Inspiring the next generation of scientists

Dr Olivia Samardzic


2019 Flinders University Convocation Medallist Dr Olivia Samardzic PSM

An innovative application of physics for the Australian Defence Force and the creation of the SA Space School have seen Dr Olivia Samardzic PSM inspire the next generation of scientists.

Born in Novi Sad in the former Yugoslavia, Dr Samardzic (BSc(Hons) ’90, PhD(SE) ’96) came to Australia with her family when she was just three years of age.

The value of education was instilled in her from an early age by her father (a shoemaker) and mother (a seamstress) and, from 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 – the top university for physics in the state at the time,’ says Dr Samardzic.

Soon after graduating, Dr Samardzic joined the Defence, Science and 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 Countermeasure 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 checkpoints.

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 seen a significant increase in the number of students pursuing studies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

A 20-year longitudinal study showed that almost 80% of respondents either continued in a STEM field or chose STEM subjects due to their positive experiences at the Space School.

‘Knowing that I have been able to steer younger people to what I know to be a great and fulfilling career is my greatest accomplishment,’ says Dr Samardzic.

‘The mark of true leadership is to inspire more people to do great things.’

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. She also delivered a keynote address to around 120 Year 9 girls at the annual Flinders University STEM Enrichment Academy Conference Breakfast last year.

Her achievements were recognised in the 2019 Queen’s Birthday Honours with a Public Service Medal. She also recalls with fondness being a finalist in the Unsung Heroes award during National Science Week in 2006. She didn’t win but had three young women at the ceremony tell her they had pursued STEM studies after hearing her speak previously 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.

‘My message is – don’t give up, science is for everybody.’

2019 Convocation Medallist
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, for her significant service to science and technology in support of the Australian Defence Force. flinders.edu.au/alumni-awards

 

2020 Encounter magazine – Read more

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