Zaiping Guo, Antoine van Oijen and Jennifer Martin at the 2020 NSW Premier's Prizes for Science and Engineering

Two UOW researchers win NSW Premier’s Prizes

Two UOW researchers win NSW Premier’s Prizes

Distinguished Professors Antoine van Oijen and Zaiping Guo honoured for research excellence

Two University of Wollongong (UOW) academics have been named as recipients of New South Wales Premier's Prizes for Science and Engineering in recognition of their pioneering research work.

Distinguished Professor Antoine van Oijen will receive the Prize for Excellence in Medical Biological Sciences and Distinguished Professor Zaiping Guo will receive the Prize for Excellence in Engineering or Information and Communications Technology.

NSW Minister for Planning and Public Spaces Rob Stokes will present the prizes on behalf of Premier Gladys Berejiklian at a ceremony at Government House, Sydney, tonight (Tuesday 27 October).

The Prizes reward leading researchers for cutting-edge work that has generated economic, environmental, health, social or technological benefits for NSW.

UOW Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) Professor Jennifer L Martin AC congratulated Professor Guo and Professor van Oijen on their awards.

“I am thrilled and delighted but not surprised that our internationally leading researchers have been recognised in these awards,” Professor Martin said.

“Not only are Zaiping and Antoine trailblazers in their fields, but importantly they are tackling some of the biggest challenges we face and delivering research with real impact.

“Zaiping is developing innovative new batteries that will help us transition to a renewable energy future. Antoine is transforming our understanding of the inner workings of bacteria at a molecular level to combat the growing problem of antimicrobial resistance.”

Professor Zaiping Guo, Excellence in Engineering

Professor Guo is a materials scientist with an exceptional track record in her field, which focuses on the applications of nanomaterials in energy storage and conversion technologies.

“This is truly an honour for me to receive this award. If you look at the list of the past awardees, they are all top outstanding scientists, making big impacts for NSW, Australia and the world,” Professor Guo said.

“I'm very proud and very happy to be part of this list, and I feel I’m accepting this award on behalf of the amazing team of mentors, colleagues and students I’ve developed at the University of Wollongong.”

Professor Guo is at the forefront internationally of efforts to develop next generation batteries that are safe, clean, high performing and low cost, with the aim of finding the most promising large-scale electrical energy storage solutions that will support the transition to renewables.

“Batteries are the essential component of most electronic devices. We want to achieve high energy density battery because it can store more energy, it will let the electric device last longer. We also want to achieve fast charging capability so we don't have to wait for long until we get the battery fully charged,” Professor Guo said.

Professor Guo’s research offers enormous potential for applications in future green energy use in NSW, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, and facilitating a more sustainable state and nation.

“By using batteries to store clean energy resource from sunlight, from water, [and] other clean energy resources, we can avoid a negative environmental impact from burning fossil fuel,” she said.

Her accomplishments include developing new nanoscale electrode materials to use in sodium–ion batteries, aqueous rechargeable zinc batteries and lithium ion batteries.

“We're trying to achieve better batteries with higher energy density, higher power density, better fast-charging capability, long cycle life and high safety,” Professor Guo said.

“So to reach this purpose we actually design, synthesise and process materials, then test them in battery cells to evaluate their electrochemical performance.

“The fundamental understanding we obtain will be used to guide the further improvement of next generation battery technology.”

Professor Antoine van Oijen, Excellence in Medical Biological Sciences

“I'm extremely honoured to receive this award,” Professor van Oijen said. “It's a demonstration, I think, of the fact that people appreciate research that spans different disciplines.”

“There's a lot of people I would like to mention separately, but it's really the research group around me and … all those students and research fellows and support people that have been working with me for the last 10, 15 years at different places that really make it all work as a team effort.

“This award is really a reflection of the large body of work done by a lot of people.”

A biomolecular physicist, Professor van Oijen is a pioneer in the visualisation of biological processes at the single molecule level. He has developed a research program at UOW that has transformed our understanding of how bacteria copy and repair their DNA and the role these processes play in the development of drug resistance.

Antimicrobial drug resistance is one of the greatest health challenges facing humanity. Without a solution, it is predicted to eclipse mortality caused by cancer and heart disease within decades.

As Director of UOW’s Molecular Horizons Professor van Oijen is leading research efforts to tackle this and other health challenges.

“Molecular Horizons is a new research institute at the University of Wollongong where we try to understand how the molecules of life work so that we can start thinking about developing new drugs and new therapies,” he said.  

“When disease strikes, often something goes wrong at the molecular level, so what we try to do in my research team and in the institute in general is understand how these molecules work [and] what goes wrong when molecules stop interacting with one another and stop functioning the way they should.

“[We're] putting together physical approaches – high-end microscopes in particular – and biologists and chemists to really dive down to atomic-level detail and understand how molecules work and come up with better cures and therapies.”

Collae of photos from the 2020 NSW Premier's Prizes for Science and Engineering faturing Zaiping Guo, Antoine van Oijen and Jenny Martin