About the Principal

Professor Penny D Sackett is a physicist, astronomer and former Chief Scientist for Australia.  She currently holds the title of Distinguished Honorary Professor at the ANU Institute for Climate, Energy and Disaster Solutions

Sackett has a strong background in research, policy advice to national and local governments, and the synthesis and communication of climate science and its relationship to energy systems. In February 2020, she spoke in favour of Climate Change Bill 2020, a bill to legislate a framework for effective, transparent and equitable climate action in Australia. Much of her current work is devoted to providing expert reports to courts and consent authorities on the climate impacts of new or continued fossil fuel developments.

Trained in the United States, Professor Sackett 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 centre for research, training, and high-tech instrumentation at the ANU, and initiating its partnership in the Giant Magellan Telescope.

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 organising 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 stressed “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, global epidemics, 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.  For the maximum term of six years, Sackett served as a Councillor and then the 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 has also been a member of the ACT’s Renewable Energy Innovation Business Advisory Board, and a Science Advisory Board member for the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

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.