Professor Cheryl Praeger, Foreign Secretary of the Australian Academy of Science, was born in Toowoomba, Australia. She studied at the University of Queensland and graduated in 1969 with honours and a University Medal in mathematics. She completed her DPhil at the University of Oxford in 1973. After postdoctoral appointments at the Australian National University and the University of Virginia, USA, she took up a lectureship in mathematics at the University of Western Australia in 1976. She was promoted to senior lecture in 1983, and in November of that year she was appointed Professor of Mathematics at the University of Western Australia. She has served as department head, deputy dean of her faculty, and as the inaugural Dean of Postgraduate Research Studies. In 2007 she was the first pure mathematician to win an Australian Research Council Federation Fellowship, and in 2011 she became the inaugural Director of the UWA Centre for the Mathematics of Symmetry and Computation.
Professor Praeger’s mathematical research is in group theory, the mathematical study of symmetry. Her work has transformed our understanding of how groups act on large complex systems, through new theories, constructions, algorithms and designs, which exploit the classification of the finite simple groups. She has published more than 360 journal articles and four research monographs, many of them with her students (30 PhD students, 10 research masters students, 21 postdoctoral research associates) and research colleagues. Her research achievements have been recognised by award of the Thomas Ranken Lyle Medal (Australian Academy of Science), the George Szekeres Medal (Australian Mathematical Society), and the Moyal Medal (Macquarie University). She was named the 2009 Western Australian Scientist of the Year, and was the 2015 inductee into the Western Australian Science Hall of Fame. She has been awarded honorary doctorates from universities in Belgium, Iran, Scotland and Thailand.
Professor Praeger was appointed a member of the Order of Australia in 1999, and awarded a Centenary Medal for her contributions to mathematics in Australia, especially through research and service to professional societies. She is a former President of the Australian Mathematical Society, and a former Chair of the Australian Council of Heads of Mathematical Sciences. She is an honorary life member of the Australian Mathematical Society, an honorary member of the London Mathematical Society, and an inaugural fellow of the American Mathematical Society. She is currently vice-president of the International Commission for Mathematical Instruction, foundation board member of the Australian Mathematics Trust, and chair of the Australian Mathematics Olympiad Committee. She also served two terms as a member-at-large of the executive committee of the International Mathematical Union.
Professor Praeger has played an active role supporting and mentoring young scientists, especially women. The Women in Mathematics Special Interest Group of the Australian Mathematical Society named their travel awards after her. She has received a University of Western Australia award for excellence in teaching, and an Australian government Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning.