Come into our web… and meet Samantha Nixon
Issued: 3 Mar

The 2020 Queensland Women in STEM Prize winner tells us about her recent venom research and successes on the world stage.

Dr Samantha Nixon, based at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience at The University of Queensland, is researching venoms to make new medicines and eco-friendly insecticides.

Since being awarded the 2020 Queensland Women in STEM Prize (Jury Award), Samantha has continued studying venoms for drug discovery against parasites, with some great progress in finding new leads against the worms that cause schistosomiasis, a deadly disease, second only to malaria as the most devastating parasitic disease.

In addition, she has been researching Australian funnel-web spiders – to assist with antivenom research she has hand raised over 70 baby Sydney funnel-webs in the last 2 years!

For the first time, Samantha has also been studying the venom of a unique Australian critter - the wishbone spider.

As well as lab work, she has published research on how Amazonian ant venom causes pain and found that Australian caterpillar venom peptides have potential against Australian sheep parasites.

More awards and science communication

Samantha’s research and science communication skills have been further acknowledged globally.

She won the 2020 Green Talent Award from the German Ministry for Education and Research, recognising her as one of the top 25 young scientists in the world working on research addressing the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Samantha also took out the British Council’s 2021 FameLab Australia science communication competition where she had to deliver a three minute talk – she was judged on content, clarity and charisma. Samantha then went on to compete against representatives from 30 countries in the FameLab International Final – securing for herself the runner-up spot.

Since winning the Queensland Women in STEM Prize, Samantha has been inundated with media work and continues to speak at schools both in-person and online to share her love of spiders and science. Excitingly, she was filmed by ABC Catalyst for a venom special, which won awards at Cannes, New York and Salzburg film festivals.

Screen capture image of Dr Samantha Nixon in the episode of ABC Catalyst on a venom special, which won awards at Cannes, New York and Salzburg film festivals.Open larger image

Watch the special venom episode on ABC Catalyst which won awards at Cannes, New York and Salzburg film festivals.

Girl power

Samantha says good role models in STEM are essential because you can’t be, what you can’t see.

“I think we need a lot more visible women in STEM in a variety of research careers – STEM isn’t just research scientists and engineers. I want kids to be able to see the incredible diversity of career options that are available to them and be able to look at role models in each of these fields – be that women, Indigenous people, people of colour, disabled, LGBTQ+ – and be able to see themselves so that they feel empowered and inspired to pursue their curiosities and passions.”

Her advice for girls and women

Samantha has some top tips:

  • Say yes to opportunities, but more importantly don’t wait for people to offer you opportunities – go out and create them for yourself.
  • Be courageous and back yourself.
  • Try to support others and pay it forward for the next generation to help make a positive difference in your community.

What’s next for Samantha?

Samantha is looking forward to the world opening up after COVID-19 closures and getting back to travel.

She has some planned trips where she will use some of her prize money to visit top research labs in Europe and the United States later this year.

Dr Samantha Nixon is a wonderful role model for Queensland women. Do you know an exceptional woman working in STEM? The 2022 Queensland Women in STEM Prize is now taking applications. Find out more about Samantha Nixon and her advice for girls in this video:

  • Samantha Nixon – Jury Award winner for the Queensland Women in STEM Prize – Fighting creepy with crawly: using spider venoms to make next-generation antiparasitic drugs

    Samantha Nixon – Jury Award winner for the Queensland Women in STEM Prize – Fighting creepy with crawly: using spider venoms to make next-generation antiparasitic drugs