Winners announced for 2020 Queensland Women in STEM awards

Minister for Environment and the Great Barrier Reef, Minister for Science and Minister for the Arts The Honourable Leeanne Enoch

Minister for Science Leeanne Enoch and Minister for Child Safety, Youth and Women Di Farmer today announced the winners of the 2020 Queensland Women in STEM Awards, acknowledging the contributions of leading women in the field.

“It’s wonderful to recognise the 2020 Queensland Women in STEM prize winners Samantha Nixon, Toni Hay and Denuja Karunakaran, who are each doing pioneering work in the science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) fields,” Minister Enoch said.

“By supporting career pathways for women in STEM we are contributing to jobs in science and research, and improving health outcomes, which are crucial parts of Queensland’s plan for economic recovery,” Minister Enoch said.

Six Queensland scientists were nominated for these STEM awards across a wide-ranging field of scientific research, including creating antiparasitic drugs from spider venom to using genetic markers to combat obesity, and applying traditional knowledge to inform climate change adaptation plans. Other research nominations covered increasing energy yield from natural gas, understanding the biological mechanisms of mental health and rebuilding coral reefs.

“Samantha Nixon, winner of the Jury Award category, is a final-year PhD student at The University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience,” Minister Enoch said.

“Ms Nixon’s research focuses on using spider venoms to make next-generation antiparasitic drugs that are urgently needed to protect both people and the Australian sheep industry.

“Through science communication, Samantha is a passionate advocate for addressing inequality in STEM, education and leadership and hopes that sharing her passion for spiders will help inspire the next generation of Australian scientists.

“All of these amazing women should be applauded and their research, which makes a real impact on our lives, will spark enthusiasm for STEM subjects and careers,” Minister Enoch said.

Minister for Child Safety, Youth and Women Di Farmer announced Denuja Karunakaran as the winner of the People’s Choice category.

“It is a great honour to be involved in an event that shows young women and girls they can do anything and be the best in the world at what they choose to do,” Ms Farmer said.

“I want to congratulate Denuja not only for being the winner of the People’s Choice Award but also her ground-breaking research.

“Denuja’s discovery of a gene that increases the risk of obesity has world-wide implications.

“Identifying the gene could be the first step in preventing obesity or finding an effective treatment.

“Three quarters of the world’s fastest growing jobs require STEM skills and knowledge, so every one of the women nominated here today have a bright future ahead of them.

“The great thing about these awards is their ability to demonstrate the capacity of Queensland women to be global leaders in tackling the challenges that have confronted humanity for centuries.

“Well done, as the Minister for Women I’m very proud of every one of your achievements.”

Toni Hay, an Environmental Scientist and Aboriginal Woman from Gamilaraay Nation was named winner of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Jury Award category, presented in partnership with the BHP Foundation.

BHP Foundation Chief Executive James Ensor commended Toni’s commitment to incorporating Traditional Knowledge in climate change adaptation programmes.

“Toni’s work embraces Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives into Queensland’s cultural landscape, effectively bridging the gap between community and policy,” Mr Ensor said.

“For more than 60,000 years Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities thrived through knowledge gained as this country’s first innovators, engineers, scientists and mathematicians.

“So the BHP Foundation has a focus on national projects that are forging new STEM career pathways for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and women, because it is critical to the future of STEM that they are participating in STEM careers and driving the advances that the world needs.”

Queensland Museum Network CEO Dr Jim Thompson said the research projects promised to make a positive impact.

“I’d like to congratulate the winners for this outstanding recognition of their research, who were selected from a strong field of applicants and chosen by a panel of experts from business, industry and academia,” Dr Thompson said.

Molecular biologist Dr Anu Choudhary (the 2019 People’s Choice Award winner) said winning the prize helped to continue her ground-breaking ways to weed out weeds without using herbicides.

“Weeds cost Queensland millions of dollars, and every year across Australia they destroy enough food to feed almost 3 million people. That’s a lot of lost food, in an ever-growing, ever-hungry world,” Dr Choudhary said.

“Being given the opportunity to be in a position where you can potentially influence so many people with your work and your ideas is a great honour, and I’d like to congratulate all the finalists and winners of this year’s Women in STEM awards and look forward to hearing about their future successes.”

Each winner will receive $5,000 in prize money for professional development and research thanks to the generous support of the Queensland Museum Network, the Palaszczuk Government and the BHP Foundation.

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