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Local recognition great start to new year

Date

Emma MacDonald

Brian Schmidt AC

Professor Brian Schmidt.

Professor Brian Schmidt.

WHEN asked how Australia's highest honour compares with receiving a Nobel prize, astrophysicist Brian Schmidt says it is wonderful to be recognised ''at home''.

He might have been born in Alaska, but Professor Schmidt feels truly Australian. ''The way I tell is during the Olympics I always cheer for Australia.''

He is also taming his own parcel of the landscape in a bid to produce the country's best pinot noir, with his Maipenrai vineyard in the ACT this year receiving favourable attention from wine cognoscenti.

Between the demands of the harvest, the international speaking circuit and a role as an ambassador for Australian science and innovation, Professor Schmidt has had a huge year.

His Australia Day honour ''for eminent service as a global science leader in the field of physics through research in the study of astronomy and astrophysics, contributions to scientific bodies and the promotion of science education'' is a wonderful start to 2013.

With 12 overseas engagements already booked, he will continue raising the profile of science - lobbying, in particular, for improving teaching quality in maths and science. Had he the ear of the Prime Minister and a policy wish to be granted, Professor Schmidt would introduce a scholarship scheme to lure the country's best and brightest into teaching science.

He credits his own teachers with igniting his desire to truly understand the universe.

Professor Schmidt and his wife, economist Jenny Gordon, considered jobs around the world in 1994, but decided the best dual career option was Canberra - conveniently in the country where Jenny was born.

He secured a position at the Australian National University at 27, to begin a series of life-changing measurements of space. When he and colleagues Saul Perlmutter and Adam Riess observed the universe was expanding at an increasing rate, and in the future would not be contracting, they reached the ultimate pinnacle of scientific endeavour - claiming the 2011 Nobel prize for physics.

If Professor Schmidt has one regret about being catapulted into Nobel prize celebrity it is the lack of space to contemplate the universe as he used to.

''I haven't changed much since winning the Nobel prize, but my opportunities have - for better and for worse. My chances to sit down and think like I used to are not the same - but my opportunities in talking to amazing people here and around the world are unlike anything I have ever had.''

On Australia Day he will be busy watering vines and pondering the unseasonably hot temperatures on his favourite tipple. What could be more Australian than that?

See the full honours list here

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