Dr San Thang, a former Vietnamese refugee who found a new home in Australia and built a scientific career earmarking him as a future Nobel Prize laureate, is the inaugural Griffith Sciences Outstanding Alumnus of the Year.

Pro Vice Chancellor (Griffith Sciences) Professor Debra Henly presented Dr Thang with his award at a ceremony at the Sir Samuel Griffith Centre last night (November 25).

Ms Tanya Kooymans was named the inaugural Outstanding Young Alumnus of the Year.

“With more than 40,000 graduates over almost 40 years, it was extremely difficult to choose just two winners for our inaugural Griffith Sciences alumni awards,” Professor Henly said. “Here and internationally, our alumni are making incredible contributions to business, industry, research, society and the reputation of Griffith University.”

Dr San Thang’s rise in the world of science is an inspiring story.

In 1979, he left Vietnam and crossed the South China Sea in a small vessel packed with more than 400 other refugees. After five months in a Malaysian refugee camp, he was able to settle in Brisbane.

With the support and friendship of many within Griffith University’s School of Science — now the School of Natural Sciences — and especially Griffith’s first Pro Vice Chancellor, the late Professor Roy ‘Gus’ Guthrie, Dr Thang completed his Bachelor of Science (Honours) in organic chemistry in 1983. Four years later he completed a PhD in organic/polymer chemistry.

After joining the CSIRO in 1986, Dr Thang moved to ICI the following year. He returned to the CSIRO in 1990 and rose to the position of Chief Research Scientist.

In September this year, Dr Thang and colleagues Dr Graeme Moad and Dr Ezio Rizzardo were listed by multinational media and information company,Thomson Reuters, as contenders for the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, acknowledging their development of new plastics and polymers with applications in fields including solar energy, medicine, paint and cosmetics.

Since launching its Nobel-class Citation Laureates in 2002, Thomson Reuters has correctly predicted 35 Nobel laureates, most winning within a few years of being named.

Dr Thang said he was humbled to be Griffith Sciences’ inaugural outstanding alumnus.

“I dedicate this to all the graduates in the past and all the graduates to come. Griffith University changed my life,” he said.

Ms Tanya Kooymans graduated with a Bachelor of Engineering (Electronic Engineering, First Class Honours) in 2010.

After stints as Assistant Project Manager with the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation and Project Engineer with Honeywell Process Solutions, Ms Kooymans is now the Principal Project Officer (Traffic Systems) for Queensland’s Department of Transport and Main Roads, based on the Gold Coast.

“I’m working in the field of Intelligent Transport Systems focusing on the South Coast Region, but I always keep in contact with Griffith University,” Ms Kooymans said.

“It’s such an honour to even be considered for this award and I hope it can inspire other young women.

“When I was studying at Griffith, Engineering was considered a male pursuit. I was the only female in my class, although I’m happy to say my classmates became like brothers.

“This shows what can be achieved if you have the passion, the drive and the support.”