Professor Veena Sahajwalla, Director of the UNSW Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT@UNSW), has been named as the 2022 NSW Australian of the Year, in recognition of her pioneering research into waste, turning it into a new generation of green materials and products.

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet presented the award on 15 November at a ceremony which was attended by her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC QC, Governor of NSW. As founding director of SMaRT@UNSW, Professor Sahajwalla was recognised for her outstanding work as an internationally recognised materials scientist, engineer and inventor who has revolutionised recycling science and advocated for STEM and sustainability locally, nationally and internationally.

Professor Sahajwalla also heads the new ARC Microrecycling Research Hub and the Australian Government’s new National Environmental Science Program 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,” said Professor Sahajwalla. “It is such a privilege to receive this award, and to live, work and have a family in Australia. 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 President and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ian Jacobs said: “Veena’s work in using waste as a resource to help us achieve a sustainable future reflects UNSW’s service to society, our quest to find practical solutions and the academic rigour that underpins great advances – knowledge by heart, hand and mind.

“Veena’s work is a great example of our shared aspiration, and a part of what has led to our collective achievement today. I offer my heartfelt congratulations to all in the UNSW community – students, staff, alumni and supporters – who, by sharing a commitment to our vision, share in our global success.”