Academy awards

The Australian Academy of Science has announced the recipients of its 2021 honorific awards, highlighting 24 Australian scientists who have made big contributions to scientific research.

The two most prestigious prizes, the Ruby Payne-Scott Medal and Lecture and the Matthew Flinders Medal and Lecture, have been won by mathematician Cheryl Praeger and chemist Andrew Holmes, respectively.

The Ruby Payne-Scott Medal and Lecture is a new award this year, recognising Payne-Scott’s contributions to radio physics and radio astronomy. It has been given to Emeritus Professor Cheryl Praeger, a mathematician who worked at the University of Western Australia for 40 years.

Praeger has done significant work on symmetry in mathematics, as well as developing algorithms that appear in technology around the world.

“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,” says 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.”

The Matthew Flinders Medal and Lecture was awarded to chemistry researcher Professor Andrew Holmes.

Holmes has made a number of contributions to materials science and biology, including the development of light-reactive plastic that is used in OLED televisions and plastic solar panels.

“Printed plastic solar technology is certainly going to be a technology in the [energy] marketplace,” says Holmes, in a video discussing his award.

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Professor Andrew Holmes. Credit: Australian Academy of Science

“It has the advantage that it’s lightweight, it’s flexible and, in principle, it’s significantly cheaper than the silicon solar cell technology.”

The Academy has also recognised 22 other researchers with other honorifics.

Some awards span across entire academic careers, such as the Hannan Medal, which went to University of Adelaide mathematician Mathai Varghese. Others are mid-career honorifics, such as the Nancy Mills Medal, which was awarded to ecologist Angela Moles and radio astronomer Cathryn Trott. Early career awards include the Ruth Stephens Gani Medal, which went to geneticist Joseph Powell.

“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,” says Professor John Shine, President of the Australian Academy of Science.

“The Academy is proud to honour such a diverse range of researchers this year, reflecting the people driving Australian science.”

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