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

Trained in the United States, she has held positions at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study, Kapteyn Astronomical Institute in the Netherlands, and the Australian National University (ANU). As a Research School Director, she led the multi-million dollar effort to rebuild the world-renowned 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 at the ANU, and initiating its partnership in the Giant Magellan Telescope. She currently holds an academic Honorary Professorship at ANU.

As well as a highly cited researcher, Sackett has received awards for teaching and service. She has served on numerous national and international Boards, scientific and funding advisory bodies, and conference organising committees.

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. In that role, 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 energy, water, climate change, food security and life-long learning.

With a keen interest in seeing cities around the world become healthier, more innovative, and more sustainable, Professor Sackett was a member of the Scientific Steering Committee for the symposium of Nobel Laureates held in Hong Kong in April 2015 on the theme “Changing Climate, Changing Cities,” and was Chair of its Memorandum Drafting Team. She serves as Deputy Chair of the ACT Climate Change Council, a statutory body charged with advising the government of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) on matters relating to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and addressing and adapting to climate change. She is also a member of the Business Advisory Board of the ACT’s Renewable Energy Innovation Fund as well as a Science Advisory Board member of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany.

Sackett’s continued interests include sustainability, transdisciplinary research, team building, sub-national climate change action, complex systems, effective communication, quantitative analysis, urban settlements and leadership during change and uncertainty. Her networks in the scientific community are broad and international.


  • 2008–present
    Professor with Academic Status, Australian National University
  • 2008–2011
    Chief Scientist for Australia, Office of the Chief Scientist
  • 2002–2007
    Director, Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Mt Stromlo and Siding Spring Observatories, ANU
  • 1995–2002
    Researcher , University of Groningen, The Netherlands
  • 1992–1994
    J Seward Johnson Fellow, Institute of Advanced Study, Princeton


  • 1984 
    University of Pittsburgh, PhD in Physics
  • 1980 
    University of Pittsburgh, Master of Science/Physics
  • 1978 
    University of Nebraska-Omaha, Bachelor of Science in Physics, Summa Cum Laude
  • 1978 
    University of Nebraska-Omaha, K -12 Teaching Certification, Science and Mathematics

Research Areas

  • Physical Sciences (02)
  • Astronomical And Space Sciences (0201)