ANU scientist Graham Farquhar first Australian to win Kyoto Prize

16 June 2017

The Australian National University (ANU) congratulates distinguished scientist Dr Graham Farquhar AO, who has become the first Australian to win a Kyoto Prize – the most prestigious international award for fields not traditionally honoured with a Nobel Prize.

Dr Farquhar has won the 2017 Kyoto Prize in Basic Sciences for his life’s work in plant biophysics and photosynthesis, which has involved research on water-efficient crops and the impacts of climate change.

He has helped develop new water-efficient varieties of wheat, improved global food security, and found evaporation and wind speeds are slowing as the climate changes.

“It’s wonderful to get this kind of international recognition, but it also brings on a case of imposter syndrome,” said Dr Farquhar from the ANU Research School of Biology.  

“I can think of so many people among my peers who have done more than I have. The work that this prize recognises has really been a team effort, so I’d like to acknowledge my colleagues, students and the ANU, where I have worked for my whole career. It’s a wonderful honour for all of us.”

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 said he was proud to be the first Australian to win a Kyoto Prize and he hoped that the award encouraged other Australians to work in agricultural and ecological research.

ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt AC congratulated Dr Farquhar on the latest honour.

“This award acknowledges Graham’s crucial work and global leadership to help feed the world in a changing climate,” Professor Schmidt said.

“I’m proud that we 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 AC welcomed the announcement of Professor Farquhar’s Kyoto Prize.

"Dr Farquhar is one of Australia's most eminent and ground-breaking scientists, responsible for re-shaping our understanding of photosynthesis, the very basis of life on Earth," Mr Court said.

“I extend my whole-hearted congratulations to Dr Farquhar and the other winners. I extend my thanks also to the Inamori Foundation for their commitment to recognising eminent leaders such as Professor Farquhar who have extended the frontiers of our knowledge.”

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

Kyoto Prizes have been awarded annually since 1985 in three categories – Advanced Technology, Basic Sciences, and Arts and Philosophy – to people “who have contributed significantly to the scientific, cultural, and spiritual betterment of mankind”.

Dr Farquhar was appointed an Officer in the Order of Australia (AO) in 2013, and won the 2016 Australian Academy of Science Macfarlane Burnett Medal and Lecture. He was elected a Foreign Associate of the US National Academy of Sciences in 2013, and was a member of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which won a Nobel Prize in 2007.

Dr Farquhar was appointed a Distinguished Professor at the ANU Research School of Biology in 2004, and he is a Chief Investigator at the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis, which is based at ANU.

He also leads a collaboration between ANU, University of Western Sydney and the CSIRO on Forests for the Future: making the most of a high CO2 world, funded by the Science and Industry Endowment Fund.

For more information visit the Kyoto Prize website.

Updated:  17 June 2017/Responsible Officer:  General Manager/Page Contact:  Science Web Services