The Australian Museum Eureka Prizes are judged by 74 Australian and international experts at the top of their fields. One of those judges is Aussie astronomer Dr Bryan Gaensler, currently ensconced at the University of Toronto. Now in his tenth year as the judge of the 3M Eureka Prize for Emerging Leader in Science, Bryan gave us an insight into the formidable process of selecting the best from a brilliant bunch.

Professor Bryan Gaensler FAA
Professor Bryan Gaensler FAA, Director, Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics; and Professor of Astronomy, University of Toronto pictured speaking at TEDxSydney. Image: TEDxSydney
Bryan Gaensler" by TEDxSydney is licensed with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit

We start with a clear criteria

This makes the jobs of judges much easier. We read each application, look for the ways they address the criteria and give a score for each aspect. These scores are combined, and then we get together to discuss what has come out of it.

But the criteria is just a starting point

We talk them through in detail to develop a final ranking, the selection of finalists, and the choice of the overall winner of the prize.

We don’t always agree

Almost every year there are differences in how the judges assess the applications – sometimes my clear favourite is the one that another judge likes the least, and vice versa!

But that’s a good thing

It’s important to have diverse perspectives on a panel, rather than to apply a narrow set of views of what excellence looks like.

We always find common ground

In such cases, we talk through our opinions, and this has always been a very insightful and collegial conversation where we share insights and different points of view. It usually doesn’t take long to converge on our decisions.

The pandemic hasn’t affected this year’s judging process

The judging has always been done by email and then by phone and video, and it was the same this year.

The overall common thread in the list of past winners of the 3M Eureka Prize for Emerging Leader in Science is of drive, vision and sacrifice

These people don’t just wake up each day saying, “I wonder what should I do today?”, but set out a careful long-range plan some time ago. With grit and guts and brilliance and patience, they’re gradually making their way to the goals they set themselves.

There’s nothing quite like the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes

I tell my colleagues here in Canada that we have not just one national prize for science, but a whole suite of prizes, and they’re amazed. It’s so important and special that Australia values science in this way, at a national level.

Follow Bryan on Twitter @SciBry

See the full list of 2020 AM Eureka Prizes judges here

The 2020 AM Eureka Prizes winners will be announced during an interactive broadcast award show on Tuesday 24 November. Sign up to attend here