Dr Elizabeth Dennis AC (1960)

Alumnae Award: Professional Achievement

Elizabeth (Liz) Dennis (1960) was recognised in 2019 with a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC), Australia’s highest award, for outstanding achievement and service for her eminent work in the areas of genomics and plant development. She jointly received the inaugural Prime Minister's Science Prize together with Professor Jim Peacock in 2000 for her outstanding achievements in science and technology.

Liz was keen on Chemistry from an early age, her first and only heroic figure was Madame Marie Curie. Whilst at MLC School she had the advantage of a very good teacher with a PhD in Chemistry.

She obtained her BSc (Hons 1st Class) and PhD from Sydney University and after a Post-Doctoral time in New York lectured at the University of Papua New Guinea for six years where she did chromosome and DNA studies on the native rodents.

Liz joined the CSIRO in the Division of Plant Industry in 1972 as a Research Scientist, rising to the position of Chief Research Scientist in 1991 and CSIRO Fellow in 2001. She is now an Honorary Fellow and a Distinguished Professor at the University of Technology, Sydney.

Internationally known as a pioneer in plant molecular biology, Liz's work spotlighted how plants recognise environmental cues to flower at the right time. She has studied the genes behind many plant processes including how plants have evolved molecular mechanisms to cope with environmental stresses such as floods.

Reflections

What would you say are your three proudest achievements?

In science:

  1. Discovering the gene that ensures plants flower in the spring when conditions are most suitable.
  2. Shedding light on the genes underlying hybrid vigour, why hybrids perform better than their parents.
  3. Being part of a vibrant community of plant scientists, in CSIRO, in Australia and internationally.

How did an MLC School education play a role in your life?

I think MLC School gave me the confidence that girls could do anything and led me to believe in myself. MLC School was supportive and gave me a fine education in science which was important for my career. My peers were outstanding and intellectually involved.