• Photo:Renee Nowytarger (google images)Source: google images
To help celebrate Science Week, we spoke to some amazing Indigenous scientists about their work and what inspired them to pursue a career in science.
NITV Staff Writers

21 Aug 2016 - 10:37 AM  UPDATED 23 Aug 2016 - 10:33 AM

Dr Chris Matthews


Dr Chris Matthews is from the Quandamooka people of Minjerribah (Stradbroke Island) in Queensland Australia. Chris has received a PhD in applied mathematics from Griffith University and is a Senior Lecturer at the Griffith School of Environment, Griffith University. Chris has undertaken numerous research projects within applied mathematics and mathematics education.

Chris was the patron and expert advisor for the Make It Count Project; a large mathematics education project coordinating education research within clusters of schools across Australia with the specific aim of improving mathematics education for Indigenous students. Currently, Chris is the chair of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mathematics Alliance (ATSIMA) which aims to improve educational outcomes in mathematics for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander learners. 


Dr Cass Hunter is a researcher with the Coastal Development and Management program at the CSIRO. Her work involves engaging with local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and asking them to help identify the coastal management issues that are the most important and relevant to them such as pollution and climate change. She then creates programs that make maps and predictions about the impact of these issues on coastal communities and the natural environment.

“A lot of research has been done and digital technology allows more people to access it,” she told NITV.

“Sitting down with communities with communities and running workshops helps us to ask how we can make this research more accessible and map out what is working or how it can be improved.”

Dr Hunter is Kaku Yalanji and Torres Strait Islander woman with connections to Far North Queensland and she is keen to make science more inclusive and accessible to all people. She is particularly focused on increasing the amount of Indigenous-led research that builds capacity for both Indigenous communities and science.

When asked about the positives of a career in science, Dr Hunter replied: “I’ve had a lot of personal growth.  It’s pushed me out of my comfort zone, made me do things like public speaking that I wouldn’t have done. It opens doorways to new challenges and for me it’s been about the whole process of learning and discovering.”



Mibu Fischer is a marine scientist working with CSIRO works in the management of fisheries. She started working at CSIRO in 2009 as an Indigenous Cadet and now is researching sustainable fishing practices to ensure that Australia’s ecosystems will continue on for future generations. A marine ecologist, Mibu’s focus is on tropical fish and their ecological systems and she has helped to develop and interactive map so that fishers can see how the population of a species has been affected over time.  

Australia has one of the largest fishing zones in the world – it covers 14 million square kilometres, which is about twice the size of our land massWith this kind of education at a community level and an institutional level we hope we can use our research to keep the balance of our ocean ecosystems. 

She also seeks to connect her work with the knowledge of traditional owners and draw on her own experience growing up on North Stradbroke Island as a Quandamooka, Noonuccal, Ngungi and Goorenpul woman.  

I grew up with a strong cultural connection to the land and sea. My mother’s family – Quandamooka people – live on Minjerribah (North Stradbroke Island) where the traditional relationship with the land is very much alive.” 



Associate Professor Rowena Ball

Associate Professor Rowena Ball obtained her PhD from Macquarie University, and currently holds a joint appointment in the Mathematical Sciences Institute and the Research School of Chemistry at the Australian National University. From 2010 to 2016 she held an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship.

She is an applied mathematician and physical chemist with broad research interests and achievements in nonlinear and complex dynamical systems, the origins of life, thermochemical instabilities, pH oscillators, decarbonation of fuels and flue gases, and thermodynamic analysis and optimization of processes.

She is passionate about documenting and celebrating Indigenous scientific and engineering heritage and knowledge, and engaging Indigenous school students with science and maths. She is partnered with two remote Indigenous schools under the CSIRO Mathematicians and Scientists in Schools program, and she enjoys doing fun science activities with Aboriginal schoolkids at science and maths camps around the country.

“I have a vision for a future where some precious Indigenous knowledges will join and enrich - and be enriched by - the universal pool of scientific knowledge, creating a broader dimension to the nature of science,” says Rowena

Jen Campbell  

Scientist Jen Campbell is working in the field of genetics and say that she is passionate about community engagement, helping people understand difficult concepts  and getting more people in to the scientific field. "Science is beautiful, interesting and a way of understanding the world we live in." she says.

WIth a diverse career, spanning across a range of disciplines from environmental engineering to forestry and now biology, Jen has worked on some interesting projects. "I started as an environmental engineering working with forestry looking at quarry rehabilitation. As a young engineer I also worked on a research project looking at how broken beer bottles could be used as a more sustainable filter for water treatment. After that I moved into more biological research, working with a team that looked at using saliva biomarkers for diagnosing cancer and heart disease."

She is currently working in the field of human genetics, looking at genetic differences and similarities between Aboriginal nations and language groups.

"We have very limited data about Aboriginal genomes and understanding these differences will help understand population history and be essential for providing better health care for communities."

Jen says that this area of research needs more Aboriginal involvement. " I’m also very interested in how Aboriginal communities can be better informed about genetic research, but also participate as scientists in the process and the interpretation of data. We need more Aboriginal people working in this area to help tell the stories hidden in our genes."

With thousands of years of development, Jen says that science is something that more people should be looking at. "Science is a great way to learn multidisciplinary skills that can be adapted, this has allowed me to explore different fields of science. I think that the curiosity and passion that comes with scientific enquiry can lead to a very exciting and forever changing career."

Researcher Mitch Gibbs is taking a look at the impact of climate change and carbon dioxide on the life cycle of oysters. After studying a degree in Forensic Science and Chemistry at the University of Western Sydney he has started a PhD at the University of Sydney. 

For him the appeal is the broad scope of his research, from studying "the way the environment is changing down to the way oysters use certain types of energy and how likely it is that the next generation of oysters will be affected by the rising temperatures and carbon dioxide levels."

A Thunghutti man, hailing from the little town of Willawarrin just outside Kempsey, Mitch feels "that as an indigenous person I have a connection to the land and sea as many do and I feel, if I can further understand specifically what is happening then hopefully I can maybe change this for the better."

Mitch thinks it is important for Indigenous students to look at a career in science in order to continue the long tradition of caring for and understanding the natural world. "We always hear of the European scholars who proved something or found something out but indigenous people have not been recognised for the achievements they have done over thousands of years. From aspects of conservation to astronomical studies, I think this is the time where indigenous science and indigenous people in that science can really shine."