2018 Recipients

2018 Australian of the Year

Professor Michelle Yvonne Simmons

Professor in quantum physics

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. An evangelist for Australian scientific research and a role model to young scientists everywhere, Michelle actively encourages all students – girls and boys – to dream big, challenge themselves and to achieve ambitious goals in science.

2018 Senior Australian of the Year

Dr Graham Farquhar AO

Prize winning biophysicist

One of Australia's most eminent scientists, Dr Graham Farquhar is helping reshape our understanding of photosynthesis, the very basis of life on Earth. After growing up with a Tasmanian farming family background, Graham has used his love of science to deliver practical benefits to the agricultural sector. His study of mathematics and physics formed the bedrock of a career creating mathematical models of how plants work. Graham has received a string of accolades during his distinguished career for his research examining how water efficient crops can protect food security in a changing climate. Importantly, he has worked to improve world food security by developing strains of wheat that can grow with less water. In 2017 Graham became the first Australian to win a Kyoto Prize – the most prestigious international award for fields not traditionally honoured with a Nobel Prize. From his long-term base at the Australian National University, Graham is tackling some of the most profound challenges facing humanity and the environment.

2018 Young Australian of the Year

Samantha Kerr

Sportsperson

When her dream of playing for the West Coast Eagles was shot down because she was the wrong gender, Samantha Kerr switched to another football code – soccer. By the time she was 15, Sam was representing Australia in the Matildas. Now, aged 24, Sam has held contracts with Sydney FC, Perth Glory and is in her fifth season in America's National Women's Soccer League, recently becoming its all-time leading goal scorer. In 2017, she was named a finalist for FIFA Female Player of the Year. Arguably the best women's soccer player in the world, Sam is an engaging ambassador for all women's sport. Her love for the game and her country is infectious. While she celebrates her prolific goal-scoring ability with a trademark backflip, Sam is a well-grounded athlete who inspires young and old with her athletic prowess and sportsmanship. Sam’s star power packs out arenas around the world, and encourages young women everywhere to chase their dreams. 

2018 Local Hero

Eddie Woo

Mathematics teacher

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 New South Wales, 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 100,000 subscribers and has attracted more than eight 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. Outside his high school classroom, Eddie is a volunteer facilitator with the University of Sydney's Widening Participation and Outreach program and has motivated more than 1,400 students from disadvantaged backgrounds. A brilliant student, Eddie could have chosen any field, but in defiance of social convention and his parents opted for teaching. Today, he is using his vocation to “pay it forward” and make education equitable for all.