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Associate Professor Justin Chalker

Associate Professor Justin Chalker has invented a new class of polymers that stand to provide sustainable solutions to some of humanity’s greatest challenges; namely ensuring clean air, fresh water and sustainable food production. 

The polymers have proven effective in a range of real-world applications, including:

  • removing mercury contamination from soil
  • retrieving oil after a large-scale spill
  • enabling a non-toxic method for leaching gold
  • facilitating a slow-release fertiliser to reduce nutrient run-off
     

Watch a video about his work

Associate Professor Justin Chalker talks about his research and contribution.

[Music plays and image shows the Commonwealth Coat of Arms, the words ‘Australian Government’, the Prize for New Innovators medallion and text appears beneath: 2020 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Sciences, Associate Professor Justin Chalker]

[Image changes to show morning dew on grassy hill]

Associate Professor Justin Chalker: My name is Justin Chalker.

[Camera zooms in on leaves of a gum tree blowing in the wind and then the camera zooms in to show leaves crunching under Justin Chalker’s boots as he walks along a bush path]

I’m an Associate Professor at Flinders University and our research focuses on sustainable chemistry.

[Images move through to show a side view of Justin walking along a bush path, a rear view of Justin walking, a close view of Justin’s boots as he walks and then a side view of Justin looking at a tree]

My research interests centre on converting waste materials into valuable polymers that protect the environment.

[Image shows Justin holding and looking at leaves on the gum tree]

These materials are useful in a variety of applications.

[Image changes to show Justin in a lab talking to the camera]

They can capture heavy metal pollution such as mercury. They can clean up oil spills. These materials serve as components of slow release fertilisers.

[Camera zooms in on a side view of Justin talking to the camera]

And they can also be used to capture valuable metals such as gold.

[Images move through to show Justin swishing a sample of mercury, a close view of the mercury sample, and then Justin adjusting different gauges on equipment in a laboratory]

The use of mercury in artisanal and small-scale gold mining is extraordinarily harmful to both the miners and the environment.

[Image changes to show Justin and a colleague walking towards a river]

More than 20 million subsistence miners use mercury to extract gold from ore.

[Images move through to show Justin and a colleague squatting down and unpacking equipment out of a tackle box, and then a side view of Justin putting on a pair of waterproof waders]

Our team has developed a number of solutions to address this issue.

[Images move through to show Justin walking toward the river, views of Justin and his colleague taking a water sample, the colleague labelling a sample, and Justin and the colleague in discussion]

We have mercury and cyanide free methods to extract and recover gold in a safer way, and we’ve also developed materials to capture the mercury pollution that has resulted from artisanal and small-scale gold mining.

[Images changes to show a side view of Justin and the colleague packing up the samples into a tackle box and in conversation by the river and then the image changes to show Justin talking to the camera]

Clean Earth Technologies has invested heavily in South Australia to get a plan up and running to produce this material.

[Images move through of Justin talking to the camera, Justin and a researcher in discussion, another colleague looking at a piece of rubber, and then Justin watching a female colleague work]

They anticipate investing upwards of $5 million over the next five years to support this manufacturing in South Australia, as well as employ scientists and engineers in this technology.

[Image changes to show Justin emptying a bucket of soil into a sample box]

Over the next year our research is focussing on entirely new applications of our key materials.

[Camera zooms in on Justin taking a sample of rubber out and looking at it while in discussion with a colleague in a laboratory and then image changes to show a Justin talking to the camera]

These include new recyclable rubber, new plastics, new types of building materials that can ensure a sustainable built environment.

[Image changes to show Justin standing on a hill and slowly turning while looking out at a sunset view]

It’s an honour to be the recipient of the 2020 Prize for New Innovators.

[Image shows Justin looking at a sunset view and then the image changes to show Justin talking to the camera]

This award is a very humbling recognition of our work to translate academic discoveries into commercial products and services.

[Image changes to show a rock waterfall and then the image changes to show a side view of Justin looking up at the waterfall and around him]

I’m passionate about science and research because of the thrill of the discovery, the hunt to find things out.

[Image changes to show a side view of Justin talking to the camera and then the image changes to show Justin scooping out a sample of sand and adding it to a liquid in a laboratory]

In my field of chemistry I’m particularly attracted to the idea of building molecules and materials that have never existed before and then using them in applications that benefit humanity.

[Image changes to show Justin talking to the camera]

For aspiring scientists I would encourage you to stay curious, explore the world, and enjoy those discoveries. These are the true hallmarks of science.

[Music plays and image changes to show the Commonwealth Coat of Arms, the words ‘Australian Government’, the Prize for New Innovators medallion and text beneath: 2020 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science, Associate Professor Justin Chalker]

See his acceptance speech

Associate Professor Justin Chalker accepted his prize at this year’s live streamed event.

[Image appears of Associate Professor Justin Chalker talking to the camera and the Prize for New Innovators medallion and text beneath: Associate Professor Justin Chalker]

Associate Professor Justin Chalker: It is a great honour to be the 2020 recipient of the Prime Minister’s Prize for New Innovators. I’m grateful to the Prime Minister and the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, for supporting this important initiative and showcasing the critical role of science in our society.

I would like to congratulate all of the prize recipients. It is an inspiration to learn about your achievements and transformative work in science and science education. I would like to thank our industry partner, Clean Earth Technologies, for their extensive and continuing collaboration.

We are particularly proud of supporting their diverse, commercial activities in safe and sustainable gold mining, heavy metal remediation, oil spill clean-up, e-waste recycling, and precision fertilisers.

I thank Flinders University for their extensive support of our research and commitment to facilitate commercialisation of our discoveries. Our achievements would not be possible without this network of support.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge the hard work and creativity of our research team at Flinders University. It is a thrill to work with you and make discoveries that can have a positive impact on our environment. Thank you.

[Image changes to show the Commonwealth Coat of Arms, the words ‘Australian Government’, the Prize for New Innovators medallion and text beneath: 2020 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science, Associate Professor Justin Chalker]