UNSW Sydney scientist, engineer and inventor has been recognised for her pioneering research into waste, turning it into a new generation of green materials and products.
Australian Research Council (ARC) Laureate Professor Veena Sahajwalla has been named the 2022 NSW Australian of the Year. Premier of NSW Dominic Perrottet presented the award to her last night at a ceremony which was attended by her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC QC, Governor of NSW.
Founding director of the Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT) at UNSW Sydney, Prof. Sahajwalla is an internationally recognised materials scientist, engineer and inventor who has revolutionised recycling science. She also heads the new ARC Microrecycling Research Hub and the Australian government's new National Environmental Science Program's Sustainable Communities and Waste Hub. She is renowned for pioneering the high temperature transformation of waste in the production of a new generation of green materials.
“I couldn’t believe I was nominated, let alone win the title of the 2022 NSW Australian of the Year. It is such a privilege to receive this award, and to live, work and have a family in Australia,” Prof. Sahajwalla said.
“This means so much to me and is a reflection on the wonderful people I’ve had around me. I am so passionate about my work and team at the UNSW SMaRT Centre, where we have been pioneering the science of microrecycling and developing new ‘waste to product’ technologies.
“Promoting STEM [science, technology, engineering and maths] and greater sustainability continue to be extremely important to me. And as I engage with many people every day, I see these issues are generating a community and industry groundswell that we should embrace to help our society collectively tackle the challenges we face, to improve our environmental, social and economic wellbeing.”
UNSW Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research and Enterprise, Professor Nicholas Fisk congratulated Prof. Sahajwalla.
“Professionally, Veena is renowned internationally as a trailblazer in the field of recycling science, partnering with industry to drive her research through to real-world environmental and economic benefits. Personally, she is a charismatic, visionary tour de force, which underpins this well-deserved accolade,” Prof. Fisk said.
“Her approach has enabled the transformation of many of the world’s most challenging waste streams – like e-waste, automotive waste and batteries – into value-added materials that can be circled back into manufacturing. Her unique microfactory model enables local communities to produce many of the products and materials they need locally, using resources largely derived from waste.”
UNSW Dean of Science Professor Emma Johnston also celebrated Prof. Sahajwalla’s achievement.
“This award speaks to how Prof. Sahajwalla’s work is transforming the way we approach one of the greatest global challenges of our time,” Prof. Johnston said. “I’m immensely proud that her pioneering approach to reusing waste and developing green materials has been recognised with this prestigious honour.”
In 2018, Prof. Sahajwalla launched the world's first e-waste microfactory and in 2019 she launched her plastics microfactory, a recycling technology breakthrough. In 2019, she was appointed inaugural Director of the Circular Economy Innovation Network by the NSW government through its Office of Chief Scientist and Engineer. In 2019, she was also honoured by Engineers Australia as a Centenary Hero for her work.
Prof. Sahajwalla was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science in 2018. In 2016, Engineers Australia named her one of Australia’s Most Innovative Engineers and in 2015, one of Australia’s 100 Most Influential Engineers. In 2013, Prof. Sahajwalla received the Howe Memorial Lecture Award, Pittsburgh, USA, in appreciation for her lecture on ‘The Power of Steelmaking – harnessing high temperature reactions to transform waste into raw material resources’.