Queensland Women in STEM Prize 2021

Congratulations to the five outstanding women named as recipients of the 2021 Queensland Women in STEM Prize.

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.

Judges' Award

Chloe Yap – Judges' Award winner
From molecules to the mind: using big data towards earlier autism diagnosis

The Judges' Award was awarded to Chloe Yap from the Mater Research Institute within the Translational Research Institute and the Institute for Molecular Bioscience at The University of Queensland.

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.

Video transcript

(Inspirational music)

My name's Chloe Yap.

I'm a MD/PhD student, which means I'm a medical student, but also doing my research degree at the moment.

I work in this space which you might call biological psychiatry, trying to understand

the biology of the mind.

I work on autism, which most of us know for being associated with having some difficulties socialising.

But in fact, autism also comes with a different way of seeing and sensing the world.

We actually don't know very much about autism, and unfortunately what this means, is that there are no good biological tests for autism.

And as a result, this means that children, are often diagnosed late. And so what I'm doing, is I'm working with the Australian Autism Biobank based here in Queensland.

And I'm trying to use big data approaches to better understand autism and hopefully move towards better diagnosis.

I enjoyed science through high school, but I have my heart set on medicine.

I like the idea of working with people, and so I got to university and I thought I'd applied for a summer research.

That summer just changed me. Just this chronic excitement that comes with seeing results that no one else has seen before, getting and encountering these problems and finding ways to get around them at the technical level, but also at a bigger picture level.

But I think the things that really get me going, I guess leaving an impact.

Research I think for me is a very long journey, and often you only see the fruits of that, you know, the translation of that for example, many, many decades down the track.

I think what I often derive that sense of meaning from at the moment, is sort of in these kind of small interactions. For example, whether that's sitting by a patient while they're having a hard time, whether that's bringing people together.

And finally, I like being around people who are just really passionate and have an unquenchable curiosity about the world around them.

I find that really infectious.

So I think it's really important, to see representation of women in STEM.

And that's because STEM is in many ways driven towards solving society's problems.

And I think to solve our diverse society's problems, we also need diversity in the people who try to solve those problems.

(Inspirational music)

Inclusion Award

Christabel Webber – Inclusion Award winner
Securing food for future generations

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 higher grain yield.

Video transcript

(Inspirational music)

My name is Christabel Webber.

My specific area in STEM is agriculture industry.

I research cereal grains.

Growing up in Sydney, my mum used to take me and my brother away on holidays to the farm.

On the farm, we would just go around and play with the animals, ride the tractor, ride the quadbike.

And I've always just had an interest.

So I work on four projects, the main one is the Farming System project.

The aim of this project is to find out, the basics in management of farming system. So we have nutrient management, crop intensity, crop diversity.

Thing that we do differently, we don't have crop sequence, because Australia is becoming more and more dry. So we work on water triggers.

So we have implemented in the protocol, different procedures to hit these water triggers. And the way we find that out is through soil sampling.

Some everyday tasks involve soil sampling, biomass cuts, processing the data, report writing, implementing all that together.

So the aim of all this grain research we are doing is to implement, taking what the farmer is doing and try and find the most sustainable and economic way to continue for which Queenslanders can keep growing food for many futures to come.

One thing I've really enjoyed about working in STEM, is the fact that so many opportunities are available.

There's no limits and barriers that says that you can't do this.

As you can see, I'm not a woman dressed in a white lab coat, but I can still be a scientist.

It's not about how smart you are.

It's about looking at the data and seeing the results in front of you.

There is no right or wrong answer.

And that’s what makes it really exciting.

(Inspirational music)

Highly Commended Awards

Fiona Holmstrom – Highly Commended Award
STEM Punks – Inspiring Tomorrow's Innovators

Fiona Holmstrom, co-founder and director of STEM Punks, who is passionate about ensuring equality in education for girls in STEM.

Video transcript

(Inspirational music)

I'm Fiona Holmstrom and I'm the co-founder and director of STEM Punks.

We create education for school children in primary and high schools, and we create content

that's curriculum aligned and industry linked.

A few years ago I was researching my own children's education prospects and I found a need for STEM.

And I thought there's something missing here that we can absolutely run with.

And we can create some great STEM education programs in Australia.

The greatest success so far would have to be creating equality and equity in education and giving that opportunity to girls from all walks of life, across Australia.

Regardless of gender, regardless of location, regardless of socioeconomic status.

Being able to promote education for all is what's really driving us at STEM Punks.

We had traditionally been a face-to-face business pre-COVID, where we were going into

schools all over Queensland, all over Australia and doing face-to-face incursions in schools.

But we transformed to an online business model.

Here we have the studio that I'm in now. We created that studio so that we could still create content for schools, but deliver it virtually instead.

Because we were able to promote our content online to a global audience we've now been able to expand the business in the US and we're finding that there's a really huge market in the US as well that's really interested in STEM and particularly in the school system and corporates as well.

85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030 haven't been created yet.

And a lot of those jobs will be around data science, analytics, robotics, automation, artificial intelligence, machine learning. So there's so many opportunities for girls to get involved and to create diversity and innovation in those fields for Queensland.

I'd like to see STEM Punks on a global level, being able to inspire many more girls around the world to get an interest in STEM, to get involved, to study, to work.

There are so many fields in STEM that girls can be involved in and the bigger that we can get the more opportunity we have to promote the awareness of STEM and just how, how bright the future is.

(Inspirational music)

Kate Kingston – Highly Commended Award
Impacts of biochar on soil carbon pools and nitrogen transformations in viticulture of South East Queensland

Kate Kingston, Griffith University, who is investigating techniques for wine growers to improve their soil health by adding organic matter known as biochar.

Video transcript

(Inspirational music)

I'm Kate.

I'm a soil scientist and I'm really interested in soil and how we can make it healthier and create a better future for our children.

My research looks at using biochar, which is like charcoal to improve soil health, like viticulture, which is wine grape growing or horticulture areas.

So that soil microbe can be really happy and do their job really well.

Transforming fertiliser into a form in which plants can uptake.

And this reduces the amount of environmental degradation and reduce greenhouse gas emission.

Growing up on a farm, I was inspired by my father who introduced me to soil health.

I've seen how wonderful nature is when it is growing well.

And I've seen what it looks like when it's degraded and when I was pregnant, as a mature aged woman I read this book called The Sixth Mass Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert.

And I was really inspired that I really had to do something against the impending climate crisis.

She was massive inspiration to me and I was also inspired by the birth of my son because he is a symbol of the future. And I need to do my part to create a better future for him and the next generation and the next generation after that.

My future career goals will be firstly to complete my PhD and then continue on with research.

But very importantly, I would like to bridge the gap between research and everyday person’s understanding of science and the environment so that they can make informed decision in their everyday life to make the world a cleaner, safer, and better place.

I am hearing impaired.

I am severely to profoundly deaf.

I am a mature age student.

I am a single mother, but I have, not just exceeded, I have excelled because STEM offers wonderful opportunities for women to get forward, to create, to learn and to build a better future.

And it is so personally rewarding.

(Inspirational music)

Sally McPhee – Highly Commended Award
Taking cutting-edge STEM out of the labs and onto the streets!

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.

Video transcript

(Inspirational music)

My name's Sally McPhee and I'm the STEM Outreach Manager at Griffith University.

And I'm really lucky because I get to have STEM in the title of my job.

So when we're talking about future careers and people having STEM as future careers, I guess I'm a showcase for that.

In my role, I engage with high school students, high school teachers and university students.

And it's all about giving them a way to engage with STEM. So we have a pathway from high

school into university and into the workforce.

We do that through events, programs, workshops, lab experiences, on campus and off campus, in the community.

We're able to now prove that the events, activities, engagement experiences that we offer to high school students and to teachers, is now having a flow through from high school into university and into the workforce.

We're able to inspire people to want to be at that cutting-edge, want to be that forefront because they can be the leaders to create change.

All of the careers that I see our university students end up in are exciting, they're dynamic.

The leaders and the industry want them.

They want that way that women and girls think about problems and solutions.

They want a diversity in the workforce, they want the future change makers of the world in their team.

When people are on a path that they want to be in and we see this in science and technology and engineering and maths as well.

That they are able to excel. So it's all about following your passion, it's all about making sure that you pursue that interest because you never know where it might take you.

My current role is as a STEM outreach manager, but when I started off with a science degree, I never knew that I would end up here. And now I'm engaging with over 300,000 people in STEM.

I see myself continuing to promote the women in STEM agenda. And I think it needs continual promotion, because obviously we're not where we need to be.

We still have less than 50% in our science, engineering and maths degrees at university.

So we need more female representation in our STEM university degrees.

So that continues into the workforce.

(Inspirational music)

2021 Queensland Women in STEM Prize compilation video

The 2021 Queensland Women in STEM Prize recognises the valuable contribution of Queensland women working in STEM careers.

The prize is presented by Queensland Museum Network, the Office of the Queensland Chief Scientist and the Office for Women and Violence Prevention.

We celebrate all women working across the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths, and acknowledge all applicants of the 2021 Queensland Women in STEM Prize.

Take a look at this video:

  • hear from some extraordinary Queensland women working in STEM
  • learn about the benefits of STEM careers – including advice for girls and women.

Video transcript

[Narrator] In Queensland, we have inspiring women working in the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths.

They're working on medical discoveries to keep us healthy, safeguarding our beautiful environment, working on new ways to feed the world, at the cutting edge of technology and data analysis.

And importantly increasing the sense of wonder about science.

Queensland women are innovators, making a real difference to everyday life.

Now more than ever, people are turning to science, valuing how it shapes our lives and our livelihood.

These women in diverse roles right across the state are the future of STEM in Queensland.

[Christabel Webber] One thing I really enjoyed about working in STEM, is the fact there's so many opportunities are available.

[Fiona Holmstrom] Creating equality and equity in education and giving that opportunity to girls from all walks of life is what's really driving us.

[Kate Kingston] I always say to young girls, looking at a career in STEM, yes, do it.

Do not be afraid, do not be worried about other people say or what they think you should do. Just go and do it. Follow your passion.

[Christabel Webber] As you can see, I'm not a woman dressed in a white lab coat, but I can still be a scientist.

[Sally McPhee] And we know that we need them in our future workforce.

And if we don't have women and girls represented then we don't have a future society, that's able to create the solutions for the problems that we now have.

[Chloe Yap] I think it's really important to see representation of women in STEM, and that's because STEM is in many ways driven towards solving society's problems.

And I think to solve our diverse society's problems, we also need diversity in the people who try to solve those problems.

[Fiona Holmstrom] 85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030, haven't been created yet. And a lot of those jobs will be around data science, analytics, robotics, automation, artificial intelligence, machine learning. So there's so many opportunities for girls to get involved.

[Sally McPhee] They're leaders and the industry wants them. They want that way that women and girls think about problems and solutions. They want a diversity in the workforce. They want the future change makers of the world in their team.

[Kate Kingston] STEM offers wonderful opportunities for women to get forward, to create, to learn and to build a better future. And it is so personally rewarding.

[Narrator] The Queensland Women in STEM Prize celebrates these women and their achievements.

Past winners