Unsung Hero of Science Communication

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Unsung Hero of Science Communication

This Award is given annually by the Australian Science Communicators to recognise the work of a science communicator or science journalist, or group, whose outstanding achievements have largely been unrecognised and unrewarded by their peers.
The award was launched in 1994 to recognise outstanding Australian scientists, then it was reborn in 2012 as an award for science communicators and science journalists.

Past winners


Winner: Jen Martin


Winner: Kylie Andrews

Winner: Geoff Crane
Highly Commended: Kylie Andrews

Winner: Kylie Walker

Winner: Frankie Lee
Highly Commended: Jeannie-Marie LeRoi and Dr Shane Huntington

Winner: Craig Cormick
Highly Commended: Frankie Lee and Dr Shane Huntington

2012: Guy Nolch

2007: Professor Aileen Plant

2005: Dr Colin Keay

2004: Dr Alan Wilton

2002: Dr Hugh Spencer

2001: Dr Estelle Lazer

2000: Carla Litchfield

1999: Dr David Jenkins

1998: Dr Malcolm Gill

1997: Dr Chris Crossland

1996: Joy Mitchell

1995: Dr Bobbie Vaile

1994: Dr Carolyn Mountford

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2016: Geoff Crane

Geoff Crane is celebrated as the 2016 Unsung Hero of Australian Science Communication for his significant and sustained contributions to science communication.
Geoff is a science communication powerhouse. For many years he has passionately worked behind the scenes to engage Australia in science, including with National Science Week, Questacon and Inspiring Australia.
His recent achievements include over five years of phenomenal work as ‘Mr. Science Week’, connecting with millions of people through events, online initiatives and social media. He is instrumental in leveraging both official funding and the considerable goodwill of volunteers and committees around the country. He helps people seeking to be involved with National Science Week to feel engaged, inspired and excited. His work extends far beyond the Week itself – Geoff works tirelessly year-round to promote and support science engagement events across the nation.
Through his active leadership, Geoff has helped transform National Science Week from a loose collective of volunteers into Australia’s biggest festival. He has brought professionalism to the event, giving it a public image and impact that extends exponentially beyond the direct funding it receives. He is as supportive of small regional science events as he is of capital city extravaganzas.
Geoff promotes excellence in science communication and networks extensively to connect science communicators working in many different disciplines and physical locations. He is generous in sharing his time, knowledge, networks and energy and is well-known and highly respected in the science communication community.
Despite 25 extraordinary years of work in science communication, Geoff would never seek the spotlight. The judging panel described Geoff as an ‘unassuming mastermind’, whose important contributions to the field of science communication and engagement include boosting the confidence and prominence of other science communicators and building the success of countless initiatives across the country.

2015: Kylie Walker

Kylie Walker was recognised as the 2015 winner of the Unsung Hero of Science Communication for her significant contributions to science communication and outreach.
During her time as Director of Communications and Outreach at the Australian Academy of Science, Kylie’s commitment and mentoring were instrumental in changing the culture of one of Australia’s leading science organisations. Her work has helped many Australian scientists value public engagement and a media-savvy approach.
Kylie works to showcase excellence in Australian science and creates opportunities to highlight local achievements, including ensuring the media can access some of Australia’s best and brightest scientists. Of particular note is Kylie’s work in building national partnerships with other leading science and science communication organisations, helping enhance the effectiveness and scope of Academy programs.
Outside of her formal role with the Academy, Kylie has chaired the National Science Week Coordinating Committee in the ACT (tripling attendance rates between 2011 and 2013), and works with the Australian National University Centre for the Public Awareness of Science to present to and mentor science communication students.
Much of Kylie’s influence is behind the scenes. She empowers scientists to present their work in interesting and engaging ways, by developing presentation materials for high profile events, training scientists for media liaison and government advocacy and mentoring those new to science communication.
Kylie’s innovative thinking has been instrumental in expanding the reach and impact of the Academy’s science, taking the Academy to new and unusual settings, including social media, live streaming and national television through National Press Club addresses and the ABC’s Q&A program.
Kylie works to actively address issues facing the science and science communication communities, such as gender equality, by creating events and communication channels that increase the focus on female scientists.
Kylie has demonstrated an outstanding commitment to introducing scientists to the benefits of science communication. She works tirelessly, without personal or formal recognition, to support emerging science communication talent. Through her leadership and creative approach, she promotes excellence and innovation in science communication.

2014: Frankie Lee

Frankie Lee is honoured as the 2014 Unsung Hero of Australian Science Communication for her significant contribution to science promotion.
Frankie has worked tirelessly to engage audiences in science by managing varied and unusual science communication projects in Sydney and around Australia. She is also recognised for her work in developing the careers of emerging science communicators through connecting them with events and media opportunities.
As a project manager across a number of science communication projects, Frankie is creative and sets up science communication in unusual settings, ranging from the Woodford folk festival to online ‘weather detectives’.
Frankie’s ability to monitor trends in science and seek opportunities for effective science communication is reflected in her involvement with the ‘I F***ing Love Science Live’ and ‘Science Alert – Space Oddity’ events. In both instances, Frankie worked tirelessly to secure interesting local and international talent, creating successful events that achieved significant attendance and media coverage. Frankie has played a huge part in bringing science to the forefront in Australia and ‘making science cool’ for different and unexpected audiences.
During her time with the ABC, Frankie was the driving powerhouse behind the ABC’s successful science outreach programs. She worked with scientists, broadcaster, and ABC staff to produce creative science programs which highlighted the work of the scientists involved, engaged high school students and promoted a range of science events.
Frankie is a founding member of the Ultimo Science Festival (a partnership between Powerhouse Museum, ABC, University of Technology Sydney and TAFE Ultimo) and project manages many of the events as part of the festival, having been involved since its creation in 2006. Frankie has also project managed Science in the Pub across Australia, contributed to the genre of science comedy with the Science Comedy night at Ultimo Science Festival and the series of “That’ll Learn You” at Giant Dwarf Theatre, Redfern in late 2014.
Frankie works with many well-known as well as new science communicators to produce events on radio, television and live events. Frankie puts science communicators in the spotlight while staying behind the scenes. She is the brain behind the operation, curating inspiring and engaging science events and bringing science communicators to the forefront. She makes science communicators shine by ensuring that they are taken care of and that events run without a glitch.
Over the course of her extensive and diverse career, Frankie has made many significant contributions, but nearly always behind the scenes. It is for this reason the panel considers Frankie to be the definition of ‘unsung’ in creating and promoting excellent science communication in Australia.
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2013: Craig Cormick

Craig is honoured as the 2013 Unsung Hero of Australian Science Communication for two decades of deep engagement and powerful impact across the broad spectrum of science communication.
Currently, Manager of National Operations, Education for the CSIRO, Craig has headed up several government science communication enterprises, including Biotechnology Australia, the Australian Office of Nanotechnology and the National Enabling Technologies Strategy within the Department of Industry. He has initiated or managed many quality science communications activities, including the education resource Biotechnology Online, and the Science and Technology Engagement Pathway (STEP) framework, and a co-convenor of the 2013 Big Science Communications Summit.
Craig has been particularly effective in developing community engagement around contentious technologies such as biotechnology and nanotechnology but has also been involved in climate change communication. He has been active in the broader debate on science communication through contributions to Best Australian Science Writing 2012, Cosmos, Ockham’s Razor and The Conversation.
Craig largely works behind the scenes and freely provides his time and knowledge to others. He has developed and run many cross-agency forums and working groups that allow people working in similar areas to share information and work together for common outcomes.
Craig’s biggest impact has been in demanding more evidence-based rigour in science communication practice. He has been influential in communication strategies developed by regulators, government agencies, and industries working on emerging technologies. He understands that science communications must begin from the perspective of the different audiences we seek to reach, and challenges science communicators to think outside their own ‘tribe’s’ values.
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2012: Guy Nolch

The winner of the Australian Science Communicators Unsung Hero Award of Science Communication for 2012 is Mr Guy Nolch, editor, and publisher of Australasian Science
The judging panel selected Guy as the standout choice from a number of worthy nominees. The judges mentioned Guy’s many notable achievements and attributes:
his long period of distinguished science publishing (20 years publishing Australasian Science);
training and mentoring science communicators;
making scientists’ work accessible to and understood by the public;
dealing with controversial issues;
his major contributions to the discussion of science policy and scientific issues in Australia;
and for the fostering of good science journalism in Australia and for the promotion of leading Australian scientists and their research.
Guy has been making his living as a science communicator for many years and as such he is a beacon to us all.
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2007: Professor Aileen Plant

The Australian Science Communicators is honoured to posthumously designate Professor Aileen Plant as its 2007 Unsung Hero of Australian Science. The award recognises her contributions to medical epidemiology, which have been of great benefit to the health and welfare of people in Australia and around the world. The Award was made at the recent World Conference of Science Journalists in Melbourne and subsequently announced at a reception at Government House by Professor Sir Gustav Nossal. It was accepted on her behalf by Dr Stephen Prowse, CEO Australian Biosecurity Cooperative Research Centre for Emerging Infectious Disease.
Aileen died suddenly of a heart attack at Jakarta airport while waiting for her plane back to Australia from a World Health Organisation meeting. While in Indonesia she had helped bring consensus on the challenging issues surrounding avian influenza virus sharing and ensuring that developing countries will have access to influenza vaccine.
In recognition of her leadership in bringing the SARS epidemic under control in Vietnam Professor Plant had been awarded the National Medal of Honour by the Vietnamese Government in 2003. She was a national and international leader in her field of medical epidemiology, with vast experience in outbreak investigations, policy development, and research in infectious diseases, and an advisor to the WHO, the Australian Government and other health authorities around the world, particularly in developing countries.
Aileen was also regularly consulted by health authorities in Australia and was at the forefront in developing Australia’s response to many infectious disease threats including avian influenza. Aileen provided advice to numerous policy groups including the Communicable Diseases Network of Australia, National Influenza Pandemic Action Committee and the National Arbovirus and Malaria Advisory Committee. She was a member of the National Influenza Pandemic Action Committee, chairing its Research Committee, and a member of the Expert Advisory Group for the Chief Medical Officer for Australia.
Aileen was also an outstanding teacher (Curtin University of Technology) and a loved colleague and mentor to Australasian Faculty of Public Health Medicine Trainees and Fellows around the country. Aileen played a key role in establishing the Masters in Applied Epidemiology course at the Australian National University.
She was passionate about her work and traveled extensively, often with great risk to herself, to help people and countries in need of her expertise. Aileen will be remembered by many friends and colleagues for her great personal warmth and her willingness to help and provide advice to anyone who sought it.
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2005: Dr Colin Keay

The 2005 Unsung Hero is Dr Colin Keay from the University of Newcastle, honoured for his contributions to science and science communication, in particular in promoting informed debate about nuclear power.
A retired physicist from Newcastle is the 2005 Unsung Hero of Australian Science. The award, made annually by the Australian Science Communicators (ASC), has gone to Dr Colin Keay for achievements in science and science communication; in particular, his contribution to the debate over nuclear power.
“Dr Keay is no blind supporter of nuclear power,” says 2005 ASC President David Ellyard. “But he has worked very hard to make the debate as informed as possible, based on fact rather than misinformation and prejudice.
“In recent times he has been a vocal advocate of rational appreciation of the true risks (or lack of them) from nuclear radiation. He points out, for example, that you will routinely be exposed to more radiation living near a coal-fired power station than near a uranium powered one.
“These and many other basic facts about nuclear power and radiation are set in four easy-to-read books that he has produced and distributed at his own expense. These have received praise from leading physicists. They are well researched and well regarded.
“To give one example, he has developed a table which allows a person to calculate their own annual radiation dose and compare that with national and international norms.
“This reveals that a very large part of our annual radiation dose comes from within ourselves, from the food we eat and the places we chose to live. Next in importance are our choices in terms of travel and then the consequences of medical investigations.”
Dr Keay recently retired as an Associate Professor of Physics at the University of Newcastle. As well as being an academic, he has been a science communicator, founder of the local chapter of the Skeptics, public advocate of bikeways, and a popular speaker on astronomy.
His research on meteorites (and fireballs), done near the end of his career, let he explain why observers sometimes hear the sound of a meteor entering the atmosphere immediately rather than after a short time delay (as between the flash of lightning and the sound of thunder). This discovery would have gained much more recognition if he had made it as a much younger researcher with more opportunity to travel and talk on the matter.
Nonetheless, he has already received one “high” award. His work in promoting astronomy has resulted in an asteroid, orbiting the Sun between Jupiter and Mars, being named after him.
Dr Keay was nominated for the award by Professor John O’Connor, who heads up physics at the University of Newcastle.
“I know of physicists who have changed fields rather than face the negative perceptions of being a nuclear physicist. Colin has not only faced up to this challenge but has presented many talks on the issue, and has prepared his most valuable books.
“It is that sense that I consider him to be a “Hero of Australian Science” He deserved to be recognized for having the courage to take up this most sensitive of issues. His books deserve greater exposure so that a sensible, adequately informed debate can be held on the dangers and benefits of nuclear power.”
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2004: Dr Alan Wilton

Fraser Island could have the last pure dingoes according to DNA testing by Dr Alan Wilton, the 2004 Unsung Hero of Science.
“We’ve been DNA testing dingoes throughout Victoria, NSW and Qld. All the populations we tested show a large proportion of hybrids – crossbreds between dingoes and domestic dogs – except Fraser Island,” says Alan, a researcher at the School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences at the University of New South Wales.
“I fear/believe that the dingo is doomed to extinction: within a few generations purebred dingos will be lost to our world as dog/dingo genetic hybrids take over from pure dingos in our wild places.”
It’s a sad ending for a national icon and will mark the end of a 5,000-year natural experiment which started when a small number of dingos – possibly just one female – arrived in Australia. The dingo replaced the thylacine and became Australia’s top order predator. Today, dingos are now needed to maintain ecological balance.
If dingos are supplanted by modern wild dogs the consequences could be severe for the ecology of Australia. And the bush could become a more dangerous place. Wild dogs are bigger, breed more often and are more aggressive with less fear of humans.
“We need to identify other pure populations and then work out how to keep them pure before it’s too late,” says Alan.
Despite initial ARC funding, Alan’s eight-year investigation of dingo genetics has been run on the smell of an oily rag.
“The dingo is both pest and national icon,” Alan says. “Governments don’t want to spend money on conserving an animal that many regard as a pest. So we’ve largely relied on support from dingo conservation groups. We appreciate their help – but it won’t be enough to save the dingo,” he says. Alan’s research into dingos grew from his research into human population genetics disease mapping. Ten years ago he was asked by the Border Collie Club to look for the mutation responsible for a nerve degeneration disease (CL) in collies. The research fired his interest in dingos and led to collaboration in Dogmap – the international effort to map the dog genome.
Surprisingly, the Border collie research is also casting light on a similar human disease known as Batten disease.
Alan is a true Unsung Hero of Australian Science, says Toss Gascoigne, President of the Australian Science Communicators. “Despite enormous public interest, his research has been poorly supported and recognised. Dingos are not of global importance and so many researchers working on dog genetics view his research as peripheral.”
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2002: Dr Hugh Spencer

Dr Hugh Spencer, founder of the Cape Tribulation Tropical Research Station, is the 2002 Unsung Hero of Australian Science.
By creating the Cape Tribulation Tropical Research Station, he has pioneered tropical rainforest research and conservation, and supported the work of scientists and volunteers from around the world.
And he’s passionate about bats – devising high technology methods of separating farmers and flying foxes, and using GPS to track flying fox journeys.
The award will be presented in Canberra today by Wilson da Silva, President of Australian Science Communicators (ASC).
“The Daintree lowland rainforests have a pedigree of over a hundred million years,” Hugh Spencer says. “It’s one of the last remnants of the giant Gondwanan rainforests. It is incredibly species-rich and worth conserving both for its intrinsic value, for its commercial value – bioprospecting plants, animals and fungi for unique compounds, and the fact that it is one area of rainforest in the world that can really be saved”.
Hugh has put his money where his mouth is. In 1988 he left a tenured position at the University of Wollongong to establish a tropical research station in the rainforest of Cape Tribulation in Queensland.
Not relying on government or university funding, Hugh and his wife Brigitta sold their house, cashed in their entire savings and bought a strip of cleared land – once pristine rainforest – running from the highlands almost to the water’s edge.
Their dream was to create a not-for-profit facility for researchers from many disciplines and many parts of the world. They hoped that their discoveries would increase scientific knowledge and help support efforts to protect the unique Daintree lowland rainforests.
Hugh and Brigitta’s hard work has paid off. Dozens of scientists from five countries have used the Cape Tribulation Tropical Research Station, along with over one thousand volunteers. Moreover, the once damaged station property is now almost completely reforested, and serves as a reforestation model.
Meanwhile, Hugh has continued his own research. He has revealed the critical role fig wasps play in the pollination of cluster fig trees, a “keystone” species in the area; increased knowledge of poorly-studied rainforest bat species; developed sophisticated radio tracking technology, and much more.
Hugh is especially proud of the miniaturised automatic radio-tracking technology, which has just been adopted by three German universities for the study of little thumb-sized bats. “Until now, the researchers had been unable to investigate just how these tiny, but critical, little animals used the environment,” he says.
His accomplishments have come at great personal and financial cost. Hugh has endured personal attacks, caught up in academic backbiting and turf wars, ongoing financial uncertainty, not to mention mosquitoes, humidity, and cyclones!
Hugh’s passionate campaigns on environmental issues have appeared in the media. However, he remains “unsung” for his scientific achievements and his perseverance in maintaining this unique research facility—the embodiment of many novel approaches to operating in a tropical environment.
According to Prof Michael Archer, Director of the Australian Museum, Hugh’s research is first rate and highly innovative.
“In a time of bottom-line accounting and scientific conservatism, it’s absolutely crucial that we acknowledge people who, like Hugh, think outside the square and take risks,” he claims. “I’m delighted that the Australian Science Communicators have named Hugh Spencer this year’s Unsung Hero of Science.”
”It’s individuals like Dr Spencer who remind us that, if it wasn’t for the passion and dedication of unsung scientists like him, much great research would never happen, “ says Wilson da Silva, President of the Australian Science Communicators. “We commend him, and thank him for his commitment. “
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2001: Dr Estelle Lazer

A classical and forensic archaeologist who did her apprenticeship at the morgue, Dr Estelle Lazer, was awarded the “Unsung Hero of Australian Science” for 2001.
The Award is made annually by the Australian Science Communicators (ASC). It will be announced at the opening of the ASC Conference in Sydney by Senator Helen Coonan.
Dr Lazer studies human skeletal remains and is able to uncover much about the original person and their lifestyle.
“Human bones are plastic and they are remodeled in the healing process after injuries and by activities throughout a person’s life. A huge amount of information is stored in our bones,” she said. “My work is a sophisticated kind of voyeurism!”
Her life is not without its hazards. She has been spat upon by tubercular goats in Bahrain, locked up daily with thousands of human bones in Pompeii, and lashed to the mast as the iceberg spotter while traveling the Southern Ocean.
There is more: a dislocated shoulder at frigid Mawson’s Huts in Antarctica, not to mention the health risks associated with charging elephant seals and snow-filled colonial graves in NSW.
She did her PhD in Pompeii, in Italy, characterising the population of this ancient city before it was suddenly overtaken by a volcano. That involved determining the sex, height, age at death and relationships of the inhabitants from statistical studies of disarticulated (scattered) bones.
When a cemetery at Cadia (near Orange) was relocated, Estelle was part of a team called in to excavate and analyse the site. There were more bodies than headstones, and they had to be matched before the skeletons were re-interred. Her part was to do the skeletal analysis.
“I spent my days lying face down in a grave, carefully retrieving old skeletons,” she said. “It’s about then I realised you have to be a bit weird to work in this field.”
Dr Lazer is a freelance archaeologist. She spends some time at the morgue, working on research projects with the forensic dental unit. She teaches at the Universities of Sydney and NSW, and is involved in an archaeological dig in Broadway, one of Sydney’s main streets.
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2000: Carla Litchfield

An animal behaviourist studying the great apes of Africa, Ms Carla Litchfield, was announced as the winner of the “Unsung Hero of Australian Science” Award for 2000.
Ms Litchfield designs enrichment and foraging techniques for chimpanzees and caracals (a medium sized cat) in zoos, to encourage them to engage in natural behaviours. This is part of her PhD studies at Adelaide University (Psychology Department).
“We challenge them to find their food,” she said. “It may involve solving a puzzle for chimpanzees, or leaping for food as it whizzes by on a flying fox for caracals.”
She said that these challenges create social activity among animals, and cut down their abnormal behaviours (like copraphagia – eating their own excrement). “Zoos have to take care of the psychological as well as the physical well-being of their animals,” she said.
Ms Litchfield also works in Uganda to preserve the three African great apes – chimpanzees gorillas, and bonobos. She said a thriving tourist industry is the best protection for the great apes, because it employs locals and emphasises the value of the apes and their environment.
She is just back from three weeks in Uganda revisiting chimpanzee and mountain gorilla sites. She wanted to see if the tourist massacre at Bwindi had affected tourist numbers, and to get first-hand experience of the crisis facing chimpanzees.
“The great apes could become extinct in five years, unless we address the problems of rapid deforestation and bushmeat trade,” she said. “Orphan chimpanzees are a real problem.”
“Fieldwork with chimps in Uganda is not a glamorous lifestyle! We live in huts with no water, no power, no flush toilets, and eat only vegetables, beans and rice. But you have to watch out for the snakes and water-filled elephant footprints in the swamps.”
She would like to take her young daughter Kaitlin Afrika to Uganda but it is a challenging place, and young children are banned from visiting wild chimpanzees and gorillas because of the danger of transmitting infectious childhood diseases to the great apes.
Robyn Williams, President of Australian Science Communicators and ABC science journalist, said Ms Litchfield’s infectious enthusiasm made her a wonderful communicator.
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1999: Dr David Jenkins

Parasitologist and backyard scientist Dr David Jenkins was announced as the winner of the “Unsung Hero of Australian Science” Award for 1999 by Australian Science Communicators (ASC).
David Jenkins is a most unusual parasitologist, and wages the fight against hydatids in Australia almost single-handed.
He has battled against the indifference of funding bodies and a lack of public understanding. When funding for his research ran out he moved to the family garage, and spent $500 on wiring it in order to continue his work from there.
The disease is carried by dingoes and wild dogs, and although they are on the increase, Dr Jenkins’ hydatids work has to be piggy-backed on to other project funding.
He says about one hundred Australians are diagnosed as having hydatid cysts every year, and they contract the cysts by coming into contact with infected dogs, dingoes or foxes.
“The tapeworm eggs invade people in all sorts of ways,” he says. “It can be as simple as patting a dog which has rolled in the grass, and then wiping your mouth, or eating an apple or chewing a twig picked up off the bush floor.”
“People walk through dog excrement and carry the eggs into the home and on to the carpet. You can even catch it from flies resting in the corner of your eyes or mouth.”
About 90 per cent of dingoes and wild dogs in SE Australia are infected by hydatids. The dogs harbour tapeworms, and eggs from these worms are deposited when the dogs defecate. If the eggs land on grass they will be viable for a year, and can be picked up by kangaroos, wallabies, wombats and other animals, to infect those animals in turn.
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1998: Dr Malcolm Gill

CSIRO bushfire specialist Dr Malcolm Gill was named “Unsung Hero of Australian Science” for 1998 by the Australian Science Communicators (ASC).
A fire ecologist with CSIRO Plant Industry, Dr Gill won the Award for 25 years work studying the effects of bushfires on ecosystems from forests to deserts.
“Fire is a tool man has been using in Australia for at least the last 40,000 years. In today’s world where cities and wildlands meet, the effects of bushfires have sometimes been socially disastrous,” Dr Gill says.
“When managers of forests, conservation reserves, water catchments and areas of bush next to the city can understand the effects of fires, they can use fire as a tool with much more confidence,” he says.
Dr Gill’s work has helped provide managers with answers to questions such as how often they should burn, and at what time of the year, to achieve their goals.
“Questions of management of our flora and fauna using fire only seem simple at first sight,” he says. “When the vast numbers of plant and animal species are considered together with issues such as economic and social protection and the diversity of climate and vegetation types across the country, the task of answering such questions is put in perspective.”
The use and place of fire in Australia is a controversial subject. Dr Gill says that different patterns of prescribed burning can have significantly varying effects on the biodiversity of an area.
“Although repeated fires in different combinations can be to the advantage of some plants and animals in the environment, they can also disadvantage others. We really know very little about the reactions of most of our flora and fauna to the fires that occur across the nation.
“Australia really needs to redress this situation if we are to look after our natural heritage.”
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1997: Dr Chris Crossland

Dr Chris Crossland, Director of the CRC Reef Research Centre, was today announced as the winner of the “Unsung Hero of Australian Science” Award by Australian Science Communicators (ASC).
The award was made for his outstanding contribution in making the science of Australia’s greatest natural attraction interesting and relevant to everyday Australians, and for his tireless work in encouraging scientists to speak more with the public.
Ian Lowe, President of ASC and Professor of Science at Griffith University, said that Chris Crossland’s great skill lay in making science work for ordinary people.
“The Great Barrier Reef is an international treasure and Chris has to gain the understanding of everyone who uses it, from recreational fishers to international scientists and overseas tourists,” he said. “It’s a delicate job which places great demands on his communication skills.”
He said that Professor Crossland had been a “trailblazer for communication” with the national CRC Program.
“His CRC was among the earliest to recognise just how important it is to keep the public informed. The Reef is a very important part of the working and recreational life of many people, and they want to be consulted about issues relating to its management.”
Professor Crossland took a leading part in organising the Fenner Environment Conference last year, a special meeting at the Academy of Science which examined ethical issues associated with experiments in high-value conservation areas.
“The right of scientists to do what they like is coming under increasing scrutiny these days,” Crossland said. “The public has a right to know what’s going on, and they are becoming increasingly vociferous in exercising that right.
“As scientists, we need to recognise that all forms of authority are being called upon to explain themselves. The ability to talk to public audiences is no longer an optional skill for scientists.”
The Minister for Industry, Science and Tourism, John Moore, said that he was encouraged to see more scientists taking up their responsibilities to communicate with the public and industry about their work.
“Communication is the key to Australia’s benefiting from our considerable investment in science. People need information on our programs, investment and research and development to ensure that science is a leader in the 21st century,” he said.
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1996: Joy Mitchell

Joy Mitchell was the 1996 winner of the “Unsung Hero of Australian Science” Award for her outstanding contribution in making science interesting and understandable to everyday Australians.
Joy Mitchell has been the senior researcher for the ABC television science show, Quantum, since it began in 1985.
“Joy has a particular ability to pick stories which show how science works,” said Ian Anderson, Australasian editor of New Scientist magazine. “Her capacity for lateral thought and her sheer passion for the scientific method have helped her shape the Quantum agenda. “
Joy Mitchell has been directly responsible for more than 600 Quantum stories, including “The Search for Gravity Waves”. This won the Best Science Film in Paris in 1990 and a Bronze Medal in New York in 1991.
In presenting the Award, Peter McGauran, Minister for Science and Technology, said that Joy Mitchell was an “Unsung Hero” in the real Australian tradition.
“Her quiet unassuming backroom work is not publicly known, but it has had a profound influence in helping create a scientifically literate Australia. That’s crucial if Australia to play a leadership role in the Asia-Pacific region.”
Dr Caroline Mountford, Director of Sydney University’s Institute for Magnetic Resonance Research and inaugural winner of the “Unsung Hero” award, said she was thrilled to hear of Joy’s success.
“She is so smart! I have never known a person without science training who can pick up and run with scientific concepts so quickly, and understand the vision behind them.”
Former Executive Producer of Quantum, Alison Leigh, said that Joy Mitchell’s knowledge was formidable. “Joy’s work is the foundation on which Quantum’s reputation has been built.
“Awards usually go to presenters and producers, but the end product is only as good as the final research. That’s where Joy excels.”
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1995: Dr Bobbie Vaile

Dr Bobbie Vaile was a computer-packing scientific evangelist who was convinced that even physics can be fun. And now she has the award to prove it.
At ANZAAS in September 1995, ASC honoured the University of Western Sydney MacArthur physicist with this year’s Unsung Hero of Australian Science Award.
ASC gave Dr Vaile, 36, the award for her enthusiastic and often unconventional efforts to make “hard” science easy.
For example, along with a MacArthur campus colleague, Dr Frank Sootman, Dr Vaile developed a course for undergraduate students based on the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI.
“SETI offers an extraordinary catalyst for our search for better education,” Dr Vaile said, adding that this is because the skills of many different disciplines – from chemistry and computing to biology – are needed in the quest for ET and his intergalactic siblings.
The course has been so successful that other universities in Australia, Israel, South America, Sweden, France and the US want to use the idea to lure their own reluctant scholars.
Dr Vaile’s efforts to make physics “user friendly” and relevant include books, lectures and an open door to legions of baffled reporters, wondering how life starts, how many earth-like planets exist in the cosmos and how astrophysicists search for them amid the billions of stars in the universe.
Her work is particularly remarkable because, six years ago, Dr Vaile learnt she had an inoperable brain tumour that affects the communications centre of her brain.
“With cancer, my understanding of the precious time of life, is of course enhanced, ” she said. She added that the best way to describe her career was “to learn, to strive to improve personally”.
Bobbie Vaile succumbed to cancer in 1996 after a seven year battle. A minor planet, discovered in 1989 at the Siding Springs Observatory in NSW, has since been named Planet Bobbievaile in her memory.
(First published in the Sydney Morning Herald, 26 Sep 1995, written by Leigh Dayton).
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1994: Dr Carolyn Mountford

Dr Carolyn Mountford, winner of the inaugural ASC Unsung Hero of Australian Science award, said the award sends a clear message to young people that daring to be different can pay off in the long term.
“The award has been significant both to myself and the work of my research team,” she said. “I am also convinced that it has altered the perceptions of Australia’s youth.”
Mountford works in the Department of Medicine at the University of Sydney where she has been pioneering the use of magnetic resonance to detect subtle chemical changes in body cells that are the precursor to cancer.
Carolyn won the award because she was not afraid to defy current opinion to reach a goal she believed in. Against the scepticism of her peers, Carolyn succeeded in her quest to find a technique that would predict when human cells are likely to become cancerous. Ultimately, her persistence may lead to new diagnostic tests that can better identify malignant breast cancers.
In the early days of her research, when magnetic resonance was so new, some senior scientists said this was impossible, and that it could not happen. “What was essentially a vision was given a hard time to be proven or disproven experimentally,” Carolyn said. “I had to fight to get funds to do it experimentally.”
“As a result of this award, young Australians now understand that it is not ‘uncool’ to be different; that by being different an opportunity exists for a scientific advancement which may be important for Australia’s future.”
Carolyn thanked the ASC for the award. “It has given me a platform to expound philosophies that were not the norm, but certainly those which students and teachers are interested in hearing,” she explained. “The award made our difficulties and our efforts to retain Australian technology for development within this country known to others. In particular, the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology recognised that we were genuine in our efforts to remain here.”
Her research was initially funded by the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Medicine when Carolyn worked there in the early 80’s, but when the Sydney branch folded, she was back out looking for funding. Although equipment needed for her research was only available at 2.00 am, and Carolyn had a young family, she was not about to be daunted in her quest.
“At the time, I found it easier to get innovative science funders through the American government than the Australian government,” Carolyn explained. “It was hard to get the establishment to take it seriously here.”
Carolyn is quick to acknowledge a vast difference between past and present attitudes to scientific research and technology. The ASC award was the icing on the cake for Carolyn, who is confident that attitudes to innovative R&D are flowing in a more favourable direction.
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