Speech given at 2017 BHP Billiton Science and Engineering Awards by CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Larry Marshall.

One of the things you find fairly early in life is no matter who you are or how high up you are you always have a boss, and even when you're the CEO or the Prime Minister the boss is the public. So today the students in the room are actually our bosses because we need you to create the future.

There's a great number of people from universities and industry in the room, I strongly encourage you to reach out to them because they can help you understand why science is so important to the future of this country, the future of their organisations, and you are their customer.

I'm delighted to be here today to celebrate the spirit of curiosity that drives science and particularly drives innovation in our youth. You see the future through different eyes, you will create in that future in a way that we couldn't.

Today also marks 36 years since these amazing national awards and it got me thinking; 36 years ago I was kind of where you are, I was just getting ready to start university.

I really hope that many of you if not all of you will go on and study STEM at university regardless of what you do because STEM is so fundamental to our future, it underpins almost everything we do particularly as careers tend to merge and morph and evolve.

This is a critical time for science to change the world, far more critical perhaps than it was six months ago.

Now, some of you don't know exactly what you want to do at university.

Don't worry about it, neither did I, neither did any of us, we learned. That’s the beauty of university, it's the start of a lifetime of learning.

If you can learn to learn that process will become almost a fountain of youth inside and it will give you vitality and energy to navigate through anything that the world will throw at you but you need to learn to learn. A lifetime of learning is a life fulfilled.

So think about your passion for STEM as part of a much broader palette that you have in the world.

Whether you do finance or business or law or science STEM can be a fundamental underpinning to that adventure.

There's nothing more likely to change this world than a curious mind and these awards as much as anything else celebrate that rich curiosity that you tap into when you innovate, when you create.

Now, for me who was lucky enough to spend time at Stanford when I was doing a PhD in physics, and I learned about business.

I snuck into business courses and it taught me a lot about how differently business people think.

It inspired me to want to create a bit of a bridge between science and how to change the world, and business, which is how to manage the world, if you like. And so I spent most of my career working on that bridge.

It can be bumpy, it can be difficult, but then anything worth doing is. But it's my passion for science that fuelled me through all of those roadblocks, all of those hurdles, all of those difficult times.

But my love of science didn't start at Stanford, it didn't start at Macquarie and it didn't even start at university, it started way, way earlier.

It started when I was five sitting cross-legged on the floor at my primary school watching Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon.

I remember thinking at the time vividly; I want to change the world like that. You think of the power of science to do something extraordinary, it really does change the world. 

So that was my inspiration; each of you will have a different inspiration. By the way, does anyone know who was responsible for receiving those images and bringing them back with the entire planet? 

I'm just going to take a photo, maybe it will be some inspiration of which organisation did that…

[Larry shows phone with giant CSIRO logo on it]

Now, same thing, fifty years later when mankind got our first images of Pluto that same organisation underpinned the receipt of those signals and the transmission around the world. What an extraordinary contribution for a nation that's relatively small.

I know many of you feel like we're far away but we're not. In fact if you look up in the night sky in this country you do something that you cannot do from the United States, from Europe or from China, you look into the centre of the galaxy.

So if ever you feel small or far away remind yourself you're actually right at the centre of the action in a way that very few other countries are.

Now, I'd be willing to bet that each of you has a similar inspirational story that inspired your excitement in science but there's a common element to that; the stories are all different but there's a common element.

I'm also willing to bet that there was a teacher standing beside you when you had that moment.

Teachers, we owe so much to them, we owe the future to them. Without them we can't unlock our minds, we can't really open our minds to the amazing things that science can bring.

Teachers I think have a somewhat under-appreciated role. It's a thankless job, it's an incredibly important job, so can you join me in thanking them, the teachers that …

And finally to our future leaders, the diversity of the challenges that I saw out there and the things that inspired you to pursue those challenges, absolutely remarkable and it made me think it's indicative of the diversity of careers that you will have, not necessarily in science but underpinned by science, underpinned by STEM, in a way that fundamentally transforms not only our country but the world.

Science, I can tell you, will take you places you can't possibly imagine. In 1984 I was a cadet in CSIRO, now I'm running CSIRO, who would have imagined that?  I certainly wouldn't have. So I congratulate you all on your amazing achievements, on your passion for science.

And finally as you embark on this wonderful journey of discovery that really will enrich your life just remember: a curious mind really can change the world. Thank you.

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