Western researcher awarded Young Tall Poppy Science Award

Dr Celia Harris

Western Sydney University researcher, Dr Celia Harris, has been awarded a prestigious 2020 Young Tall Poppy Science Award – presented to Australia’s leading young scientific researchers and communicators.

The Award, presented by the Australian Institute of Policy and Science (AIPS), recognises excellence in early to mid-career researchers who combine world-class research with a passionate commitment to communicating science.

Dr Celia Harris is the Vice Chancellor’s Senior Research Fellow in Cognitive Neuroscience at the MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour and Development, studying memory and cognition in context aiming to better understand the processes involved in bringing memories to mind and how memory retrieval can be supported by our social and technological environment. She aims to use new knowledge of retrieval mechanisms to develop innovative ways of supporting memory in areas where it is needed most, like aged care and dementia care settings.

“Our memories are incredibly important to us, not only for our cognitive functioning but also for making meaning from our lives, having an identity, and building relationships with others,” said Dr Harris.

“When we have conversations with others, our memory is transformed. The conversations that we have with our families, friends, and partners mean that we are able to remember more and richer details compared to remembering alone.”

“I’m working to put these findings to work in settings where people might not have family members around them all the time to help them remember, such as in aged care. I am finding new ways to support good quality reminiscing conversations where people need it the most.”

Dr Harris has recently engaged in extensive outreach through community presentations and demonstrations about memory, and has recently appeared in Australian and international media interviews and articles discussing how the COVID-19 pandemic is affects memory, helping people to understand the science behind the memory and cognition phenomenon many are currently experiencing.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Vice President (Research, Enterprise and International), Professor Deborah Sweeney says she is delighted that Dr Harris has been recognised with a Young Tall Poppy Science Award.

“Dr Celia Harris is an exceptional young cognitive scientist with a passion for not only science, but for effectively communicating and sharing her work with the broader community,” says Professor Sweeney.

“Dr Harris is a credit to the scientific community, and she will be an excellent ambassador for Western Sydney University and the Tall Poppies program. Her work is an example of world class research achieving real world impact to benefit all Australians well into the future.”

The winners of Young Tall Poppy Science Awards become science ambassadors amongst young people, and engage with school teachers and students to encourage them to take up science-based careers.

Danielle Aiken, Research Media Officer