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Academy of Science honours two University of Sydney researchers

11 March 2021
Awards recognise outstanding contributions to Australian science
Professor Thomas Maschmeyer from Chemistry and Dr Kevin Coulembier from Mathematics & Statistics have received the recognition of their peers in these prestigious honours awarded annually by the Australian Academy of Science.
Professor Thomas Maschmeyer.

Professor Thomas Maschmeyer.

Two University of Sydney academics have been recognised for their work in the annual awards of the Australian Academy of Science, the country’s premier scientific association.

Professor Thomas Maschmeyer from the School of Chemistry and the University of Sydney Nano Institute has been awarded the David Craig Medal and Lecture in recognition of his research career spanning more than three decades.

The Academy of Science honour follows on from a stellar year in 2020 when Professor Maschmeyer was awarded the Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation; recognised by Times Higher Education as one of the top 10 ‘academics who mattered’; ranked 15th in the World’s Leading Chemists list; and received the Australian Financial Review’s Sustainability Award. In 2018, he won the Eureka Prize for Leadership in Innovation & Science.

The Academy citation noted that Professor Maschmeyer’s work has “led to fundamental breakthroughs in catalytic materials, in-site characterisation, green chemistry, hydrothermal processing, ionic liquids and energy materials”.

Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Stephen Garton said: “Few scientists have been able to contribute across such a broad range of research fields within their discipline and see their fundamental work translate to become the basis of not one but two multimillion-dollar companies, with environmental concerns at their heart.

“We are very proud of Professor Maschmeyer’s work and thrilled at this recognition by his peers at the Australian Academy of Science.”

Research into catalysis undertaken by Professor Maschmeyer is at the heart of revolutionary new battery systems being developed by Gelion Technology and is central to the commercial development of end-of-life plastics recycling technology pursued by another company he co-founded, Licella Holdings.

Professor Maschmeyer said: “I am very excited about this award and grateful to my peers for selecting me to receive this honour.

“Fundamental science is the foundation on which technical progress is based. The work of the Academy is hugely important in spreading this message and promoting excellence and participation in science.”

Early-career award

Dr Kevin Coulembier from the School of Mathematics & Statistics has been awarded a Christopher Heyde Medal recognising his early-career achievements.

Dr Kevin Coulembier.

Dr Kevin Coulembier.

Dr Coulembier works in a branch of mathematics known as representation theory, which explores symmetry in abstract higher dimensions. It does this by transforming problems in abstract algebra into calculations in linear algebra, making them less complex to solve.

The Academy of Science citation specifically recognised Dr Coulembier’s work in the discovery of a way to detect the presence of classical symmetry known as an affine group scheme within a more exotic setting known as a tensor category.

“Solving this problem had defied the efforts of some of the world’s top mathematicians for almost 30 years,” the citation reads.

Professor Geordie Williamson, director of the University of Sydney Mathematical Research Institute who also works in representation theory, said: “Dr Coulembier has done foundational, groundbreaking work on the theory of tensor categories and has already established himself as a world expert on this topic. It is wonderful to see his work recognised in this way.”

Dr Coulembier said: “It’s a great honour and motivation to receive this award and I’m very grateful that the Australian Academy of Science has chosen to reward my research.”

Australian Academy of Science

The Academy of Science honorifics are awarded annually. This year two premier awards were granted, one to Professor Andrew Holmes from the University of Melbourne and immediate past president of the Academy of Science and the other to Emeritus Professor Chery Praeger from the University of Western Australia. Professor Praeger has received the inaugural Ruby Payne-Scott Medal and Lecture, named after the pioneering University of Sydney radio astronomer.

Both these awards include the opportunity to deliver a prestigious lecture at the Academy of Science. The only other annual lecture is granted to Professor Maschmeyer.

Six career honorifics are awarded annually by the Academy of Science. This includes the David Craig Medal and Lecture granted to Professor Maschmeyer; four mid-career honorifics are granted and 12 early-career honorifics are awarded.

Marcus Strom

Science Media Adviser