Top honour for trail-blazing public health expert

15 August 2023

ANU Associate Professor Aparna Lal’s love for science didn’t begin in a lab, or with hours spent out in the field. It began with reading. 

Reading sparked Lal’s curiosity and imagination. Now the Canberra-based scientist is helping find solutions to some of the world’s biggest health and environmental crises.  

Lal, who is based at the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, studies how changes in the environment can act as an early warning system for population health. 

This work has seen her named as the 2023 ACT Emerging Scientist of the Year. 

“I believe that young people gain inspiration to do science from watching and questioning the world around them, and the books that they read,” Lal says.  

“These days I learn by standing on the shoulders of small but towering giants—my own children.” 

An international expert on how a focus on human wellbeing can improve the outcomes of environmental repair, Lal was also instrumental in Australia’s COVID-19 response.  

Her ACT sewage surveillance program for COVID-19 was one of the first to be set up in Australia and became the country’s longest running daily wastewater testing program.  

She’s also investigated the impact bushfires and other extreme weather events have on our mental health and wellbeing. 

“I think recent environmental and public health crises have taught us that we need to move beyond retrospectively responding to emergencies to proactively preparing for them and protecting the most vulnerable parts of our planet,” Lal says. 

“It’s also never been more important for various branches of science to think about how they can learn from each other to inform policy, practice, preparedness and prevention.” 

So how does an award-winning scientist celebrate her success?  

“After going out for ice cream, I plan to continue my work in this exciting field.” 

“Being named the ACT Emerging Scientist of the Year means so much to me. I hope it inspires other young women to consider working in a scientific field and demonstrates that science benefits immensely from being inclusive and welcoming of all, no matter their background.” 

You can learn more about the ACT Emerging Scientist of the Year Award here. 



*This article was first published by ANU Reporter.