QUT alumnus and NASA astrobiologist wins prestigious Advance Award

16th October 2020

Dr Abigail Allwood, QUT's 2015 Outstanding Alumnus of the Year and NASA astrobiologist, has been named joint winner of Advance's 2020 Global Australian Award.

The awards recognise and celebrate the extraordinary impact of Australians living and working around the world. 

Dr Allwood, who currently leads the Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry (PIXL) team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California, has been recognised for her outstanding contribution in the fields of technology and science.

A co-leader on NASA's recently launched Mars 2020 rover mission, Dr Allwood is the first Australian and the first woman to be appointed scientific lead on a Mars mission. 

When the Perseverance rover lands on Mars in February 2021, Dr Allwood and her team will use the PIXL machine she helped develop to search for signs of past life on the red planet.

"We will be able to map rock chemistry at the scale of sand grains, giving us a better understanding of the processes by which the rocks formed," Dr Allwood said on receiving her QUT Outstanding Alumnus Award. 

"This detailed analysis will help us figure out whether the environments the rocks formed in could, or did, support life."

With Australia's limited involvement in space science beginning to increase, Dr Allwood is a passionate advocate for science education and hopes to see Australia invest in more STEM opportunities for the future.

The 2020 Advance Awards attracted more than 250 nominations from around the world.

Dr Allwood won the Technology and Science category, as well as being co-named overall winner.

Chair at Advance Yasmin Allen said award winners were selected by a judging panel of renowned Australians who represent the country's diverse entrepreneurial culture.

"Sharing the stories of our global Australians at the cutting edge of their chosen field gives us all hope,” Ms Allen said.

“It reminds us that Australians can and will continue to lead with the determination and imagination needed to solve global problems and create inspiring new opportunities."

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