House debates

Tuesday, 17 October 2023


Prime Minister's Prizes for Science

7:54 pm

Photo of Zaneta MascarenhasZaneta Mascarenhas (Swan, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is lovely that on this evening we're having a science love-in in the House. The way that I like to think about science is as the pursuit of knowledge. I think that that's something that is quite noble. Science is the study of the physical and the natural world through observation and experiment, while technology is the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes. So science in practice today is the technology of tomorrow. I too had the pleasure of attending the presentation of the Prime Minister's Prizes for Science last night. The prizes were announced by both the Prime Minister and the Minister for Industry and Science. I see the evening as being a bit like the Brownlow Medal for scientists.

The prizes celebrate and acknowledge the achievements and success of Australian scientists and innovators. The prizes recognise the achievements and the benefits of scientific work to our country as well as to the world. It's about exploration and discovery, and that's something that I see as very exciting. It's about pushing the boundaries to find a new generation of opportunities that can be uncovered by science.

Last night the winner of the Prime Minister's Prize for Science was Professor Michelle Simmons, and it was for her work in pioneering developments in quantum computing. Quantum computing will be the next frontier of computing. Quantum physics is basically the study of things at the atomic and subatomic level, where physical matter can act both as particles and as a wave. What this study will do is see computing solve really complex problems which current computing can't. What Professor Simmons created is a company that can develop a new style of manufacturing that is the basis of a new approach for quantum computing. It's innovative and groundbreaking. Innovations can be used in other fields to make a huge difference to health, transport and agriculture. These are things that could affect the lives of millions of people for the better. That's what science can do.

As the Prime Minister said last night, behind every great scientist, there's a dedicated science teacher. I know that, when I wanted to pursue a STEM career, I had lots of amazing teachers, which included Mr Simpson, Mr Mazzuchelli, Miss Cypher and even my primary school teacher Mrs Wilson, as well as amazing physics lecturers like Yarra Korczynskyj and Marjan Zadnik. But what was really lovely to see last night was the celebration of a teacher from WA called Donna Buckley, who works at John Curtin College of the Arts. You wouldn't think that arts and maths go hand in hand, but they do. In some ways I see them as two sides of the same coin. What Donna does is teach creative, artistic students to use maths as a facilitator to create amazing, beautiful pieces, but she also challenges the way that they do things. The other thing that she does is teach girls how to code and how to use computer programs to be really creative, so I see this as something that goes hand in hand.

The other thing about last night that was really lovely is that sometimes you go to the Great Hall and you have these big dinners, but, because it was a big STEM love-in, all the nerds were very happy to have a chat with each other. You've got the brightest minds from all across Australia. During each of the breaks, everyone was in the middle having a chat with one another, talking about their new scientific discoveries and what things they had been working on.

I was very pleased to spend time with two of my constituents last night. One of them was Dr Sarah Pearce, who lives and works in my electorate of Swan. She works at the Square Kilometre Array and is the telescope director. This is about the next generation of radio astronomy which is being driven by a big data facility and will fundamentally revolutionise our understanding of the universe. While I'm learning about the laws of this country, she's learning about the laws of physics and will be looking at this from a cutting-edge perspective.

It was also lovely to see Parwinder Kaur last night. She has been doing some amazing work looking at STEM and women in STEM and the way that we can get more women to think about STEM careers because the truth is we've got a lot of work to do and we need the whole workforce.

House adjourned at 20:00