23 November 2021
Anthony Weate/QUT

“I started looking into the topic of airborne transmission, and I realised to my absolute amazement that there was barely any science at all”, says Prof. Lidia Morawska, a champion in the struggle for public understanding of how Covid-19 spreads.[1] In 2021 she was listed as one of “The 100 Most Influential People” of the year by “Time”. As the magazine’s editors emphasised, she has recognised the importance of aerosol transmission and marshalling the data that would convince the World Health Organization and other authoritative bodies to do the same”.[2]

The viral war

Prof. Morawska said in one of her interviews that “a lack of research and old medical dogmas have caused deadly delays in public health bodies accepting that COVID-19 is being transmitted through the air”.[3] And it was her struggle to recognise the actual basis of the spread of the virus, the Time 100 ranking appreciated. As indicated, scientists initially overestimated the importance of contaminated surfaces for the spread of the virus and underestimated the role of human exhaled aerosol particles that can travel and remain contagious. The situation changed when Prof. Morawska undertook a great deal of work to alter the public understanding of the issue. As “Time” points out: “she assembled a team of more than 200 scientists and public-health authorities to recognise the role of aerosols in spreading SARS-CoV-2 and change how we measure and lessen our risk of contracting the virus.”[4] Thanks to her research and advocacy, operating practices and safety measures have been changed in schools, workplaces and public spaces in many places worldwide, contributing to a higher level of safety. [5]

From Przemysl to Brisbane

A detailed listing of all the titles, roles and awards of Prof. Lidia Morawska, may take some time. Current roles of Prof. Morawska are Professor at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia, and the Director of the International Laboratory for Air Quality and Health at QUT, which is a Collaborating Center of the World Health Organization on Research and Training in the field of Air Quality and Health. She is also a co-director of the Australia-China Center for Air Quality Science and Management.[6]

Prof. Morawska comes from Przemysl, a city in south-eastern Poland, where she received her first levels of education. She is a physicist who defended her doctoral thesis on radon and its progeny at the Jagiellonian University, Cracow, Poland in 1982. In 1982-1987, she was a research fellow at the Institute of Physics and Nuclear Techniques, Academy of Mining and Metallurgy, Cracow, Poland. Later, between 1987-1991 she was a Postdoc Research Fellow at the International Atomic Energy Agency, and later at the University of Toronto. In 1991, Morawska was appointed Senior Lecturer at QUT and promoted to Professor in 2003.[7]

Measuring influence

Time 100 is an annual list of the most influential people for a given year, compiled by “Time”, an American news magazine, since 1999. The awarding criteria have changed over time, the magazine admits that “influence is hard to measure, and what we look for is people whose ideas, whose example, whose talent, whose discoveries transform the world we live in.” Other nominees under 6 categories (Icons, Pioneers, Titans, Artists, Leaders, Innovators) in 2021 were, i.e. Elon Musk, Simone Biles, Joe Biden and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.[8]




[1] “There’ll be PhDs written on the psychology and politics of this topic” (rsb.org.uk)

[2] Lidia Morawska Is on the 2021 TIME100 List | TIME

[3] “There’ll be PhDs written on the psychology and politics of this topic” (rsb.org.uk)

[4] Lidia Morawska Is on the 2021 TIME100 List | TIME;

[5] It Is Time to Address Airborne Transmission of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) | Clinical Infectious Diseases | Oxford Academic (oup.com)

[6] QUT – Academic profiles – Lidia Morawska

[7] QUT – Academic profiles – Lidia Morawska

[8] TIME100: The Most Influential People of 2021 | TIME