2019 Distinguished Alumni Award

The Physics and Astronomy Department awarded Dr. Penny Sackett ('84), Former Chief Scientist of Australia, our Distinguished Alumni Award for 2019. 

The Department of Physics and Astronomy held a Luncheon, Social Hour, Lecture and Gala in Dr. Penny D. Sackett's  honor.  



Dr. Penny Sackett is a physicist, astronomer and former Chief Scientist for Australia.

Trained in the United States, she has held positions at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study, Kapteyn Astronomical Institute in the Netherlands, and the Australian National University (ANU). As a Research School Director, she led the multi-million dollar effort to rebuild the world-renowned Mt Stromlo Observatory after it was destroyed in 2003 by bush fires, re-establishing it as an international center for research, training, and high-tech instrumentation at the ANU, and initiating its partnership in the Giant Magellan Telescope. She currently holds an Honorary Professorship at the ANU Climate Change Institute.

As well as a highly cited researcher, Sackett has received awards for teaching and service. She has served on numerous national and international Boards, scientific and funding advisory bodies, and conference organizing committees.

As Chief Scientist for Australia (2008-2011), Professor Sackett provided independent advice to the Australian government on matters of science and innovation, and was a vocal champion of evidenced-based decision making. In that role, Sackett explained “Why we must act now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” She spearheaded the effort to introduce long-term, cross-portfolio and cross-disciplinary foresight into the Prime Minister’s Science, Engineering and Innovation Council, and opened new channels of communication to the Australian public on matters of science, particularly those related to sustainability such as energy, water, climate change, food security and life-long learning.

With a keen interest in seeing cities around the world become healthier, more innovative, and more sustainable, Professor Sackett was a member of the Scientific Steering Committee for the symposium of Nobel Laureates held in Hong Kong in April 2015 on the theme “Changing Climate, Changing Cities,” and was Chair of its Memorandum Drafting Team. Sackett serves as Chair of the ACT Climate Change Council, a statutory body charged with advising the government of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) on matters relating to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and addressing and adapting to climate change. She is also a member of the ACT’s Renewable Energy Innovation Business Advisory Board, as well as a Science Advisory Board member for the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

Professor Sackett recently delivered a short speech at the 12 February 2019 Climate Action Rally on the lawns of Parliament House, Canberra, and also spoke at the Climate Election Candidates Forum on 16 April 2019 at Albert Hall, Canberra.

Sackett’s continued interests include sustainability, transdisciplinary research, team building, sub-national climate change action, complex systems, effective communication, quantitative analysis, and leadership during change and uncertainty. Her networks in the scientific community are broad and international.