The 2019 NSW Scientist of the Year Professor Rose Amal says that it is her Catholic faith which has guided her research career developing methods to purify air and water and create sustainable sources of energy.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian presented the St Andrew’s Malabar parishioner with the top award at the NSW Premier’s Prizes for Science and Engineering on 29 October at Government House in Sydney.
A chemical engineer and leader of the Particles and Catalysis Research Group at the University of NSW Professor Amal says her calling and passion is to help ensure future generations “have a planet in which they can live comfortably”.
Professor Amal, 54, said that when she first came to Australia from Indonesia more than 35 years ago, she “never imagined” receiving such an award.
“Scientific research contributes significantly to many everyday aspects of society and it has been a joy to be able to help improve our quality of life,” she said.
“I dedicate the award to my mentors and members of my research group who have worked tirelessly to unearth new scientific knowledge to improve our planet and those who live on it, now and into the future.”
She also thanked her husband Stephan and children Tara and Ari for their love and support.
Professor Amal told The Catholic Weekly she felt “very honoured and humbled” to receive the award which also came with a $60,000 prize.
“Everyone has their different journey, depending on the background their gifts and talents and if my story inspires them it does not mean their journey will be the same,” she said.
“I am often asked to speak to young researchers, and I always tell them that we are all the author of our book, and my book is probably close to the end, but for them they have many blank pages and the power to write a good story so they should always do their best to do that.”
She hopes to inspire more school students especially girls to do science, engineering and maths subjects when they are young.
“I think that if I can do it then anybody can do it,” she said. “These subjects teach the skills of breaking down complex problems into smaller problems, which are useful skills for everyone.”
St Andrew’s parish priest Father Laurie Cauchi said the parish is grateful to have her as a member of its family. “Rose is so generous with her time and talents and yet so humble,” he said. “If only we had a few more parishioners like her.
“Rose is living proof that scientists can still have great faith in God.”
Professor Amal is often found at St Andrew’s piano during liturgies or volunteering to help around the parish, and has no problems reconciling science with her religion.
“Faith is not really something you can use science to explain, it’s what you believe and it comes from the heart,” she said.
“I never questioned my faith, and it has in fact really helped me throughout my career.
“People might see that my career is going very smoothly, that I have just cruised through, but that’s not the case.
“There have many hard times and failure in both my professional and private life and in those times I’ve had to rely on my faith to get through it.
“Many times I did not know what I should do when it came to making important decisions. I normally rely on my faith, listen to God, and then I know what I have to do to sort through these problems in a positive way.”