macinley butson

At just sixteen years old, Macinley Butson made history. In 2017, she won an international science competition (and became the first Aussie to do so) and this year was named NSW Young Australian of the Year. Read our chat to hear all the wisdom this bright spark has to offer...


When you were little, what did you want to be when you grow up?

When I was younger I wanted to be a doctor. I always remember thinking it would be awesome to just help people my whole life, and from the usual choices of ballerina, firefighter, explorer, etc. it seemed to fit me the best. That was before I realised how difficult it really is!


Where did your love of science come from? 

My love of science has always been part of me. Just as others have passions in art, singing, literature, or maths - I love science. I think it stemmed from my natural curiosity which was a part of my core as a child. I have been very fortunate to have parents who saw this, and fostered it allowing it to grow. Science was the perfect avenue to pursue this curiosity through constant experimentation and inquiry into the world around me. 

Could you explain Smart Armour to someone who isn't super science-y?

In a nut-shell, SMART Armour is a device for women who are undergoing breast-cancer radiotherapy cancer treatment. It shields the breast which isn’t being treated from radiation which is an occurring side effect of radiotherapy.

Where did the idea for Smart Armour come from?

It started as a conversation over dinner with my family. My father works in radiotherapy so one night we were simply talking about the side effects of treatment and the fact that the non-treated breast is exposed to unnecessary radiation during the process. I was in year 10 at the time, and simply didn’t understand why something didn’t exist to help women during treatment and to solve this problem. In that moment, I decided I would try to do something for these women. 

You've attended a number of international science and engineering competitions, do you get nervous and if so, how do you get over your nerves?

Absolutely! I actually get quite nervous, I think I’m like most teenagers in that respect. I get nervous before making speeches, I get nervous before tests and I get nervous before going in for judging at competitions. I think the best way to cope is simply to take deep breaths and remember that even if you make a mistake, people tend to be forgiving. It doesn’t matter if you accidentally stumble over your words, or if you can’t remember something - everyone has been in the same boat at least once in their life so normally they understand. So, believe in yourself, be as prepared as you feel you can be and always treat opportunities as learning experiences to grow.

Have you ever faced any hurdles being a young woman in the STEM field? 

I actually think being a young person is such an asset in STEM fields, however, unfortunately we often go unnoticed. Young people often have the ideas which are so far-fetched that they can actually work! We can look past barriers and preconceived moulds and see thing how they should be instead of how they are. I haven’t personally faced any issues, however, it is clear that many women have previously. Women are quite underrepresented in Scientific fields, but they have just as much to offer as can bring a new perspective.

Do you think that the Australian schooling system could do more for girls wanting to gain a career in STEM?

I think that now is the best time for young people to be involved in STEM and, although there is a long way to go, we have come far. The new science curriculum is the first step of many but there are already so many opportunities out there, people simply need to look. I think that you simply need to ask girls what they want, which will be different in each school, but hearing their voices is important. 

What advice would you give for other young women who want to succeed in STEM? 

As cliché as it seems, believe in yourself, and, learn to accept the challenges that come your way failures then continue on. I think that believing in yourself is the crucial first step towards success. And failure is not the end, it exists in every endeavour! Learning to use failure to grow from as a learning curve is important along any journey. 

Earlier this year, you were awarded third in Environmental Engineering for a joint project that involved water purification. Are you working on anything at the moment?

I definitely have some things in the pipe-line! But I am currently wanting to get the SMART Armour up and running clinically in hospitals, to help as many people as it can.  

What are your future aspirations? 

I’m not entirely sure what I want to do yet! As long as I’m in science and helping people - I think I will end up where I am supposed to.

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