In Media releases, News

Six outstanding mathematicians and statisticians have been recognised by the Australian Academy of Science in the 2021 honorific awards.

Professor Cheryl Praeger, Professor Mathai Varghese, Dr Kevin Coulembier, Dr Vera Roshchina, Professor Christopher Drovandi and Dr Janice Scealy are among 24 of Australia’s top scientists to be celebrated by the Academy for scientific excellence.

The Academy presents its annual medals to recognise outstanding contributions to science by researchers from the early stages of their careers to those who have made lifelong achievements.

Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute (AMSI) Director, Professor Tim Marchant, congratulated each awardee for being recognised as research leaders and for their significant service to the mathematical sciences.

“We are delighted to see six mathematicians and statisticians recognised in this year’s honorific awards. Each recipient has made an outstanding contribution to the advancement of the mathematical sciences in Australia, and globally, and is a true champion of the discipline,” Professor Marchant added.

AMSI congratulates all awardees on their much-deserved recognition.

2021 Mathematical Sciences Awardees

2021 Inaugural Ruby Payne-Scott Medal and Lecture: Emeritus Professor Cheryl Praeger, University of Western Australia

Professor Cheryl Praeger’s work on the mathematics of symmetry has been in the vanguard of a mathematical revolution caused by the classification of the finite simple groups, the atoms of symmetry from which all finite groups are built. She has elucidated the internal structure of these simple groups, and driven research on applying their immensely powerful classification to study symmetric structures.

Professor Praeger has developed a theory of quasiprimitive groups which, via her innovative ‘normal quotient method’, established a new paradigm for working with symmetric graphs and exploited the simple group classification.

Professor Praeger demonstrates an extraordinary ability to foster and inspire others, supporting women, advocating for mathematics in schools, and promoting mathematics in emerging economies.

2021 Hannan Medal: Professor Mathai Varghese, Adelaide University

Professor Mathai Varghese has made highly influential contributions to the field of geometric analysis, which relates geometric, analytic and algebraic properties of (possibly infinite dimensional) manifolds. Among these are his co-inventions of Fractional Index Theory and Projective Index Theory that have received international recognition for explaining the mystery of the analytic counterpart of the A-hat genus. His recent joint work extending the Fractional Index Theorem to infinite dimensional loop spaces is also of immense significance.

His joint body of work proves the conjecture that fundamental quantization commutes with reduction in the noncompact case. Also seminal is his joint work on twisted analytic torsion, where an analogue of the Cheeger-Muller theorem is proved, establishing the equality by using a new combinatorially-defined twisted torsion. A catalyst for much activity in the area is his joint work formulating the magnetic gap-labelling conjecture, which labels the spectral gaps of certain magnetic Schroedinger operators on Euclidean space. Evidence for the validity of the conjecture is given in 2D, 3D and for principal solenoidal tori in all dimensions, which is itself a breakthrough.

2021 Christopher Heyde Medal: Dr Kevin Coulembier, University of Sydney

Dr Coulembier’s research is in the field of mathematics known as representation theory, which studies how abstract algebraic structures are manifested as the solutions to concrete systems of linear equations. This field retains a strong connection to its origin as the study of geometric symmetry both discrete and continuous, but more recently has developed far beyond this in tackling curved and infinite-dimensional spaces and arbitrary number systems. One of Dr Coulembier’s most important discoveries was of a way to detect the presence of the classical type of symmetry known as an affine group scheme in a more exotic setting known as a tensor category; this problem had defied the efforts of some of the world’s top mathematicians for almost thirty years. He has also solved several other important problems in infinite-dimensional representation theory, and has discovered new unified proofs of major theorems concerning the invariants of groups and supergroups.

2021 Christopher Heyde Medal: Dr Vera Roshchina, UNSW

Dr Roshchina is an exceptional mathematician and emerging international leader in the field of non-smooth optimization. Her main interest lies in finite dimensional geometry, more specifically, open problems that originate from continuous optimization and related fields. Some significant problems of this kind are in the geometry of polytopes, for example the polynomial Hirsch and Durer conjectures, critical point problems (Fekete problem, Sendov’s conjecture) and convex variational problems, such as asymmetric Newton’s aerodynamic problem. Resolution of these challenges is critical for making progress with numerous applications, from engineering and economics to medical research and data analytics.

2021 Moran Medal: Professor Christopher Drovandi, Queensland University of Technology

Almost every field of science requires sophisticated data analysis, and this in turn requires increasingly sophisticated methods for intelligent data collection and efficient computation. Professor Drovandi’s research contributes substantively to both of these areas. He has created new methods for optimal design of experiments that facilitate more cost-effective, data-substantiated decision-making. His innovative research into synthetic likelihood estimation have freed traditional constraints of likelihood-based statistical modelling and computation. His application of these methods to diverse problems in computational biology and exercise science have generated new insights for scientists and managers in these fields.

2021 Moran Medal: Dr Janice Scealy, Australian National University

Dr Scealy’s research focuses predominantly on developing new statistical analysis methods for data with complicated constraints including compositional data (vectors of proportions which sum to one), spherical data, directional data and manifold-valued data defined on more general curved surfaces. Her work has led to important new insights in a diverse range of applications. Her new flexible compositional model was applied to predict the proportions of total weekly expenditure on food and housing costs in Australia. Janice used a manifold data transformation to help identify geochemical processes acting on the surface of the Australian crust. She has developed multiple new statistical techniques for analysing noisy paleomagnetic datasets and her methods have led to improvements in uncertainty measurements of Earth’s magnetic field.

For more information on the 2021 awardees:


About AMSI

AMSI is the collaborative enterprise of Australia’s mathematical sciences. Established as an independent platform and advocate for the discipline, the Institute has built a record of national and international achievement as the recognised leader in delivery of services, activities and strategic initiatives across the mathematical pipeline. Working with key discipline, government and industry partners, AMSI delivers its mission through the delivery of activities and engagement under its Schools, Research, Higher Education and APR.Intern Programs.

For Interview:
Professor Tim Marchant, AMSI Director

Media Contact: Jo Piltz
P: 0424 004 553

Recommended Posts