7 powerful breakthroughs by women and girls in Sydney Science

6 February 2018


In the quest for gender equality, the United Nations has declared 11 February as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science.

According to a study conducted by the UN, the probability for female students graduating with a Bachelor's degree, Master's degree and Doctor's degree in science-related fields are 18%, 8% and 2% respectively, while the percentages of male students are 37%, 18% and 6%.

As a celebration of this important day, we take a look at women and girls working and participating in science from across the University of Sydney who have made headlines with their powerful scientific discoveries and research.

    1. Global warming and mass bleaching of corals

    Professor Maria Byrne (School of Life and Environmental Sciences) made the Altmetric top 100 most read academic articles in 2017. The Altmetric top 100 articles of 2017 tracks 18.5 million mentions of 2.2 million scholarly articles. The paper is called ‘Global warming and recurrent mass bleaching of corals'.

    2. Billions to be saved in shipping and aquaculture

    Associate Professor Chiara Neto (School of Chemistry and the Sydney Nano Institute) is leading a team of chemistry researchers that has developed nanostructured surface coatings that have anti-Biofouling properties. Biofouling is the build-up of damaging biological materials, costing the shipping and aquaculture industries billions of dollars per year in maintenance and extra fuel usage.

    3. Gravitational waves and neutron stars

    Associate Professor Tara Murphy (School of Physics and the Centre of Excellence for All Sky Astrophysics - CAASTRO) and her team of researchers are the first in the world to confirm radio-wave emissions from a gravitational wave event. Tara's team has also been busy studying a neutron star collision and found an unusual cocoon of debris, raising doubts about the source of short gamma ray bursts.

    4. Global action to reduce pollution

    Professor Elaine Baker (School of Geosciences) is leading international action to make storage of mine waste more secure. Elaine's 'Mining Tailings Storage: Safety is no accident' report is part of the United Nations Environment Programme's Rapid Response Assessment series, which is reserved for the most pressing environmental problems. The report points out that mine storage dams fail every year, destroying entire communities and livelihoods, and causing massive damage to the environment.

    5. Miniaturisation of the Microwave Circulator

    Dr Alice Mahoney (School of Physics and the Sydney Nano Institute) was the lead author on a paper showing how her team miniaturised the microwave circulator using Nobel Prize research. The Sydney Science team's component, coined a 'microwave circulator', acts like a traffic roundabout, ensuring that electrical signals only propagate in one direction as required. Until now, the bulky size of the circulators has been a major limitation to the scaling up of quantum machines.

    6. Students name new fish species

    High school students participated in a workshop run by the Sydney Environment Institute, to name a new fish species discovered by a University of Sydney taxonomist. “There were 222 votes all up, half of those were from teenage girls. It gave them the opportunity to think about the fish and its characteristics,” said Dr Anthony Gill, Macleay Museum. The high school students chose the name Navigobius kaguya after a character in a Japanese folk tale.

    7. Tubes of plasma discovered in the sky

    Cleo Loi was an undergraduate at the time when she discovered the existence of plasma tubes surrounding the Earth. Using a radio telescope located in the Western Australian desert, Ms Loi found that she could map large patches of the sky and even exploit the rapid snapshot capabilities of the telescope to create a movie - effectively capturing the real-time motions of the plasma that no-one has seen before.

    SAGE program kicks off

    As part of the University's aim to promote gender equity in education we're participating in the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) pilot program, which promotes gender equity and diversity in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM).

    The SAGE pilot program is one of a number of initiatives implemented as part of the University's Women's Career Acceleration and Leadership Strategy that was developed to meet the 2020 diversity and inclusion goals outlined in the University's Strategic Plan.