2019 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science
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2019 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science

[Music plays] (Professor Cheryl Praeger) I’ve always loved mathematics right from when I was a kid in school. I had no idea that one could have a career in mathematics but I just wanted to study it for as long as I possibly could. My passion is the mathematics of symmetry. Symmetry is all around us in the natural and in the built environment, from the spiral galaxies that we see in the heavens down to the small spiral shells on the beach and we measure it in mathematics with groups. Finite Group Theory is the study of the symmetries of structures. Finding the building blocks of a finite group we do by splitting it into two parts and each of these two parts is itself a group and we continue splitting and splitting until we can’t split anymore just like the branches of a tree and the leaves of that tree are the finite simple groups. My contribution has been to study the way groups act on structures and to develop algorithms which have been incorporated into powerful computer systems in group theory. These systems are used extensively by mathematicians and other scientists for investigating symmetric structures. They allow those systems to run much faster than they have any right to. What I love about mathematics is the way that it explains the world, it makes sense of the world. Receiving the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science is a wonderful statement about the importance of mathematics. It also recognises the achievements of me and my colleagues and students in the mathematics of symmetry. In the future we will see the advent of quantum computers and that will completely change the world. It will produce a new range of mathematics problems which will need to be solved urgently and it will be incredibly exciting and I look forward to being part of that journey. [Music plays]

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