Awarded at a gala dinner at Parliament House, Canberra, on 16 October by the Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the prize recognises Associate Professor Liz New’s outstanding research in developing chemical tools to assist the study of biological systems.
She has pioneered the development of new molecular imaging tools to study the activity of anti-cancer drugs and to understand how oxidative stress is related to diseases associated with ageing.
The Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science are Australia’s most prestigious awards for outstanding achievements in scientific research and research-based innovation.
Associate Professor New received her $50,000 prize money, medallion designed by renowned artist Wojciech Pietranik from the Royal Australian Mint, lapel pin, and award certificate at the award dinner.
“To me this prize is really recognition of the hard work and the dedication and the creativity of all those who share this research journey with me,” said Associate Professor New.
“I love that as a scientist, I can be an explorer. The molecules that we make have never been made before and we're able to then put them into cells and see things that have never been seen before.”
Associate Professor New’s work focuses on developing molecules that act as fluorescent sensors, emitting light to allow observation of how cells cycle through oxidative events over long periods of time. Existing imaging systems such as ultrasound and MRI provide structural information about biological systems, but can’t provide information about the nature or distribution of chemicals within the cell.
Her reversible sensors will assist in the identification of potential treatments for diseases associated with ageing, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes – an important breakthrough considering that these diseases affect 50 per cent of the Australian population and contribute to 85 per cent of deaths.
“I explain our work by using an analogy of a mobile phone. If you've lost your phone in a cluttered bag, the solution, of course, is to call it to let the sound signal its location. In the same way, the cell is very cluttered and it’s a challenge to find the chemical of interest, so we use light to signal the location of a chemical within a cell,” explained Associate Professor New.
“It's really exciting now that our imaging tools are being used by researchers all over the world to investigate many different diseases and answer questions we’ve never considered. For example, our tools are being used to study Parkinson's disease and how it can be treated.”
Associate Professor New is also an alumna of the University of Sydney, having graduated with her Bachelor of Science (Advanced) with Honours I and the University Medal, and her Master of Science in Chemistry.
“I'm fortunate to have always been encouraged in science. My father was a researcher and my mother was a medical doctor. When I was 10 my parents showed me a drop of blood under the microscope and I remember being fascinated by all of the cells that I could see. I'm still amazed by the power that microscopy has to show us what is going on inside our bodies,” said Associate Professor New.
Sir Malcolm McIntosh AC was an Australian scientist and senior public servant who was head of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) between 1996 and 2000.
This year marks 20 years of the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science. The Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year recognises an exceptional achievement in science that benefits, or has the potential to benefit, human welfare or society.