Science and Industry Endowment Fund (SIEF) Annual Report 2012–13
The Fund in a global context
One of the most rewarding aspects of my role as Trustee of the Science and Industry Endowment Fund (SIEF) has been the opportunity it affords to step back and consider the role and direction of Australian science in a global context.
The Fund’s resources of over $150 million, principally derived from funds gifted by CSIRO, have enabled SIEF to make a contribution to the shape and direction of Australian science with a global perspective in mind.
As a Fund originating in 1926, with the purpose of funding Australian scientists to travel overseas and improve the quality of the fledgling nation’s science sector, I am constantly reminded of the relevance of this enterprise for the Fund today.
Even though our nation was only 25-years-old and at that time was isolated and remote from the established centres of global science, there was a clear conviction that, with appropriate investment, Australian science could achieve international standards.
Almost a century on, the Fund continues to invest in Australian science to enable Australia, not just to keep up with global standards, but to set them.
Under its Research Infrastructure Program, the SIEF has been investigating investments in activities that will increase collaboration between industry and researchers for the purpose of delivering world-class science.
Its intention is to advance the development of major national research precincts in Australia that are global in scale and relevance, and as such all infrastructure activities must contribute to this vision for positioning Australian science in a global context.
The first such investment under this Program will support the development of an Advanced Resource Characterisation Facility (ARCF) as part of the National Resource Sciences Precinct in Perth.
Together, the three instruments that are included in this facility will provide a global hub for metre-to-atomic scale analyses of mineral resources.
It is envisaged that, combined with the four dimensional data integration provided by the Pawsey Centre, the ARCF will develop into a unique characterisation facility located in a resource-focused research precinct unmatched anywhere in the world.
The geographical isolation that in earlier years acted as a barrier to the development of Australian science has become an advantage in the modern age of radio astronomy.
The rare commodity of radio silence made possible by this country’s sparse population and geographical isolation provides the ideal conditions to foster world-leading facilities in radio astronomy.
The SIEF recognises the global importance of the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope currently being developed at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory in Western Australia.
This telescope will become the most powerful survey radio astronomy instrument on the planet. It will allow the entire visible sky to be surveyed at great sensitivity and very quickly.
It is designed to survey vast tracts of the sky rather than the traditional approach of looking at a single object, thus creating massive new databases of astronomical radio sources – an unparalleled resource for the scientific community.
In addition to being a world-class telescope in its own right, the ASKAP will act as a key precursor to the future international Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope and will itself be incorporated into Phase 1 of the SKA project to be hosted by Australia and southern Africa.
The SKA will secure substantial ongoing overseas investment in Australia through the largest science project to be undertaken anywhere in the world in the next few decades (with additional international funds for construction and operation).
Recognising the global significance of this facility, SIEF has initiated a second Special Research Program to allow scope to assist the ASKAP’s construction. This support is consistent with SIEF’s funding for the Australian Synchrotron, another major national facility, under the SIEF Special Research Program (SPR).
Promotion of science
Furthering SIEF’s commitment to fostering international standards and connection of Australian science, SIEF has initiated a prestigious new program this year in partnership with the Australian Academy of Science.
The SIEF-Australian Academy of Science Fellowships to the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings provide a unique opportunity for young Australian researchers. The Lindau Meetings create a platform to facilitate encounters between Nobel Laureates and the world’s best young scientists of tomorrow.
It also provides the opportunity for young researchers to network with the elite of their peers from around the world. With SIEF’s support, up to fifteen early career researchers per year will have this opportunity opened to them over the next seven years.
SIEF has never regarded geographical remoteness as an insurmountable barrier to science excellence. It also regards science as a key tool for the future economic prosperity of Australia.
These ideals have been drawn together in a program under which students from remote or indigenous, and of low socioeconomic backgrounds, are supported during their undergraduate science or engineering degrees.
The inaugural Undergraduate Degree Scholars commenced in 2013 and will receive not only an ongoing stipend, but also academic and social support throughout their undergraduate degrees.
This year saw the final round of grants awarded under SIEF’s Research Projects Program, with the funding pool originally allocated to this Program largely committed.
A total of 17 projects have been funded under this successful Program, and SIEF will be monitoring outcomes and impacts of these projects as they continue to progress and contribute benefits to the Australian community.
The Research Projects Program has committed a total of $77 million to over 35 research organisations, as a result of CSIRO’s gift. The Program has promoted research in a cross section of scientific areas and contributed to a diverse spectrum of socioeconomic objectives.
The early round Research Projects are coming to a conclusion, including the world-leading Australian Imaging, Biomarkers and Lifestyle (AIBL)2 longitudinal study of a cohort of older Australians to investigate the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
It is one of the first studies to look at early detection of the disease and has attracted an increasing level of international funding over its life.
The Project, a collaboration between CSIRO, Edith Cowan University, Melbourne Brain Centre at the University of Melbourne and the National Ageing Research Institute, has generated over 60 publications (more on page 37).
This is one of the first of many projects whose outcomes are already fulfilling SIEF’s primary objective of furthering the interests of the Australian community.
SIEF advisory bodies
My role as Trustee has been greatly assisted by the Fund’s Advisory Council, Expert Panel and Undergraduate Scholarship Panel. The members of these bodies have loyally supported the Fund, many since its rejuvenation in 2009, and provide constant guidance and insight on a pro bono basis.
My gratitude to these supporters of the Fund, both personally and on behalf of Australian science, is profound.
My thanks also extend to the many reviewers who generously give their time and expertise to assessing reports and applications for scholarships and fellowships.
It is this spirit of generosity and goodwill within the Australian science community that has created the dedicated and thriving landscape in which SIEF operates today.
As the Fund develops maturity, I look forward to the year ahead as one characterised by an increasing abundance of results and outcomes from projects, scholarships and fellowships that have been initiated in previous years.
The Advisory Council and I will maintain our focus on research infrastructure investments in the coming year, and through these investments our commitment to promote science of global significance, in the rich tradition of SIEF, continues.
Prof Alan Robson (Chair)
Prof Tom Spurling
Dr Ezio Rizzardo
Prof Margaret Sheil
Mr Nigel Poole
Prof Tom Spurling
Dr Ezio Rizzardo
Dr Oliver Mayo
Prof John McKenzie
Prof Elaine Sadler
Dr Trevor Powell
Undergraduate Degree Panel
Prof Margaret Sheil (Chair)
Prof David Symington
Dr Terry Lyons