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  • Scott Millar

The Stories of Alan Mackay-Sim - 2017 Australian of the Year

Hear from the 2017 Australian of the Year, Alan Mackay-Sim as he shares his stories and experiences and looking at what got him from a hang gliding teen to an award winning scientist and STEM cell researcher.


Alan Mackay-Sim is quite possibly one of the most charismatic and passionate people I have ever met. Sitting in an intimate 100 seat theatre alongside students, parents and other science-curious individuals, his passion and curiosity was infectious. 


Professor Emeritus Alan Mackay-Sim won the 2017 Australian of the year award for his research into stem cells, in particular adult stem cells from the nose and how they can help treat spinal chord injuries, brain disorders and diseases including schizophrenia and Parkinson’s disease. 


The event, held at the World Science Festival Brisbane, gave high schools students the opportunity to ask the professor questions about his work, his passions and his drivers. The professor took great delight in sharing his stories and inspiring and educating the audience. 

As a child Alan loved to learn saying that he was a very curious child, always wondering how things worked and hungry to learn more! He also took quite the liking to subjects such as science, english and mathematics from a young age. When asked about his interest in english the professor urged all those young scientists watching to ensure they are excellent communicators, saying he considers himself quite the writer.


“As a scientist I am always writing, whether it is a grant, research paper or an article. You have to be able to communicate your thoughts, ideas and findings.”

In addition to this, Alan says that his skills and thinking as a scientist translates into his everyday experiences. Whether it is analysing statistics and probability or thinking critically about a proposed idea, he says the skills he has learnt as a scientist help him in a range of ways. In addition to this, he says that all people should take an interest in science and a develop a basic understanding. As society and technology progresses, we need to be able to analyse the implications and look at the ethical issues with options such as stem cell transplants, robotic implants and more. 


When asked where his love for science came from the professor said it was actually quite natural.  

“My parents aren’t scientists, in fact the majority of my family come from business and farming backgrounds. My parents were however fantastic at supporting my endeavours.”

Alan said that a lot of his interest was quite natural and came from his genuine curiosity about the world. 


Alan also advised any young scientists to keep their options open and advised they not specialise too soon.

“Have a general interest in all types of science. That way when the job offers start coming in you can pick and choose the ones that interest you.” 

Professor Emeritus Alan Mackay-Sim was a fantastic presenter that left the audience inspiring, intrigued and empowered.