Two outstanding UNSW Sydney researchers have today been recognised by the Australian Academy of Science with 2020 honorific awards.

Dr Jan Zika from UNSW Science and Associate Professor Marina Pajic from the Garvan Institute and UNSW Medicine are among 18 of Australia’s top scientists to be recognised with honorific awards by the country’s most prestigious scientific organisation.

The Academy presents the annual medals to recognise scientific excellence by researchers from the early stages of their careers to those who have made lifelong achievements.

Early career researcher Dr Zika received the Anton Hales Medal for his contribution to understanding the importance of the ocean in the global climate system.

Dr Zika has developed new ways of measuring and detecting changes in the climate using ocean data. This has revolutionised understanding of ocean circulation and led to accurate estimates of the ocean’s storage and transport of heat and fresh water.

Dr Zika’s ideas have been used to understand changes in global-scale atmospheric processes. They are also used to more accurately measure changes in global rainfall and evaporation rates.

“I am fascinated by the large-scale physics of the ocean and the role of water in the climate. We are still trying to figure out the most fundamental things about how the ocean works, which is incredible since it plays such an important role in our climate,” Dr Zika said.

A/Prof. Pajic, an early career researcher who received the Ruth Stephens Gani Medal, has made major contributions to improve our understanding of how pancreatic cancers develop, spread to distant sites, and why so many of them are heavily resistant to treatment. 

The knowledge gained from A/Prof. Pajic’s research is used to design novel, effective and personalised treatment options for pancreatic cancer, as well as other difficult-to-treat cancers. The aim is to provide patients with tailored treatment based on the ‘molecular fingerprint’ of their tumour.

“Pancreatic cancer has an almost uniformly dismal outcome for patients, with only 10% surviving longer than five years. With the survival rate remaining low for decades, the aim of my research is to provide innovative translational research into this disease,” A/Prof. Pajic said.

President of the Australian Academy of Science, Professor John Shine, congratulated all the award winners for their inspiring research.

“These awards shine a spotlight on the leading and diverse applied and basic research happening throughout the country. The Academy continues to seek to increase the diversity of nominees for all our grants and awards and this is reflected in this year’s honorific awardees,” Professor Shine said.