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South Australian STEMM women dominate SA Science Awards with winners announced

Female scientists and educators have been honoured at the recent South Australian Science Excellence and Innovation Awards.

Images: Randy Larcombe

South Australia’s outstanding contributions to science, particularly by women in the Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Medicine (STEMM) fields, were celebrated at the annual SA Science Excellence and Innovation Awards. The event, recognising leaders in education, science, research, and industry, underscored women’s significant achievements and leadership in these sectors.

Professor Helen Marshall, a medical researcher and the 2022 SA Australian of the Year, was named Scientist of the Year in 2023. Her impactful work in vaccination research, particularly in combating meningococcal B, earned her this prestigious accolade.

Along with Professor Marshall, there were five more category winners, including three women and two research groups, showcasing a strong presence of female talent for the 19th year of the state’s premier science event.  

This recognition goes beyond just individual achievements, reflecting the collective strides in sectors like health, education, mining, wine production, and environmental protection.

A panel of experienced judges from diverse backgrounds, including industry, research, government, and education, underwent an intensive selection process, assessing nominations from over 60 promising candidates across six categories. Out of 18 finalists, six winners were celebrated at a gala dinner attended by 400 guests at The Grainger Studios on November 17th.

The South Australian Government, under the leadership of figures like Susan Close, emphasises the importance of such achievements.

‘The South Australian Government is committed to harnessing the state’s research capabilities, boosting research collaboration between industry and researchers, and driving the translation of our research and innovation into economic, social and environmental outcomes’, says Close.

‘To achieve this, we need more STEMM professionals to advance our fastest-growing industry sectors, such as health, renewable energy, green hydrogen, sustainable manufacturing, space, and defence.’

The 2023 Scientist of the Year, Professor Helen Marshall, reflected on her award on her award and contribution to the industry.

‘My area of expertise is primarily Vaccinology, which is a specialty encompassing everything to do with vaccines and immunisation. My research is centred on providing the best protection for children against life-threatening infectious diseases through immunisation’, says Professor Marshall.

‘My main area of contribution internationally has been the availability of meningococcal vaccines to protect children against meningococcal meningitis and sepsis. I led the first clinical trials of a meningococcal B vaccine globally and then advocated for the meningococcal B vaccine herd immunity study to be undertaken in South Australia. This meant South Australian young people had early and free access to a licensed meningococcal B vaccine.’

She also emphasised the importance of her work and the honour of receiving the SA Scientist of the Year Award, acknowledging the responsibility that comes with such recognition, especially as a role model for women in science.

‘It’s about being a role model for the next generation, especially for women. It’s important that there are more women achieving and being recognised for their research leadership to inspire the next generation of leaders’, says Professor Marshall.

Through their varied contributions, this year’s winners are advancing their respective fields and inspiring the next generation of STEMM professionals. See a full list of winners below.

2023 SA Science Excellence and Innovation Award winners

  • Scientist of the Year: 
    Professor Helen Marshall. The University of Adelaide. Awarded for her vaccination research, which has had significant local and global impacts on the incidence and treatment of meningococcal B.
  • Innovator of the Year: 
    The Chrysos PhotonAssay Team: Dr James Tickner, Mr Dirk Treasure, Dr Alvin Chowles and Dr Rhys Preston. Awarded for the development and commercialisation of game-changing technology for the mining industry.
  • PhD Research Excellence Award: 
    Dr Hayley Leake, University of South Australia. Awarded for her research into the improvement of chronic pain management for adolescents. 
  • STEMM Educator of the Year – Primary/Secondary:
    Mrs Christie Evans, Heathfield Primary School. Awarded for her contribution to STEMM education and problem-based learning approaches.
  • STEMM Educator of the Year – University/RTO: 
    Ms Jill Bauer, The University of Adelaide. Awarded for her contemporary approaches to wine education.
  • Excellence in Science and Industry Collaboration: 
    Science to revive lost oyster reefs: Professor Sean Connell, Ms Sandy Carruthers, Dr Domenic McAfee, Ms Anita Nedosyko and Mr Alan Noble, The University of Adelaide. Awarded for reviving an extinct ecosystem to restore fish production and water quality.

For more information on each winner’s work, visit scienceawards.sa.gov.au.

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