Find out more about the Science and Industry Endowment Fund Annual Report 2016-17.

Trustee’s report

As the Science and Industry Endowment Fund (SIEF) enters its 90th year, I’m honoured to have led it through a period of exciting change, as we completed projects funded under the 2009 CSIRO gift and embraced the exciting new prospects of fresh funding sources.

SIEF begins the new year with programs like STEM+ Business Fellowships, which builds deeper collaboration between researchers and SMEs, and the Experimental Development Program, which accelerates research into applications as diverse as prawn farming, cropping, drone mapping and navigation, hydrogen fuels and dry ice manufacture.

The impacts of SIEF’s investment in the national innovation system are significant and, this year, we welcomed the outcomes of an evaluation of the impact and value of SIEF activities. The Impact Review considers not only return-on-investment measures, but the full scale and scope of SIEF’s impacts and the associated value. The report evaluated the prospective benefits of five representative SIEF-funded research projects (Energy Waste, Early Nutrition, Plant Breeding, RAFT for medical applications and Distal Footprints), and a sixth, eReefs, previously analysed as part of an impact assessment.

The review found that while SIEF has invested $153.2 million in strategic scientific research since 2009, it has delivered more than 20 times that value in the six case studies alone, with a net present value of $3.5 billion. In fact, benefits resulting from just the three highest yielding projects would largely offset the full amount spent by SIEF across all its programs.

SIEF’s contribution to Australia is not just scientific and economic, it also supporting the growth of our STEM workforce capacity and capability. Over the period 2010 to 2016, SIEF has supported the development of five leading-edge, strategic and cross-disciplinary research facilities. SIEF has also supported 302 ECRs through its Promotion of Science and Research Projects programs, with almost 40 per cent of them being women. ECRs surveyed as part of the Impact Review said the SIEF program provided them with mentoring and general advice, helped them to develop collaborative relationships and improved their career mobility and research and non-research skills. This, in turn, has helped ECRs develop their research track record and establish their research careers. All this significantly contributes to the capacity and quality of research and development undertaken in the Australian innovation system.

SIEF Experimental Development Program projects

Hydrogen as fuel

As it enters its second year, the Experimental Development Program (EDP) is funding a new project to address the growing global demand for clean hydrogen fuel. The two-year project builds on CSIRO’s expertise in separating pure hydrogen from mixed gas streams and converting ammonia to high-purity hydrogen. By using ammonia produced in Australia, renewable hydrogen can be distributed to new markets in Japan, Korea and Europe using existing infrastructure. This research is a significant opportunity to bridge the gap in the technology chain for a device that can efficiently and inexpensively convert ammonia into high-purity hydrogen at or near the point of use. This has great potential to establish an Australian renewable hydrogen export industry.

Spray-on polymer membrane

The Spray-on Polymer Membrane EDP project supports the development of a product that improves the retention of water in soils using a sprayable membrane that is applied to the soil surface to improve crop productivity. Efficiencies are achieved by reducing soil evaporation so more water is retained in the soil. It also inhibits weed growth so competition for the water in the soil is reduced. The saved water is used by the crop plants through the transpiration process to produce greater yields, more income and improved farm profitability. The polymer membrane is biodegradable and does not pollute soil and water systems. The membrane is the result of research in CSIRO’s Agriculture and Manufacturing teams and was further developed through CSIRO’s ON accelerator.

Collaborations between researchers and SMEs

SIEF’s STEM+ Business Fellowship program teamed 19 SMEs from across Australia with some of the brightest and best early-career researchers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics to work on business-relevant innovation projects.

The program is forging closer links between research and industry, a key objective of the National Innovation and Science Agenda. The STEM+ Business Fellowship Program provides grants of up to $105,000 per annum to 2-3 year research projects that will create industry savvy early-career researchers for the future.

Supporting early-career scientists

The Australian delegation with Nobel Laureate Marty Chalfie.  ©Australian Academy of Science

The inspiring Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings, held annually in Germany since 1951, introduce Nobel Prize winners in chemistry, physiology, medicine and physics to younger generations of scientists. Since 2013, SIEF has worked with the Australian Academy of Science (AAS) to provide fellowships for Australian-based early-career scientists to attend the Lindau Meetings. This unique experience allows attendees to interact with their science heroes, exchange ideas, gain exposure to areas in their chosen disciplines and establish new contacts and networks with their peers. The 67th meeting of Nobel Laureates focused on chemistry and was attended by a SIEF-AAS delegation of nine outstanding young Australian scientists. This was followed by a once-in-a-lifetime study tour of world class chemistry research facilities and equipment.

SIEF advisory bodies

Advisory Council

Prof Alan Robson (Chair)
Mr Nigel Poole
Dr Peter Riddles
Dr Ezio Rizzardo
Prof Margaret Sheil
Prof Tom Spurling

Expert Panel

Prof Tom Spurling (Chair)
Dr Oliver Mayo
Dr Trevor Powell
Dr Ezio Rizzardo
Prof Elaine Sadler

EDP Review Panels

Dr Peter Riddles (Chair)
Mr Nigel Poole

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. As another year closes on my role as Trustee of SIEF, I couldn’t be prouder of the demonstrable gains we’ve made. SIEF continues to be a vital endowment at every stage of the science cycle, from supporting STEM education, growing early-career scientists, to strengthening science and industry partnerships. It is a crucial and valuable part of the national innovation system that secures the future innovation of our nation and the world.

Dr Larry Marshall
SIEF Trustee


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