Meet the NSW Australian of the Year Award 2018 recipients

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian (centre). Photos: Salty Dingo

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian (centre). Photos: Salty Dingo

She is one of the world's top scientists, whose research has propelled Australia to the forefront of advanced computing systems.

But it was a speech about the dumbing down of HSC physics that brought notoriety to Michelle Simmons, a professor of quantum physics at the University of NSW.

Delivering the 2017 Australia Day address, Professor Simmons said she was horrified to discover the physics curriculum had been "feminised" in an attempt to attract more girls.

Michelle Simmons, a professor of quantum physics at the University of NSW, was awarded the 2018 NSW Australian of the Year. Photo: Nic Walker

Michelle Simmons, a professor of quantum physics at the University of NSW, was awarded the 2018 NSW Australian of the Year. Photo: Nic Walker

"What a disaster," she told an audience that included NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian. "From the students coming to university, I see little evidence that this has made any difference and indeed I see many students complaining that the physics curriculum has left them ill-equipped for university."

Professor Simmons was awarded the NSW Australian of the Year Award at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia - one of four NSW Award recipients announced on Monday.

Dr Catherine Hamlin, third from right, with staff and patients in Ethiopia, was awarded the 2018 NSW Senior Australian of the Year.  Photo: Kate Geraghty

Dr Catherine Hamlin, third from right, with staff and patients in Ethiopia, was awarded the 2018 NSW Senior Australian of the Year. Photo: Kate Geraghty

Obstetrician Dr Catherine Hamlin, who was awarded the 2018 NSW Senior Australian of the Year, has treated more than 50,000 women with childbirth-related injuries since she arrived in Ethiopia in 1959.

Now 93, Dr Hamlin, nominated for the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, founded six hospitals and a midwifery college with her late husband Dr Reginald Hamlin to provide free fistula repair surgery.

Seventeen-year-old scientist and inventor Macinley Butson won top prize in an international science competition for her Smart Armour invention, a device for breast cancer patients to protect their non-treated breast while undergoing radiotherapy treatment.

Seventeen-year-old Macinley Butson was awarded the 2018 NSW Young Australian of the Year. Photo: Sylvia Liber

Seventeen-year-old Macinley Butson was awarded the 2018 NSW Young Australian of the Year. Photo: Sylvia Liber

Ms Butson, selected as the 2018 NSW Young Australian of the Year, has won science awards for other inventions such as a system that simultaneously collects solar power and filters water and a spoon that measures and delivers oral medicine to children.

The head mathematics teacher at Cherrybrook Technology High School, Eddie Woo started posting videos online in 2012 for a student who was battling cancer. 

Woo, who was awarded the 2018 NSW Local Hero, is an unlikely internet star, with his maths videos attracting 80,000 subscribers and more than six million views.

Jenny Barbour, the chief executive of the National Australia Day Council, said: "The stories of the NSW Award recipients show us the power of an individual and how one person can make a big difference – from education to medicine to scientific breakthroughs, they are all making an impact." 

The NSW Award recipients are among 32 state and territory recipients who will compete for the four Australians of the Year titles that will be announced on January 25, 2018 in Canberra.

The 2018 NSW Australian of the Year winners are:

NSW Australian of the Year: quantum physics Professor Michelle Yvonne Simmons

Professor Michelle Yvonne Simmons

Professor Michelle Yvonne Simmons

What the judges said: One of the world’s top scientists, Professor Michelle Simmons has pioneered research that could lead to a quantum leap in computing.

Since arriving in Australia from Britain 18 years ago, Michelle has transformed the University of NSW Quantum Physics Department into a world leader in advanced computer systems.

In 2012, Michelle and her team created the world’s first transistor made from a single atom, along with the world’s thinnest wire.

At the forefront of what she calls the “space race of the computing era”, Michelle aims to build a quantum computer able to solve problems in minutes that would otherwise take thousands of years.

Such a discovery has the potential to revolutionise drug design, weather forecasting, self-driving vehicles, artificial intelligence and more.

NSW Senior Australian of the Year: 93-year-old pioneering surgeon Dr Catherine Hamlin AC. 

Dr Catherine Hamlin AC

Dr Catherine Hamlin AC

What the judges said: For more than 50 years, obstetrician Dr Catherine Hamlin has devoted herself to giving women in Africa a second chance at life.

A surgical pioneer, Catherine and her late husband Dr Reginald Hamlin founded a network of six hospitals and a midwifery college in Ethiopia.

The hospitals provide free fistula repair surgery to poor women suffering from horrendous and preventable childbirth injuries. The midwifery college trains midwives to prevent the injuries.

When Catherine arrived in Ethiopia in 1959, there were almost no resources for expectant mothers. Since then she has treated more than 50,000 women, restoring their health and dignity.

NSW Young Australian of the Year: 17 year old scientist and inventor Macinley Butson.

Wollongong student Macinley Butson.

Wollongong student Macinley Butson.

What the judges said: A rising star in the male-dominated world of science, Macinley Butson made history in 2017 when she became the first Australian to win the top prize in the category of medicine at the prestigious INTEL International Science and Engineering Fair.

Each year, more than seven-million high school students develop original research projects for the world’s largest international science competition.

Macinley’s world-beating idea, ‘Smart Armour’, is a shield that can be used by breast cancer patients to protect their non-treated breast while undergoing radiotherapy treatment.

A prolific inventor, 17-year-old Macinley has also taken home science awards for other exceptional ideas, such as a system that simultaneously collects solar power and filters water, a spoon that accurately measures and delivers oral medicine to children, and a device that deters garden snails without the use of poison.

NSW Local Hero: mathematics teacher Eddie Woo. 

Eddie Woo.

Eddie Woo.

What the judges said: Arguably Australia’s most famous mathematics teacher, Eddie Woo makes maths fun. The head mathematics teacher at Cherrybrook Technology High School, the largest secondary school in NSW, Eddie started posting videos online in 2012 for a student who was sick with cancer and missing a lot of school.

Before long, he was sharing the videos across the country and beyond. Wootube now boasts more than 80,000 subscribers and has attracted more than six million views worldwide and counting.

With infectious enthusiasm, the father-of-three's unique and caring approach to teaching destigmatises mathematics as an inaccessible and difficult subject.

The story Meet the NSW Australian of the Year Award 2018 recipients first appeared on Illawarra Mercury.

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