Veena Sahajwalla was named one of Australia’s 100 most influential engineers as well as one of Australia’s most innovative engineers by Engineers Australia 2015 and 2016 respectively. She is Professor of Materials Science in the Faculty of Science at UNSW Australia and also the Director of the UNSW SM@RT Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology and an Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow. She also runs a mentoring program for women in science called Science 50:50 with the Australian Research Council which aims to inspire Australian women to pursue degrees and careers in science and technology. In 2022 Veena was recognised as the NSW Australian of the Year.
Before we share what this trailblazer has achieved – and boy, has she achieved- a little about Veena’s motivation :
Born in Mumbai, India, Veena saw first hand the piles of waste and the “pickers” who went through it on a daily basis looking for something reusable. This sparked her interest in saving waste from landfill.
She was one of a handful of women in India to study Engineering and gained a Material Science doctorate from the United States before relocating to Australia and is known internationally as the Inventor of ‘green steel’. Essentially that means that recycled truck tires are a sustainable alternative to using coal as an environmentally friendly process that could prevent over 2 million tires from being diverted to landfills each year while simultaneously creating a renewable energy source. Tires can be ground into pellets and be used instead of coal as they release fewer greenhouse gases.
She also launched the first e-waste microfactory, which processes metal alloys from old laptops, circuit boards and smartphones in 2020. At the height of the pandemic, Professor Sahajwalla’s team turned the plastics from old printers into face shields for health workers at Port Macquarie Hospital. Her most recent success has been using old beer bottles and ageing mattresses, breaking them down and turning them into ceramic tiles for use in buildings.
What a woman!