Ag researchers win Queensland Women in STEM Prize

Ag researchers win Queensland Women in STEM Prize

Cropping
AWARD WINNER: Department of Agriculture and Fisheries technical officer Christabel Webber has been awarded the 2021 Queensland Women in STEM Prize for working to improve soil health and produce higher grain yield. Picture: Queensland Government.

AWARD WINNER: Department of Agriculture and Fisheries technical officer Christabel Webber has been awarded the 2021 Queensland Women in STEM Prize for working to improve soil health and produce higher grain yield. Picture: Queensland Government.

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Two researchers working on agricultural projects have been named as recipients of the 2021 Queensland Women in STEM Prize (QWiSP).

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Two researchers working on agricultural projects have been named as recipients of the 2021 Queensland Women in STEM Prize.

Now in its sixth year and presented by Queensland Museum Network and the Queensland Government, the prize recognises women who are making a difference to the world in science, technology, engineering and maths fields.

Department of Agriculture and Fisheries technical officer Christabel Webber was awarded her prize, The Inclusion Award, for her work in regional farming to help ensure food security.

Ms Webber is the researcher for a project developing a farming system at Mungindi and Billa Billa.

The project is exploring how modifying farming management practices can impact farming performance.

Specifically, it involves varying cropping intensity, introducing legumes into the rotation as a replacement source of nitrogen, and increasing nutrient supply overall.

"By improving soil health and maximising potential cropping yield, my work - and that of the broader research team - positively impacts economic development locally and nationally, and ultimately contributes to world food security," Ms Webber said.

Ms Webber said she was heartened to see more female farm advisors and farmers out there.

"I have always believed that women should have the same opportunities as men," she said.

"My message is that opportunities are always available - it's just a matter of seizing the them when they become available. And I believe this is an important message to share.

"I also think my personal story of overcoming adversity is relevant as an example of beating the odds.

"I was born profoundly deaf and now wear bilateral cochlear implants. As a baby, my parents were told that I could not learn to speak and should learn sign language. Fortunately for me, my parents disagreed with this assessment, and at an early age I began intensive speech lessons at The Shepherd Centre for Deaf Children. The cochlear implants came later.

"Learning to speak with little hearing was very hard, but it taught me determination and resilience which I believe have helped me through my education and career."

Griffith University School of Environment and Science honours candidate Kate Kingston was awarded her prize, a Highly Commended Award, for investigating techniques for wine growers to improve their soil health by adding organic matter known as biochar.

Biochar is organic matter such as wood chip that is cooked at very high temperatures without oxygen producing a carbon dense product.

Ms Kingston said adding carbon to the soil is a regenerative agricultural principle that sequestrates carbon, improves soil and plant health and increases water and nutrient retention as well as microbial activity and crop output.

VITICULTURE STUDIES: Griffith University School of Environment and Science honours candidate Kate Kingston is investigating techniques for wine growers to improve their soil health. Picture: Queensland Government.

VITICULTURE STUDIES: Griffith University School of Environment and Science honours candidate Kate Kingston is investigating techniques for wine growers to improve their soil health. Picture: Queensland Government.

She said Queensland wine growers were particularly susceptible to the effects of climate change and research was essential to reduce yield losses.

"In recent years, droughts, floods, bushfires and increasing temperatures have hit Queensland winegrowers hard, drastically reducing crop yield in Queensland," Ms Kingston said.

"One leading vineyard lost 98.8 per cent of its 2020 vintage due to drought and rising temperatures (and) another vineyard considered themselves lucky to harvest 10pc of their crop.

"Although Queensland only represent approximately 0.5pc of the national total of wine growers, it is strongly impacted by climate change and makes an excellent region to study potential adaptation and mitigation strategies for implementation in vineyards across Australia and the rest of the world."

Ms Kingston said new technology and discoveries made through STEM have changed her life and she wanted to pay it forward.

"I am fortunate that due to technological progress from STEM, I can wear powerful and sophisticated hearing aids in both of my ears," Ms Kingston said.

"I can use bluetooth technology to talk on the phone and conduct online meetings and access closed captioning whenever possible.

"STEM enables me to interact and travel widely in the hearing world. Despite technological progress, listening and interacting with people is still a challenge that I and other hard of hearing and deaf people experience every day.

"With my academic and early career STEM achievements, my goal is to inspire deaf and hard of hearing children and mature age as well as single mothers to strive for a fulfilling life in STEM."

The pair are joined by three other awardees who have been recognised for their STEM achievements in health and education.

The Judges' Award was presented to Chloe Yap from the University of Queensland, who is using big data approaches to try to improve early autism diagnosis.

The second Highly Commended Award was awarded to Fiona Holmstrom, co-founder and director of STEM Punks, who is passionate about ensuring equality in education for girls in STEM.

The third Highly Commended Award was presented to Sally McPhee from Griffith University, who is passionate about taking cutting-edge STEM out of the labs and onto the streets by providing STEM pathways, leadership and engagement opportunities for school students and improving teacher confidence and capability in science.

Read more: STEM careers flourish in horticulture

Housing, Digital Economy and Arts Minister Leeanne Enoch said these inspiring Queensland women have made remarkable contributions in STEM.

"I applaud all of them for the enthusiasm they are fostering in STEM," Ms Enoch said.

"Now more than ever, science education and literacy are an important part of our plan for economic recovery from COVID-19, creating jobs in science, and improving health and wellbeing outcomes for the Queensland community."

Science and Youth Affairs Minister Meaghan Scanlon congratulated all awardees and nominees, and said it demonstrated how Queensland's women in STEM were leading the way in their fields of expertise and breaking barriers.

Queensland Museum Network CEO Dr Jim Thompson said entries to the 2021 QWiSP were impressive and showed a depth and breadth of important work.

"More than 40 Queensland women, who have made contributions to STEM across the state entered this year's awards," Dr Thompson said.

"These diverse winners have shown strong drive to create a better future through innovative endeavours, displaying leadership and offering STEM education in the community."

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