Three Academy Fellows have taken out NSW Premier’s Prizes with virologist Professor Edward Holmes named the 2020 NSW Scientist of the Year.
Professor Suzanne O’Reilly received the Prize for Excellence in Mathematics, Earth Sciences, Chemistry or Physics, while Professor Ian Wright received the Prize for Excellence in Biological Sciences.
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.
Professor Holmes was involved in key research that showed that SARS-CoV-2 was the causative agent of COVID-19. In January this year 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.
“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.”
Professor Holmes explained the origins of COVID-19 in an in-depth interview with the Australian Academy of Science in April.
“I was not at all surprised this happened. We’d been predicting it for a long time,” said Professor Holmes in the interview.
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.