ACT News


First Australian Kyoto Prize won by ANU scientist Graham Farquhar

ANU scientist Dr Graham Farquhar has become the first Australian to win a Kyoto Prize - the most prestigious international award for fields not traditionally honoured with a Nobel Prize.

The award, in the Basic Sciences category, recognises his life's work in plant biophysics and photosynthesis - particularly his research on water efficient crops protecting food security in a changing climate. 

"It's wonderful to get this kind of international recognition, but it also brings on a case of imposter syndrome," Dr Farquhar said. 

"I'm nearly 70 so I sort of feel as though I've had my share by now, and it is such a big prize. It's marvellous." 

Dr Farquhar said he knew from age eight he wanted to pursue science, but as a teenager from a Tasmania farming family was passionate about putting his mind to deliver practical benefits, particularly to the agricultural sector.

He followed advice to study mathematics and physics as an undergraduate which formed the bedrock of his career creating mathematic models of how plants work, how much water they need, and how much they can grow as atmospheric carbon-dioxide levels increase. 


Dr Farquhar was interested in stomata, the small pores in leaves which open and close to let carbon dioxide in and let water vapour leave.  

The scalable models, used by agricultural and environmental scientists across the globe, provide insights about reactions at the cell level, through the canopy and whole forest.

The prize is the latest in a string of accolades, including the Prime Minister's Prize for Science in 2015 and Britain's prestigious Rank Prize, which he shared in 2014 with CSIRO colleague Dr Richard Richards.

Dr Farquhar described science as the "long game" and said he hoped this award would encourage others to pursue their curiosity through research. 

"There are setbacks, but it has to be that you love the work, love the challenge you are really interested in," he said. "It's got to be that kind of a motivation if you want to be in it for the long haul."

ANU vice-chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt said he was "proud to have a person of Graham's calibre working at ANU, tackling some of the most profound challenges facing humanity and the environment." 

Australian Ambassador to Japan Richard Court congratulated Dr Farquhar and said his research was "responsible for reshaping our understanding of photosynthesis - the very basis of life on earth."

As part of the award Dr Farquhar will receive 50 million yen, which is equivalent to $600,000 in Australia.

 Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham offered congratulations on behalf of the Turnbull Government.

"Doctor Farquhar's Kyoto Prize is another feather in the cap for a man with an incredibly distinguished career so far who has been able to make significant contributions to environmental and food sciences." he said.

"We look forward to his continued contributions to this field of science that is so important, especially for Australia."