A leading mathematician from The University of Western Australia who uses her interest in spinning wool to teach students about matrices has added another major award to her already impressive tally.
Winthrop Professor Cheryl Praeger, Australia's most highly cited pure mathematician and one of the world's top 200 most highly cited mathematicians, today won a 2013 Australian Academy of Science Award - the Thomas Ranken Lyle Medal.
The medal honours Sir Thomas Ranken Lyle (1860-1944), an Irish-born and educated mathematical physicist and teacher. He pioneered the use of X-rays as a medical tool and the medal recognises outstanding achievement by a scientist in Australia for research in mathematics or physics.
Professor Praeger, who is Director of UWA's Centre for Mathematics of Symmetry and Computation, and Vice-President of the International Commission for Mathematical Instruction, is the first pure mathematician to be awarded an Australian Research Council Federation Fellowship
Professor Praeger's ground-breaking work includes pioneering research into symmetry in graphical models which have far-ranging applications, such as enabling search engines to retrieve information from the World Wide Web.
Professor Praeger is famous for her work on algorithms for computing with matrix groups, especially the Neumann-Praeger SL-recognition algorithm which launched the international matrix group recognition project. Many of her algorithms have been incorporated into powerful computer algebra and transformed the way in which algebra is taught and researched.
Professor Praeger, who was born in Queensland in 1948, was the first in her family to go to university. One of the primary schools she attended - north of Brisbane - was Humpybong State School, a name she recalls fondly.
One of her most popular lower level's lecture topics is on mathematics and weaving on which she has published three papers.
In 2003 she was awarded the Australian Government Centenary Medal for services to Mathematics. In the following year she was selected for being in the top one per cent of most highly cited research mathematicians worldwide. She was WA's 2009 Scientist of the Year and has been a member of the Order of Australia since 1999.
She was awarded an honorary DSc by the Prince of Songkla University in Thailand in 1993 and the Université Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium in 2005. Professor Praeger is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, an Executive Committee member of the International Mathematical Union, a member of the ARC College of Experts, a foundation board member of the Australian Mathematics Trust and Chair of the Australian Mathematics Olympiad Committee.
Professor Praeger has promoted the involvement of women in mathematics from primary to tertiary level with lectures, workshops, conferences. She was key in implementing the Family Maths Program Australia (FAMPA) in the local primary schools. She holds an A. Mus. A. in piano performance and lists keyboard music among her stronger interests, along with sailing, hiking, spinning wool and cycling.
Professor Praeger will receive the Thomas Ranken Lyle Medal at the Academy's annual meeting in Canberra on 30 May.