Restoring Ecosystems & Recovering Resources – The Royal Society of Victoria’s 2021 Research Medallist

Announcing the Royal Society of Victoria’s 2021 Research Medallist, Distinguished Professor Andrew Ball

The Royal Society of Victoria (RSV) is delighted to announce the 2021 recipient of the RSV’s prestigious Medal for Excellence in Scientific Research – Distinguished Professor Andrew Ball, Director of the ARC Training Centre for the Transformation of Australia’s Biosolids Resource at RMIT University. 

With deep expertise in environmental microbiology and biotechnology, Professor Ball was, until recently, the Director of the Centre for Environmental Sustainability and Remediation (EnSuRe) at RMIT. His research focuses on developing clean, sustainable technologies to remediate environmental contamination, looking for ways of removing contaminants – particularly petroleum hydro-carbons (oil), but also other organic pollutants – from soils, groundwater and water bodies. The process of using naturally occurring microorganisms in both drawing out contaminants and restoring an ecosystem’s original microbiome is called bioremediation.

Professor Andy Ball (second from left) with the Environmental Biotechnology Group. Source: RMIT University

Andy and his team have contributed to cleaning up contaminated sites all around our highly industrialised world. As no local ecosystem is quite like another when it comes to microbiological communities, new and innovative approaches are always required when approaching each contaminated site. The work begins in the laboratory, then is scaled up for impactful and commercially successful applications in the field. While this has resulted in millions of dollars in cost savings to industry and the far greater value of a cleaner environment, the constant process of translating discovery into application has contributed a wealth of research and teaching experience to the State of Victoria in the fields of algal biotechnology, bioremediation, organic (biosolid) waste treatment and environmental microbiology.

According to RSV assessment panel member Professor Richard Reina (right), “Professor Ball’s highly applied work has had significant impact on local and international bioremediation projects; the technology is scalable and focused on real-world problems.”

“Andy has an excellent record of leadership and training of many academic and industry partners.”

Oliver Jones“I have heard story after story of him going out of his way to help people out,” explains Professor Oliver Jones, the Associate Dean of Biosciences and Food Technology at RMIT’s School of Science (left).

“He is not only an exceptional scientist, but also an outstanding role model in science and in general. He takes an active interest in his PhD students and postdocs and other staff and helps them to be the best they can be and inspires others to act in the same way, and this is perhaps the greatest impact of all.”

Rob GellThis year’s assessment panel members had a “tough choice” according to the Royal Society of Victoria’s President, Rob Gell AM (right). “Victoria has a truly remarkable community of researchers in the biological sciences, all working across diverse fields and sectors – it’s really hard to weigh and compare their many achievements relative to each other. But Professor Ball’s impressive impact across many disciplines certainly portrays a researcher at the top of the game, and I’m delighted by the panel’s final recommendation.”

“I really hope we’ll see the other nominees back in the assessment pool the next time this category comes around in 2025. They are universally high achievers and it’s certainly a testament to the standard of Andy’s work that he’s come out ahead of such a competitive field.”

The Royal Society of Victoria congratulates Distinguished Professor Andrew Ball, the 2021 recipient of the RSV Medal for Excellence in Scientific Research. Andy will be presenting his work to the Society at a public lecture on the evening of 9th December, 2021, where he will be presented with the 2021 Medal by the Society’s Patron, the Governor of Victoria.

RSV Research MedalAbout the Medal

Inaugurated in 1959, this year the RSV Research Medal was awarded in Category I – the Biological Sciences. The Medal for Excellence in Scientific Research recognises peak research career achievements and outstanding leadership in research by Australian scientists, particularly those conducting work within (or about) the State of Victoria.

About the Medallist

Professor Andrew Ball began his career as a Research Fellow at Liverpool University, UK, then as a Reader at the University of Essex, UK. In April 2005, Andy was appointed Chair of Environmental Biotechnology at Flinders University, Australia.

He has performed a number of key institutional roles for each university at which he was based over the past 30 years. At the University of Essex UK, Andy was Director of the Centre for Environment and Society. At Flinders University, he was appointed Director and Chair of Flinders Bioremediation.

Andy was appointed Professor in Environmental Microbiology at RMIT University in 2012, and Distinguished Professor in 2016. There, he established and served as Director of a new Research Centre for Environment, Sustainability and Remediation (EnSuRe) and now serves as Director of the ARC Training Centre for the Transformation of Australia’s Biosolids Resource.

Andy has generated internationally acclaimed research outputs since 1985. He has over 300 peer reviewed publications cited 11,000 times in total, with an annual citation average above 1200 over the past 3 years with an h-index of 54 (Google) and 42 (Scopus). In addition, Andy has published 6 books (3 as author and 3 as editor) and written 42 book chapters. He currently has three provisional and three full international patents.

Andy has consistently received Category 1 funding from sources including the Australian Research Council, Australia-India Strategic Research Fund, and the Department of Agriculture, amounting to over $25M in grant funding. He has developed the support of several, key partner industries, including: Environmental and Earth Sciences International (2008-present, bioremediation of Kuwait sands), Coffey International (2012-present, bioremediation of chlorinated hydrocarbons), Thales (2015-2017, bioremediation of munition waste), Victorian EPA (2014-2016, application of molecular biological techniques to commercial bioremediation), CRC CARE (2007-2010, the potential for natural attenuation to clean up oil contamination), COMET Resources (2006-2010, National solution to tank bottom) and Shell (2003-2006, natural attenuation of a contaminated sandstone aquifer). At Flinders University, Andy was Technical Director of a wholly university-owned spinoff company, Flinders Bioremediation (2005-2010), subsequently leading the company as Chair (2010-2012).

Andy has headed the Environmental Biotechnology Group, now at RMIT University (previously based at Essex University and Flinders University), since 1995. Andy has brought a wealth of research and teaching expertise to RMIT University at an international level, particularly in the fields of bioremediation, organic waste treatment, and environmental fate of organic pollutants. He has supervised 30 postgraduate research students in the past 10 years.