Vote for UNSW’s finalists in the inaugural Shaping Australia Awards

08 Dec 2023
An Asian man with white hair holds a tin of paint, a young man speaks into a microphone and a woman with dark hair holds a circuit board

People’s Choice voting is open until 30 January 2024.

Two researchers and a UNSW Founders program are finalists in the Shaping Australia Awards launched in September 2023. The awards recognise excellence across teaching, research and community service, celebrating the contribution universities and individuals make to Australia and Australians.

The awards are an initiative of Universities Australia in partnership with The Australian. Individuals and teams from Australian universities were invited to submit entries to three categories: the Problem Solver, the Future Builder and the Community Champion.

Scientia Professor Veena Sahajwalla, Director of the Centre for Sustainable Materials Research & Technology (SMaRT) at UNSW, and Professor Guan Yeoh, from the School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, are finalists for the Problem Solver Award. The Peter Farrell Cup at UNSW Founders is a finalist for the Future Builder Award.

The Problem Solver Award recognises an individual or a team’s work or research that has changed or has the potential to change the lives of Australians for the better. The Future Builder Award recognises an individual or a team that has gone above and beyond to equip students with the knowledge and skills to make a positive impact in the world.

Professor Veena Sahajwalla

Prof. Sahajwalla is one of six finalists for the Problem Solver Award. She’s recognised for her pioneering research on new recycling knowledge and technologies that develop a new generation of ‘green’ products and materials. Dealing with waste is one of the world’s biggest challenges. The internationally recognised materials scientist and engineer has established two MICROfactories to transform problematic waste, such as e-waste, glass, textiles and plastic, into valuable new materials, for example, green ceramics for building and filament feedstock for 3D printing.  

Reforming this waste diverts it from landfill and stockpiles to produce commercially viable products and manufacturing feedstock materials. The factories, located in Cootamundra and Nowra, also contribute to local economies, with the Nowra MICROfactory responsible for 40 new jobs in the regional town.

Professor Guan Yeoh

Prof. Yeoh is a finalist for the Problem Solver Award for his research on new technologies to save homes in bushfire-prone areas. Increasingly, Australia's vulnerability to extreme weather conditions and the frequency of major bushfires present significant risks to homes. Prof. Yeoh and his team have developed a suite of innovative fire-protection and suppression technologies that will better safeguard homes and minimise exposure to fire threats. 

His world-renowned innovations in fire safety are helping to keep people, property and the environment safe. His team has developed and commercialised the FSA FIRECOAT paint (now sold at Bunnings) which insulates a building when exposed to flames. FSA FIRECOAT offers protection from fire and other threats and has received global certifications for safety and fire-retardancy.

The Peter Farrell Cup

The Peter Farrell Cup is one of six finalists for the Future Builder Award, recognised for its long-running student entrepreneurship program. The four-month experiential learning initiative takes students from developing new business ideas, to pitching them to a panel of judges and launching real businesses. In 2023, 176 budding entrepreneurs in 62 teams from across the University undertook the program, giving them access to an extensive mentor network and cutting-edge makerspace facilities. 

Ten teams showcased their innovative new business ideas to an audience of 382 supporters on finals night. They were awarded prizes totalling $30,000 for standout ideas, such as an AI-driven storytelling app for children’s mental health and AI-powered robotic pets for older people. The diversity of concepts highlights the program’s success in fostering innovation and promoting positive societal impact.

Universities drive innovations to make our communities stronger

The Shaping Australia Awards judging panel chair Lisa Paul said universities “drive new ideas and initiatives that benefit all Australians and make our nation stronger and safer”.

“The full scale of what our universities do for the nation is broadly under-recognised, which is where the Shaping Australia Awards bridge the gap – celebrating the vast contributions made each and every day,” Ms Paul said. “I invite everyone around the country to take a look at the finalists and cast their vote on the people and projects they think have made the biggest difference to our country and communities.”

Voting for the People’s Choice category closes 30 January 2024. The formal judging process, conducted by the Shaping Australia Awards judging panel, will commence in February. 

You are invited to vote for UNSW’s finalists in the People’s Choice category. The awards are an opportunity for us to celebrate UNSW’s people and their achievements. Every vote will count! The finalists with the highest vote in each category will receive $2500 in prize money.