The James Cook Medal

The James Cook Medal has been awarded periodically by the Royal Society of New South Wales for outstanding contributions to science and human welfare in and for the Southern Hemisphere. 

The James Cook Medal is the Society’s most prestigious award. It was established with a donation by Henry Ferdinand Halloran who, in September 1942, decided to celebrate his 50 years as a member by making a donation to the Society. In May 1943 the Council decided to use the gift to establish two medals: the James Cook Medal and the Edgeworth David Medal.

In October 1943, the well-known sculptor Lyndon Dadswell (1908 – 1986) was commissioned to draw up a design for the James Cook Medal. It took him three years. Dadswell was an inspired choice. He went on to create sculptures for the Maritime Services Board building, Sydney (1952); Commonwealth Banks in Hobart and Sydney (1954) and Perth (1960); the Newcastle War Memorial Cultural Centre (1957); the R G Menzies Library, Australian National University (1964); the Jewish War Memorial, Maccabean Hall, Sydney (1965); and the Campbell Park defence establishment, Canberra (`The Tree of Life’, 1977). In 1978 the Art Gallery of New South Wales devoted a major retrospective exhibition to his work.

The James Cook Medal was first awarded in 1947. It is awarded periodically for outstanding contributions to science and human welfare in and for the Southern Hemisphere. Since its establishment there have been many distinguished recipients including Jan Smuts, Albert Schweitzer, Sir Ian Clunies Ross, Sir William Hudson, Lord Casey of Berwick, Sir Marcus Oliphant and Sir Gustav Nossal.

James Cook Medal 2022

John ChurchThe winner of the James Cook Medal for 2022 is Emeritus Professor John A Church AO FAA FTSE FAMS FAGU of the Climate Change Research Centre, UNSW Sydney. Professor Church is the world’s pre-eminent authority on the rate of 20th century sea-level rise, with his work on quantifying historical changes having been pivotal in revolutionising our modern view of sea level rise, including the first detection of the acceleration in the rate of rise. His ground-breaking papers, published with both national and international colleagues, explain a long-standing conundrum about the causes for the observed 20th century sea-level rise. He has provided substantial improvements in estimates of ocean heat uptake, resolving discrepancies between observations and models as well as the causes. In addition, he has been an international leader in sea level assessments and projections and his work has established that anthropogenic climate forcing is responsible for the majority of observed sea level rise since 1970.

James Cook Medal 2021

Rose AmalThe winner of the James Cook Medal for 2021 is Professor Rose Amal AC FRSN FTSE FAA, Scientia Professor of Chemical Engineering at UNSW (Sydney). Professor Amal is an acknowledged international leader in the field of chemical engineering. Her research has changed the way in which the properties of catalysts are understood, with her scientific breakthroughs in catalysis leading to real-world applications for sustainable environment and energy applications. In particular, she is renowned for her photocatalysis breakthroughs for large-scale industrial water treatment and the generation of ‘clean hydrogen’, i.e., the production of hydrogen from water using solar energy powered by an electrolyser, including the generation of hydrogen directly from seawater. Her contributions to science and human welfare in and for the Southern Hemisphere have been extensive.

James Cook Medal 2020

Professor Richard BryantThe winner of the James Cook Medal for 2020 is Scientia Professor Richard Bryant AC FASSA FAA FAHMS of UNSW (Sydney). Professor Bryant has made many seminal advances in the diagnosis, treatment, and identification of neural, genetic, and cognitive markers of post-traumatic psychopathology. His work has challenged the pre-existing notions of acute psychological response to trauma leading to major policy and practice shifts internationally in relation to how trauma survivors are managed. Professor Bryant has translated his findings into improving the mental health of communities throughout the Southern Hemisphere (as well as many trauma-affected countries in the northern hemisphere).

James Cook Medal 2019

Matthew England cropsq 200pxThe winner of the James Cook Medal for 2019 is Scientia Professor Matthew England FRSN FAA of the UNSW Climate Change Research Centre. Professor England is recognised as one of the world’s foremost experts in how the world’s oceans control regional and global climate on time scales from seasons to millennia. His field of research spans physical oceanography and climate dynamics, where he has written seminal papers on Southern Ocean water-mass formation, Antarctic ocean-atmosphere-ice interactions, climate modes of variability, and ocean ventilation processes. Importantly, in the context of the James Cook Medal, England has a sustained track record of outstanding research and discovery in areas that make an impact on human welfare, both here in Australia and across other regions of the Southern Hemisphere, including improved predictions of rainfall and climate variability, discoveries of the oceanic drivers of severe drought and flooding rains, and quantification of the impacts of climate change and the fate of ocean pollution.

James Cook Medal 2018

Professor Elizabeth ElliottThe winner of the James Cook Medal for 2018 is Professor Elizabeth Elliott AM FAHMS. She is Professor at the University of Sydney Clinical School and a practising paediatrician. This prize recognises Professor Elliott’s significant contributions to improving the health and quality of life, as well as human rights, of ill and disadvantaged children in Australia, the Asia Pacific and beyond. Her translational research has been at the forefront of advances in evidence-based paediatrics, rare diseases, gastroenterology and foetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

List of Past Recipients of the James Cook Medal

Year Recipient
1947 The Rt. Hon. J.C. Smuts
1948 B.A. Houssay
1950 Sir Neil H. Fairley
1951 Sir Norman McAlister Gregg
1952 W.L. Waterhouse
1953 Sir David Rivett
1954 Sir Frank M. Burnet
1955 A.P. Elkin
1956 Sir Ian Clunies Ross
1959 Albert Schweitzer
1961 Sir John Eccles
1964 M.R. Lemberg
1965 John Gunther
1966 Sir William Hudson
1969 Lord Casey of Berwick
1974 Sir Marcus L. Oliphant
1975 A. Walsh
1977 I.A. Watson
1978 Sir Lawrence J. Wackett
1979 Robert J. Walsh
1984 Ronald Lawrie Huckstep
1985 Donald Metcalf
1987 Phillip Garth Law
1991 Graeme Milbourne Clark
1994 Sir Gustav Nossal
2013 Brien Holden
2014 Martin Green
2016 David Cooper
2017 Gordon Parker
2018 Elizabeth Elliott
2019 Matthew England
2020 Richard Bryant
2021 Rose Amal
2022 John A. Church

A brief citation and photograph for each recipient is available here.

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