52 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people changing the world

Cosmos Magazine


Cosmos is a quarterly science magazine. We aim to inspire curiosity in ‘The Science of Everything’ and make the world of science accessible to everyone.

By Cosmos

National NAIDOC Week celebrations are held across Australia in the first week of July to celebrate and recognise: “the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.” 

In 1956 major Aboriginal organisations, and state and federal governments, all supported the formation of the “National Aborigines Day Observance Committee” (NADOC) and the second Sunday in July became a day of remembrance for Aboriginal people and their heritage.

In 1991 with a growing awareness of the distinct cultural histories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, NADOC was expanded to NAIDOC to recognise Torres Strait Islander people and culture. 

Cosmos is grateful for the support of the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA) and Australia’s five Learned Academies who helped us to create this list of 52 leading Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are changing the world.

It is neither exhaustive, nor are they listed in any particular order.

“In this important week, celebrating and recognising the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, it was the pleasure of Australia’s Learned Academies and ACOLA to work with Cosmos to celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers and scientists,” says ACOLA Board Chair, Professor Richard Holden.

Ryan Winn, Chief Executive Officer of ACOLA says: “I am sure readers will recognise many names on the list, like Professors Tom Calma, Alex Brown, Aileen Moreton-Robinson and Marcia Langton, but there is a larger number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers we should all know about.

“These amazing researchers range from early and mid-career through to later career researchers, and cover a broad range of research disciplines. We thank them all, as well as the many other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers, scientists and knowledge holders, for their valuable and continuing contributions to advancing knowledge in Australia. Their work builds upon the tens of thousands of years of knowledge created by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people on their lands.”  


Prof Tom Calma AO is an Aboriginal elder from the Kungarakan tribal group and a member of the Iwaidja tribal group. He has been a champion for the improvement and advancement of Indigenous peoples’ health, justice, education, and employment status and his research interests include pharmacological application for scabies control, genomics, Indigenous cancers, tobacco control, and microbiome, as well as health, mental health, and suicide prevention. In 2010 after a distinguished career of 38 years in the Australian Public Service Professor Calma retired and currently works as a consultant, volunteer and academic.

Tom calma speaking at a podium next to his 2023 senior australian of the year award
Tom Calma receives the 2023 Senior Australian of the Year award during the 2023 Australian of the Year Awards in Canberra, Australia. Credit: Martin Ollman/Getty Images

Prof Sandra Eades AO is a Noongar woman who became Australia’s first Aboriginal medical doctor to be awarded a PhD in 2003. She is Associate Dean (Indigenous) and a Professor at the Centre for Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of Melbourne.

Prof Alex Brown is a member of the Yuin nation. He is Professor of Indigenous Genomics at the Telethon Kids Institute (TKI) and the Australian National University (ANU), and Professor of Medicine – Aboriginal Health, at the University of Adelaide. He is an Aboriginal clinician and researcher who has worked in Aboriginal health in the provision of public health services, infectious diseases and chronic disease care, health care policy and research.

Dr Sarah Bourke is a Research Fellow with the National Centre for Epidemiology and population Health at ANU working on the Mayi Kuwayu National Study of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Wellbeing. She is an Aboriginal woman born and raised on Ngunnawal and Ngambri Country in Canberra and is descended from the Gidja and Jaru people of WA and the Gamilaroi people on the border of QLD and NSW.

Prof Bronwyn Fredericks is a proud Murri woman and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Engagement) at the University of Queensland (UQ), leading the implementation of the Indigenous strategy and of UQ’s first Reconciliation Plan. Her multidisciplinary research has a strong practice-based commitment to social justice and improving health, education, and life outcomes for Indigenous peoples.

Prof Ian Anderson AO is a Palawa man and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) at the University of Tasmania (UTAS). He has made significant contributions to Indigenous health and education, with an extensive research background in public health and the social and cultural determinants of health.

Dr Jessica Buck is a Kamilaroi woman and Postdoctoral Research Fellow at TKI, using her unique training in both neuroscience and cancer to tackle the challenges of childhood brain cancer research.

Prof Ray Lovett is an Aboriginal (Ngiyampaa/Wongaibon) social epidemiologist and Mayi Kuwayu Study director at ANU, with extensive experience in health services research, large scale data analysis for public health policy development and evaluation.

Prof Gail Garvey is a proud Kamilaroi woman and Professor in Indigenous Health Research at UQ. She was among the first researchers to recognise the substantial impact of cancer on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and her work has contributed to key policy and practice change to improve their cancer outcomes.

A/Prof Misty Jenkins AO is a Gunditjmara woman and immunologist at Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI) in Melbourne. She leads a laboratory investigating the biology of white blood cells called cytotoxic lymphocytes, which seek and destroy cancerous cells, for immunotherapy.

Prof Ngiare Brown is a Yuin nation woman and was one of the first Aboriginal medical graduates in Australia. She has made extensive contributions in research process, bioethics, policy, translation and practice within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.

Prof James Ward is a Pitjantjatjara and Nukunu man, an epidemiologist and national leader in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research specialising in infectious diseases. He is currently the Director of the Poche Centre for Indigenous Health at the University of Queensland (UQ.)

Prof Pat Dudgeon AM is a Bardi woman and Australia’s first Aboriginal psychologist. Her career has focused on Aboriginal mental health and wellbeing, developing innovative methodologies to include deep Indigenous knowledge in health and medical sciences research and services, and suicide prevention. She is a Research Professor in the School of Indigenous Studies at the University of Western Australia (UWA).

Pat dudgeon photographed in front of a wall with the australian human rights commission logo
Pat Dudgeon at the 2015 Human Rights Awards. Credit: Australian Human Rights Commission (CC BY 2.0)

Prof Christopher Lawrence is a Wadjak/Ballardong man from the Noongar Nation of the South West of WA. He also identifies with, and has blood ties to, the Pilbara, Gascoyne and Goldfields regions. An Aboriginal health and wellbeing researcher, he is the Associate Dean (Indigenous) in the Faculty of Information Technology at Monash University.


A/Prof Bradley Moggridge is a proud Murri from the Kamilaroi Nation and an expert in Indigenous Water Science, researching how traditional knowledge can influence the way we manage water and how it can bring back good water. He is an Associate Professor in the Centre for Applied Water Science, and part-time PhD candidate, at the University of Canberra. 

Dr Kate Harriden is a Wiradjuri woman who has been working with water, from Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspectives, for more than 20 years. A Research Fellow in the Monash Sustainable Development Institute, her research has focused on decolonising current water management approaches particularly in terms of streams.

Oliver Costello is a Bundjalung man with a diverse range of personal and professional expertise in culturally connected stewardship of Country. He is currently focused on First Nations’ knowledge and practice in caring for Country through regenerative cultural practices that support preparedness, recovery and resilience in relation to fire, floods and storms.

Prof Jason Sharples is a Bundjalung man, mathematical scientist, and internationally recognised expert in dynamic bushfire behaviour and extreme bushfire development. Professor of Bushfire Dynamics at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Canberra, his research uses complex predictive mathematical models with aims to prevent big fires forming.

Mibu Fischer is a Quandamooka saltwater scientist and marine ethnoecologist at CSIRO. Her specific interests are around Traditional Knowledge (science) and management practices being considered within modern day fisheries, coastal and conservation management. 

Bob Muir is a Woppaburra elder and Traditional Owner of the Keppel Islands, southern Great Barrier Reef.  He is an Indigenous Partnerships Coordinator at the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), involved in the Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program and a major coral research project in the Keppel Islands, Qld.  

Dr Katrina Wruck is a Mabuigilaig/Goemulgal Torres Strait Islander woman and Postdoctoral Research Fellow at QUT and the University of Melbourne. Her cross-disciplinary research encompasses knowledge from the fields of industrial chemistry, process engineering, and materials science, which she uses to deliver high-tech, green chemistry-based solutions for the transition to cleaner adsorption technologies.

Dr Virginia Marshall is a Wiradjuri Nyemba woman, practicing lawyer, and leading legal scholar on Indigenous Australian water rights. A Research Fellow at ANU, her work focuses on leading law reform for Indigenous people in Australia.

Prof Michael-Shawn Fletcher is a Wiradjuri man and physical geographer. Director of Research Capability at the Indigenous Knowledge Institute at UniMelb, his interests are in the long-term interactions between humans, climate, disturbance, and vegetation at local, regional, and global scales.

Michael-shawn fletcher is standing outside, in front of a small body of water in the bush
Michael-Shawn Fletcher. Credit: Michael-Shawn Fletcher

Dr Cass Hunter is descendent of Kuku Yalanji and Maluiligal nations and a social ecological researcher with the Coasts program in CSIRO.

Michelle Hobbs is a descendent of the Bidjara people of Central Queensland, and an Associate Lecturer and PhD candidate at Griffith University. Her area of research includes freshwater ecology of inland and tropical rivers, particularly freshwater mussels and fish, and recognition of Indigenous knowledges and land management practices.

John Tapim John Tapim is a descendent of the Meriam Nation in the Torres Strait and has more than 21 years’ experience in facilitating and advocating greater understanding, respect and recognition of Traditional Lores and Customs of Great Barrier Reef Traditional Owners, while working at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. John recently moved to the National Indigenous Australians Agency where he is supporting the inclusion of Traditional knowledges into evidence-based policy

Emerging Technologies

Karlie Noon is a Gamilaraay woman and astronomer, with an advanced master’s degree in radio astronomy looking at gas accretion onto the Milky Way. She is a freelance science communicator, and Indigenous Heritage Officer at the Department of the Environment and Energy. 

Prof Angie Abdilla is a Palawa~Trawlwoolway woman. She is the Founder and Director of Old Ways, New and works with Indigenous knowledges and systems in the design of AI technologies.

Prof Clint Bracknell is a music-maker and language revivalist from the south coast Noongar region of WA. A Professor of Indigenous Languages at UQ, his work intersects with applied linguistics, ecomusicology, Australian studies, and Indigenous studies.

Prof Bronwyn Carlson is an Aboriginal woman who was born on and lives on D’harawal Country, she is Head of the Department of Indigenous Studies at Macquarie University. Her research interests include Indigenous engagements on digital platforms, and Indigenous identities and Indigenous Futurisms. 

Prof Cheryl Kickett-Tucker is a Wadjuk Noongar Aboriginal from WA and a Research Fellow at Curtin University. Her research interests are in the fields of Aboriginal identity and self-esteem, particularly among Aboriginal children and young adults, and is currently working as part of a team to develop guided lessons for schools on Noongar language, culture and history using virtual reality.

Kiowa Scott-Hurley is a Djadja Wurrung woman and Digital Science Migration Engineer (AI) at Defence Science and Technology Group. She collaborates with researchers to scale, accelerate, and optimise their AI workflows on research computing systems at DST.

Kirsten Banks is a Wiradjuri woman, astrophysicist, and science communicator, known for her work in promoting mainstream and Aboriginal astronomy. 

Kirsten banks at a telescope gazing towards the night sky
Kirsten Banks. Credit: Kirsten Banks (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Susan Beetson is a Ngemba Wiradjuri woman, computer scientist, and research academic within the Human Centred Computing group at UQ. Her research centres on Aboriginal peoples’ design methods in human computer interaction; specifically within cultural learning contexts, including languages.

Mikaela Jade is a Cabrogal woman of the Dharug-speaking nations of Sydney. She is the founder and CEO of Indigital, Australia’s first Indigenous edu-tech company specialising in augmented reality.

Dr Jared Field is a Gamilaraay mari from Moree but grew up on Darug land. He is a Research Fellow at UniMelb, interested in the intersection of mathematics, ecology, and evolutionary biology.

Dr Rhett Loban is a Torres Strait Islander with connections to Mabuyag and Boigu. He is a researcher and lecturer at Macquarie University in Sydney, with research interests in culture, game-based learning and virtual reality.

Andrew Dowding is Co-Founder and Managing Director of Winyama Digital Solutions – an Indigenous owned and operated provider of location intelligence and digital mapping solutions. Dowding is a Ngarluma person whose passion is Indigenous mapping and the use of technology for cultural safeguarding.


Distinguished Prof Marcia Langton AO is a descendant of the Iman people of Central and Southwestern Queensland, an anthropologist, geographer and public intellectual. She is recognised internationally for her ground-breaking work modernising the mining industry’s engagement with Indigenous people, particularly in the difficult area of negotiating and settling agreements.

Marcia langton speaking at a podium
Marcia Langton. Credit: Tamati Smith/Stringer/Getty Images

Dr Dawn Casey PSM is a Tagalaka traditional owner and Acting CEO of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO). She co-chairs the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Group on COVID-19, which advises the Australian Government’s Department of Health on culturally appropriate ways to protect Indigenous communities from the spread of COVID-19.

Corey Tutt OAM is a Kamilaroi man. He founded DeadlyScience, a not-for-profit organisation that provides STEM resources and learning experiences to regional and remote schools in Australia and connects young Indigenous people with STEM professionals. On the 14th June, Western Sydney University announced its appointment of Adjunct Associate Professor Corey Aden Tutt OAM in the School of Science.

Prof Maggie Walter is a Palawa woman, Professor of Sociology, and Pro Vice-Chancellor of Aboriginal Research and Leadership at UTAS. She teaches and publishes in the fields of race relations, inequality and research methods and methodologies.

Prof Wesley Enoch AM is a Nunukul Ngugi man, an internationally acclaimed playwright and artistic director, and Indigenous Chair in the Creative Industries with QUT.

Dr Jacob Prehn is a Worimi man, Associate Dean Indigenous and Senior Lecturer at UTAS. A mixed methods sociologist and social work academic, his research focuses on Indigenous Data Sovereignty, Indigenous health and wellbeing, education, masculinity, and strengths-based approaches.

Prof Lynette Russell AM is an award-winning historian and Indigenous studies scholar; her focus is on developing an anthropological approach to the story of the past. She is a descendant of the Wotjobaluk people of Western Victoria.

Prof Megan Davis is a Cobble Cobble woman and international human rights lawyer. She serves as a United Nations expert with the UN Human Rights Council’s Expert Mechanism on the rights of Indigenous peoples, and is Pro Vice-Chancellor Indigenous and Professor of Law at UNSW.

Prof Kyllie Cripps is a Palawa woman and one of Australia’s leading researchers on Indigenous family violence, child abuse and sexual assault. Her work has been critical in identifying gaps and opportunities to create sustainable solutions to support policy and practice change that’s responsive to the identified needs of Indigenous communities.

Distinguished Prof Larissa Behrendt AO is a Eualeyai and Kamillaroi woman, Australian legal academic, writer, filmmaker and Indigenous rights advocate. She is Director of Research at the Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning at the University of Technology Sydney.

Black and white image of larissa behrendt at her computer
Larissa Behrendt, 2012. Credit: Larissa Behrendt (CC BY-SA 1.0)

Dr Keane Wheeler is a Ngarabal man and Accredited Exercise Scientist. His research focuses on how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities can co-design programs that engage children in a broad range of child development areas. He co-designs movement-based programs, and ensures a trauma informed culturally-responsive approach towards childhood development. 

Em Prof John Maynard is a Worimi Aboriginal man and is currently Director at the Wollotuka Institute of Aboriginal Studies at the University of Newcastle, NSW. A leading historian, his publications have concentrated on the intersections of Aboriginal political and social history, and the history of Australian race relations.

Dist Prof Aileen Moreton-Robinson is a Koenpul woman of the Quandamooka people. She is Australia’s first Indigenous Distinguished Professor, an Indigenous feminist, author, and activist for Indigenous rights.  

A/Prof Shino Konishi is an historian based in the Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences at Australian Catholic University. She is an expert in Aboriginal history, comparative Indigenous histories, Indigenous biography and life-writing, Indigenous labour history, and more. She descends from the Yawuru people of Broome, WA.

Update 4 July: On the 14th June Corey Aden Tutt OAM was made Adjunct Associate Professor in theWestern Sydney University School of Science.

Do you know a budding Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander looking to make an impact in STEM? The Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, one of Australia’s Learned Academies, is looking for next cohort of amazing women and non-binary Elevate scholars.

The Elevate: Boosting Women in STEM program offers undergraduate and postgraduate scholarships for students commencing in 2024. Applications close 5pm AEST Thursday 31 August 2023. Apply now: https://atse.grantplatform.com/

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