Three University of Tasmania early career researchers have been named as Superstars of STEM in recognition of their scientific research and science outreach.
Dr Samantha Sawyer, who is assisting companies to grow sustainable food, Dr Indrani Mukherjee, who studies the Earth’s ancient ocean chemistry, and Mars Buttfield Addison, who is monitoring space debris using machine learning, are part of a new group of 60 Superstars of STEM from across Australia.
The Superstars of STEM is a two-year program aimed at inspiring young women and non-binary individuals. It is an initiative of Science and Technology Australia and funded by the Australian Government’s Department of Industry, Science and Resources.
Dr Indrani Mukherjee, who is also a researcher with UNSW, will join the program for her research into what drives the Earth’s biological transition.
Her approach involves a nuanced understanding of ancient marine environments, via novel and innovative geochemical techniques.
“My research questions key concepts, and explores links between early Earth evolution, the origin of complex life and formation of precious mineral deposits. Geology has offered me a wonderful medium (the rock record) to travel as far as 3.5 billion years ago,’’ Dr Mukherjee said.
“My research topic was fascinating enough to encourage me to move to Australia from my home country – India - in 2014 for my PhD at the University of Tasmania. Post-graduation in 2017, I continued as a postdoctoral researcher in Tasmania alongside branching out into fields of public outreach, geoscience communication and diversity initiatives.”
Dr Samantha Sawyer is hoping to inspire more young women and non-binary people to pursue postgraduate studies in STEM professions.
"It is an incredible opportunity for me to promote gender diverse role models in STEM to break down some of those stereotypes about who typically is in STEM and who succeeds in STEM,” Dr Sawyer said.
“Superstars of STEM is a training program to equip me with advanced communication skills so I can be part of a growing cohort of female and non-binary role models in STEM.
"Lecturers, researchers, and tutors are increasingly diverse from the perspective of gender, ethnicity, orientation, and appearance and that is encouraging to see."
Dr Sawyer is seeking solutions to keep Australian businesses globally competitive economically, socially, and environmentally.
This can take the form of helping industries be more resilient to climate change, finding ways to process food waste into great tasting and nutritious food, or improving production systems to be efficient and socially conscious.
A computer scientist and software engineer, Mars Buttfield Addison’s work on adapting astronomical radio telescopes to track debris or ‘space junk’ was highlighted on the world stage at the Falling Walls conference in Berlin last month. Buttfield Addison said she was thrilled to have been chosen from a highly competitive national field.
"I am honoured to be selected and very excited to take part in the program. Especially in the age of ubiquitous technology, it is so important for there to be effective, diverse, and expert communicators around computer science and technology impacts."
Superstars of STEM is a game-changing Australian initiative to smash gender assumptions about who can work in science, technology, engineering, and maths since it was created by Science & Technology Australia in 2017.