Mathematics trailblazer and role model wins Prime Minister’s Prize for Science

October 17, 2019

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Emeritus Professor Cheryl Praeger and Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, Karen Andrews.

Emeritus Professor Cheryl Praeger is the 2019 recipient of the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science. Academy Fellows have featured each year since the prizes’ inception in 2000.

Emeritus Professor Praeger, who was elected to the Academy in 1996, received the $250,000 prize for her fundamental contributions to research in pure and applied mathematics. Her work explains the complex mathematics required for applications such as secure digital communication and encryption for the web.

Australian Academy of Science President, Professor John Shine AC PresAA, congratulated Emeritus Professor Praeger on her achievement during a Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science breakfast hosted at the Shine Dome the morning after the prize night. The breakfast was attended by past prize winners, parliamentarians and the science community.  

“Cheryl, you have been, and continue to be a trailblazer and role model for girls and women in mathematics and beyond, across the globe,” Professor Shine said.

“As a Fellow of this Academy we are thrilled that you have been awarded the nation’s most prestigious prize for your contribution.”

Emeritus Professor Praeger spoke with ABC Radio National’s Breakfast program about her achievement.

“To receive the award, I find it a wonderful statement about the importance of mathematics and such a recognition of the achievements of myself, my colleagues and students in the research on the mathematics of symmetry,” Emeritus Professor Praeger said.

Search engines on the world wide web make use of symmetrical networks to store information so that on a request, the nodes where the information is stored can be searched quickly and effectively.

“I believe that we need many more people in the maths and STEM disciples to solve and face the new changes that will be facing us. We need creative and critical thinkers to be able to make progress,” Emeritus Professor Praeger said.

Emeritus Professor Praeger also has a long history of involvement with international scientific organisations as well as representing Australia through the Australian Academy of Science at international forums, particularly during her term as the Academy’s Foreign Secretary from 2014 to 2018.  She is a board member of the Association of Academies and Societies of Sciences in Asia (AASSA) and since 2017 has chaired the Women in Science and Engineering Special Committee of AASSA. 

She is currently a member of the International Science Council Standing Committee for Freedom and Responsibility in Science which deals with freedom and responsibility of science matters at the global level. 

Two recipients of the Academy’s 2019 honorific awards were also Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science winners.

The $50,000 Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year went to Associate Professor Laura Mackay from the University of Melbourne for her breakthrough work in identifying the role of tissue-resident T cells in protecting the body from infection and cancer.

Associate Professor Mackay was awarded the Academy’s Gottschalk Medal earlier this year.

The $50,000 Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year went to Associate Professor Elizabeth New from the University of Sydney for pioneering the development of new chemical imaging tools to observe healthy and diseased cells.

Associate Professor New was awarded the Academy’s Le Fèvre Medal earlier this year.

See the full list of the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science recipients.

Academy President Professor John Shine AC FAA with Academy Fellows and past winners of the PM Science Prize.

© 2019 Australian Academy of Science

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