More than 30 years ago, in a laboratory in Canberra's inner north, Milutin Stoilovic began work on a technology that would revolutionise forensic science and shine a light on some of the world's darkest crimes.

The Polilight, a light able to accurately uncover blood, semen and other trace fluids, was a remarkable 1980s invention created right in the territory's backyard.

Mr Stoilovic, now 71, was named this week as an ACT finalist for Senior Australian of the Year, nominated alongside a musician, a homeless support worker, and an agricultural scientist.

He said he was ''honoured'' to have been nominated and was just happy to have given something back to the Australian community.

The Polilight was a game-changer for forensic science, and is now used in 98 per cent of crime investigations worldwide.

The high-intensity light source allowed the detection of forensic evidence at crime scenes that was previously invisible to investigators.

The global success of the technology was so great, that the Polilight was included in the top 100 Australian inventions of the 20th century.

Like many revolutionary ideas, the Polilight was born from a mixture of brilliance and chance.

Mr Stoilovic made a snap decision to leave his life in Yugoslavia in 1980 for little more reason than a desire to try his luck in Australia.

The move was remarkably timed. He quickly stumbled across a newspaper ad for a physicist research position at the Australian National University on a project sponsored by the Australian Federal Police.

He was given an open brief to design a radically new forensic tool that would act as an alternative to the laser method of fingerprint detection used in the 1970s and early 1980s.

He was left alone for five years, with almost no guidance or interference.

''When I developed it - it was finally finished in 1985 - I did not believe it would take such a major role in combating crime,'' Mr Stoilovic said.

''I can tell you today, police and forensic people cannot think to do any work without this light source,'' he said.

The ACT Australian of the Year, Senior Australian of the Year, Young Australian of the Year and Local Hero Awards will be announced on November 21, at a ceremony at the Hyatt Hotel.

The winners will go on to compete for the national awards, which will be announced on 25 January 2013 in Canberra.

ACT AUSTRALIAN OF THE YEAR FINALISTS

  • Dr Tom Calma AO – Social justice campaigner (Chapman)
  • Gordon Gregory OAM – Rural health advocate (Hughes)
  • Dr Ken Henry AC – Government advisor (Bungendore)
  • Libby Lloyd AM – Human rights activist (Griffith)

ACT SENIOR AUSTRALIAN OF THE YEAR FINALISTS

  • Garth Mansfield OAM – Musician and mentor (Campbell)
  • Rhonda Obad OAM – Champion for the homeless (McKellar)
  • Dr Jim Peacock AC – Agricultural scientist (Deakin)
  • Milutin Stoilovic – Forensic scientist (Monash)


ACT YOUNG AUSTRALIAN OF THE YEAR FINALISTS

  • Brad Carron-Arthur, 23 – Mental health campaigner (Duffy)
  • Casey Keed, 19 – Dancer and leader (Belconnen)
  • Julie McKay, 29 – Women’s advocate (Ainslie)
  • Michael Sollis, 27 – Musician and mentor (Melba)


ACT LOCAL HERO FINALISTS

  • William Bashford – Indigenous mentor (Ngunnawal)
  • Peter Cursley – Neonatal care supporter (Farrer)
  • Patrick McCann – Football mentor (Kambah)
  • Francis Owusu – Dancer and mentor (Chisholm)