[ASC-media] Nature recognises Melbourne mentors

Niall Byrne niall at scienceinpublic.com.au
Sat Dec 2 00:33:14 CET 2006

Nature rewards excellent scientific mentors in Australasia

The inaugural winners of the Nature awards for mentoring in Australasian science have been selected. There are two awards, one for a scientist in mid-career, another for lifetime achievement.

The winner of the mid-career award is Professor Rachel Webster, an astrophysicist from the University of Melbourne, and the lifetime award goes to Professor Tom Healy, a physical chemist also from the University of Melbourne.

Dr Philip Campbell, Editor-in-Chief of Nature, says: 'We are delighted to recognize the efforts and commitment of these two exceptional science mentors.'

A total of 74 high-quality nominations were received from across Australia and New Zealand from a broad variety of disciplines. "Judging these awards was the hardest task I've ever had to undertake," says Professor Kurt Lambeck, chair of the judging panel, and head of the Australian Academy of Science.

Rachel Webster created a strong research environment from scratch when she was appointed just over 10 years ago. In a relatively short time, she has fostered a thriving astrophysics community and spawned a pedigree of protégés, who attribute their success to her inspirational guidance. She is planning for a strong future in astronomy - 

Webster has served as a role model for women in physics. She played a key role in introducing the Women in Physics programme at the University of Melbourne, which has been running for a decade and has bolstered the numbers of female graduates.

She is not afraid of the big challenges - taking on coordination of Australia's contribution to the Low Frequency Demonstrator, a potential precursor of the planned Square Kilometre Array radio telescope. 

The winner of Nature's lifetime mentoring award, Tom Healy, "is an example of a person who not only mentors his own students, he also succeeds in mentoring an entire field of science," said one of his nominators. Australian colloid and surface science is ranked among the best in the world, thanks in large part to Healy.

A feature of Healy's legacy is a student conference that he helped to establish nearly 40 years ago to enable young researchers in the field to network with their peers. 

Healy's main interests lie in colloid research - the study of particles in a dispersed medium, such as sludge, slimes, aerosols or emulsions - research that is being applied in many areas, not least in the mining industry for the frugal use of water, an important issue in drought-prone Australia. This has taken his mentoring beyond traditional boundaries - bringing industry, government and academia together to solve practical issues. 

Each winner will receive AUS$10,000 and be profiled in the upcoming issue of Nature. Dr Campbell will present the winners with their awards at a ceremony in Melbourne on Friday 1 December 2006.


Rachel Webster (University of Melbourne, Australia)
Tel: +61 (3) 8344 5450; E-mail: rwebster at physics.unimelb.edu.au 

Tom Healy (University of Melbourne, Australia)
Tel: +61 (3) 8344 6481; or: +61 0417 134430; E-mail: tomhealy at unimelb.edu.au

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