An innovative application of physics for the Australian Defence Force and the creation of the SA Space School has seen Dr Olivia Samardzic PSM inspire the next generation of scientists.
Since the age of 10, Dr Samardzic wanted to be a physicist.
‘I knew I wanted to study physics so it was an easy choice to study at Flinders – which was the top university for Physics in the state at the time,’ says Dr Samardzic (BSc(Hons) ‘90, PhD(SE) ‘96).
Soon after graduating, Dr Samardzic joined the Defence, Science & Technology Group at the Australian Department of Defence, where she is now a Research Leader in the Cyber and Electronic Warfare Division.
Dr Samardzic worked on the development of the Laser Optical Counter measure System (LOCS), which will be used by military personnel to detect and defeat threats. She is also responsible for the Eye-safe Attention Gaining Laser Emitter (EAGLE), a unique and DST patented system developed to reduce civilian casualties by gaining their attention when they approach military or police check points.
Dr Samardzic is also devoted to inspiring the next generation of scientists.
Noticing a sharp decline in the number of students taking up physics, she recalled that her fascination with space inspired her own scientific studies. In 1997 she co-founded the South Australian Space School – a strategy that has had a profound increase on the number of students pursuing studies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
‘Knowing that I have been able to steer younger people to a great and, what I know to be a, fulfilling career, is my greatest accomplishment,’ says Dr Samardzic. ‘My message is “don’t give up, science is for everybody”.’
Dr Samardzic’s leadership roles have included, Co-Director of the Centre for Australian Space Education, chairing the SA Branch of the Australian Institute of Physics, sitting on the Flinders University Science Industry Advisory Board and helping to develop the national physics strategy while on the National Executive of the Australian Institute of Physics.
Her achievements were recognised in the 2019 Queen’s Birthday honours with a Public Service Medal – although she recalls with equal fondness being a finalist in the Unsung Heroes award during National Science Week 2006. She didn’t win but had three young women at the ceremony say they pursued STEM studies after hearing her previously speak about the thrill of pursuing a career in science.
‘That was better than any award,’ she says. ‘It showed that I helped them get to a place where they could enjoy an enriching career.’
Dr Olivia Samardzic PSM was awarded a 2019 Flinders University Convocation Medal for her outstanding contribution to the national and international science, technology, engineering and mathematics community. In particular, her significant service to science and technology in support of the Australian Defence Force.