Sumeet Walia: a spokesperson for science-for-all
Professor Sumeet Walia of Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University is an award-winning researcher. He has held numerous board positions and made significant contributions to the areas of inclusion, diversity, equity, and access in the Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) field. Walia is co-chair of the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee of Science and Technology Australia, a group that works for Australia's 90,000 STEM workers. He is a named inventor on 10 patents spanning multiple industries and products. He has been awarded the ‘Eureka Prize for Emerging Leader in Science.’
Sumeet Walia believes in creating opportunities so that everyone could access, and benefit from, scientific learning.
Akasha Usmani (AU): Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Sumeet Walia (SW): I was born and brought up in India and immigrated to Australia for higher studies around 17 years ago. I completed Bachelor of Engineering followed by a PhD and I am now a Professor in Engineering at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia. I have a passion for sport and astronomy outside of my Engineering and research profession.
AU: You have contributed immensely in the field of science, can you explain your contribution and achievement in science?
SW: Doing cutting edge science is a highly dynamic job. Like most others, this is also first and foremost a people’s business. There are a range of people driving advances in science and this needs to be acknowledged and mechanisms put in place to enhance the diversity and inclusivity of this workforce. I have and will try to do my bit in undertaking cutting edge research, enabling the training of the upcoming talents in STEM, enhancing equity, diversity, inclusion in STEM and also being a bridge between scientific breakthroughs and industry that can utilize these for social and economic prosperity. All of these are inherently interlinked factors, and a holistic view is essential to make progress.
AU: Eureka prizes are Australia’s most comprehensive national science awards, can you walk us through your journey which led to your winning.
SW: Part of this I have covered in my response above. Essentially, I have been through an entire cycle of being an international student in Australia, followed by a PhD and then an early career researcher. All these phases come with distinct challenges and opportunities. I have tried to ensure that I can give back in a small way by trying to contribute to addressing some of the challenges and maximizing the opportunities particularly for students and early career researchers. I strive to work with colleagues to address systemic challenges and integrate industry with research to maximise benefits in the long run. This award recognises these efforts of the people who I have worked with all these years in different capacities, and I feel I am only a spokesperson for all of them.
AU: Can you speak a little about your research projects - artificial vision technologies, smart window coatings, UV exposure skin sensors.
SW: These projects rely on the capability to create ultra-thin materials. These coatings are only a few atoms thick and thousands of times thinner than the width of human hair. At such scales, new properties emerge in materials. We exploit these to create chips that can mimic the function of a human vision system, or for smart coatings on glass for heat management or design a range of different sensing technologies such as UV, chemical sensors, or health monitoring systems.
AU: How do you plan to achieve equity and diversity in science?
SW: This is a huge challenge and something that will take a sustained effort and momentum to tilt the scales. Equity, diversity, Inclusion and Access in STEM needs to be holistic and cater for intersectionality. A deeper understanding of these issues more broadly is required to push for collective evidence-based actions.
AU: How can science & technology engage cooperation between Australia and India?
SW: Australia and India are already creating strategic partnerships. Both countries are part of the QUAD (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) and have a mutual interest in using Science and Technology as a driver for more cooperation. There are already avenues to perform joint scientific work for instance through university partnerships between the two countries that are now growing rapidly. Identifying common challenges (and there are plenty) and working to solve them through strategic, well-supported partnerships in Science and Technology with Industry participation from both ends is key. Incentivising industry in both countries to invest in such partnerships would lay a solid foundation for a fruitful and long-lasting co-operation