Prestigious prizes for UNSW pioneers, striving for excellence in intellectual disability health, and more – 18 October 2023

18 Oct 2023
National centre of excellence in intellectual disability health V1

Dear colleagues

I am delighted to share that Scientia Professor Michelle Simmons was on Monday night named the winner of the prestigious Prime Minister’s Prize for Science. Michelle is internationally renowned for creating the field of atomic electronics, pioneering new technologies to build computing devices in silicon at the atomic scale. Another global superstar in his field, Scientia Professor Martin Green, met King Charles III at Buckingham Palace last week as he and three of his former PhD students were awarded the 2023 Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering.

Michelle is the Director of the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology at UNSW and the Founder and CEO of UNSW start-up Silicon Quantum Computing, Australia’s first quantum computing company. Her discoveries have the potential to impact almost every industry that is dependent on data. Congratulations, Michelle on this well-deserved recognition at Australia’s highest level. You can read more about Michelle’s work on the Newsroom.

Michelle Simmons
Pictured above: Scientia Professor Michelle Simmons receiving the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science.

It is the second time in two years a UNSW academic has been honoured with the prestigious Prime Minister’s Prize for Science, which highlights the extraordinary talent we have at UNSW. The prize was won last year by Scientia Professor Trevor McDougall, who is recognised as the world’s authority on ocean thermodynamics.

Martin and three of his former engineering students were awarded the 2023 Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, for their pioneering work developing Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell (PERC) solar photovoltaic technology – a watershed in efficiency and cost for solar electricity. The PERC technology has had – and continues to have – a transformative impact on the global energy sector and has greatly accelerated the global fight against climate change. Read more about the award here.

The Voice Referendum

You will have received an email from Professor Leanne Holt (DVC Indigenous), Professor George Williams (DVC Transformation, Planning & Assurance) and me on Monday following Saturday’s referendum on whether to include an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice in the Constitution.

Our University has actively supported the process of the Uluru Statement from the Heart including the Voice to Parliament from its early days, including through the Indigenous Law Centre at UNSW, the Uluru Dialogues and the extraordinary, tireless work of Professor Megan Davis, Pro Vice-Chancellor Society, Director of the Indigenous Law Centre, and Balnaves Chair in Constitutional Law. I would like to thank Megan and all colleagues who have contributed their time and expertise to this process.

While UNSW respects and supports the right of all people to hold any opinion about the outcome, we ask that every person in the UNSW community behaves in a respectful, considerate manner towards their peers and colleagues at this sensitive time, and always.

There is also a dedicated support line for anyone feeling triggered or overwhelmed by the issues raised in the referendum. The dedicated support line is available from 7.30am-6pm. Please call 1800 071 198.

UNSW shares the values of inclusion and respect that are inherent in the Uluru Statement from the Heart. We proudly heed the Uluru Statement’s call for all Australians to walk together for a better future. We will continue to support this call.

Human tragedy in the Middle East

It is incredibly distressing to see the scale of human suffering in the Middle East and its direct impact on the broader Australian, and, closer to home, UNSW communities. We recognise that it is having a considerable impact on many of our students, staff, their families and friends. Our thoughts are with everyone affected.

Further to the all-staff email last week focusing on support, we are reaching out to students and staff who we are aware have been personally impacted by these tragic circumstances. We will continue to offer support to any and all of those in the UNSW community who need it. We recognise there will be difficult days and weeks ahead.

It’s important in these times that we continue to support each other and that we make an effort to be aware of people who are finding these times especially challenging.

Remember, the University has a range of support services available to you, including a confidential counselling service for staff and their families through the Employee Assistance Program.  We continue to implement and increase initiatives that support the campus to be a safe place for every member of our community.

I ask that every person in the UNSW community behaves in a respectful, considerate manner towards their peers and colleagues at this sensitive time, and always.

Vale Esme Timbery

I was sad to hear that Esme Timbery had passed away. Aunty Esme was a celebrated Bidjigal artist and Elder from the La Perouse Aboriginal community, the traditional owners of the land on which the UNSW Kensington campus is built, known for her decorative shellwork. The Esme Timbery Creative Practice Lab is named in her honour, the first building at the University to be named after an Aboriginal woman. It is home to a mural titled In her hands which celebrates Aunty Esme’s art and her influence in the region and recognises the passing of Indigenous cultural practices to sustain intergenerational knowledge.

Aunty Esme leaves an important artistic and personal legacy. She will be very sadly missed by all who had the privilege to know her, and I extend my condolences to her family, friends and loved ones.

Cygnet Award signals progress in gender equity

In a wonderful acknowledgment of our focus on gender equity in academic promotions in STEMM disciplines, UNSW has received our first SAGE Athena Swan Cygnet Award.

The Cygnet Award is a very positive marker as we strive for Silver accreditation in the SAGE Athena Swan program. The award highlights our commitment to building an inclusive culture throughout our University community, and to breaking down barriers that stand in the way of achieving true equity, diversity and inclusion.

Thank you to all at UNSW who are committed to transforming representation in STEMM for the benefit of our whole community – within the University and in society more broadly.

Tyree Foundation scholarships

On Thursday, I had the pleasure of welcoming UNSW friends from the Sir William Tyree Foundation to campus to recognise the Foundation’s generous support for women in engineering. A $2.6 million gift from the Foundation will help boost the number of women from Western Sydney coming to UNSW to study engineering by removing some of the barriers that stand in their way.

The Tyree Women in Engineering Scholarships aim to attract and support aspiring engineers from Western Sydney and the Tyree Global Leadership Program will enable participation in leadership programs, mentoring and industry engagement opportunities. There is great talent to be drawn from across society and this gift from the Tyree Foundation is a tremendous boon for our commitment to achieving a student cohort that reflects our diverse society. Read more here.

Tyree foundation scholarships
Pictured above: Dean of Engineering Professor Stephen Foster, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Education & Student Experience Professor Sarah Maddison, Chair of the Tyree Foundation Board Robyn Fennell, Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Attila Brungs and student Joanne Zreika at the announcement of the $2.6m Tyree Foundation gift.

Faculty and Division visits

Over the past year I have had the pleasure of visiting our Faculties’ Schools, which gave me invaluable insight into the priorities and issues for each School and where ideas and concerns converged across the University. I particularly enjoyed asking Schools about their greatest sources of pride – I found the answers awe-inspiring!

Now I look forward to visiting our Faculties and Divisions to hear what matters most to you and to share information about what is happening at an organisational level, including an update on achievements from the 2023 Operational Plan and priorities for the year ahead. These visits are a great opportunity to share your highlights, issues and opportunities and to ask questions, so please come along if you can. My visits begin later this month.

National Centre of Excellence for Intellectual Disability Health launch

It was my great pleasure to be part of the launch of the National Centre of Excellence for Intellectual Disability Health on Friday. UNSW is leading a Consortium that will co-design better healthcare for people with intellectual disability.

There are around 450,000 people with intellectual disability in Australia and unfortunately they don’t all get the healthcare they need or deserve. The Centre will help find solutions to the health inequalities experienced by people with intellectual disability by improving collaboration between intellectual disability health services, research bodies and advocacy organisations. The Centre has people with intellectual disability at its core and will be guided by their voices and experiences, so that these solutions are inclusive and empowering.

Centre for Intellectual Disability Health
Pictured above: Celebrating the launch of the National Centre of Excellence for Intellectual Disability Health.

Pictured top: UNSW Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Attila Brungs pictured with Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care Ged Kearney and Down Syndrome Australia Health Ambassador Naomi Lake.

New Dean of Engineering announced

I am delighted to announce that, following a global search, Professor Julien Epps has been appointed as Dean of Engineering at UNSW. Julien is currently the Head of School for Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications. He is also Co-Director of the NSW Smart Sensing Network.

Julien is an internationally recognised expert in speech signal processing. He has authored more than 270 publications and five patents. As Dean of Engineering at UNSW, Julien will lead the Faculty ranked first in Australia by QS World University Rankings and ARWU Shanghai Subject Rankings. Please join with me in congratulating Julien on his appointment. Read more on the Newsroom.

Health, Safety and Wellbeing month

Health, Safety and Wellbeing month is well underway with lots of great events and activities and some highlights still to come. It’s been fantastic to see a focus on mental wellbeing. I encourage you to consider the Leading the Management of Psychosocial at UNSW Webinar, and the UNSW Amazing Race 2023, another highlight of the month.

The health, safety and wellbeing of all in the UNSW community are vitally important. Please do get involved in the program this month – you can find out what else is on by visiting the UNSW Wellbeing website.

Australian Human Rights Institute Conference

The Australian Human Rights Institute at UNSW held its biennial conference last week, themed ‘Accountability in Crisis: the rise of impunity as a challenge to human rights'. I was honoured to introduce the session on ‘Restoring Public Trust in Democratic Institutions and Reinforcing Rights’. The Institute is highly respected for its work in advancing debate on critical human rights issues. UNSW is fortunate to have academics and partners who undertake robust research on matters critical to the progress and wellbeing of our society and stand ready to assist leaders and policymakers in tackling the most pressing challenges facing the world today.

The week ahead

This week I look forward to hosting my PLuS Alliance Colleagues from Arizona State University and King’s College London for a series of roundtables to discuss Security & Defence PLuS and a range of other issues. We also have a showcase of our leading research and educational initiatives at Parliament House in Canberra on Thursday, which is very exciting. A special thank you to Robin Schuck, Nerida Dalton, Anne Irvine and Trea Murphy who are creating this program. I will bring you more about these events in the next edition of Inside UNSW.

I hope you manage to take some time this Recharge Week to prioritise your wellbeing, focus and plan for the rest of term. Have a great week.

Best regards

Professor Attila Brungs
Vice-Chancellor and President