She arrived in Australia as an asylum-seeker from the Vietnam War with no English-speaking skills and nothing but the clothes on her back.
Now after more than 20 incredible years of research and teaching, Dr Tien Huynh has today been named by Science & Technology Australia as one of the 30 “Superstars of STEM”.
The program recognises females who are smashing stereotypes and leading the way as role models for young women and girls across science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
The first ever round of Superstars was announced by the Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Senator the Hon Arthur Sinodinos AO, with the final 30 participants selected from more than 300 applicants.
The successful candidates will now receive training and development to use social media, TV, radio and public speaking opportunities to carve out a more diverse face for STEM.
Huynh was selected for her work promoting environmental sustainability, and improving the quality of life and equality for the underprivileged.
The RMIT lecturer is co-founder with Associate Professor Danilla Grando of the Centre for Health and Biological Innovations Lab. Her current work focuses on cancer, tissue repair, neuropharmacology and drug discovery technologies.
Huynh’s many achievements include establishing community transformative projects for endangered and medicinal plants, environmental sustainability and agricultural upcycling.
She also coordinates outreach activities to inspire young minds in STEM, mentors female Asian students and academics to inspire greatness and overcome challenges in their life and careers, and leads overseas work programs that bridge the gap between gender, age and cultural differences.
Huynh said being named a Superstar of STEM was a wonderful opportunity to inspire more young minds and give hope to girls who have nothing.
"My motto is 'Great achievements can come from humble beginnings'," Huynh said.
"I am most proud when I see my students go on to achieve their own successes and still remember me, knowing that I contributed to their journey.
"It's an exciting time to be in STEM, there are so many opportunities and possibilities. You only have one life, so dream big, live with passion and make it count."
Science & Technology Australia President-Elect, Professor Emma Johnston, said that studies in the USA and other countries similar to Australia had shown female STEM professionals were significantly under-represented.
“Superstars of STEM is the first program of its kind and will prove vital for the future of STEM in Australia,” Professor Johnston said.
“We want Australian girls to realise that there are some amazing, capable and impressive women working as scientists and technologists too, and that they work in and out of the lab in places you might not expect.”
Story: James Giggacher