Southern stars – our scientists vying for Aussie honours

By Natalie Kikken

18 October 2019

3 minute read

UPDATE: Congratulations Jess Melbourne-Thomas, named Australian of the Year Tasmania 2020. 

The Australian of the Year Tasmania 2020 winner was announced on Friday 18 October. The national winners will be announced in January 2020.

Researcher Dr Britta Denise Hardesty kneeling on a beach wearing a CSIRO cap, picking up a piece of a red balloon.

Plastic pollution solutions: Dr Britta Denise Hardesty has been leading our plastic pollution research for more than a decade.

Dr Denise Hardesty’s job is rubbish. But she loves it.

“Talking trash is my area of expertise.”

You see, Denise’s job is to find solutions for plastic pollution. She is particularly focused on plastic infiltrating our coastal and marine environments. And she has been leading this work with us for over a decade.

“I research plastic pollution. From understanding where it comes from, how it makes its way through the environment, how it impacts wildlife, people and communities. And importantly, how we can reduce it,” Denise said.

Denise led the world’s first national survey of plastics pollution, focusing on Australia’s coastline. And she’s currently leading a global plastics baseline project working with communities from around the world.

“We’ve seen a big shift in general understanding of plastic pollution. And in the public’s interest in changing our relationship with plastic. Each one of us can make a difference – from government to industry to the Australian community.”

Leading the charge: Australian of the Year nominations

Our scientists solve the greatest challenges to unlock a better future for everyone. Denise, along with her colleague Jess Melbourne-Thomas, are doing just that. They were both in the running for Australian of the Year Tasmania 2020. Jess Melbourne-Thomas is now the Tasmanian nominee for national Australian of the Year.

A crusader for the environment, and for women in STEM

Jess is a leading interdisciplinary researcher in Antarctic and marine socioecology and climate science. She acts as a knowledge broker helping to bridge the gap between complex scientific research and decision-making. This helps inform policy and best practice related to sustainable resource use.

From exploring Tasmania’s coastline and wilderness as a child, to her time as a Rhodes Scholar in Oxford, UK, Jess has certainly made her mark in marine science.

Jess Melbourne-Thomas undertaking sea ice ecosystem field work in East Antarctica. She wears a yellow suit and is surrounded by snow.

Jess Melbourne-Thomas is a leading Oceans and Atmosphere researcher in Antarctic and marine ecosystem and climate science.

“I work to help create pathways for sustainable development for our oceans. I do this through stakeholder engagement, ecosystem modelling and contributions to policy-relevant global climate change assessments, such as the recent IPCC Report,” Jess said.

Jess is a pioneer, not only in her own career but for other women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

“My other passion is ensuring that there are robust pathways for women as leaders in science,” Jess explained.

“I co-founded the Homeward Bound program, which took the largest ever all female expedition to Antarctica in 2016. The program aims to train thousands of women in science in a leadership movement over 10 years.

“We need greater diversity at the leadership table if we are to address the challenges currently facing our oceans and the planet.”

Jess was one of Australia’s first 30 Superstars of STEM. She was also one of 12 female scientists globally to have her portrait featured as a constellation on the ceiling of New York’s Grand Central Station. This was part of GE’s Balance the Equation campaign.

“I hope this nomination can help elevate the voice of women in STEM and climate change science,” Jess told us.