The man behind smart Australian software uncovering financial market cheats has won a $250,000 science prize

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Entrepreneur Michael Aitken has been awarded a Prime Minister’s Prize for science for developing software to identify rigging in the financial markets.

Professor Aitken, from the Capital Markets Cooperative Research Centre in Sydney, got the $250,000 prize for innovation by creating and commercialising tools to make markets fairer and more efficient.

His service captures two million trades per second, enabling rapid analysis of markets to detect fraud.

Bought by the Nasdaq, it now watches over most of the world’s stock markets.

“The SMARTS markets surveillance service enables us to identify whether people are rigging the marketplace and, if they are … they can be caught,” Aitken says.

Michael Aitken. Image: Supplied.

“The economic impact of that is that 55 exchanges and regulators and 120 brokers across 50 countries now use that service.”

The New Zealand-born scientist is now applying the same technology framework and markets know-how to improve health, mortgage and other markets.

He says there are billions of dollars of potential savings in health expenditure in Australia alone.

The winners of the 2016 Prime Minister’s prizes for science (the first two each get $250,000 prize money and the rest $50,000 each):

  • 2016 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science. Rick Shine, The University of Sydney. Teaching Australia’s peak predators, such as snakes and lizards, how to avoid cane toads.
  • Innovation: Michael Aitken, Capital Markets CRC.
  • New Innovators: Colin Hall, University of South Australia. A new manufacturing process that allows plastic to replace glass and metal, making aircraft, spacecraft and whitegoods lighter and more efficient.
  • Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year: Richard Payne, The University of Sydney. He sees a peptide or protein in nature, such as in a blood sucking tick, then recreates and re-engineers the molecule to create new drugs, including anti-clotting agents to treat stroke.
  • Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year: Kerrie Wilson, University of Queensland. Helping governments to make smart investments in conservation.
  • Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools: Suzy Urbaniak, Kent Street Senior High School, Perth. A geo-scientist who has turned classrooms into rooms full of young scientists, giving them the freedom to develop their own investigations and find their own solutions.
  • Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools: Gary Tilley, Seaforth Public School, Sydney. He is mentoring the next generation of maths and science teachers to improve the way these subjects are taught in primary schools. He says once students are switched onto science, their literacy, numeracy and investigative skills all improve.

The awards will be presented by prime minister Malcolm Turnbull at a dinner in Canberra tonight.

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