A night spent stargazing with her parents when she was just five years old was the catalyst for climate scientist Dr Sophie Lewis to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
On Friday 9 August, Dr Lewis was named the 2019 ACT Scientist of the Year, recognised for her work regarding weather extremes and how climate change contributes to events such as bushfires and droughts.
“We know when it comes to how climate change is affecting extremes, like our heatwaves, it can be a really big issue in terms of human health or our natural ecosystems like the Great Barrier Reef,” Dr Lewis said.
“The work that I’m planning on doing in the future is looking at how bad it could get, what is the worst that we should be preparing for and how can we be planning now so that we’re most resilient and most adaptable in the future.”
Dr Lewis is a senior lecturer and research fellow at UNSW Canberra who received her PhD in palaeoclimatology in 2011 from the Australian National University. She is also a member of the team producing the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report.
Dr Lewis “wanted to be a scientist since I was five years old and my parents took me out stargazing one night”.
“As I went through university, I became really interested in climate change because it’s such a big problem that we’re all going to face in the future.”
Minister assisting the Chief Minister on Advanced Technology and Space Industries, Mick Gentleman, said Dr Lewis’s award is well earned.
“Dr Lewis’s research has fundamentally changed the scientific community’s knowledge of Australia’s climate extremes by filling critical gaps in global knowledge. Her innovative approach is now being used by the World Weather Attribution project,” he said.
“As part of this research, Dr Lewis developed a method to accurately, reliably and quickly analyse the connection between extreme weather events and climate change. She then used this approach to analyse the impacts of climatic events, including the Great Barrier Reef bleaching in 2016.”
The ACT Scientist of the Year award celebrates Canberra’s emerging scientists and aims to inspire young people to consider a career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
“As ACT Scientist of the Year, I’m excited to be more involved with school groups and visiting a wider range of schools and age groups. Canberra’s students are incredibly passionate and socially engaged on issues such as sustainability and climate change,” Dr Lewis said.
“I will also be using the prize money ($30,000) to develop programs for high school and college age young people in Canberra to develop their interests in climate change and empower them help us make positive action on climate change. This will invest in our young people and allow them to teach their peers elsewhere in Australia.”