ASPIRE Prize finalists use ‘laboratory of nature’ to tackle global challenges

This year’s ASPIRE Prize recognizes young scientists for “innovative research that advances society through natural laboratories”

2019 APSIRE Prize finalists
The 15 finalists for the 2019 ASPIRE Prize were nominated by their APEC member economies. The winner will receive a $25,000 prize from Wiley and Elsevier.

Prof. Nicholas Murray of the University of New South Wales uses satellite remote sensing and machine learning to monitor changes in the ecosystem.

Dr. Tamara Contador Mejias, Research Coordinator of the Sub-Antarctic Biocultural Conservation Program at the Universidad de Magallanes in Chile, studies how Antarctic aquatic insects adapt to global change.

Dr. Yun Hau NG of City University of Hong Kong uses sunlight to split water into clean hydrogen, mimicking natural photosynthesis to generate renewable energy.

They are among the 15 pioneering researchers being considered for the 2019 APEC Science Prize for Innovation, Research, and Education (ASPIRE).

“From the South Pole to Borneo to the International Space Station, the research carried out by this year’s finalists addresses some of our biggest global challenges,” said Elsevier Chairman Youngsuk “YS” Chi. “We are delighted to highlight their work and look forward to seeing its impact.”

The annual ASPIRE Prize, hosted by the APEC Policy Partnership for Science, Technology, and Innovation (PPSTI), recognizes scientists under 40 from across the Pacific Rim who demonstrate excellence in scientific research. They are nominated by their APEC member economies. The winner will receive a $25,000 prize from Wiley and Elsevier at a ceremony at the August meeting of PPSTI in Puerta Varas, Chile.

Elsevier and Wiley have been sponsoring this award since its inception in 2011.

“We hope this award will continue to raise the visibility of innovative young scientists and encourage global collaboration on research that addresses today’s most pressing issues,” said Dr. Brad Fenwick, SVP of Global Strategic Alliances at Elsevier. “Sustainable development has been a key focus at Elsevier, and this year’s nominees are finding unique ways to improve health and the environment in their countries and beyond.”

“The laboratory of nature has inspired generations of scientists …”

This year’s award recognizes innovative research that advances society through “natural laboratories.”

“The laboratory of nature has inspired generations of scientists to tackle the world’s most pressing challenges,” said PPSTI Chair Dr. Fabiola Leon-Velarde Servetto in the press release. “In turn, the scientists’ innovative approaches inspire us to pursue economic growth that is sustainable in the long-term.

“From sustainable energy production to protection of the marine ecosystem, the issues raised by these exceptional scientists this year reflect APEC Chile’s focus on sustainable growth for 2019,” she added. “The discoveries enabled by science, technology and innovation can be crucial to economic development and help decision-makers make better policy decisions.”

APEC Chile introduced their nominee, Dr. Contador, with this video and tweet:

Last year’s nominees create “smart technologies for healthy societies”

2018 ASPIRE Prize winner Prof. Madhu Bhaskaran of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology is surrounded by representatives from the APEC Policy Partnership on Science, Technology and Innovation, Wiley and Elsevier.

Last year, the theme was “smart technologies for healthy societies.” The winner was Dr. Madhu Bhaskaran, Professor and research leader at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) in Australia. She was honored for her development of wearable elastic electronics and sensors, including stretchable, optically transparent and ultra-thin devices that can alert a user to danger levels of UV exposure and help present skin cancer.

The US nominee was Dr. Kara Spiller, an emerging leader in immune engineering and personalized medicine. Dr. Spiller was selected because of her innovative research on the design of “smart” biomaterials that can control the behavior of innate immune cells to promote tissue repair and wound healing.

While only one nominee can be put forward from the United States to compete for the broader ASPIRE prize, the US nominee and three runner-ups were celebrated at a public lecture roundtable with government officials and an award ceremony at the US State Department in Washington, DC, this spring.

The 2018 ASPIRE Prize ceremony at the US State Department (from left): Dr. Brad Fenwick, Elsevier; Dr. Jonathan Margolis, Deputy Assistant Secretary, State Department; Dr. Kara Spiller, Assistant Professor, Department of Biomedical Engineering, Drexel University, US ASPIRE.

US runners-up for the 2018 ASPIRE prize were:

  • Dr. Jordan Green, Professor of Biomedical Engineering at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, is a world leader in gene therapy and the use of biodegradable particles to teach the immune system to recognize cancer cells.
  • Dr. Manu Prakash, Assistant Professor of Bioengineering at Stanford University, is a designer of novel techniques to deliver health solutions in the world’s most resource poor conditions.
  • Dr. Jorge M. Zuniga, Assistant Professor of Biomechanics at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, is the creator of the first open source 3D-printed hand prosthesis for children in the United States: Cyborg Beast.

This report is based on press releases from APEC and the US State Department.


Written by

Alison Bert, DMA

Written by

Alison Bert, DMA

As Executive Editor of Strategic Communications at Elsevier, Dr. Alison Bert works with contributors around the world to publish daily stories for the global science and health communities. Previously, she was Editor-in-Chief of Elsevier Connect, which won the 2016 North American Excellence Award for Science & Education.

Alison joined Elsevier in 2007 from the world of journalism, where she was a business reporter and blogger for The Journal News, a Gannett daily newspaper in New York. In the previous century, she was a classical guitarist on the music faculty of Syracuse University. She received a doctorate in music from the University of Arizona, was Fulbright scholar in Spain, and studied in a master class with Andrés Segovia.


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