17 September 2010

Minister Jodi McKay has announced Professor Bryan Gaensler as the winner of the NSW Scientist of the Year in the Physics, Earth Sciences, Chemistry and Astronomy Category. Professor Gaensler, an ARC Federation Fellow based within the Sydney Institute for Astronomy (SIfA) within the School of Physics said he was delighted to win the award in a year that has been one of achievements for the young astronomer.

In addition to this most recent award he will be embarking on two new roles in 2011 - as an Australian Laureate Fellow, and as Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for All-sky Astrophysics (CAASTRO).

"As a Laureate Fellow, I plan to use the unique capabilities of the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) to conduct the Polarisation Sky Survey of the Universe's Magnetism (POSSUM). POSSUM will be based around an effect called "Faraday rotation", in which light from a background object is subtly changed when it passes through a cloud of magnetised gas," says Professor Gaensler.

He explains that by measuring the Faraday rotation in the emission from millions of distant galaxies over 70% of the sky, POSSUM will be able to transform our understanding of magnetic fields in galaxies, clusters and in diffuse intergalactic gas, and to thus address key unanswered questions on Milky Way ecology, galaxy evolution and cosmology.

The data from POSSUM will provide a substantial legacy to the astronomical community, while the new instrumentation required for this project will test the technology needed for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), a radio telescope for the 21st century that will answer fundamental questions about the origin and evolution of the Universe.

As Director of CAASTRO, he will be working to establish Australia as the world-leader in wide-field radio and optical astronomy. The CAASTRO team aims to answer major unsolved problems in astronomy, to develop innovative ways of processing enormous data-sets, and to enable a diverse set of opportunities for students and early career researchers.

"By bringing Australia's top astronomers together into a focused collaboration, CAASTRO will cement Australia's reputation as an international leader in astrophysical research, will build unique expertise in wide-field radio and optical astronomy, and will position Australia to lead the science programmes planned for the SKA," adds Professor Gaensler.

Professor Hugh Durrant-Whyte from the University of Sydney as the 2010 NSW Scientist of the Year, winning $55,000 for his achievements in robotics. The School of Physics warmly congratulates all winners of the NSW Scientist Awards.

For details about the NSW Scientist of the Year Award, including a full list of 2010 finalists and category winners go to

Contact: Alison Muir

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