusion, medical, and astrophysical plasmas. A highlight of his research has included developing a theory and suite of computer programs to produce the most detailed database of electron-molecule reaction probabilities to date, which was used by scientists working on the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor. Liam has authored an impressive list of publications, championed a number of international research collaborations, been invited to speak at international conferences, and is a positive ambassador for STEM through his supervision of undergraduate research projects.

Niamh Troy
Telethon Kids Institute | The University of Western Australia

Niamh Troy is a PhD candidate at the Wal-yan Respiratory Research Centre who is conducting research to better understand the immune response to respiratory viral infections in asthma using cutting-edge bioinformatics. Niamh’s work provides critical evidence for how we can use bacterial therapeutics to harness the innate immune system to protect against severe lung infections in infants. This work places Western Australia at the forefront in the global race to identify safe preventative therapies for lower respiratory infections that can be given during infancy. Niamh has an impressive track record of high impact publications, competitive awards and prizes and additionally extends her leadership skills beyond her own research, through collaborations, primary school outreach and communicating her research to the public.

Shell Aboriginal STEM Student of the Year

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Awarded to an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander undergraduate or postgraduate student who has demonstrated excellence in STEM studies.

Daniel Curran
Curtin University

Daniel Curran is an outstanding Aboriginal medical student committed to Closing the Gap. He completed the Indigenous pre-medicine enabling course through the Centre for Aboriginal Studies as the top achiever and is now in his third year of a Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery at Curtin University. Daniel is the first Aboriginal tutor in the Indigenous Tutorial Assistance Scheme. He has acted on the Australian Indigenous Doctors' Association Student Representative Committee and is the First Nations representative for Curtin’s Health Sciences Student Consultative Committee. He is a role model for aspiring Aboriginal medical doctors and healthcare professionals.

Danielle Headland
The University of Western Australia | Telethon Kids Institute

Danielle Headland is a Whadjuk Yued woman from the Noongar Nation and emerging child health researcher. She holds a Bachelor of Health Science from The University of Western Australia and is currently deepening her research skills and knowledge through a Graduate Certificate in Population Health Studies. Danielle combines her studies with ongoing work as an Aboriginal Research Officer with the Telethon Kids Ear Health team as well as mentoring in the Aurora Education Foundation, Aboriginal high school program. She is Chair of the Telethon Kids Aboriginal Staff Network, serves on the Summer Indigenous National Genomics Conference organising committee and volunteers at the Telethon Kids Discovery Centre. She is a passionate advocate for STEM education and the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal communities.

Chevron Science Engagement Initiative of the Year

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Recognises an initiative that has made an outstanding contribution to community awareness, interest and/or participation in science in Western Australia.

3E’s - Engage, Experience, Expose - Community Engagement Program
Edith Cowan University

Edith Cowan University (ECU)'s innovative 3E’s – Engage, Experience, Expose – Community Engagement program dispels myths and misconceptions by exposing school groups, university students, parents, and educators to STEM and industry. ECU students, alumni and industry are engaged as science ambassadors to present localised workshops, share their expertise and experiences, and act as visible role models to break down stereotypes. In addition, teachers, career advisors, educators and parents/carers are provided with opportunities to work with these ambassadors and ‘skill up’ by learning more about the STEM sector and STEM futures. Over the past three years, 3E’s has engaged with more than 10,000 participants across multiple sectors of the community, including in local and regional areas of WA.

Exciting Enthusiasm for BioDiscovery in Young Minds
Lotterywest BioDiscovery Centre, Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research

The Lotterywest BioDiscovery Centre at the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research has been a focal point of health literacy in Western Australia since launching in 2014. Visitors to the BioDiscovery Centre engage in research-based experiments under the guidance of researchers. This experience, where members of the public can use a purpose-built teaching laboratory within a medical research facility, is the only one of its kind in Australia. Over the past seven years, more than 10,000 people have participated in its programs, including those from diverse backgrounds and life stages, including school students, community groups and corporate teams. Participants often remain connected for many years after their initial visit, through volunteering, community fundraising or completing research degrees.

FIRST LEGO League WA
Curtin University

The FIRST LEGO League in WA (FLLWA) is a collaborative project led by Curtin University and supported by community hubs around Western Australia. The project challenges teams of 9 to 16-year-old students to engage their minds and their communities to tackle STEM problems. FLLWA comprises two challenges which culminate in high-energy competitions – the Robot Game, which requires a team to design, build and program a LEGO robot that completes missions on a field, and the Innovation Project, which requires a team to identify, research and present a solution to a real-world problem. FLLWA has become embedded in the communities that embrace it, with an estimated 60,000 students, teachers, family members and local community members having been involved since its establishment in 2013.

Innovation Central Perth
Curtin University

Innovation Central Perth (ICP) is an industry and science collaboration centre located at Curtin University’s Perth campus. ICP is designed to nurture innovation and growth for Western Australian industry and government by developing projects driven by organisations and solved by scientists and students. These projects involve the identification, testing, and deployment of technology solutions using cloud computing, analytics and Internet-of-Things network platforms. ICP provides a safe, supportive environment to enable students to gain real-world experience and connects WA’s science community with WA employers. ICP has delivered more than 1,000 client engagements, worked on more than 200 industry projects, and has hosted in excess of 100 workshops and 100 industry events.

Official sponsors and supporters

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The department gratefully acknowledges the official sponsors and supporters of the awards.

The Premier’s Science Awards are proudly sponsored by Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell and Woodside.

The Premier’s Science Awards are also supported by Curtin University, Edith Cowan University, Murdoch University, The University of Western Australia, CSIRO, Western Australian Museum and Telethon Kids Institute.

a group of logos from the sponsors

Apply for an award

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Applications for the 2021 Awards are now closed.

If you would like to receive information about applications for the 2022 Awards please email science@jtsi.wa.gov.au.

Page reviewed 26 July 2021