She is one of the world’s top scientists, whose research has propelled Australia to the forefront of advanced computing systems.

But it was a speech about the dumbing down of HSC physics that brought notoriety to Michelle Simmons, a professor of quantum physics at the University of NSW.

Delivering the 2017 Australia Day address, Professor Simmons said she was horrified to discover the physics curriculum had been “feminised” in an attempt to attract more girls.

“What a disaster,” she told an audience that included NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian. “From the students coming to university, I see little evidence that this has made any difference and indeed I see many students complaining that the physics curriculum has left them ill-equipped for university.

Professor Simmons was awarded the NSW Australian of the Year Award at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia – one of four NSW Award recipients announced on Monday.

Obstetrician Dr Catherine Hamlin, who was awarded the 2018 NSW Senior Australian of the Year, has treated more than 50,000 women with childbirth-related injuries since she arrived in Ethiopia in 1959.

Now 93, Dr Hamlin, nominated for the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, founded six hospitals and a midwifery college with her late husband Dr Reginald Hamlin to provide free fistula repair surgery.

Ms Butson, selected as the 2018 NSW Young Australian of the Year, has won science awards for other inventions such as a system that simultaneously collects solar power and filters water and a spoon that measures and delivers oral medicine to children.

The head mathematics teacher at Cherrybrook Technology High School, Eddie Woo started posting videos online in 2012 for a student who was battling cancer.

Woo, who was awarded the 2018 NSW Local Hero, is an unlikely internet star, with his maths videos attracting 80,000 subscribers and more than six million views.

Jenny Barbour, the chief executive of the National Australia Day Council, said: “The stories of the NSW Award recipients show us the power of an individual and how one person can make a big difference – from education to medicine to scientific breakthroughs, they are all making an impact.”

The NSW Award recipients are among 32 state and territory recipients who will compete for the four Australians of the Year titles that will be announced on January 25, 2018 in Canberra.

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