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Cheryl Praeger awarded 2019 Prime Minister's Prize for Science

Data Analysis Australia Director Cheryl Praeger was recently awarded the prestigious 2019 Prime Minister's Prize for Science for her contribution to mathematics research and education in Australia and around the world.

Below is Cheryl's acceptance speech, given at the awards presentation dinner at Parliament House Canberra.

Transcript of Cheryl's Acceptance Speech

Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, Karen Edwards, other members of parliament, distinguished guests.

I would like also to acknowledge the original custodians of the land on which we are meeting, the Ngunnawal people, and to pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging. I pay respect also to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people here this evening.

When I was approached about being nominated for the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science I felt humbled and grateful to my nominator Professor Robyn Owens. And now to receive the Prize I feel overwhelmed at this wonderful statement about the importance of Mathematics.   

Science, Technology and Innovation are grounded in Mathematics: from medical research to climate science to economics. All rely on deep collaborations between mathematics and other STEM disciplines. And this impact relies on continued investment in fundamental mathematics research which underpins the rest. 

I feel very excited at this recognition of the research achievements of me and my colleagues and students in the Mathematics of Symmetry.  I was lucky that early in my career an immensely powerful mega-theorem was “born”, identifying all the mathematical “atoms” or “building blocks” of symmetry, the so-called the finite simple groups. I was one of the first to exploit this watershed result to build new fundamental theory and new methods to study groups and symmetrical structures like networks and designs. New algorithms I developed were built into the computer systems GAP and MAGMA, and used by mathematicians and scientists world-wide.  Their reliance on the finite simple group classification means that they run incredibly fast.

I am grateful to the University of Western Australia, and the Australian Research Council, for support throughout my career for me and my research team – to pursue passionately curiosity-driven, intensely focused mathematics research. Maths is not done in isolation, and our mathematical village reaches across the globe.  It contains many young research mathematicians – students and postdoctoral researchers – along with us “old guys”.

The visibility that the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science give to the STEM disciplines is of immeasurable importance for celebrating Australia’s scientific and innovative research achievements. They encourage more young people to consider careers in STEM.   They show there truly is a place for women in this “space”.

I thank my husband John and our two sons James and Tim for unwavering support; for allowing me to pursue my passion for Mathematics; and for being my primary Cheer Squad.

I congratulate all nominees, finalists and recipients of all the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science. What a wonderful country to produce so many fantastic scientists.

Emeritus Professor Cheryl Praeger

Professional achievements and citations

November 2019