On Australia Day 2022, Professor Amanda Barnard AM was appointed as a member of the Order of Australia in recognition of her service to education, computer science, and medical research. A Senior Professor of Computational Science in the College of Engineering and Computer Science at ANU, Barnard is currently leading research at the interface of computational modelling, high performance supercomputing, and applied machine learning and artificial intelligence.
Originally trained in theoretical condensed matter physics, her predictions around the use of nanotechnology were instrumental in the next generation of drug delivery platforms for chemotherapy, insulin and gene therapy. In 2014, she became the first person in the southern hemisphere, and the first woman, to win the Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology for her work on diamond nanoparticles.
Throughout her career Barnard has been exploring ways for new digital technologies to advance scientific discovery, particularly in the physical sciences. Currently she’s leading a multidisciplinary initiative in computer science and medicine to develop and improve approaches for the early diagnosis of ovarian cancer.
Barnard believes that to solve the problems of today and tomorrow requires a multidisciplinary approach that draws on the talents of a diverse pool of people.
“The challenges faced by humanity today are too complex for one discipline to address, too large for one researcher or group alone, and too important to ignore”, she said. “Diversity in STEM needs to be about more than just our gender, it is our education, our collaboration and our commitment to excellence.”
Diversity in STEM
We know that women are still underrepresented in STEM. According to the 2021 Australian Government’s Second national data report on girls and women in STEM, women made up less than a quarter of students studying STEM. Five years after graduating, men with a STEM qualification were 1.8 times more likely to be working in a STEM-qualified occupation compared to their women peers.
Attracting more women to STEM remains a stubborn challenge. Barnard thinks that part of the problem is the perception of what a STEM career involves. “STEM jobs are more than just research, more than just academics, and not all jobs in computing involve coding. To be progressive the STEM sector needs people skilled in things like advocacy, management, communications and industrial relations. There is a STEM career to fit every lifestyle.”
A pioneering woman of science, Barnard is also focused on cultivating pathways for other women in STEM through the Pioneering Women Program at ANU. The program supports the next generation of female leaders through scholarships, lectureships and fellowships.
Considering a career in STEM?
While there is still some way to go to achieve gender–parity in STEM, there has been some, albeit small, improvements. The proportion of women working across all STEM-qualified industries has continually increased over the past four years and there are now more women working in management positions.
Barnard’s advice for young women considering a career in STEM is to “stay open to the possibilities and be willing to take some risks.”
“I have a physics degree, I’m a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, and the Deputy Director of the School of Computing, all while using maths and machine learning to develop nanotechnology platforms for medicine. STEM is the start, but you never know where you will end up.”
International Day of Women and Girls in Science is an opportunity for us to acknowledge and celebrate the many women and girls who are advancing science and inspiring others to do the same.