STEM trailblazer awarded prestigious national medal

11/03/2021 | 4 mins (including 1 min video)

The University of Western Australia’s Emeritus Professor Cheryl Praeger has been awarded the inaugural Ruby Payne-Scott Medal for her mathematical work on symmetry and developing algorithms that help power technology around the world.

The medal, named after pioneering Australian radio astronomer Ruby Payne-Scott, recognises exceptional researchers in physical and biological sciences and is one of the most prestigious awarded by the Australian Academy of Science.

“Young women need to see that there is a place for them in STEM, which is why having a medal like this is so important."

Emeritus Professor Cheryl Praeger

Emeritus Professor Praeger, a mathematician from UWA’s Centre for the Mathematics of Symmetry and Computation, said she felt humbled to be the first recipient of a medal that celebrates the achievements of female researchers and scientists. 

“Ruby Payne-Scott was a trail-blazer for women in science,” Professor Praeger said. “Young women need to see that there is a place for them in STEM, which is why having a medal like this is so important.

“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.”

Professor Praeger was awarded the prestigious Prime Minister’s Prize for Science in 2019 for her pioneering work developing mathematical algorithms driven by symmetry and finite group theory.

She has spent many years mentoring and inspiring others, supporting women, advocating for mathematics in schools and promoting mathematics in emerging economies.

“Mathematics is incredibly important in the world today; it underpins every part of our society and this includes the digital technology we use daily from our smart phones to the internet,” Professor Praeger said.

UWA Vice-Chancellor Professor Amit Chakma said the award acknowledged the immensely valuable research carried out by Professor Praeger and her longstanding contribution to inspiring future female mathematicians.

“Professor Praeger is an outstanding role model for young girls aspiring to study STEM. We are all very proud of her achievements,” Professor Chakma said.

Media references

Nicholas Smith, UWA Media Officer, 08 6488 1888 / 0411 644 492

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