Outstanding contributions to science have been recognised by the Australian Academy of Science today with 24 current and future stars of science receiving prestigious 2021 honorific awards.
The scientists’ discoveries are changing the world, including revealing the physics of sea-level change, leading the discovery of gravitational waves, harnessing the immune system to fight cancer, answering unsolved mathematical problems and creating cheap, flexible, stable and non-toxic solar cells.
Emeritus Professor Cheryl Praeger receives the inaugural Ruby Payne-Scott Medal and Lecture. It is one of the Academy’s most prestigious awards and honours Ruby Payne-Scott’s pioneering contribution to radiophysics and radio astronomy.
Professor Praeger’s work on problems of symmetry has led a revolution in mathematics, and the algorithms she developed are used in technology around the world.
She has a long track record of mentoring and inspiring others, supporting women, advocating for mathematics in schools and promoting mathematics in emerging economies.
“I feel very humbled to receive the inaugural Ruby Payne-Scott Medal and I feel it a great honour: Ruby Payne-Scott was a trail-blazer for women in science,” said Professor Praeger.
“Along with all women who have had the opportunity of a life-long career in STEM, I feel enormous gratitude to Ruby for her courage in fighting against the restrictions which prevented this for married women in the 1950s.
“Although I never had the opportunity of meeting Ruby, I am grateful to have known and worked with her son, mathematician Peter Hall.”
Professor Andrew Holmes is the recipient of the Academy’s other Premier award, the 2021 Matthew Flinders Medal and Lecture.
Professor Holmes is recognised for his world-leading contributions to materials science and biology, including plastics that emit light when sandwiched between electrodes connected to a power source—technology that forms the basis of flexible OLED televisions and plastic solar cells.
“Printed plastic solar technology is certainly going to be a technology in the [energy] marketplace,” said Professor Holmes, in a video published today to highlight his award.
“It has the advantage that it’s lightweight, it’s flexible and, in principle, it’s significantly cheaper than the silicon solar cell technology.”
In the career awards, Professor John Endler and Professor Susanne von Caemmerer are each awarded the inaugural Suzanne Cory Medal, which honours the former Academy president and molecular biologist.
Professor John Endler, a world-leading evolutionary biologist, has pioneered the field of sensory ecology, which explores how an animal’s environment helps determine how their specific senses and signals evolve.
Professor von Caemmerer, an expert in the processes underpinning how plant leaves use CO2, has changed the way we think about photosynthesis. Her research, aimed at improving photosynthesis in crops to increase their yields and adapt to climate change, is now applied worldwide.
One of the early-career researchers also honoured this year is Dr Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, a world expert on heatwaves—their causes, impacts and how they are changing as the earth warms.
She led a global study that found heatwaves have been increasing in frequency since 1950, and receives the 2021 Dorothy Hill Medal, which honours Australia's first woman professor.
President of the Australian Academy of Science, Professor John Shine, said the research of this year’s awardees is at the forefront of science, not only in Australia but around the world.
“While many of these researchers are having direct impacts on our technology and everyday lives, others are pushing the boundaries of basic research—both of which are vital to the advancement of science.
“The Academy is proud to honour such a diverse range of researchers this year, reflecting the people driving Australian science.”
The Academy’s 2021 honorific awards go to:
The awards will be presented in online ceremonies over the course of the year.
© 2021 Australian Academy of Science