Three University of Melbourne projects shortlisted for 2022 Eureka Prizes


3 Minute read

Three University of Melbourne projects have been shortlisted for Australia’s premier science awards – the Australian Museum’s 2022 Eureka Awards.

Among the projects is a pioneering initiative to engage more Indigenous Australians with STEM subjects, featuring opportunities for students such as 3D printing, flight simulator experiences, involvement in a Formula SAE team, a robotics-based Olympics competition or a high-powered rocket challenge.

The Eureka Prizes are the nation’s most comprehensive awards, offering $140,000 in prize money across a broad spectrum of research, from environmental to innovative technologies, citizen science, leadership and mentoring.

The Victorian Indigenous Engineering Winter School (VIEWS) is a unique tertiary collaboration that is boosting opportunity for Indigenous
Australians to be better represented in engineering and information technology. VIEWS is one of three shortlisted projects in the Department of Industry, Science and Resources Eureka Prize for STEM Inclusion category.

The University of Melbourne, Monash, RMIT and Swinburne Universities work together to provide the program, along with support from Indigenous community Elders, industry partners and the community.

Indigenous Australians are dramatically under-represented in engineering and information technology. The VIEWS initiative arose out of the 2015 National Indigenous Engineering Summit. Since 2016, the annual, week-long VIEWS program has fired the ambitions of over 100 Year 10-12 students from around
Australia, introducing them to university life, STEM mentors and career possibilities, while also connecting these pathways to their culture.

The University of Melbourne's VIEWS Academic Lead, Professor Elaine Wong, who is Associate Dean (Diversity and Inclusion) in the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology (FEIT), says VIEWS was formed through the pursuit of shared values of increasing parity in STEM and its unique feature is
that the providers don’t compete, but collaborate with the mutual goal of increasing parity in STEM.

“This ensures the focus remains squarely on fostering positive student outcomes and achieving parity for Indigenous students in STEM in engineering and technology study, as well as in the profession,” Professor Wong says.

Michelle Bellino, VIEWS Program Manager and FEIT’s Manager, Student Experience, says immersive workshops and engineering activities are the backbone of the program, providing participants with experiential learning opportunities.

“The program is designed and delivered by engineering academics, Indigenous engineers, postgraduate engineering students, and industry partner representatives,” she says.

“Highlights have included engineering design challenges such as bridge building and hands-on 3D printing, flight simulator experiences, a Formula SAE team, a robotics-based Olympics competition, caring for Country and a high-power rocket challenge, among many others.”

Hope Perkins, the University’s Senior Development Manager (Indigenous), who helped establish the VIEWS program, says an important element of the program is to provide a connection to Indigenous culture in parallel to the discipline-specific technical considerations of engineering and IT.

“It really is an experiential comprehensive approach to learning,” Ms Perkins says.

“There was also a workshop delivered by a current Indigenous Science student titled ‘Caring for Country’. This was great as it showcased the parallels with Chemical Engineering and ancient systems of knowledge related to water management. The students really loved this.”

University of Melbourne researchers have also been shortlisted for the Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre Eureka Prize for Infectious Diseases Research. Professor Jane Hocking, from the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, and Professor Deborah Williamson (Peter Doherty Institute for
Infection and Immunity (PDI) join Monash University’s Associate Professor Eric Chow and Professors Christopher Fairley, Catriona Bradshaw and Marcus Chen in this nomination The team is recognised globally as among the top-ranked most active researchers in the field of STIs.

Professor Jane Hocking is a global expert in the epidemiology and control of Chlamydia trachomatis and has led pioneering research into chlamydia treatment. Professor Deborah Williamson is an international leader in pathogen genomics and an expert in the development of laboratory-based resistance trials. Through her role at the PDI, she has direct access to all gonorrhoea
and syphilis samples from the state of Victoria for genomic testing and analysis. This access gives her additional insights.

“We know that rapid rises and antimicrobial resistance in sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are of global significance. Our team has developed novel interventions and strategies to improve control of STIs and to optimise antimicrobial stewardship,” Professor Hocking says.

Untreated gonorrhoea and chlamydia can cause serious health problems such as infertility and ectopic pregnancy; and syphilis can result in serious morbidity including ocular syphilis, which results in blindness, and congenital syphilis if spread to a foetus during pregnancy from an infected mother.
The emergence of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in Neisseria gonorrhoeae and Mycoplasma genitalium is of global significance as this will render these STIs increasingly difficult or impossible to treat.

The team’s research has changed Australian and international chlamydia and Mycoplasma genitalium treatment guidelines, has pioneered the implementation of resistance-guided therapy for Mycoplasma genitalium, has produced ground breaking, world-first methodology integrating genomic and epidemiologic
data to help understand the epidemiology of STIs, and has made new discoveries, establishing salvia as playing a key role in the transmission of gonorrhoea leading to an innovative mouthwash intervention to reduce transmission.

A third initiative, the University’s joint project NanoMslide with La Trobe University, Garvan Institute of Medical Research and Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, has made the shortlisted category of ANSTO Eureka Prize for Innovative Use
of Technology.

By applying a patented coating created with cutting-edge nanofabrication technology, the collaborators behind NanoMslide are turning the humble glass microscope slide into a diagnostic lab. Cancer cells interact with the coating and produce an instant colour variation, enabling fast, accurate, cost-effective
diagnoses without the need for specialised equipment.

The winners of the 2022 Australian Museum Eureka Prizes will be announced on Wednesday 31 August at an awards ceremony at the Museum.

First published on 27 July 2022.

Share this article