Trailblazing Mary’s curtain call after 42 years in water science


Trailblazing Mary’s curtain call after 42 years in water science

SA Water's first-ever female chemist, Mary Drikas, will hang up her lab coat for the last time next week after 42 years of pioneering and multi-award-winning scientific work in South Australian water services.

For the past 31 years of her illustrious career, Mary has been managing water treatment and distribution services, leading a highly motivated team of scientists on a range of vital public health projects at SA Water's research and laboratory facility, the Australian Water Quality Centre (AWQC).

With a raft of awards, honours and fellowships to her name Mary has been a champion of young scientists through her academic roles at the University of Adelaide, University of South Australia and Chinese Academy of Science.

Her manager, Dr Daniel Hoefel Senior Manager of Water Expertise, said Mary has been a wonderful mentor and role model to younger staff and countless university students.

"Mary has been inspiration to all of us, especially female scientists. Her knowledge is valued by colleagues and customers alike," Daniel said.

"The water industry has benefitted from the high quality contribution she has made to SA Water projects over the past 42 years."

Mary's work has included everything from investigating and researching water treatment, to advising on the chemistry of the desalination process.

After joining SA Water's AWQC as a scientific officer in 1976, Mary began her career as the organisation's only female chemist and was one of just two women working in science at SA Water at that time.

She worked diligently on vital water testing in the AWQC science labs building up her expertise before branching out into water research.

In 1987 Mary was promoted to head up the new water treatment group. From 1995 to 2008, she was also the leader of the National Water Treatment Technology Program in the Cooperative Research Centre for Water Quality and Treatment, established under the visionary leadership of Professor Don Bursill, previous SA Chief Scientist and head of the AWQC.

Working in research and setting direction for her group gave Mary the chance to shine and a suite of awards followed, including the Australian Water Association (AWA) Michael Flynn Award for Best Technical Presentation in 1993 and shared the AWA Guy Parker Award for Best Paper in 2006 and 2012 with her team.

For Mary, the stand-out moments in her career were winning the AWA South Australian Branch Medal for Water in 2009 for Outstanding Contribution to Water Science and being named National Water Industry Woman of the Year in 2010.

"It's been an honour to win so many accolades and I couldn't have done this without the support of great managers, talented colleagues and my hard working team," Mary said.

"It's been a privilege to work in water science and support this essential service, which is vital for public health.

"I've always enjoyed solving problems and even when I was the only female working in AWQC's chemistry labs, I never felt out of place, because I had great managers who treated me equally and valued my contribution."

Dr Gayle Newcombe, Senior Research Program Manager was a post graduate when she joined AWQC and Mary supported her to develop her own career.

"Mary was a wonderful role model and encouraged me to undertake additional post graduate studies and complete a PhD to further my research capabilities and my career," Gayle said.

As she contemplates retirement after more than four decades of work, Mary will continue to mentor young scientists and plans to give back to the community through a number of volunteering roles.

She's looking forward to spending more time at home with her family and is working on some travel plans too.

Mary's achievements and dedicated service to SA Water's AWQC will be celebrated at a special presentation at the company’s Head Office in Victoria Square on Friday March 9.





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