Research which changes our understanding of plant life around the world and work that brings the quantum computer one step closer to reality have won UNSW researchers top honours at the 2011 Australian Museum Eureka Prizes, the country's most prestigious science awards.

Associate Professor Angela Moles, from the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences has won the Eureka Prize for Outstanding Young Researcher.

Her work has uncovered a global pattern to plant height that shows species at the equator are roughly 30 times taller than those in Scandinavia, mainly due to rainfall rather than temperature. She's also found that seeds in the tropics are on average 300 times larger than seeds in colder places.

In revolutionizing our understanding of the factors that determine the size of offspring in plants and animals, the 35-year-old's work has taken her to every continent except the Antarctic.

Frank Howarth, Director of the Australian Museum said Associate Professor Moles was already acknowledged as a world-class science leader and a rapidly rising superstar in the fields of ecology and evolution: "One would be hard-pressed to find a more impressive research record for someone whose career has just recently begun."

Dr Andrea Morello and Scientia Professor Andrew Dzurak were acknowledged for their role in advancing the science to build a quantum computer (QC), the holy grail of information technology.

In a major milestone in the path towards silicone-based quantum computing, the pair have been able to 'read' the electronic spin bound to a single atom.

The breakthrough overcomes one of the challenges in building a QC, which is to find the right building blocks. The 'spin' of an electron is considered an ideal base unit, but measuring that spin with high precision has proven a huge barrier - until now.

Scientia Professor Andrew Dzurak, the director of the Australian National Fabrication Facility accepted the prize for Scientific Research.

The award continues UNSW's pedigree in the field of QC. The idea of a silicon-based QC was first proposed in 1998 by Dr Bruce Kane from UNSW.

Twenty-five Eureka Prizes, worth more than $240,000 were awarded at the Hordern Pavilion.

Researchers at UNSW and affiliated organizations were nominated in 11 categories for the 2011 awards.

For a full list of winners, go to the Australian Museum website

Photo credits: Australian Museum Eureka Prizes and 247 Studios.