Ekta Sharma

Postdoctoral Fellow for Women in STEMM (USQ)
Developing novel artificial Intelligence architecture for effective early warning for the environment using next-generation satellites

Ekta Sharma


I design technologies that create an early warning, fair, and inclusive artificial intelligence (AI) based future for national priority projects.  The project in title develops AI early warning architecture to protect against environmental pollutants e.g., greenhouse gases, atmospheric visibility, dust, and particulate matter (PM). Dirty bathrooms with black mould or yellow blanket of pollen in the spring are visible sources of PM. Smaller PM easily gets into the lungs and bloodstream, triggering asthma or allergic reactions choking our lungs. Understanding the chaotic air pollutants over diverse temporal domains is a significant challenge in designing a practical air quality system. My architecture help solves the problem by accurately measuring and predicting future levels of critical pollutants. These models help in decreasing the compounding healthcare costs by reducing the public health risks and protecting against air pollution which is now the world's largest environmental health threat with over 7 million deaths annually.


Being a sunshine state, as the temperatures surge, it becomes important to control and reduce the emission of air particles. Moreover, Queensland's air quality is vulnerable to experiencing wildfires and dust storms making occasional extreme air pollution episodes. According to the Queensland Government state of the environment, of all the six key pollutants monitored by Queensland, the main pollutant of concern within Queensland is PM. 

My project focused on forecasting the air quality, especially fine, coarse, and suspended particulates, and lower atmospheric visibility at short and medium temporal horizons for Queensland using the machine and deep learning approach.  
PM is not only a problem for Queensland due to the significant health impacts on the general population, but because PM is the pollutant that most often exceeds Australia’s national air quality standards within Queensland. During 2019, 10 out of 19 Queensland locations included in IQAir’s (a Swiss air quality technology company) 2019 World Air Quality Report exceeded Australia’s national PM2.5 standard of 8 μg/m3, calling for prompt action on efficient air quality regulating mechanisms.

Queensland records Australia’s highest greenhouse gas emissions per capita and is also home to nine out of the worst 10 mines for causing air pollution in Australia. These mines are known for generating coarse PM. My work also assessed the impact of several potential satellite-extracted and ground-based meteorological variables on forecasting air quality. This project was developed with the data from the Queensland Government Department of Environment and Science with study regions as follows:

Gladstone (Boyne Island)- Measures the cumulative impacts of hazardous pollutants. 
Mackay Region (West Mackay)- Industrial air emissions on human health 
Brisbane (SE Qld)- Focus on reducing coal dust emissions from rail wagons. A critical site for my study to assess the efficiency and feasibility of the proposed AI models. 
Townsville (Townsville Coast Guard)- Concerns about dust impacts from the Port of Townsville operations. 
Miles Airport (Western Downs region)- Evaluated hybrid models as it measures 12 air pollutants. 
Hopeland (Darling Downs region)- A rural station near a coal seam gas (CSG) production run by Origin Energy. 
Mount Isa mines- The most polluted postcode in Queensland by ABC with an asthma mortality rate 322% higher than the rest of Queensland and atleast 11% of children with elevated blood levels. 

My AI models are a promising solution to generate predictions by learning algorithms, save money and resources and reduce Queensland’s public health burden. These models evaluate the future effectiveness of proposed regulatory programs, plans, and policies. Three high-impact published papers came out of this research as follows:

A hybrid air quality early-warning framework: An hourly forecasting model with online sequential extreme learning machines and empirical mode decomposition algorithms 
Deep air quality forecasts with suspended PM modeling with complex AI algorithms. Study sites where the proposed models were implemented. 
Novel hybrid deep learning model for satellite-based PM10 forecasting in most polluted Australian hotspots. 

Role Model

Being a role model are big words, but I would like to think that I represent and expand upon what is possible for women, demonstrate the behaviour and mindsets needed to achieve what women know is possible. Despite my circumstances and multiple career interruptions with maternity breaks or acting as a carer for elders, I have always, aimed higher and stay optimistic. 

I believe we all have gaps in our lives, some visible, some not, but what makes life worth living is staying positive, being happy and believing in ourselves. 
Loss of my mother before birth of my first child, country, infact continent move after my marriage, leaving a fantastic career in India, my friends, the only support system I knew, and many other reasons were enough for me to crash. However, my newborn gave me courage and I thought what sort of example I will set in front of him. It is so easy to just not do anything. I picked myself up and participated in events and talked to fellow women. Even though adapting to every change may not seem easy as we age, but I took it as an opportunity and upgraded my skills, talked to right people and with a positive frame of mind, moved forward and still doing so. This has always helped me and I strive to support others too when possible despite my commitments.

Currently, only 19.2% women work in Australian Defence. In my day job I contribute to projects of National Intelligence and Defence. I am aiming to produce atleast four research publications that can inspire other females about the projects and take it forward.  

I also co-author nonprofit women-oriented books since 2018. These books provide a creative platform to the ‘female voice’ and support girl child. The stories in the books bring to light women’s perspectives, their thoughts, choices, challenges, and celebrations. The SHE writers has authors from 9 countries including India, Switzerland, The Netherlands, UK, US, Singapore, Indonesia, New Zealand, Australia, and the Philippines. 

I feel Interventions need to happen much earlier on. Young girls need to be shown more female role models in mathematics. I have personally seen students, particularly women, greatly improve in maths because of the encouragement and training from people who have both a passion for and strong academic knowledge in mathematics. I regularly talk to women at regional Queensland Universities. I interview and write newsletters emphasising the value and impact of maths. This motivates me as well along with others. 

I believe we all can play our part in addressing the gender gap in STEM. I always say that instead of asking how to get more females involved in STEM, perhaps, a good starting point is asking how STEM can be applied to the problems that are appealing to girls. After all, Queensland needs all its thinkers on board to solve tomorrow’s challenges.

Even if my approach and dedication to grow inspires only one girl or women, I believe my job is done.  


My greatest achievement in STEM has been my entire journey as I have lived and worked on three different continents: Asia, Europe, and Australia. I have been growing in my STEM journey with others with the following initiatives and commitments:

Post-doctoral research in the STEM category with National Intelligence Postdoctoral Grant (NIPG) for two years, Office of National Intelligence (4% success rate nationally).
UniSQ’s Vice Chancellor’s Women in STEMM research fellowship from 2022. 
Participation in US and Australia Research Symposiums, thematic workshops, and presentations in the STEM category as part of my post-doctoral project.
STEM supervision (Associate supervisor) and advanced learning for Master by Research and PhD students 
STEM research publishing in high-impact journals – 8 Q1 papers published and 13 submitted /under review/ in progress since 2019. 
UniSQ Early-Career Researchers (ECRs) program: Successful in ECR program for 2023 and involved in a comprehensive suite of development activities, including STEM teaching and mentoring. 
Working to be a Fellow of Advanced Higher Education Academy (HEA) (UK Professional Standards Framework): Develop leadership in teaching and learning, effective governance, and tackling inequalities through their equality, diversity, and inclusion work. I am involved in a lot of writing retreats, workshops, and presentations. 
Worked as a Researcher in the following STEM-oriented grants:
- Research Capacity Building Grant, Funded
- ARC Discovery Project 24 (DP24) In progress.
- Department of Defence, 2020
Co-author nonprofit women-oriented books to promote their voice: Co-authored 7 books launched on all key publishing platforms and my SHE team has female authors from 9 countries including India, Switzerland, The Netherlands, the UK, the US, Singapore, Indonesia, New Zealand, Australia, and the Philippines. This year the book was launched at Indian High Commissioner in Melbourne, County Library in Virginia, the US, and Indian Embassy in Switzerland. Book sales support social causes, e.g., educating a girl child.

STEM Awards:
- VC’s Award for Excellence in Research in PhD by Publication, 2022
- Australian Mathematical Science Institute CHOOSEMATHS Grant 2019: Only Queensland recipient. This honour is aimed to address Australia’s mathematical literacy deficits, empower STEM and strengthen mathematics education and participation of women across disciplines. I represented Queensland and UniSQ in Perth in a wide mix of industry and academic presentations, networking events, and intensive workshops with a poster presentation. 
- International Tropical Agriculture Conference grant recipient, TropAg 2019. 
- Participation, Pitch it Clever competition 2022 
- STEM Research contribution to Commission for Innovation, the most successful Swiss grant agency. 
- Feature in USQ Vice Chancellor’s newsletter, both for the Department of Defence and AMSI, discussing the role of women in math and collaboration between academia and industry. 
Member of the Australian Data Science Network (ADSN), an initiative started by the QUT Centre for Data Science.
Emerging media promoter and mention for STEM on platforms:
- Australia’s Deputy High Commissioner to India (Twitter)
- The National Tribune
- Ipswich News Today
- Mirage News
- Australian Postgraduate Research Group
- ABC Southern Queensland Radio
- LinkedIn. 

Active reviewer for STEM-related topics in several journals.

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