Brian Schmidt ‘The Australian’ Australian of the Year
Professor Schmidt’s scientific achievements and his dreams to empower a new generation of Australian scientists make him an inspiring role model, which is why The Weekend Australian today names him as its Australian of the Year. Whereas some of the country’s best and brightest leave our shores, rarely to return, this dual Australian-American citizen has proudly based himself in his adopted country while remaining a heavyweight on the international stage as he taps the frontiers of science.
Professor Schmidt said it was “a great privilege” to be chosen for the honour and for science to be recognised as such an important part of broader Australian culture and society. The 44-year-old married father of two teenage boys said he did not have any plans to sit on his laureate. Instead, this unbridled optimist wants to use his prize as a launching ramp to create a better, smarter and more educated Australia.
Speaking from Paris, where he is plotting a new survey of supernovae, or exploding stars, he said: “I am 44 years old and I will be a Nobel Prize winner all my life so I don’t want to so much proselytise as to point out the obvious things that we could do better – and education is the prime example.
Astrophysicist Brian Schmidt is determined to help revolutionise the way science is taught in primary schools across the nation.
“Australia does a reasonable job of educating its children but we could do much better. It is not particularly expensive, there is no downside to it and it is the key to Australia’s future. Knowledge is opportunity.”
Professor Schmidt does not just talk the talk on his beliefs. He has generously donated $100,000 of his Nobel Prize money to the Australian Academy of Sciences to continue a science education program called Primary Connections, which uses a unique inquiry-oriented teaching and learning model to promote science learning in primary schools and improve the quality of science teachers.
“I hope my $100,000 (donation) now will do hundreds of millions of dollars of good in the future,” he said. “It makes me feel good to be able to do that.”
Australian Academy of Science president Suzanne Cory said Professor Schmidt was not only a brilliant scientist, but also a powerful ambassador for science in Australia. “His Nobel Prize is tremendously important for Australia and for Australian science,” Professor Cory said. “It tells the community Australian science stands very tall in the international community, it inspires young people about science and it strengthens the resolve of Australian politicians to keep funding science.”
Professor Schmidt does not want to make science more sexy; he just wants science in Australia to be done better, with better teachers, better curricula and better results. “Science is naturally sexy when it is done well, and that is what I want: I want science to be done well,” he said.
Despite being a Nobel laureate, Professor Schmidt is still hungry to unlock more secrets of astrophysics and knows it is the journey, rather than the destination, that counts. “I promise you that, in looking for these answers, myself and others will find interesting things along the way. That is how science works.”