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We can all be fireball hunters – Q and A with 2016 Eureka Prize winner Renae Sayers

By: Cara Bevington, Category: Science, Date: 07 Apr 2017

Renae Sayers, of Curtin University, WA (pictured centre) talks about her explosive Eureka Prizes experience.

Fireballs in the Sky team

Fireballs in the Sky team
Photographer: Getty  © Australian Museum

“I think this Eureka Prize is a win for the whole of Australia, not just us! It recognises a new and leading area of science engagement,” says Ms. Renae Sayers coordinator of Fireballs in the Sky, a citizen science program from Curtin University and winner of the inaugural Department of Industry, Innovation and Science Eureka Prize for Innovation in Citizen Science.

The Fireballs in the Sky program includes an app that allows all Australians to become fireball hunters (yep, you heard us right!) and report fireball sightings to scientists from the Desert Fireball Network. These reports are then used by researchers to track the trajectories of meteors – from their orbit in space to where they might have landed on Earth. These rocks can date back to the beginnings of our solar system and, when found, can enhance our understanding of the universe.

Renae says when her team were announced winners they felt equally humbled and surprised. “We’d had the chance to speak to the finalists in our category and their projects were also amazing – we didn’t know who was going to win. When we were announced the winner, I had to hold my hands on the lectern to stop them shaking!”

Renae says winning this prize has had a big impact on her team’s work, “it’s allowed us to showcase our hard work to our University colleagues and raise the profile of our successful collaboration with researchers.

“It also has been an avenue to connect with the rest of Australia and beyond. It has given us evidence that what we do is valued and enabled us to take risks to extend the program that we would not have been allowed otherwise,” says Renae.

Since winning a Eureka Prize in August 2016 the Fireballs in the Sky team have been very busy taking their project into the next phase. Including partnering with NASA to roll out the program globally. As you can imagine, Renae is very excited about this development, "I can not wait to share our program with the international community alongside NASA! I’m so thrilled to be engaging the public in the world of science research." 

As of March 2017 the app has been downloaded 29,000 times in 90 countries, with 2,700 individual sightings. A number of these sightings contributed to the swift and successful recovery of the “Dingle Dell” meteorite by the Desert Fireball Network in November 2016.

Want to learn more about Fireballs on the Sky?

Are you involved in an innovative citizen science project in Australia? Then think about applying for a 2017 Eureka Prize! It’s a great way to get your work recognised while raising the profile of this newer and growing area of science. It’s free to enter and winners receive $10,000 in prize money.

Not sure whether to enter? Here’s Renae’s advice, “the citizen science prize is all about celebrating work that connects science and community – so in your entry explain how and why you’re doing that and what makes your program the best in Australia!”

Remember, entries for all 15 of the 2017 Eureka Prizes close at 7pm AEST on Friday 5 May.

About the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes: in their 28th year, the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes are the country’s premier national science awards, honouring excellence in research and innovation, leadership, science communication, and school science. Visit our website to find out more. 

If you have any questions, please email eureka@austmus.gov.au or phone (02) 9320 6230.