That means presentations and prize-giving for everyone from the pre-school carols concert, under-6 sports teams, school academic awards, dance and music concerts (including the Schools Spectacular at the Opera House for NSW public schools) to the top Scientists of the year. We acknowledge achievement and so we should.
This article provides a round-up of some of the science awards. There are now so many different prizes that it would be impossible to mention everyone, much less give an idea about their varied research areas, but this little tribute is just to remind you that our scientists, in general, are achieving results.
Outcomes in science research take a very long time to materialise, so each award represents many years of hard work by the scientists and the teams that support them.
Those whom I have not mentioned, or whose work was not rewarded by the public this year, have not been forgotten: Colossians 3 verses 23-24 (ESV) "Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ."
Although there were no Australians among the Nobel laureates this year, it is interesting to see the range of research topics of the winners.
The physics prize was (finally) awarded to Peter Higgs (Britain) and Francois Englert (Belgium) for predicting - 50 years ago – the existence of the sub-atomic particle now known as the Higgs Boson. Evidence of this particle has finally been confirmed using the extremely high-tech machinery and computer softwared at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN). Its existence gives weight to the latest theories of physics about the way matter is held together at the level smaller than atoms.
Of passing interest is that it has been labelled the God particle (not by Higgs himself, it must be noted). But this is an urban myth – the original comment was that it was the 'Goddamn particle' because it was proving so difficult to find. However, a publisher deemed it unsuitable to put this phrase in publication, so the legend about its mythical nickname was born. It has no philosophical or religious implications, and no reflection of the beliefs of the scientists at all. (abc.net.au and en.wikipedia.org )
The prize for medicine was awarded for researchers who have used simple yeast cells to decipher how molecules are transported between, and into, cells. It has been reported as finding how our cells (which are similar to yeast cells) have 'an intricately designed trafficking system including careful packaging, cargo quality control and delivery of cargo to the right address at the right time.' (theconversation.com)
The chemistry Nobel prize in chemistry has gone to researchers who have developed computer models for predicting reactions of molecules. Hopefully this will lead to more efficient and quicker searches for new medications and materials than the trial-and-error bench-based reactions traditionally used by chemists. (rappler.com)
On a sadder note, I have just read that the 1975 Australian Nobel Laureate for chemistry, Professor John Cornforth, died last week at the age of 96.
The next three awards are all for Australians in widely different areas of research and technology.
Florey Medal – for vaccine against rotavirus
Professor Ruth Bishop won this medal, "...awarded to the Australian biomedical researcher for significant achievements in the field" in 2013. It is named after Australian Nobel Laureate Lord Howard Florey, co-discoverer of penicillin, (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howard_Florey )
Professor Bishop's award is in recognition of 40 years of research into the deadly childhood gastrointestinal disease caused by rotavirus. Since 2007, babies have been vaccinated against rotavirus and it has cut hospitalisations by about a third, and deaths in developed countries to a neglible level – although there are still many deaths in less developed countries. It is hoped the vaccine will become more available to babies all over the world. (www.abc.net.au )
International Award for Open Source sharing of malaria research
Dr Matthew Todd, a chemist at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) has been sharing the results of his group's research in an unusual way for several years. Instead of keeping their research results to themselves until there is a result worth publishing, members of his research group have been sharing their interim results, methods and discussions about any problems with an online community of scientists. In this way, he has made the data publicly available in an openly accessible worldwide repository.
He has won one of three 'Accelerating Science Awards' in the USA for his work with the Open Source Malaria project, which involves students and researchers from Australia, Europe and North Americal using open online laboratory notebooks, enabling them to share their day-to-day activities on this project.
Dr Todd hopes this approach will be used to other areas of drug discovery, to help fight other diseases. He said "Putting your work on the web helps to get greater interaction and find the best people to work with you." (theconversation.com )
Innovations Award – for solar systems
The Innovation Award at the Australian Anthill Cool Company Awards has awarded the 'Coolest Company in Australia' to Dyesol, an ASX-listed company that makes solar cells.
The award recognises the inroads this company has made in Dye Solar Cell technology and its vision to take the biological system of photosynthesis beyond plants, to investigate ways that similar processes can revolutionise the manufacture and storage of energy.
The Chairman of Dyesol's Technical Advisory Board, Dr Michael Graetzel, also won two other awards, one in the USA (Leigh Ann Conn Prize for Renewable Energy) and one in Switzerland (Marcel Benoist Prize for the most useful scientific discovery or study … significant for human life) in the same week. (www.businessspectator.com.au)
There were innumerable others to wax lyrical upon, as we likewise could mention many more than the few named in our 2013 PSI Young Writer Awards last September in Melbourne. I have published many science articles this year and what we can extend to our science readers is a sacred Christmas remembering why we celebrate it, and then, with expectations of a new year, may 2014 be one to write home about (as it were).
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at