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2019 Prime Minister's Prize for Science

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Emeritus Professor Cheryl Praeger

Professor Praeger is internationally acclaimed for her 40 years of research in mathematics, including fundamental contributions to group theory, permutation groups and combinatorics.

Group theory is central to public-key cryptography used for secure banking, digital signatures and secure internet communication. Permutation group theory is used in applications including solving Rubik’s Cubes. Combinatorics contributes to real-world applications ranging from error correcting codes in digital communications systems to calculating gambling payouts. Professor Praeger’s algorithms have been incorporated into powerful computer algebraic systems used in research and teaching. Her research into symmetry in graphical models has had far-reaching applications, including enabling search engines to retrieve information efficiently from the World Wide Web.

Read professional achievements and citations [188KB PDF] [245KB DOCX]
 

Transcript

[Music plays and an image appears of the Australian Government Coat of Arms and the Prime Minister’s Prize For Science badge and text appears: Prime Minister’s Prize for Science, Emeritus Professor Cheryl Praeger, The Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science, Celebrating 20 years]

[Image changes to show Cheryl Praeger standing at the front of a classroom writing on a whiteboard and the camera zooms in on Cheryl’s hand as she writes a mathematic equation on the whiteboard]

Professor Cheryl Praeger: I’ve always loved mathematics right from when I was a kid in school.

[Image changes to show Cheryl talking to the camera and then images move through of a facing, rear, and then close facing view of Cheryl looking at the whiteboard]

I had no idea that one could have a career in mathematics but I just wanted to study it for as long as I possibly could.

[Image changes to show Cheryl looking at a book and then the image changes to show a close-up shot of Cheryl talking to the camera]

My passion is the mathematics of symmetry.

[Images move through of Cheryl walking in a building courtyard, a flower, a building arch, the sun shining through trees, Cheryl sitting at a table looking at a book, and Cheryl with a student]

Symmetry is all around us in the natural and in the built environment, from the spiral galaxies that we see in the heavens down to the small spiral shells on the beach and we measure it in mathematics with groups.

[Image changes to show Cheryl and some colleagues around a table]

Finite Group Theory is the study of the symmetries of structures.

[Image changes to show a profile and then facing view of Cheryl talking and then the image changes to show Cheryl walking through a building archway, and then Cheryl walking along in a park]

Finding the building blocks of a finite group we do by splitting it into two parts and each of these two parts is itself a group and we continue splitting and splitting until we can’t split anymore

[Image changes to show the sun shining through tree leaves and then the image changes to show Cheryl looking at the tree and the image shows lines moving along the trunk and out to the branches]

…just like the branches of a tree and the leaves of that tree are the finite simple groups.

[Images move through of Cheryl looking up, the sun shining through trees in a courtyard, Cheryl working on a computer, and a close-up of Cheryl’s hand making notes]

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.

[Image changes to show Cheryl talking to the camera and the camera zooms in on Cheryl’s face and then the image changes to show Cheryl talking to a group of students seated at tables]

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

[Image changes to show Cheryl and the students watching a male write on a whiteboard and then the image changes to show two female students listening]

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

[Image changes to show Cheryl and the male looking at the whiteboard while other students continue working on tables in the foreground]

What I love about mathematics is the way that it explains the world, it makes sense of the world.

[Image changes to show Cheryl talking to the camera and then images move through of Cheryl explaining something to the group of students again]

Receiving the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science is a wonderful statement about the importance of mathematics.

[Camera zooms in on Cheryl’s face as she talks and then images move through to show her colleagues seated at a table listening, and then Cheryl and two of her colleagues walking down some stairs]

It also recognises the achievements of me and my colleagues and students in the mathematics of symmetry.

[Image changes to show Cheryl talking to the camera and then the image changes to show a rear view of Cheryl writing on a whiteboard]

In the future we will see the advent of quantum computers and that will completely change the world.

[Camera zooms out to show Cheryl at the front of a classroom writing on a whiteboard and then the image changes to show Cheryl walking through a building archway towards the camera]

It will produce a new range of mathematics problems which will need to be solved urgently and it will be incredibly exciting

[Image changes to show Cheryl talking to the camera]

…and I look forward to being part of that journey.

[Music plays and the image changes to show Cheryl standing under the veranda of a building and turning and smiling at the camera]

[Image changes to show the Australian Government Coat of Arms and the Prime Minister’s Prize For Science badge and text appears: Prime Minister’s Prize for Science Professor Cheryl Praeger, The Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science, Celebrating 20 years]