Smart software sees ANU experts take home Eureka Prize

24 Aug 2023

Researchers at The Australian National University (ANU) have been recognised for their pivotal efforts in the battle against COVID-19 in Australia's premier science awards, the 2023 Australian Museum Eureka Prizes.

Dr Minh Bui and Dr Rob Lanfear combined their computer science and biology expertise to develop IQ-TREE2, free, open-source software turns DNA data into crucial evolutionary insights.

IQ-TREE2 has been used to investigate everything from understanding the origins of early life forms, to the emergence and spread of the virus causing the COVID-19 pandemic. This user-friendly tool was first released in 2019 and has become a staple for life scientists worldwide.

For their efforts, Dr Lanfear and Dr Bui are the winners of this year's Australian Research Data Commons Eureka Prize for Excellence in Research Software.

"It was a huge surprise to win, and wonderful to attend the ceremony and meet so many inspiring people," Dr Lanfear said.

"It's wonderful to see research software getting more recognition.

"This prize helps to recognise the vital role research software plays in science, and the important of what all developers in this space - not just the IQ-TREE2 team - do."

Even as research software has played an increasingly important role in the advancement of science, it has been both undervalued and underfunded, according to Dr Lanfear.

"A huge number of academics write incredible software, most of which, including IQ-TREE 2, is open source and free to use. Once you have a popular software package, it's a huge ongoing job to maintain it, update it, and make sure you are serving the user community well," he said.

Dr Bui added he was "thrilled" by the news. 

"My first thoughts go to all the IQ-TREE 2 team members for their hard work. We all together made this win possible."

The Australian Museum Eureka Prizes, now in their 33rd year, recognise the country's brightest scientific minds. Winners were announced at a black-tie awards ceremony at the Australian Museum in Sydney on Wednesday 23 August.

A total of $180,000 in cash prizes was distributed among 18 Australian Museum Eureka Prizes, celebrating outstanding achievements in research and innovation, leadership, science engagement and school science.

Find out more about IQ-TREE2 here.

Original article by Eric Byler.