Emeritus Professor Cheryl Praeger has taken home the $250,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science.

In a career that has spanned 40 years, Professor Praeger has made significant contributions to fields necessary for the security of our digital world.

“My contribution has been to study the way groups act on structures and to develop algorithms which have been incorporated into powerful computer systems in group theory,” she said.

“These systems are used extensively by mathematicians and other scientists for investigating symmetric structures.

“They allow those systems to run much faster than they have any right to.”

Professor Praeger has worked on permutation groups, combinatorics, and group theory – research areas vital for digital communications and cryptography.

As computer science continues to advance, Professor Praeger’s work will only grow in relevance.

“In the future we will see the advent of quantum computers and that will completely change the world,” she said.

“It will produce a new range of mathematics problems which will need to be solved urgently and it will be incredibly exciting, and I look forward to being part of that journey.”

Professor Praeger has raised the expectations of the University of Western Australia through her commitment to excellence and prolific academic output of over 400 publications.

She has received Honorary Doctorates from universities around the world, has received numerous prizes from local and international mathematical societies, and was the 2009 Western Australian Scientist of the Year.

Women storm STEM prizes

Of the seven prizes awarded on Wednesday night’s event, five went to women.

Life Scientist of the Year went to Associate Professor Laura Mackay and Physical Scientist of the Year was awarded to Associate Professor Elizabeth New.

Mrs Sarah Finney and Dr Samantha Moyle won the PM’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary and Secondary Schools respectively.

(Back L-R) Professor Guillaume Lessene, Professor Andrew Roberts, Minister Karen Andrews, Professor David Huang, Dr Luke Campbell.

(Front L-R) Associate Professor Elizabeth, Dr Samantha Moyle, Mrs Sarah Finney, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Emeritus Professor Cheryl Praeger, Associate Professor Laura Mackay, Associate Professor Peter Czabotar.

Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, Karen Andrews, celebrated the number of women receiving awards this year.

“We’ve gone from just one female recipient last year to five this year, the most ever represented in the awards,” she said.

“I hope this will inspire even more girls and women to be involved in STEM.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison congratulated the award winners for their achievements.

“These prizes are a wonderful celebration of our world-leading scientists, mathematicians, innovators, and educators,” he said.

“Our science community plays such a big role in the prosperity of our country. Scientists are the ultimate problem solvers, they grow the economy and create jobs.

“I particularly want to congratulate Professor Praeger on her outstanding contribution to mathematics.”