Sarah Bourke never expected to be crowned UWA’s Rising Star for 2017. However the South Australian native did just that for her work on groundwater. Sarah grew up in Mt Gambier, a town surrounded by fresh and clean groundwater and it was here her interest in groundwater was formed.
“I grew up swimming in groundwater and drinking it, and I developed an understanding of what a valuable resource it is.
“When I came out to Perth I discovered groundwater didn’t seem to be a resource people thought very much about but I think community awareness is much better now,” Sarah says.
Given the part it has played in her life it only seemed natural Sarah would end up in the field she has.
“It ticks a number of boxes for me, everyone needs water and I like doing maths. I like how I can use my brain in a nerdy way which can also help solve practical problems,” she says.
After completing her undergraduate in earth sciences in Adelaide, Sarah moved to Perth to complete her honours and PhD, then jetted off to Canada to complete her post-doctorate. After braving the cold climates of Canada, she was excited to return to Perth where she took up a position at UWA and proceeded to take out this year’s Rising Stars Award.
“It’s a real win for groundwater and its validation from the broader scientific community who see what I do is important.
“I am really keen for UWA to play a big role in groundwater science and there is a real need in the community, we are very heavy users of it here in WA,” Sarah says.
Sarah’s research focused on tracking the water cycle and the human impact on it. Her studies help pinpoint how the water cycle is affected by human activity and how that influences the surrounding environment.
“My research is about understanding the way the water moves from the subsurface into surface water like rivers and lakes, or vice versa.
“I use environmental traces to tell you where water came from in the water cycle and where it’s going.
“The challenge is ensuring that we have enough water for our needs without ruining the environment,” Sarah says.
In addition, Sarah’s research helps the wider community learn how to better manage water, especially in a drying climate.
“In order to maintain and manage our water use, we need to understand how our use fits with the rest of the system and the environment.
“I may not be directly piping water to your tap, but we need the sort of work that I do, so we can manage the water flowing from our dams and aquifers into your homes,” Sarah says.
Sarah says she's proud to be this year’s UWA Rising Star and hopes the importance of her research and its impact is recognised far into the future, ensuring smarter water use for everyone.