Queensland Women in STEM Prize

The winners of 2020 Queensland Women in STEM Prize have been announced.

Congratulations to the three winners and the finalists:

These researchers cover a diverse range of topics: creating antiparasitic drugs from spider venom, using genetic markers to combat obesity, increasing energy yield from natural gas, understanding the biological mechanisms of mental health, applying Traditional Knowledge to inform climate change adaptation plans and rebuilding coral reefs.

Samantha Nixon – Jury Award winner – Fighting creepy with crawly: using spider venoms to make next-generation antiparasitic drugs

Video transcript

My name is Samantha Nixon, and I am an arachnophobic turned venom scientist.

My research takes spider venoms and turns them into new medicines against parasites of Australian sheep and people.

I've always been passionate about the planet, and protecting all of the animals and the people on it.

I think science is one of the most exciting things that you can possibly do.

Every day you get to go into the lab or go out into the field, and learn something, discover something that no one else has known before.

My goal is to see the end of parasitic diseases, and I want to work across the whole drug development pipeline, to make sure that the communities affected are included in those discussions and developments, and make sure that the solutions we come up with, are future-focused and sustainable.

Because if we can find a drug that will be able to treat hookworms and tapeworms, that's going to improve the quality of life for millions of people around the world.

STEM is so exciting, because it allows you to bring in your creative thinking and your critical thinking, to solve really complex problems, with new and different ways that people haven't thought of before.

So for me, that's applying spider venoms to blood sucking parasites of the Australian sheep industry.

Kate Quigley – Jury Award finalist – Beat the heat: helping corals withstand increasing ocean temperatures

Video transcript

My name is Kate Quigley and I'm a coral reef scientist at the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences and James Cook University in Townsville.

So part of the research that I'm doing is looking at ways that we can effectively selectively breed corals so that their babies are better at responding to increasing sea surface temperatures.

I love STEM because it allows us to answer really important questions about the natural world.

That's just such an exciting thing to be able to wake up and do every day.

I'm really proud of a lot of the work we've been doing in the last couple of years, trying to increase heat tolerance in corals.

So trying to make them stronger under increasing sea surface temperatures.

And we've actually been able to increase their heat tolerance by 26 times in the last couple of years.

So, you know, that's equivalent to getting an extra degree of heat tolerance.

What I'll be doing in the future is continuing to fight for reefs.

It's going to be a long game as temperatures will continue to rise and I'll be on the forefront of that.

My advice for women who are interested in getting into STEM is just to think about what are the kinds of questions that excite you?

Do things that initially scare you.

Push past those initial feelings of "Am I good enough? Can I do this?" and just give it a shot.

Toni Hay – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Jury Award winner – Indigenous Climate Change Adaptation

Keely Perry – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Jury Award finalist – STEM: As through the eyes of a rural Queenslander

Video transcript

My name is Keely Rose Perry and I do plant biotechnology with the University of Queensland.

And I'm lucky enough to do research on the biogenic production of gas with Origin Energy.

I would say plant biotechnology is taking the fundamentals of plants and using them to improve something.

So an example of that would be how we're doing, research in sugarcane to make it easier to grow and high yields.

I spent a lot of time as a kid on the farm.

And I think just wanting to understand how it all worked and seeing my grandfather and that work with the cattle and the grass and everything.

I just wanted to go forward and go into biology and seeing what applications that could have, and going and working with Origin and working in different indigenous communities – [it] just takes me back to that and my heritage and showing me kind of that it's still there.

I'm not losing it.

And being able to explore all that is always such a great time and a great experience, and then being able to spread it even further into communities.

I think STEM is kind of pigeonholed when people think that it is only science, technology, engineering and mathematics, but you could find anything in each of them and anyone can enjoy any part of it.

Because I am in technically the science part of it, but I also overarch into the technology and the mathematics of it.

It's a massive industry.

And I think there is part in it to enjoy for everyone.

The advice I wish I'd been given as a kid was probably put your hand up for anything.

It's better to have the experience and know that you don't want to do it than to have no experience at all.

Denuja Karunakaran – People’s Choice Award winner – Trimming the Fat: Targeting novel genetic factors and molecules that drive obesity

Video transcript

My name is Denuja Karunakaran.

I'm a team leader at the Institute for Molecular Biosciences at the University of Queensland.

My research focuses in particular on obesity and heart disease, looking at how fat cells and the immune system interact to mediate and aggravate these diseases.

The very first inspiration and the realisation that I want to do research came from my high school excursion where we went to a lab and we got an opportunity to look at cells under the microscope.

And I think that's when I fell in love with cell biology and cell signalling, just looking down under the microscope, I hadn't moved for hours, and I knew that this is what I wanted to do.

My future career goals is to further pursue academic research as well as mentor young researchers in the field, in particular women in STEM.

Together I hope that I would be able to remove the stigma associated with obesity.

Growing up I didn't have many female scientists that I could look up to and that's I think it's very important for us to have more women in STEM that are visible and relatable, and that people can look up to especially young girls because this is a very promising career and has a lot of opportunities, and potential for women to contribute to.

Divya Mehta – People’s Choice Award finalist – Epigenetics: Why our DNA is not our destiny

Video transcript

My name is Divya Mehta.

I am a senior research fellow at the Queensland University of Technology.

I am a geneticist and a biostatistician working in the area of mental health.

My greatest achievement so far has been my entire STEM journey.

Through my STEM career I have lived and worked in four different continents, and met some amazing scientists and people.

I have built some strong national and international collaborative networks.

And through these networks, we have identified new genes for mental health disorders, which have been translated into novel therapies as well as public policies.

So, I've always been interested in science since I've been a child and in school, biology was one of my favourite subjects.

I had a very amazing biology teacher and she inspired me to work really hard.

I have always wanted to work in medical sciences mainly because I wanted to make a difference.

I wanted to save lives.

STEM plays an integral role in our lives.

STEM fields are very fascinating field itself.

It really does spark creativity, critical thinking as well as innovation.

And these are all fields that women are naturally good at.

And finally you know, through STEM, we can make an important and significant contribution to society.

The Queensland Women in STEM prize recognises Queensland women who make an outstanding contribution in the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

The three winners will receive $5,000 to support their professional development.

This state-wide competition is open to early to mid-career women working in a STEM career in Queensland.

PhD and Masters students or women who have been in a STEM profession for less than 12 years are eligible to apply.

Check the 2020 Queensland Women in STEM Prize website for more details and this year’s submissions.

2020 Queensland Women in STEM Prize compilation video

We celebrate all women working across the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths, and acknowledge all applicants of the 2020 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

[Voiceover]: In Queensland, we have thousands of extraordinary women working across science, technology, engineering, and math fields.

They are developing new medicines and treatments to keep Queenslanders healthy, protecting our fragile natural environment and unique animal species, and at the cutting edge of robotics, data analysis, and technology.

Queensland is a growing destination for discovery and innovation and our women are leading the charge.

Let's celebrate the women working in STEM in Queensland.

[Associate Professor Divya Mehta]: STEM plays an integral role in our lives.

It really does spark creativity, critical thinking as well as innovation.

And these are all fields that women are naturally good at.

[Keely Perry]: I think STEM is kind of pigeonholed when people think that it is only science, technology engineering, mathematics, but you could find anything in each of them and anyone can enjoy any part of it.

It's a massive industry, and I think there is part in it to enjoy for everyone.

[Samantha Nixon]: I think science is one of the most exciting things that you can possibly do.

Every day, you get to go into the lab or go out into the field and learn something, discover something that no one else has known before.

[Dr Kate Quigley]: I love STEM because it allows us to answer really important questions about the natural world.

That's just such an exciting thing to be able to wake up and do every day.

[Dr Denuja Karunakaran]: I think it's really exciting that women can bring in their uniqueness with regards to leadership skills, their creativity and use their brain to solve world problems.

[Samantha Nixon]: STEM is so exciting because it allows you to bring in your creative thinking and your critical thinking to solve really complex problems with new and different ways that people haven't thought of before.

[Keely Perry] Put your hand up for anything.

It's better to have the experience and know that you don't want to do it than to have no experience at all.

[Dr Kate Quigley]: Do things that initially scare you.

Push past those initial feelings of, "Am I good enough? Can I do this?", and just give it a shot.

[Associate Professor Divya Mehta]: Through STEM, we can make an important and significant contribution to society.

[Dr Denuja Karunakaran]: So I think it's very important for us to have more women in STEM that are visible and relatable and that people can look up to, especially young girls because this is a very promising career and has a lot of opportunities and potential for women to contribute to.

[Voiceover]: The Queensland Women in STEM Prize recognises these accomplishments.

Join us in these celebrations.