The theme of this year’s United Nations International Women’s Day is Cracking the Code: Innovation for a Gender Equal Future.
Professor Sahajwalla is renowned for pioneering the high temperature transformation of waste in the production of a new generation of “green materials” at the UNSW Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT) Centre, where she is founding Director.
She is also the inventor of polymer injection technology, known as “Green Steel”, an eco-friendly process for using recycled tyres in steel production.
In 2018, Veena launched the world’s first e waste MICROfactorieTM and in 2019 she launched her plastics and Green Ceramics MICROfactoriesTM, a recycling technology breakthrough.
During her address, Professor Sahajwalla offered insights on how WEHI could manage its waste streams sustainably, particularly in terms of the machinery and equipment used at the institute.
She explained how using waste as a resource creates opportunities for innovation and efficiency. She also discussed the potential for recycling plastics and other common waste products produced at WEHI.
Professor Sahajwalla also spoke about her own experiences in taking a strategic and creative approach to identifying stakeholders to work with to successfully commercialise her research.
She emphasised the importance of clear communication with potential industry partners to facilitate commercialisation and investment in her research.
Professor Sahajwalla’s innovative approach to recycling and re-purposing waste materials resonated with WEHI’s commitments to sustainability.
WEHI has pledged to achieve carbon neutrality and support research that will address the health impacts of climate change, actions driven by the institute’s first Environmental Management and Sustainability Strategy 2021-2023.
Professor Sahajwalla is the latest inspiring guest speaker to share her insights with the WEHI community on International Women’s Day, following Australian climate change scientist and advocate Professor Lesley Hughes in 2022 and infectious diseases specialist and Deputy Chief Medical Information Officer at the Royal Melbourne Hospital Dr Kudzai Kanhutu in 2021.
WEHI recognises the significant challenges experienced by women in transitioning into senior biomedical research roles and is committed to gender equity in STEM.
Deputy Director Professor Alan Cowman AC said although women have made up the majority of biology undergraduates for decades, progress towards parity at senior levels has been slow.
“At the current rate, gender parity in STEM will not be achieved before 2100,” Professor Cowman said.
“We must contribute to changing this prediction by implementing policies and initiatives and advocating for systems that support women in science.”
WEHI initiatives in support of gender equity include the establishment of the first on-site Early Learning Centre at an independent medical research institute and a range of measures to support female researchers.