Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Dark Matter Illuminated by Prime Minister’s Prize

By Australasian Science

The 2012 Prime Minister's Prizes were awarded on 31 October.

Professor Ken Freeman, the Duffield Professor of Astronomy at the Australian National University’s Mt Stromlo Observatory, has been awarded the 2012 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science.

Freeman is best known for putting “dark matter” on the galactic map after showing in 1970 that what we see of galaxies is only a small fraction of their mass while the rest is dark matter. His finding changed the course of astronomy.

More recently Freeman has been a founder of galactic archaeology – determining the age and movement of stars in our own galaxy by analysing their chemical composition. The aim is to work out how galaxies were constructed, and the field has become a major driver in the commissioning of new ground- and space-based telescopes.

Dr Mark Shackleton of the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre was awarded the 2012 Science Minister’s Prize for Life Scientist of the Year for melanoma research. Shackleton has found that at least one in four melanoma cells – not one in a million as previously thought – can produce cancerous offspring. This completely overturned the idea that cancer growth is fuelled by rare cancer stem cells, and means that doctors will effectively need to eliminate all cells in order to offer the hope of a cure.

Professor Eric May of the University of Western Australia was awarded the 2012 Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year for research into the fundamental fluid properties of liquid natural gas. His work is ensuring the smooth flow of gas from well to production facility and its efficient conversion to a safe and usable product that can be traded internationally and easily delivered to customers.

Full profiles of the winners are provided in the Online Features section of