The Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd and the Minister for Innovation, Kim Carr, honoured scientists and science teachers at a spectacular event in the Great Hall of Parliament House last night. I'm lucky enough to score an invitation to this terrific night each year and last night's was probably the best ever.
My three highlights from the night were:
- The passion for science evident from the Government. The PM and Minister both gave excellent speeches, making it clear that they view innovation as one of the keys to Australia's future. In the midst of the financial crisis, the PM was funny and entertaining as well as crystal clear that we must capture the imagination of young people about science.
- John Curtin School of Medicine researcher Dr. Carola Vinuesa was an absolute inspiration. A medical doctor from Spain who decided she could make more of a difference studying the mechanisms of disease rather than just treating them, she is the winner of the Science Minister's Prize for Life Scientist of the Year. She's done brilliant work on the genetics of autoimmune diseases and had it published in Nature, established her own lab and team and had a couple of children in a remarkably short time. I think the whole audience, like me, thought "oh great" when she said she was now an Australian citizen.
- Professor Ian Frazer's recognition as the Prime Minister's Prize for Science winner. Although Ian Frazer has received many honours, it was great to see the recognition of the excellence of the science behind his work. Professor Frazer's vaccines against the human papilloma virus are the world's first vaccines to prevent a cancer. He told the audience that he tended to prefer the Courier Mail's caption next to his picture holding the vaccine "God's gift to women" than than the one in Cosmopolitan "the little prick that could save your life".
Other highlight's were Bernie Hobb's fantastic mastering of ceremonies, South Australia's capturing of three awards and (for me) seeing heroes of Australian science, especially previous winner Professor Frank Fenner.