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 Australian of the Year Awards
 Posted: Jan 26 2018, 08:25 AM

Rana Capillum

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Australian of the Year awards: Quantum physicist Michelle Yvonne Simmons receives 2018 honour

By Elise Pianegonda and staff

Australian of the Year - Michelle Yvonne Simmons

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Quantum physicist Professor Michelle Yvonne Simmons, whose work has been heralded as launching Australia into "the space race of the computing era", has been named this year's Australian of the Year.

Eddie Woo (Australia's Local Hero), Samantha Kerr (Young Australian of the Year) and Dr Graham Farquhar AO (Senior Australian of the Year) were also honoured at a ceremony in Canberra last night.

Since arriving in Australia from Britain in 1999, Professor Simmons' work at the University of NSW quantum physics department has helped develop leading technology on a global scale.

Five years ago, Professor Simmons and her team developed the world's first transistor made from a single atom, as well as the world's thinnest wire.

Now she is looking to build a quantum computer capable of solving problems in minutes, which would otherwise take thousands of years.
2018 Australian of the Year Professor Michelle Yvonne Simmons on stage holding her award.
Photo: 2018 Australian of the Year Professor Michelle Yvonne Simmons is hoping to build a quantum computer. (Jordan Hayne)

Such a discovery has the potential to revolutionise drug design, weather forecasting, self-driving vehicles and artificial intelligence.

In her acceptance speech Professor Simons said she was honoured to receive the award as an Australian born overseas.

"We have proven time and again that Australian researchers have some unique advantages," she said.

"We collaborate across boundaries but we also compete hard. We're down to earth, we are judged by results and we believe in what is real.

"Our distaste for authority means we think for ourselves. Best of all, we are prepared to give those hard challenges a go.

"I firmly believe there is nowhere else in the world better to do scientific research and challenge what's possible."
'Women think differently and that diversity is invaluable'

In addition to her role as one of the world's top scientists, Professor Simmons is an advocate for young girls who also want to pursue a career in science and technology.

"Throughout my career, I found people often underestimate female scientists," she said.

"In some ways for me that has been great, it has meant I have flown under the radar and have been able to get on with things. [But] I'm also conscious when a person starts to believe in what others think of them, that can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

"That is why I feel it is important not to be defined by other people's expectations of who you are and what you might be.

"Women think differently and that diversity is invaluable to technological and research development.

Australia's Local Hero — Eddie Woo

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As the head mathematics teacher at Cherrybrook Technology High School in Sydney's north-west, Eddie Woo is arguably Australia's most famous maths teacher.

In 2012 he began posting videos online for a student who was sick with cancer and missing a lot of school, but before long he was sharing the videos across the country and internationally.

His video channel Wootube now boasts more than 100,000 subscribers and has attracted more than 8 million views worldwide.

Mr Woo prides himself on making maths fun and attracting young people to engage with maths by making it relatable and interesting.

In particular his teaching makes maths part of young people's device-driven lives, taking education beyond the classroom with his energetic and passionate lessons.

In accepting his award, Mr Woo spoke of the powerful transformational powers of education.

"Education can radically change the trajectory of a child's life. It can transform the possibilities of what a child can become and achieve," he said.

"That can change a life, a family and a community forever."

Mr Woo said he was "no more a hero than anyone else".

"There is nothing special or extraordinary about my classroom, all I've done is open a window through the internet to the hard work and dedication that happens every day in schools around the country," he said.

"To all the children out there, I want you to understand from my story … [that] suffering doesn't define you, what other people say to you or call you doesn't define you — what you choose to do with the opportunities you've got, that's what defines you.

"The title I'm most proud of, even on a night like this, is being a teacher. That's what makes my heart tick. That's what I want to do."

Senior Australian of the Year — Dr Graham Farquhar AO

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One of Australia's most eminent scientists, Graham Farquhar, was named Senior Australian of the Year for his work protecting food security in a changing climate.

Earlier this year, the Australian National University biophysicist became the first Australian to win the 2017 Kyoto Prize — an equivalent to the Nobel Prize.

His work has improved world food security by developing strains of wheat that can grow with far less water, and has also helped to solve mysteries about why clouds and wind patterns were not changing as climate change models suggested they should.

Dr Farquhar said after growing up in Tasmania in a farming family, he used his love of mathematics and physics to find practical benefits for the agricultural sector.

"My generation of seniors is probably the luckiest one ever, we can, on average, live longer and more healthily and thereby contribute more," he said.

"We can be creative, struggle for honesty and we can deal with failures. We are all lucky because of our ability to embrace creativity and hence progress as a nation.

"Science, like other aspects of science technology, engineering and maths, does need some certainty about funding, periods that are long enough where people can take on projects that are meaningful in terms of experiencing variation."

Young Australian of the Year — Samantha Kerr

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Matildas striker Sam Kerr is no stranger to awards.

Last year, Kerr was the first Australian woman to be named a finalist for FIFA Female Player of the Year, after already claiming awards as the Australian Sports Woman of the Year, the ABC Sports Personality of the Year, the MVP of the USA National League, the Julie Dolan Medal for Australia's W-League and Asian Women's Footballer of the Year.

Now, she has another award to her name — being recognised as Young Australian of the Year for 2018.

In addition to Kerr's on-field prowess, her work as an advocate for women's sports was a big part of why she was recognised.

Congratulations to the recipients and all the nominees.

"A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on." - Winston Churchill
 Posted: Jan 26 2018, 08:36 AM

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Gee !
I always wanted a radio smaller than a gnats testicle.

Living In An Elected Dictatorship
Flin's opinions and comments reflect his perception of the facts and not necessarily reality
 Posted: Jan 26 2018, 10:02 AM

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Congratulations Sir
Phillip J.
 Posted: Jan 26 2018, 10:19 AM


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I don't think that you could get any smaller than that, Flin. (Unless there was a breed of miniature gnats!)

Live as if the world were as it should be, to show how it could be.
If what we do doesn't matter, then the only thing that matters is what we do.
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