A new pool of young and diverse talent is being brought on board to tackle the next frontier in geoscience – Deep Earth Imaging. The vision is to build a start-up culture where risk-taking is encouraged, writes CSIRO’s DR MIKE MCWILLIAMS, the newly appointed platform leader.

Article from resourceful: Issue 11

RESEARCH PERSPECTIVE

Continuous technological development and innovation are critical for improving the global competitiveness and productivity of the Australian resources sector – and are therefore vital to the nation. Australia has a clear competitive advantage in its ability to conduct the research needed, with the mining sector accounting for nearly one quarter of all business research and development (R&D) investment.

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Mike McWilliams, Director, Deep Earth Imaging FSP

The Deep Earth Imaging Future Science Platform aims to more precisely and more accurately image the subsurface and understand its geophysical and geochemical properties, unlocking the resource potential of a vast, under-explored part of Australia.

This nucleus for collaboration will be a unique exploration and environmental geoscience capability hub in deep earth imaging – perhaps the first ever that crosses the boundaries of minerals, energy, water and data science. Success in this endeavour would represent an enormous opportunity to discover future mineral, energy and water resources for the nation.

Global response to the establishment of Deep Earth Imaging has far exceeded expectations. Beginning in December 2016, nearly 500 very qualified people from Australia and overseas have applied for early career researcher and leadership positions in the platform.

Universities, geological surveys and industry service providers both here in Australia and abroad have expressed their keen interest in participating. The talent pool represents a wide range of traditional geoscience disciplines, but a significant fraction comes from less traditional fields such as machine learning, data analytics, quantitative image analysis, applied mathematics and statistical inference.

By bringing such diverse talent together in a dynamic environment where cross-disciplinary teams continuously assemble and reassemble, we expect to build and sustain an innovative “try-it-and-see” culture that will lead to new tools and workflows that can help us to better explore through cover.

Undoubtedly, many of the things we try will ultimately fail, but what we learn from those trials will help to guide us in choosing new and innovative paths to explore.

While recruiting our teams, I have suggested to candidates that it may be helpful to think of Deep Earth Imaging as if it were a small start-up company, embedded within the larger CSIRO. We have been given a truly unique opportunity that by all accounts is unlike any other past exploration research initiative.

By collaborating with industry to understand their future needs and by incorporating fresh thinking from the global academic sector, we hope to provide new ideas that will become the exploration and imaging tools of the future.

To effectively commercialise these research outcomes, the platform will connect with METS Ignited and the Oil, Gas and Energy Resources industry growth centres, which were built to promote innovation by accelerating commercialisation and encourage better collaboration between R&D and industry needs.

Our teams will have the opportunity to see their ideas fast-tracked through technology pre-accelerators to create connections between research, science and business, enabling us to validate our research outcomes and translate them into real-world geoscience imaging applications.

If we are successful, CSIRO will play a central role in serving as the innovation catalyst for the earth science community in Australia.

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