Raising awareness of mercury pollution

Finalist for the Vice-Chancellor's 2019 Award for Impact and Engagement: Dr Larissa Schneider
5 December 2019

Dr Larissa Schneider was a finalist at the recent Vice-Chancellor's Annual Gala Awards in the category of 'Impact and Engagement' for her work in raising awareness of the risks associated with mercury pollution.


As an early career researcher, Dr Larissa Schneider has gone to great lengths to raise public awareness of the health and environmental risks posed by mercury pollution.

She has established and is now the convenor of Mercury Australia, a multi-institutional collaborative network that brings together experts in the sciences and humanities to investigate both the history and current impacts of mercury in the Australian environment.

At the heart of Larissa's engagement activities is her dedication to the public good - she recognises the risk that Australia's current policies on mercury pollution pose for current and future generations. She is working tirelessly to promote public awareness to encourage the Australian Government to ratify the UN's Minamata Convention on Mercury.

Q: Congratulations on being nominated a finalist for the 2019 Vice-Chancellor's Annual Awards. Can you briefly tell us what this honour means to you?

A: this nomination for me means that academic life is not just about papers and citations, but also using that knowledge to have impact and making a difference in the real world. It is confirmation that scientists should reach out for a much broader network and collaborate with various stakeholders, especially when the subject is of public importance.

Q: Tell us a little about the behind-the-scenes work involved in the project you worked on. What was a challenging aspect of the work? How did you overcome this?

A: I had a lot of resistance from different groups because of my gender, my cultural background, as well as my research topic being very polarising. Although there were many challenges to overcome, when your research topic is of such importance, you adapt and stand up to the challenge. Having the director of my research school as my biggest supporter has been instrumental in bridging the cultural and gender challenges of the role.

Q: Where is your favourite place on campus?

A: My favourite place on campus is Fellows Bar at University House, not only because of the wonderful atmosphere, but also because it is strategically located in between schools of different disciplines. On a Friday afternoon, you get academics from every possible discipline sharing ideas and comradery which leads to at the very least new and innovative research ideas.

Q: Why Canberra? Why ANU?

A: Being an academic it does not mean why a place, but more why a university. However, I lucked out because Canberra is a wonderful city, full of open space and natural beauty. After living in various countries and locations, Canberra offered the most of everything I wanted out of a city.

ANU is an easy choice since working at the ANU means working at the most multicultural, progressive and forward thinking university in Australia. Through the ANU's connections with the rest of the world,  I have been able to take opportunities to collaborate and learn from leading researchers around the world.

Q: Can you tell us a little about why you are so passionate about what you do?

A: It is hard to not be passionate when you got to use science to answer the questions of the world around you that you cannot find in a text book. Sometimes these questions are hard questions to find an answer, but when I realise what I am working on can make a difference, that fuels my drive and passion. At my work I get to research and produce real world impacts, I cannot think about a better job to be passionate about.

Q: Is there anyone you would like to recognise for helping you become a finalist for the 2019 Vice-Chancellor's Annual Awards?

A: I would like to recognise Dr Simon Connor, for his humbling words and for taking his time and consideration to put forward this nomination. I have to highlight Professor Simon Haberle for his support and promotion of diversity throughout the ANU. I have key people in my inner circle as well that they support me, which allows me to concentrate fully on my work.