RMIT researcher, Associate Professor Sharath Sriram, has won the prestigious 2016 3M Eureka Prize for Emerging Leader in Science.
Sriram went one better than in 2015, when he was a finalist in the same category.
Presented annually since 1990, the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes reward excellence in the fields of research and innovation, leadership, science communication and school science.
Sriram and his colleagues at RMIT’s Micro Nano Research Facility have mimicked the way the human brain processes information with the development of an electronic long-term, multi-state memory cell.
The cell mirrors the brain’s ability to simultaneously process and store multiple strands of information.
In awarding the prize, the Australian Museum said: “The work of Associate Professor Sharath Sriram harnesses the functionality of materials and objects at extremely small scales.
“His leadership transcends science, to include team mentorship, the establishment of a $30 million research facility and national science advocacy for early and mid-career researchers.”
RMIT’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research and Innovation and Vice-President, Professor Calum Drummond, congratulated Sriram.
“Your research is a tremendous example of how RMIT is seeking to create knowledge and impact for the benefit of industry and the community.
“Research at RMIT is a source of inspiration to our students, a catalyst for innovative solutions and a driver of impact.
“Your contribution, both as a researcher and as a leader, means this prize is fully deserved.”
The memory cell development brings researchers closer to imitating key electronic aspects of the human brain – a vital step towards creating a bionic brain – which could help unlock successful treatments for common neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
Sriram, who is co-leader of RMIT’s Functional Materials and Microsystems Research Group, said the ground-breaking development imitated the way the brain used long-term memory.
“This is the closest we have come to creating a brain-like system with memory that learns and stores analogue information and is quick at retrieving this stored information,” Sriram said.
“The human brain is an extremely complex analogue computer … its evolution is based on its previous experiences, and up until now this functionality has not been able to be adequately reproduced with digital technology.”
Sriram said it was the first step in the process of building highly sophisticated artificial neuron networks.
The Australian Research Council-supported research builds on RMIT’s previous discovery where ultra-fast nano-scale memories were developed using a functional oxide material in the form of an ultra-thin film – 10,000 times thinner than a human hair.
Sriram’s award recognised leadership in aspects beyond science, with impact on peers and the wider community.
He has been an executive member of the Australian Academy of Science’s Early and Mid-Career Researcher Forum, and its chair in 2014-2015.
In that role, he advocates to secure the future of Australian science by supporting and enabling young Australian researchers.
Story: David Glanz