Find out more about the Science and Industry Endowment Fund Annual Report 2015–16.
Over the last year in my role as Trustee of SIEF, I have witnessed a broad range of innovative science research tackling the nation’s challenges. I am proud to be a part of SIEF’s long history, which began in 1926 and has since played a vital role in supporting the development of Australian science and scientists. SIEF has supported a wide variety of science projects, including funding the collation of scientific documents from Sir Douglas Mawson’s Antarctic adventures through to research that seeks to mimic butterfly wings for new compact technology.
This year, a paper about the history of the Science and Industry Endowment Fund was published in the Historical Records of Australian Science. Authored by Professor Tom Spurling and Susan Smith, the article describes the significant role SIEF has played in supporting pre-eminent Australian scientists over its 90-year history.
SIEF was rejuvenated by the gift of $150 million from CSIRO, as a result of the fast WLAN patented technology litigation in 2009. These Gift funds have continued the Fund’s rich history of supporting scientific excellence.
Experimental Development Program
This year has seen the start of a new program in the SIEF portfolio – the SIEF Experimental Development Program (EDP). The EDP is designed to address a significant gap in current funding options available for progressing experimental research and technology development to a stage suitable for attracting commercial investment and market uptake, and to accelerate entrepreneurial activities. The EDP plays an important role in the overall SIEF portfolio, complementing current SIEF programs and activities.
The first EDP-supported research activity, an aquaculture project investigating antivirals for Black Tiger Prawns, has recently commenced. The project is looking for the best way to reduce viral load in prawn parents to stop transmission to their offspring, producing healthy prawn larvae for commercial culture that are virus-free.
This project will allow CSIRO’s Brisbane-based team to assess the ability of RNA interference antivirals to reduce virus transmission. Prawn hatchlings will be reared under commercially comparable tank and pond conditions at the Bribie Island Research Centre from egg to adult, in conjunction with the Australian Prawn Farmers Association. The hatchlings will have their health, survival and growth performance assessed along the way.
The SIEF and industry support (Fisheries Research & Development Corporation funding on behalf of the Australian Government) is helping the team overcome the final R&D hurdle. The outcomes of this pilot commercialisation-scale experiment will provide the Australian prawn industry with the confidence required for commercial uptake of the antivirals, potentially adding $2.2 million of value annually to their $80 million industry.
STEM+ Business Fellowship program
Another exciting, new SIEF initiative is the STEM+ Business Fellowship Program.
The STEM+ Business Fellowship Program aims to build deeper connections and collaborations between researchers and SMEs, accelerating the adoption of new ideas and technology. The program will give early-career researchers practical, on-ground experience in a workplace and an opportunity to build relationships with industry – creating and sustaining a cohort of researchers who are industry-savvy.
SIEF has enlisted the CSIRO SME Connect team to facilitate, on behalf of the Trustee, this program across the national innovation system.
SIEF supporting leading researcher
Professor Graham Farquhar from the Australian National University (ANU) won the 2015 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science for his work on photosynthesis. His research in the area has led to the creation of better water-efficient crops, and his models of plant biophysics have furthered the understanding of plant cells.
Professor Farquhar leads the SIEF-funded research project ‘Forests for the Future : making the most of a high carbon dioxide (CO2) world’, a collaboration between ANU, Western Sydney University and CSIRO.
While the rise in atmospheric CO2 presents a global challenge, it also offers opportunities to increase forest production and bio-sequestration. A consequence of this rapid rise in CO2 is that photosynthesis has been increased, generating increased carbon sequestration and plant production on a global scale.
Professor Farquhar and his team have proposed a novel strategy that rapidly identifies tree species that exhibit a strong, positive growth response to elevated CO2, and the genetic attributes underlying this response.
The outcomes of the work will help provide an alternative to the currently very expensive and labour-intensive procedures that have so far limited commercial application from the forest industry for to better choices to achieve greater economic impact. The environmental impact of Professor Farquhar’s work is an increase in plantation forests that grow well despite the effects of rising CO2 levels, aiding in sequestration of CO2 and an increase in the greening of Australia.
SIEF advisory bodies
Prof Alan Robson (Chair)
Dr Peter Riddles
Dr Ezio Rizzardo
Prof Margaret Sheil
Prof Tom Spurling
Prof Tom Spurling (Chair)
Dr Oliver Mayo
Dr Trevor Powell
Dr Ezio Rizzardo
Prof Elaine Sadler
Undergraduate Degree Panel
Prof Margaret Sheil (Chair)
Dr Terry Lyons
Prof David Symington
EDP Review Panels
Dr Peter Riddles (Chair)
In addition to the advisory bodies, a large number of reviewers continue to generously contribute their time and expertise, for which I am very grateful.
Though the 2009 funding injection from CSIRO is coming to a close, it is remarkable the breadth and depth of science that has been supported through the SIEF. Some projects are now coming to the conclusion of their SIEF funding, but much of this research activity will continue, firmly established on the solid foundation provided by the initial SIEF funding.
Dr Larry Marshall