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Curtin researchers earn prestigious Eureka Prize nominations

Media release

Four Curtin University scientists are finalists in the 2020 Australian Museum Eureka Prizes for their two projects, one of which develops a ‘new way of doing chemistry’ and the other advances technology for use in defence and national security.

Professors Ba-Ngu Vo and Ba-Tuong Vo from Curtin’s School of Electrical Engineering, Computing and Mathematical Sciences and the Intelligent Sensing and Perception (ISP) Group at Curtin, together with Dr Michael Beard from Solinnov Pty Ltd have been recognised for their outstanding science in safeguarding Australia with a focus on ‘synoptic situational awareness’.

Professor Ba-Ngu Vo and his team have developed an innovative approach to situational awareness involving millions of environmental elements and events simultaneously, using a novel algorithm for processing very large volumes of data.

“The team is facilitating comprehensive intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance over vast areas, this capability is well suited to Australia’s need to defend a large region with a relatively small force,” said Professor Ba-Ngu Vo.

“We are looking at situational awareness on a large scale, making the best use of our modern sensing capabilities to allow for optimal, informed and timely decision-making.”

The nominated chemistry project allows for more efficient and environmentally friendly methods of catalysing chemical reactions to potentially produce chemicals such as polymers, plastics and pharmaceuticals.

The Coote-Ciampi-Darwish team, which includes ARC Future Fellow Dr Simone Ciampi and Curtin Research Fellow Dr Nadim Darwish, both from Curtin’s School of Molecular and Life Sciences, and ARC Laureate Fellow Professor Michelle Coote from the Australian National University’s Research School of Chemistry, is a finalist for the 2020 UNSW Eureka Prize for Scientific Research.

Dr Darwish said the team’s novel approach uses electric fields to speed up chemical reactions, rather than using catalysts or strong heat sources, both of which traditionally create more waste and are generally less friendly to the environment.

“Chemical reactions are required to create many of the products we regularly use – from the plastic chairs we sit on in the garden to the packaging for many of our food products and various medicines,” Dr Darwish said.

“Traditionally, to make the materials in these products, chemists often need to purchase expensive catalyst materials, many of which are toxic, then heat up the solution to the correct temperature, then extract the end product from a mixture that contains waste material.

“Our new approach removes much of the negative aspects of that process, simply by using electricity, generated from something as small as a battery, with no toxic catalysts being required.”

Dr Ciampi said the team believes its research may lead to new ways in which materials can be made, including implications in the creation of miniaturised electronics, such as self-healing plastics or molecular diodes and transistors.

Dr Ciampi is a chemist working in the field of physical chemistry whose research focuses broadly on semiconductor electrochemistry and surface chemistry. Dr Darwish is at the forefront of nanotechnology research with emphasis on single-molecule electronics technology.

The Australian Museum Eureka Prizes, considered Australia’s leading science awards, were established in 1990 to reward outstanding achievements in Australian science and science communication.

For the first time in the program’s 30-year history, the 2020 winners will be announced during a live, digital event with an interactive app to allow the online audience to take part in the proceedings. The digital event is open to everyone and is free to attend. For more information visit https://australianmuseum.net.au/eurekaprizes.