Professor Penny D Sackett

Professor Penny D Sackett is a physicist, astronomer and former Chief Scientist for Australia.

She took her PhD in theoretical physics from the University of Pittsburgh, and has held positions at Amherst College (USA), the Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton, USA), and the Kapteyn Astronomical Institute (NL). Sackett has served on Australian, Dutch, European, and US science and advisory panels, including several committees for Next Generation Telescopes. Much of her research career on three continents has centred on applying physics to questions in astronomy, including the unseen dark matter in galaxies and the successful application of Einstein's theory of gravitation to find the first known earth-sized planet orbiting a normal star other than the Sun.

Sackett's early professional experience included research, research training, teaching, and research administration in addition to science reporting for Science News and program administration for the US National Science Foundation. She is an Elected International Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and has served on the AURA Board of Directors, which governs, among other astronomical centers, the Gemini Observatory and the Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute. She has also served on the Board of Directors for the Giant Magellan Telescope, a project to build an optical telescope many times more powerful than any existence in the world today.

Sackett was appointed Director of the ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics and Mount Stromlo and Siding Spring Observatories in 2002, serving a five year term. As Director of the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the ANU, she led the effort to rebuild 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. She resigned from the ANU in October 2008 in order to take up the post of Chief Scientist for Australia, although she retained academic status at the ANU to enable her to continue to mentor students.

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. 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 climate change and food security. Sackett stepped down as Chief Scientist on 4 March 2011 and is currently an Adjunct Professor at the ANU and a private strategic advisor.

Sackett's current interests include sustainability, transdisciplinary research, team building, complex systems, effective communication, quantitative analysis, and leadership during change and uncertainty.