• image by Jennie Groom / CC BY 2.0 (Flickr)Source: Flickr
It's UN International Day of Women and Girls in Science, so we shine a spotlight on some of the great women scientists here in Australia.
Signe Dean

11 Feb 2016 - 3:48 PM  UPDATED 15 Feb 2016 - 5:06 PM

Today is the first ever International Day of Women and Girls in Science. In December last year the United Nations recognised that women and girls continue to be excluded from fully participating in science, even though we've had some global improvement in this matter over the past 15 years.

According to a report by UN conducted in 14 countries, there is still a disparity between male and female university graduate numbers, especially when it comes to Masters' and Doctorate studies in science related fields.

"The achievements of women in all areas of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) have historically been very poorly acknowledged compared to the achievements of male colleagues," writes Victoria’s Minister for Women Fiona Richardson in Women's Agenda today. "Their roles and contributions to major scientific breakthroughs have been diminished, with male colleagues often receiving the accolades and rewards for their hard work. This is changing, but slowly."

The UN General Assembly has declared 11 February as a date when women's scientific contributions will be actively celebrated across the globe, hopefully leading to further gender equality and empowerment of women in science.

So, today we are highlighting some already impressive and leading female scientists right here in Australia.

1. Roboticist Mary-Anne Williams

Professor Mary-Anne Williams is an AI specialist with expertise in disruptive innovation, data analytics and knowledge representation. Apart from being a Faculty Fellow at Standford University and Guest Professor at the University of Science and Technology China, she leads "The Magic Lab" - Innovation and Enterprise Research Laboratory at the University of Technology Sydney.

Here she works with her research team at the forefront of the technological evolution that's going to change our world in the coming decades. Think socially aware, autonomous robots that can collaborate with people and work together, or an international online collaboration system which allows for virtual innovation and entrepreneurship based on crowd-sourcing and co-creation.

Follw her on Twitter: @SwizzleFish

2. Physicist Tanya Monro

image by Jennie Groom / CC BY 2.0

Professor Tanya Monro is internationally known for the work in photonics - the branch of science and technology that deals with manipulation of light particles for all kinds of applications, from smartphones to medical lasers. Monro is currently the Deputy Vice Chancellor, Research and Innovation at the University of South Australia.

In 2009 she launched the transdiciplinary Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing, where physicists work to discover new optical materials, develop state of the art laser technology, lead the way in developing new medical diagnostics tools, and much more.

Follow her on Twitter: @tanyamonro

3.  Marine ecologist Emma Johnston

Professor Emma Johnston is often found doing field work around Sydney Harbour, where she researches human impact on marine life, with particular focus on the role of various pollutants we dump into the sea. Apart from being on TV as the co-presenter of "Coast Australia" and being the Vice President of Science & Technology Australia, she heads the Applied Marine and Estuarine Ecology Lab at the University of New South Wales.

The lab's research team performs various field experiments in order to find out more about human disturbance of marine ecology, our impact in the once-pristine Antarctica, and the health of marine estuaries.

Follow her on Twitter: @DrEmmaLJohnston

4. Quantum physicist Michelle Simmons

Professor Michelle Simmons is a world leader in the field of quantum computing, the race for creating super-capable computer technology that works on the principles of subatomic particles, and will one day revolutionise many fields where computational tasks are required. Simmons has been elected a member of the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and is currently a Laureate Fellor and Scientia Professor at the University of New South Wales.

Her research group has developed the world's smallest transistor and silicon wires made with atomic precision. Recently she was granted $46 million through government and industry funding to help her win the "space race of computer science" and actually build a commercially practical 10-qubit quantum computer by 2020. 

5. Geneticist Marguerite Evans-Galea

Dr Marguerite Evans-Galea is working internationally to understand disease mechanism and develop new therapies for neurodegenerative diseases such as Friedreich's ataxia, which typically starts in childhood and leads to decades of severe disability. Evans-Galea is a Senior Research Officer and Team Leader in Genetics at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, and an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne

Currently she is working with her team on research projects to develop new therapies for ataxia, as well as discover the genetic and epigenetic mechanisms of this disease. On top of all that, she is also the co-chair and co-founder of Women in Science Australia.

Follow her on Twitter: @mveg001

6. Microbiologist Liz Harry

Professor Liz Harry is a pioneer of fluorescence microscopy techniques which let scientists see tiny proteins inside bacterial cells, and have revolutionised what we know about how bacteria are built. Harry's research on bacterial cell division has brought several advances in the field of microbiology, resulting in new antibacterials. Apart from being a member of the Australian Academy of Science, currently she is the Acting Director of the ithree institute (infection, immunology and innovation) at the University of Technology.

Harry and her team are focusing on bacteria that cause infectious disease, developing new antibiotics in order to tackle these pathogens, and investigate the antibacteiral properties of natural products such as honey.

Follow the ithree institute on Twitter: @ithreeinstitute


To be fair, these are just a handful of the bright scientific minds we chose to feature today - there are still plenty more women scientists across Australia, in various fields and stages of their careers, and we would love to give a shout-out to every single one.

Hopefully soon we won't need a UN International Day for Women in Science and everyone can just get back to their brilliant and challenging research work.