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2021 Queensland Women in STEM Prize recipients announced

18 July 2021

Improving early autism diagnosis, securing food for future generations and inspiring tomorrow’s innovators are just a few of the outstanding initiatives recognised at the 2021 Queensland Women in STEM Prize ceremony today.

Now in its sixth year and presented by Queensland Museum Network and the Queensland Government, the prize recognises women who are making a difference to the world, in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) fields. 

Five Queensland female STEM professionals were recognised across three categories: Judges’ Award, Inclusion Award and Highly Commended with a total of $16,000 awarded to help support their work. 

The Judges’ Award was awarded to Chloe Yap from The University of Queensland who is working towards identifying biological markers that can improve early autism diagnosis using “big data” approaches. Autism is difficult to diagnose as there is no biological "test". Instead, in Australia, clinicians rely on intensive interviews and observation. Currently, without any biological “tests”, diagnosis is a major bottleneck that determines whether an autistic child is adequately supported and able to thrive.

The Inclusion Award was awarded to Christabel Webber from the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. Born profoundly deaf, and as a qualified researcher working in regional farming to help ensure food security, Christabel seeks to improve soil health and produce higher grain yield.

The Highly Commended Awards were presented to:

  • Fiona Holmstrom, co-founder and director of STEM Punks, who is passionate about ensuring equality in education for girls in STEM.
  • Kate Kingston, Griffith University, who is investigating techniques for wine growers to improve their soil health by adding organic matter known as biochar.
  • Sally McPhee, Griffith University, who is passionate about taking cutting-edge STEM out of the labs and onto the streets by providing STEM pathways, leadership and engagement opportunities for school students and improving teacher confidence and capability in science.

Queensland Museum Network CEO Dr Jim Thompson said entries to the 2021 Queensland Women in STEM Prize were impressive and showed a depth and breadth of important work. 

“More than 40 Queensland women, who have made contributions to STEM across the state entered this year’s awards,” Dr Thompson said.

“These diverse winners have shown strong drive to create a better future through innovative endeavours, displaying leadership and offering STEM education in the community.” 

Minister for the Arts Leeanne Enoch said each year these awards highlight the amazing achievements of Queensland women, and underline the important role that STEM plays in our everyday lives. 

“Every year I am humbled by the quality of applicants, and their contribution to world-leading research, science education and literacy,” Minister Enoch said. 

“The recent attendance numbers at the 2021 World Science Festival Brisbane is proof of people’s passion for science, and more than ever we need to foster that enthusiasm. 

“These awards encourage more women to explore a career in STEM related fields and I congratulate all of the brilliant and talented winners who are paving a bright path for Queensland women,” Ms Enoch said. 

Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, Minister for Women and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence, Shannon Fentiman said she was extremely proud to support the Queensland Women in STEM Prize.

“Congratulations to all of the winners and finalists of this year’s awards, who are making a difference with their work,” Minister Fentiman said.

“Awards like these recognise and help break down barriers that women may face when working in STEM industries.

“The finalists are wonderful role models for girls to pursue career paths that shape our world and change our lives.”

Minister for the Environment and the Great Barrier Reef and Minister for Science and Youth Affairs Meaghan Scanlon said the Queensland Government is focused on encouraging innovation and research, increasing the participation of women in STEM and improving science literacy in the community.

“Queensland's female STEM experts are international leaders and are at the forefront of many breakthroughs and discoveries,” Minister Scanlon said.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the important role of science and of our STEM experts in helping navigate through this pandemic.

“A highly skilled STEM workforce will position us for the future, where knowledge intensive industries are driven by science and industrial collaborations and innovation. Equally, it’s important that the community have STEM literacy so they can make informed decisions; so I congratulate all the winners whose work is contributing to improving Queensland.”

Queensland Chief Scientist Professor Hugh Possingham also congratulated the winners of this year’s prize.

“The 2021 winners showcase the huge breadth of careers available to those in STEM, and a passion for improving equity in STEM,” Prof Possingham said.

“The jobs of the future will need STEM skills, and our state is going to be in a better place if our STEM workforce is more diverse and representative of society.”    

More information on the recipients is available at https://qwisp.brightidea.com/QWiSP2021 

The Queensland Women in STEM Prize is presented by Queensland Museum Network in partnership with the Office of the Queensland Chief Scientist and Office for Women. 

ENDS

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MEDIA CONTACT:

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Queensland Women in STEM Prize 2021 recipients 

JUDGES’ AWARD

Chloe Yap: From molecules to the mind: using big data towards earlier autism diagnosis

Chloe is using “big data” approaches to try to improve early autism diagnosis. Currently, without any biological “tests”, diagnosis is a major bottleneck that determines whether an autistic child is adequately supported and able to thrive.

She is a MD-PhD student at The University of Queensland. She is undertaking her PhD at the Cognitive Health Genomics group at Mater Research Institute within the Translation Research Institute through the Faculty of Medicine, and is also affiliated with the Program for Complex Trait Genetics at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience.

To inspire other potential female clinician-scientists, Chloe has worked in partnership with the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Scientists and the UQ Faculty of Medicine to organise events to expose students to the clinician-scientist path. She also directly works to incorporate research in the UQ medical curriculum and provides science outreach to the public and to schools explaining her research and STEM career journey.

She  is currently in the United States until December, working on furthering her research with international collaborators as part of the Fulbright Program.

INCLUSION AWARD

Christabel Webber: Securing food for future generations

Christabel’s research explores how modifying farming management practices can impact farming performance.

To counteract Queensland’s harsh farming conditions which are being exacerbated by climate change, Christabel’s research looks to develop a set of best practice principles that farmers can implement in their own operations according to seasonal conditions.

Working for the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Christabel is the lead Technical Officer for a research project at Mungindi and Billa Billa that seeks to improve soil health and produce higher grain yield.

Christabel engages with local farmers at events and uses social media to discuss her research and the best farming techniques.

Born profoundly deaf, and as a qualified researcher working in regional farming to help ensure food security, Christabel stands out as a role model for other girls to show what’s possible.

HIGHLY COMMENDED AWARDS

Fiona Holmstrom: STEM Punks - Inspiring Tomorrow's Innovators

With a particular passion to ensure equity in education for girls in STEM, Fiona is director and co-founder of STEM Punks, a Queensland company providing STEM education to school children.

Her company has transformed since the COVID-19 pandemic bringing STEM education to global audiences through a variety of online and in person classes for students at home or in schools, as well as a magazine and online learning platform.

She supports a girls’ digital literacy project overseas, offers scholarships for underrepresented minority groups in Queensland to access STEM education for free, and seeks to see more girls enter STEM fields.

Her mission to make STEM education more accessible was recognised by the AusMumpreneur Awards where she won Gold in the 'Making a Difference in Education' category in 2020.

Kate Kingston: Impacts of biochar on soil carbon pools and nitrogen transformations in viticulture of south east Queensland

Kate is investigating techniques for wine growers to improve their soil health by adding organic matter known as biochar. She studies the soil microbial activity and how it impacts the chemical reactions of nitrogen and carbon in the soil. This helps her establish how biochar can retain nutrients in the soil and reduce environmental degradation from nutrient leaching into waterways.

By studying how nitrogen works and under what conditions soil microbes are working at their optimum, Kate’s research can help provide wine growers with information to manage their soil more sustainably, and potentially reduce the amount of nitrous oxide – a dangerous greenhouse gas which is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide - being released into the air.

She regularly mentors other students and works with the local bush care community to share her love of STEM. Kate is a PhD Candidate at Griffith University who wants to inspire deaf and hard of hearing children and mature age as well as single mothers to strive for a fulfilling life in STEM.

Sally McPhee:  Taking cutting-edge STEM out of the labs and onto the streets!

Sally is Griffith University's STEM Outreach Manager and champions STEM for students at all levels by providing STEM pathways, leadership and engagement opportunities for school students and improving teacher confidence and capability in science. Under her leadership, Science on the GO! has engaged over 100,000 people in the last three years.

She also showcases STEM researchers through her science communication initiatives to help break down stereotypes about women in STEM.

Sally founded the Griffith University STEM Squad as a vehicle for undergraduate and postgraduate STEM and Education students to lead science outreach activities for schools and the community.

Her marine science and education background helps her to foster a scientifically literate community and inspire school students to stay in STEM subjects.