Winner: Professor Emma Johnston, University of New South Wales

Speaking science underwater

Professor Emma Johnston describes Sydney Harbour as her laboratory. It’s a laboratory that bears the impacts of four million people living nearby, not to mention a century of industry.

It’s important that those human impacts are properly understood by governments and the public.

Professor Johnston uses a variety of channels to bring marine research to a broad audience and ensure that policy-makers and public understand the effects of their own actions.

For her work in educating the public on Australian marine science, Professor Emma Johnston of the University of New South Wales has been awarded the Department of Industry and Science Eureka Prize for Promoting Understanding of Australian Science Research.

“Professor Johnston speaks for our marine environment with great authority,” Kim McKay AO, Executive Director and CEO of the Australian Museum said. “Her collaborative approach to working with public, government and industry is built on her own deep knowledge of marine science,” she said. “She is undoubtedly one of Australia’s leading science communicators.”

Via her outreach program Run Off and Reach Out she has opened people’s eyes to the effect their lifestyle and actions have on stormwater run-off and thus their impact on our immediate marine environment.

In sharing stories of marine science on the successful BBC/Foxtel history series Coast Australia, Professor Johnston has helped take Australian marine science to an international audience. She has also spoken on dozens of radio shows and TV programs, and been interviewed in print.

As well as educating Australians about marine science, she is determined to help inspire the next generation of scientists – work that has been recognised by the Australian Academy of Science, which awarded her the inaugural Nancy Millis Medal for Women in Science in 2014.

With over 85 per cent of Australians living beside the coast, she finds marine science useful to engage people with science more broadly.

Established in 1827, the Australian Museum is the nation’s first museum and one of its foremost scientific research, educational and cultural institutions. The Australian Museum Eureka Prizes are the most comprehensive national science awards, honouring excellence in Research and Innovation, Leadership, Science Communication and Journalism, and School Science.

The other finalists were:

  • Associate Professor Darren Curnoe (University of New South Wales) who has led public understanding of evolution and our origins.
  • Dr Lisa Harvey-Smith (CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science), who works in outback towns, introducing young Indigenous Australians to astronomy.

Watch the video.