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Renowned Curtin astronomer leads Premier’s Science Awards nominations

Media release

Four Curtin University researchers and three of the University’s programs have been named as finalists in the prestigious Premier’s Science Awards 2020.

Curtin campus grounds

John Curtin Distinguished Professor Steven Tingay, a world-renowned astronomer from Curtin’s Institute of Radio Astronomy (CIRA) and the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR), is a finalist in the lead category – Scientist of the Year.

Dr Xihong Zhang, a Senior Research Fellow in Curtin’s School of Civil and Mechanical Engineering, is in the running for the Woodside Early Career Scientist of the Year, while PhD candidates Ms Morgan Cox and Mr Liam Scarlett have been recognised in the ExxonMobil Student Scientist of the Year category.

Three Curtin developed programs including Curtin’s STEM Outreach FIRST LEGO League WA, Cliniface, and the Autism Academy for Software Quality Assurance (AASQA) are all finalists in the Chevron Science Engagement Initiative of the Year.

Curtin University Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research Professor Chris Moran congratulated the Curtin researchers and teams who have been recognised for their significant and inspiring work.

“The seven Curtin finalists all come from different fields of expertise ranging from astrophysics and radio astronomy to the formation of the early Earth to STEM outreach. The number of Curtin finalists this year showcases the high level of research being undertaken at the University,” Professor Moran said.

“Professor Tingay, who is in the running for the top award, is an inspirational leader in the field of astronomy and astrophysics, dedicating his career to important research which helps to answer the fundamental questions about the Universe.

“The awards recognise and celebrate Western Australia’s STEM superstars and I would like to congratulate all of the finalists on their outstanding research and engagement achievements.”

Further information about Curtin’s finalists is outlined below:

John Curtin Distinguished Professor Steven Tingay: Professor Tingay is the Deputy Executive Director of ICRAR and leads the Curtin University node of ICRAR. He is an internationally renowned expert in astronomy and astrophysics and his research encompasses building and using radio telescopes, as well as astrophysical interpretation. Professor Tingay designs challenging and novel experiments to answer fundamental questions about the Universe. He established the Curtin Institute of Radio Astronomy in 2007, a world-class radio astronomy institute. He was the Director of the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) during its design, construction, and initial operation phases – the only fully operational low frequency precursor telescope for the 1.7 billion euro Square Kilometre Array. He has been centrally involved in attracting the SKA investment to Western Australia, with benefits to science, society, and Western Australian industry.

Dr Xihong Zhang: Dr Zhang is a dedicated and enthusiastic young scholar whose research focuses on safeguarding human life and built structures against natural and man-made hazards. His research provides design methods devised for engineering practice, primarily for the mining and civil construction. He is currently pioneering a new field of research on next-generation building, that combines intelligent automation building systems with smart interlocking blocks, and environment-friendly materials, with the ambition of providing future housing solutions in a more efficient and affordable way.

Ms Morgan Cox: Ms Morgan Cox is a PhD candidate and planetary geologist from Curtin’s School of Earth and Planetary Sciences. Ms Cox’s research seeks to uncover the evolution of the Earth and planetary bodies through identifying evidence of asteroid impacts in the geological record. She has been instrumental in developing close ties with NASA, from which she is now publishing work on the dinosaur-killing asteroid impact in Mexico. Ms Cox is a passionate advocate for STEM within Western Australia and looks forward to further communicating science to Western Australians.

Mr Liam Scarlett: Mr Scarlett is a PhD student from Curtin’s School of Electrical Engineering, Computing and Mathematical Sciences. Mr Scarlett was awarded a Forrest Scholarship in 2018 to undertake a PhD with the University’s Theoretical Physics Group, using supercomputers and quantum mechanics to study the atomic and molecular collisions which take place in fusion, industrial, and astrophysical plasmas. His research focuses on the development and implementation of computational techniques for modelling the nuclear dynamics in collisions between electrons and molecular hydrogen.

FIRST LEGO League WA: The FIRST LEGO League in WA is a collaborative project led by Curtin University’s STEM Outreach team, in partnership with eight key schools; three regional and five metro. Over two school terms, teams of students aged between nine and 16 engage in two STEM problem-solving challenges – the Robot Challenge and the Innovation Project. The Robot Challenge is building and programming a LEGO robot that completes missions on a field and the Innovation Project requires students to identify and solve a real-world problem. Both challenges are undertaken with positive, collaborative principles that are celebrated at the high-energy, end-of-season competitions.

Cliniface – 3D facial analysis for clinical transition: Originally developed by Dr Richard Palmer from Curtin’s School of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Cliniface is a software application that uses spatial technologies such as state-of-the-art 3D surface mapping to visualise, measure, and analyse subtle facial features in children to help identify underlying medical conditions such as rare diseases. The software aims to assist clinical diagnosis, drug treatment monitoring and clinical trials by comparing accurate and reliable measurements taken from 3D images against statistics about facial growth in order to automatically highlight facial traits that are unusual and possibly medically significant.

AASQA: Led by Professor Tele Tan, the Autism Academy for Software Quality Assurance (AASQA) is an innovative social initiative that takes evidence-based, engaging and strength-based approaches to support individuals on the autism spectrum and their families, at all stages of life. Drawing on the wealth of autism research at the Curtin Autism Research Group, AASQA has designed a suite of resources for people on the autism spectrum, starting in their first years of high school, building interest in STEM education and providing pathways to training and employment in STEM industries. For its outstanding contribution to the community and economy, AASQA has won the Business and Higher Education Roundtable Award for Outstanding Collaboration for National Benefit (2018) and the WAITTA/Incite Award for Most Impactful Social Benefit (2016). Professor Tan from AASQA won the 2016 ACS Gold Disruptor Award for IT Education in Australia.

The winners of the 2020 Premier’s Science Awards will be announced on 29 September 2020.

Further information on the Premier’s Science Awards can be found online here.