Three 'Oscars' of science awarded to UNSW researchers

A breakthrough in 3D bioprinting that will revolutionise cancer research is among the UNSW projects which have received a prestigious Eureka Prize award.
Stefanie Menezes | UNSW Newsroom
Bushfire management, new methods of computer safety and 3D bioprinting for cancer models were among the UNSW research projects recognised at the 2021 Australian Museum Eureka Prizes. Image: Shutterstock

UNSW Sydney researchers were awarded three prizes at last night’s prestigious 2021 Australian Museum Eureka Prizes.

Scientia Professor Justin Gooding, UNSW Science, and Professor Maria Kavallaris, Children’s Cancer Institute and UNSW Medicine & Health, were recognised for their work on a breakthrough in 3D bioprinting that will be a game-changer in cancer research.

The team won the ANSTO Eureka Prize for Innovative Use of Technology for developing a highly innovative 3D bioprinter that allows cancer researchers to rapidly produce 3D cultures and build more complex in vitro cancer models than ever before. The team comprises researchers from UNSW Chemistry, Australian Centre for NanoMedicine, Children’s Cancer Institute and Inventia Life Science Pty Ltd, which includes Scientia Professor Justin Gooding, Professor Maria Kavallaris, Dr Julio Ribeiro, Dr Aidan O'Mahony, Dr Robert Utama and Dr Lakmali Atapattu.

Prof. Kavallaris said winning the Eureka Prize has been part of an incredible and highly successful collaboration to realise a vision to grow human tumours and screen them against hundreds of drugs to identify the right treatment for the right patient.

“As a cancer survivor and researcher, the ability to identify drugs that work to give to patients and avoid the use of unnecessary treatments has great potential to improve outcomes for both childhood and adult cancers,” Prof. Kavallaris said.

Prof. Gooding said it has been an incredibly exciting journey that reached a real high receiving the Eureka Prize.

“The technology addresses an incredibly important problem in terms of potentially playing an important role in personalising cancer treatment. What we have achieved would not have been possible if we were not part of a great team from both industry and academia who worked in an integrated way towards a common vision. For me, it really shows what universities and companies can do together when they truly work together as partners.”

Justin Gooding and Maria Kavallaris Eureka

Scientia Professor Justin Gooding and Professor Maria Kavallaris. Image: UNSW

Dr Mark Ooi, UNSW Science, in collaboration with a team from the University of Wollongong, Western Sydney University and the University of Tasmania, won the NSW Environment, Energy and Science (DPIE) Eureka Prize for Applied Environmental Research.

Dr Ooi is part of the NSW Bushfire Risk Management Research Hub which was commissioned by the NSW state government to help it understand what happened during the devastating 2019-20 Australian bushfires. The consortium’s findings addressed major knowledge gaps relating to droughts, fuel dynamics, and the social and environmental impacts of the fires, directly influencing many of the NSW Bushfire Inquiry recommendations and setting the future direction for fire management.

"Winning the Eureka Prize is an incredible honour, and for a number of us in the NSW Bushfire Risk Management Research Hub at early and mid-career stages, it is a career highlight,” Dr Ooi said.

"The 2019-20 bushfires really highlighted the kind of extremes that are possible as the climate changes, and the Bushfire Research Hub team's submission to the NSW Inquiry showed how science can be conducted collaboratively and rapidly to provide evidence of impacts at massive scales.”

Mark Ooi Eureka

Dr Mark Ooi. Image: UNSW

Associate Professor Kevin Elphinstone led a team from UNSW Engineering recognised in the Department of Defence Eureka Prize for Outstanding Science in Safeguarding Australia for their work creating simple, secure and trustworthy computing technologies.

The Cross Domain Desktop Compositor (CDDC) team comprises researchers from UNSW, CSIRO’s Data61, University of Melbourne and the Defence Science and Technology Group. By combining a world-class secure operating system with novel hardware architecture, the team has found a new method for keeping sensitive information secure from internet attacks.

“It’s an honour for the team to receive a Eureka Prize. The CDDC collaboration is a great example of Australian universities, Defence and CSIRO coming together to create ground-breaking technologies,” A/Prof. Elphinstone said.

“Data security in an internet connected world is an extremely challenging problem. Completely disconnecting computer users working in secure environments from insecure networks reduces decision making awareness and operational efficiency. The team has created a flexible technology for secure viewing and controlled sharing of data between extremely secure computing environments and insecure networks like the Internet.”

Presented annually by the Australian Museum, 16 Australian Museum Eureka Prizes are awarded across four categories including research and innovation, leadership, science engagement and school science. UNSW had more than 10 finalists in this year’s Eureka Prizes.