Joint winners for 2017 David Syme Research Prize

Associate Professors Cynthia Whitchurch and Igor Aharonovich have been jointly awarded the David Syme Research Prize, one of the oldest national science prizes in Australia.

The David Syme Research Prize is awarded for the best original research in biology, physics, chemistry or geology, produced in Australia during the preceding two years. The prize was established in 1904 by a gift from the publisher of The Age, David Syme. It is administered by the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Science.

Associate Professor Whitchurch, from the iThree institute at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) discovered that dangerous bacteria in biofilms follow each other like ants, or 4WD drivers following tracks in the sand. Then she showed she could create microscopic tracks on medical devices to limit the spread of the bacteria that cause infection. Based on her work, new types of catheters are being developed that are less likely to become infected.

Associate Professor Aharonovich, the Deputy Director of the Institute of Biomedical Devices (IBMD) at UTS, and an alumnus of the University of Melbourne, led his team in the discovery of new sources of single photons – including gallium nitride and zinc oxide that could help quantum technologies transition from a laboratory to a commercial setting in the form of ultrasensitive sensors and key components for secured communications. His research underpins the development of quantum computing based on photonics.

Associate Professor Whitchurch is one of a handful of women to receive the award since its inception in 1906. The last was Professor Suzanne Cory, immediate past president of the Australian Academy of Sciences, in 1982.

“This award recognises the extraordinary contributions Cynthia and Igor have made in their fields. Through their respective research, they have expanded our understanding of of antibiotic resistance and made significant strides towards realising quantum technologies,” says Professor Glenn Wightwick, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research) at UTS.

“These achievements reflect the quality of research being undertaken at UTS, and our focus on delivering outcomes that benefit society.”

“I am delighted with the outcome of this year’s David Syme Research Prize, particularly as it recognises our faculty’s active role in promoting research excellence and the achievements of women in STEM,” says Professor Karen Day, Dean of Science at The University of Melbourne.

“As Dean of Science, I am also pleased to celebrate the research of one of our alumni, Associate Professor Aharonovich.”