NSW Scientist of the Year

World-renowned virologist Professor Edward Holmes from The University of Sydney has been named 2020 NSW Scientist of the Year. Professor Holmes was one of 11 leading researchers, innovators and educators honoured at the 2020 Premier’s Prizes for Science & Engineering on Tuesday 27 October 2020.

Professor Holmes, who will receive a prize of $60,000, was honoured for his research on the emergence, evolution and spread of viruses. His particular focus is on how viruses can jump species boundaries, with the potential to cause disease epidemics and pandemics.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said that the prizes were an opportunity to celebrate the extraordinary contribution that NSW scientists and engineers make to our everyday lives.

“In a year of unparalleled challenges, our state has placed its trust in science. The NSW Government will continue to support our finest scientists, engineers and educators, not only to manage the issues we face, but also to ensure that their innovation and expertise is integral to building a stronger, smarter, more agile economy post-COVID-19,” Ms Berejiklian said.

Professor Holmes’ work has led to fundamental insights into the origin and spread of numerous viruses, including hepatitis C, HIV, influenza, West Nile, dengue, Zika and Ebola.

Most recently, Professor Holmes was involved in key research that showed that SARS-CoV-2 was the causative agent of COVID-19. In January 2020, he was the first person to publicly release the genome sequence of the virus, enabling the rapid development of diagnostic tests.

He followed this with fundamental research into the animal origins of SARS-CoV-2, helping to demonstrate the presence of related viruses in bats and pangolins, and showing that coronaviruses have an ability to jump species boundaries and emerge in new hosts.

“It’s a tremendous honour to receive this award, which is built on the hard work of my team and collaborators over many years,” Professor Holmes said.

“My work has consistently warned us of the potential of virus pandemics. I’m so thankful and proud to be living in a state and country in which the science has been listened to and used to help build such an effective response to COVID-19.”

Minister for Planning and Public Spaces Rob Stokes presented the prizes on behalf of the Premier, stating that this year’s winners highlighted the ongoing relevance and importance of research and education in our daily lives.

“It’s a great honour to present these awards and celebrate the work of these extraordinary people,” Mr Stokes said.

“They’ve played key roles across a range of fields and are often the unsung heroes of our state. The awards are a reminder of the incredible talent we have here in NSW in cutting edge technologies that help safeguard our future.”

NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer Professor Durrant-Whyte said: “Our Scientist of the Year, Professor Edward Holmes, is a global authority in virology and the significance of his work in the early identification of the devastating potential of the coronavirus cannot be overstated.”

“My sincere congratulations to all our winners – noting that this year, for the first time, female recipients outnumber males – and my thanks to them for their outstanding contribution to science, engineering and education in NSW.”

Winners NSW Premier’s Prizes for Science & Engineering

Also awarded at NSW Government House were prize winners across ten categories, who will each receive $5,000.

The 2020 NSW Premier’s prize winners are:

Category 1: Excellence in Mathematics, Earth Sciences, Chemistry or Physics
Winner: Distinguished Professor Suzanne O’Reilly, Macquarie University

Category 2: Excellence in Biological Sciences (Ecology, environmental, agricultural and organismal)
Winner: Professor Ian Wright, Macquarie University

Category 3: Excellence in Medical Biological Sciences (Cell and molecular, medical, veterinary and genetics)
Joint winners: Distinguished Professor Antoine van Oijen, the University of Wollongong and Professor Merlin Crossley, UNSW Sydney

Category 4: Excellence in Engineering or Information and Communications Technologies
Winner: Distinguished Professor Zaiping Guo, the University of Wollongong

Category 5: NSW Early Career Researcher of the Year (Biological Sciences)
Winner: Dr Rachael Gallagher, Macquarie University

Category 6: NSW Early Career Researcher of the Year (Physical Sciences)
Winner: Dr Jelena Rnjak-Kovacina, UNSW Sydney

Category 7: Leadership in Innovation in NSW
Winner: Professor Ewa Goldys, UNSW Sydney

Category 8: Innovation in NSW Public Sector Science and Engineering
Winner: Dr David Hopkins, NSW Department of Primary Industries

Category 9: Innovation in Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics Teaching in NSW:
Winner: Ms Sophie Poisel, Emanuel School

Watch a video of the 2020 ceremony at NSW Government House

About the prizes

The NSW Premier’s Prizes for Science & Engineering is an annual event held by the NSW Government to celebrate the achievements of the state’s finest scientists, engineers and educators. It is held at Government House in the presence of its patron, Her Excellency, the Honourable Margaret Beazley AO QC, Governor of New South Wales. Learn more about the NSW Premier’s Prizes for Science & Engineering.