Prof. Veena Sahajwalla, scientist, inventor, science communicator, and flagbearer of women in STEM, has just won her latest accolade – NSW Australian of the Year 2022.
Prof. Sahajwalla is best known for her research and application in sustainability, particularly transforming waste products into steel. Her work converting plastics, tyres and discarded fabric for use in the production of steel and building material has won her much acclaim in the scientific as well as in the broader community.
‘Green steel’, ‘green ceramics’ and the ‘microfactories’ that produce these green materials, are now becoming commonly used terminology thanks to her pioneering work. They look set to become more commonplace in the coming years as we embrace an increasingly sustainable lifestyle.
Born and brought up in Mumbai, Prof. Sahajwalla arrived in Australia in the mid-1990s. She brought with her the best in science education that India offered – a degree from the Indian Institute of Technology (Kanpur) where she was the only girl studying metallurgy. Not surprisingly, it did not faze her one bit. Her interest in engineering took her to further studies in Canada and the US, where she met her husband, fellow-scientist Rama Mahapatra. They moved to Australia where careers in the CSIRO and UNSW awaited them.
Today Prof. Sahajwalla is Professor of Materials Science and the founding Director of the Centre for Sustainable Materials Research & Technology at UNSW.
The 56-year-old is no stranger to awards. Starting with the Eureka Prize way back in 2005, there have been business awards and innovation awards galore, even the Indian Government’s Pravasi Bharatiya Samman prize for eminent overseas Indians.
Her latest award is a hurrah for science, for overseas-trained scientists in this country, for women in STEM, and for research and application in the science of recycling.
She speaks here about becoming NSW Australian of the Year, and about diversity, science, and sustainability.