In her first six months as the ACT Scientist of the Year, UNSW Canberra Climate Scientist Sophie Lewis has worked with everyone from pre-schoolers to politicians.

Dr Lewis is passionate about reaching out to all sectors of the community because climate change affects us all.

“People have connected with climate change because of this really terrible summer we've experienced, and that's because they've had a personal experience of it,” Dr Lewis said.

“People had to be evacuated from their holidays on the South Coast. They've had lots of plans disrupted and they've been personally touched by it. Not to mention people who were out fighting fires or had to protect their own property or lives from these really terrible conditions. So, because of that, I think that people are really starting to ask about what our future will be like under climate change.”

“I've really tried to talk to as many people as possible across all of our community...#climatechange affects us all.” @drsophielewis reflects on her first six months as the ACT Scientist of the Year. #UNSWCBR #actsoy

— UNSW Canberra (@UNSWCanberra) May 1, 2020

The ACT Scientist of the Year award aims to inspire young people to consider a STEM career.

For Dr Lewis, that starts with pre-schoolers, where she said children are natural scientists.

“They're are always asking ‘Why? Why is this happening? How does this work?’ For them it's really about fostering that scientific interest,” she said.

“It's really, really enjoyable to take a break from sitting at my computer in my office to go into a school, to talk to educators and to be surrounded by such fun energy. The kids really enjoy having people come into their schools or their day care centres. They really enjoy the chance to learn something new, to experiment and to get their hands dirty.”

While the impact of climate change had a major effect on Australia this summer, Dr Lewis believes the next generation provides hope for the future.

“I think children today are so switched on to issues of climate change, the environment and sustainability,” Dr Lewis said. 

“I think they really recognise that their future really depends on the decisions that we're making for them today and they're so empowered and connected to those issues and they're also really positive - they understand that there's huge challenges ahead, but I think they're really looking to action and taking hold of the future.”

As well as inspiring our future leaders, Dr Lewis has also had the opportunity to give briefings to local and national politicians and meet with community groups.

She believes the national conversation around climate change is taking some positive steps forward.

“Because this summer that we've experienced has had a lot of people questioning how climate change is impacting our lives in Australia, I think that there's a lot of positive action taking place,” Dr Lewis said. 

“Everything from individuals asking about what they can do, how they can be contributing positively and reducing their impact on the environment, through to what's going on in terms of higher-level policies and how we can be reducing greenhouse gas emissions as deeply and quickly as possible.”

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Dr Sophie Lewis named ACT Scientist of the Year