This year’s “Oscars of science” celebrate the work of a researcher who’s been trying to get power from poo, citizen scientists using drones to help create 3D models of coastal communities, and the ABC’s daily coronavirus podcast Coronacast.
These winners were among the 17 recipients of tonight’s annual Australian Museum Eureka Awards, which celebrate research and innovation, leadership, science engagement and school science.
It’s possible to get at least five times as much energy out of sewage than we do at the moment, says environmental engineer Qilin Wang of the University of Technology Sydney, one of tonight’s winners.
“Sewage treatment actually accounts for 10 to 25 per cent of the municipal energy consumption,” said Dr Wang, who was awarded the Eureka Prize for Outstanding Early Career Researcher.
Treatment includes removing organic material and nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous.
While it’s possible to produce biogas from organic material in sewage to help power the treatment, this conversion process is currently not very efficient.
But Dr Wang has discovered that a by-product of sewage treatment, free ammonia, can be used to improve the efficiency of this process.
And it can also boost the amount of organic material available to be converted into energy in the first place.
“We can increase the amount of energy recovered by more than five times compared to what is currently achievable,” Dr Wang said.
“This energy can be used to run the wastewater treatment plant and if we have extra energy left this can be put into the grid.”
Dr Wang’s research has been patented and is currently in the process of being commercialised globally.
Citizens make 3D models of the coast
The Victorian Coastal Monitoring Program was awarded the Eureka Prize for Innovation in Citizen Science.
The program trains citizen scientists to use drones to monitor the coast and predict how beaches will respond to storms and rising sea levels.
The drones collect high quality research grade data that is used to build 3D models of the coast.
“We can even image footprints,” team member Dr David Kennedy from the University of Melbourne, said.
“It really is a global first.”
Other team members come from Deakin University, the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning and a company called Propellor Aerobotics.
Citizen scientists not only fly the drones but decide when to carry out surveys and analyse the data on a cloud platform to track the movement of sand.
Data is revealing how sand is removed and returned to a beach by storms and tides. This is becoming increasingly important as climate change is increasing the area of coast affected
“Sand is never lost on a beach, it simply moves somewhere else and usually comes back,” Dr Kennedy said.
Understanding this natural cycle is an important part of preserving our coastline.
The data collected is publicly available for anyone to use and can be used to inform coastal development and repair work.
School students explain the physics of water
For the up and coming science enthusiasts, the University of Sydney Sleek Geeks Science Eureka Prize was awarded for two student videos exploring the physics of water.
Scarlett P. and Scarlett O. from Oak Flats Primary School in NSW used claymation and dance to explain the process of ‘supercooling’, where a liquid is chilled below its freezing point without it becoming solid.
And Himalaya J. from Balwyn High School in Victoria used song and animation to explain why water droplets on a window pane move closer together until they merge in a video called ‘The Secret Life of Droplets’.
ABC’s Coronacast wins journalism prize
Coronacast, the ABC’s daily podcast on all things COVID-19, won the Eureka Prize for Science Journalism.
Hosted by Dr Norman Swan and Tegan Taylor and produced by Will Ockendon, the podcast gives evidence-based answers to questions from the audience and many Australians now rely on it as a trusted source of information about the coronavirus pandemic.
The team also won a Walkley Award for the podcast earlier this week.
Other winners of Eureka prizes included:
- A team from Monash University and ANSTO whose work is helping to develop pharmaceutical ‘milkshakes’, including formulations for children to treat diseases like malaria.
- A University of Sydney researcher Professor Dacheng Tao who is developing innovative algorithms to help driverless cars detect objects on the road.
- Research to help restore Australia’s shellfish reefs by The Nature Conservancy; James Cook University; University of Adelaide; and University of Tasmania
- Metabolic disease research by Professor Mark Febbraio, Monash University that could improve glucose metabolism, progressing new drug therapies for people living with diabetes.
- Associate Professor Asha Bowen, Wesfarmers Centre of Vaccines and Infectious Diseases; Telethon Kids Institute for infectious disease research reducing the burden of skin infections for Aboriginal children living in remote communities.
- The CSIRO Indigenous STEM Education Project, which improves Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student aspiration, achievement and participation in STEM.