In memoriam gift to the Academy celebrates the life and work of Professor Sally Smith

May 29, 2020
Emeritus Professor Sally Smith FAA: World leading researcher in soil-plant reactions. Photo: Professor Andrew Smith and family

Academy Fellow Professor Andrew Smith recently made a donation in memory of his wife Professor Sally Smith FAA to support two Academy awards for PhD students and early- to mid-career researchers. The awards are the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Scientist Travelling Research Award and the Max Day Environmental Science Fellowship Award.

Andrew said that Sally understood the challenges of being a young researcher and it is fitting that this gift supports these awards.

Sally died suddenly in September 2019, aged 78, after a distinguished research career based at the University of Adelaide. Sally, who was elected to the Academy in 2001, was a world authority on soil-plant reactions. Andrew and daughters Caroline and Hilary decided that these Academy awards fit well with Sally’s ongoing commitment to train and mentor young scientists as they seek to develop their research careers, and to the importance of travel to establish links in research. They were attracted by the emphasis on multi-disciplinary research involving environmental science and that—especially in the case of the relatively new Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Award—they can extend into social sciences.

An unusual honour, announced soon after Sally’s death, was her inclusion in a select list of just 46 women associated with the University of Adelaide from many walks of life who have helped blaze the trail for gender equality.

In her own words, Sally said that her career: “… depended on accidents, incredible mentors and collaborators, persistence and a hefty measure of good luck.” For younger scientists she said: “…Never give up” and “collaborate whenever you can.” She summarised her career in an invited profile, published in New Phytologist, a prominent journal with which she had a long association (New Phytologist 2019, 221: 648-9).

Professor Tim Cavagnaro, formerly Sally’s PhD student, who went on to work overseas and is now back at the University of Adelaide as leader of the Soil Ecology group on the Waite campus, writes:

“Sally took a physiologist’s approach to her research; that is, she wanted to know ‘how things work’. And when experiments did not work she would advise that ‘it was all part of life’s rich tapestry’. Sally used many tools and techniques in her research, including whole plant physiology, molecular biology, morphological studies, mycorrhiza defective mutants, and isotope tracing.”

The Academy gratefully acknowledges this generous gift that will provide research opportunities to young researchers for many years to come through its annual Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Scientist Travelling Research Award and Max Day Environmental Science Fellowship Award.

© 2020 Australian Academy of Science

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