Big Picture Science Dinner
Big Future For Small Science: Nanoscience In Australia
Professor Trevor Hambley, Dean of the Faculty of Science at the University of Sydney, hosted the first Big Picture Science Dinner on 28 April 2011, to discuss the exciting potential that nanoscience offers NSW and Australia. The sixteen guests included NSW Chief Scientist and Scientific Engineer, Professor Mary O’Kane, plus industry, government and science leaders.
The group discussed the future of nanoscience in Australia and its potential to be a real industrial and economic driver, if supported and funded effectively. Nanoscience will revolutionise many areas such as communications technologies, medicine and astronomy.
NSW is uniquely positioned to take advantage of this future and focus our efforts on education, public-private partnership and investment in research. NSW is to become the home of the Australian Institute for Nanoscience, which will be based at the University of Sydney, following the University securing $40 million in funding in 2010 towards the new $110 million centre. The Institute will house, develop and shape the future of nanoscience locally and internationally.
“We are at an exciting point with nanoscience right now, where it offers huge potential for our state if we choose to support it here. Nanoscience is really the final frontier of miniaturisation, allowing us to build at the scale of between one to a hundred nanometres,” said Professor Trevor Hambley.
“Our new Australian Institute for Nanoscience will provide an outstanding boost for nanoscience in Australia. It will be the best facility of its type in the world – we are confident of this as our consultants from the US are envious of our planned facilities and say it should be better in many respects than their current world-leading facilities.”
Professor Ben Eggleton was the keynote speaker, talking about the nanoscience conducted by his research centre CUDOS – the Centre for Ultrahigh bandwidth Devices for Optical Systems. Professor Eggleton also spoke about the landscape of research and industry in NSW, and how the new state government could engage more effectively with the research and industry community in NSW.
Watch Professor Ben Eggleton’s keynote address from the video panel on the right of this webpage.
Wilson da Silva, Editor in Chief of COSMOS magazine, was MC and conversation facilitator at the dinner, inviting guests to comment on issues in research, industry, science funding, how our state and federal governments can promote and support science and industry links, and how to make the most of the potential that nanoscience offers our economy.
A rigorous conversation resulted, with international and local examples discussed, and possible strategies proposed to derive the most benefit from the research talent already here in NSW.
Professor Mary O’Kane, NSW Chief Scientist and Scientific Engineer, said she very strongly supports the idea that we need our leaders in NSW to talk about our science successes and areas of excellence in order to get the message out there and provide support for research in the state. This includes the Premier, Minister in charge of science (once appointed), Minister for Education and Minister for Health, to facilitate clever joint ventures with industry and to make use of the fantastic science facilities in NSW.
Acknowledging the outstanding scientists and facilities in NSW, Professor O’Kane noted that we need a pithy way to describe these science successes to make them engaging. She articulated the need for the public and industry to bounce these science ideas around. With the new NSW government, Professor O’Kane said there is a real opportunity to get this discussion going.
The group agreed there needs to be a culture change in Australia around entrepreneurship and commercialisation of science. There also needs to be either a change in investment culture or some legislative changes to incentivise investment in scientific ventures.
Dr Adi Paterson, CEO of ANSTO – the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation – provided closing comments.
He stated that the group all agreed on the need to create an excitement around science in NSW and Australia. We need more “T-shaped scientists” like Ben Eggleton, who can talk at depth in their field, but can also talk about the breadth of the applicability of the science.
Dr Paterson identified three necessary changes. Firstly, the need to identify the most attractive applications of nanoscience and promote these early. For example, the medical applications may be the most attractive applications for the general public and this story should be told in a compelling way.
Secondly, the need to transform the attractiveness of investment in scientific research and commercialisation for potential investors. Dr Paterson spoke of the need to talk about how to finance and keep these industries in NSW, to allow them to take root here and not move elsewhere.
Thirdly, the need to enhance the connectivity and networks between people from scientific researchers to engineers and manufacturers to commercial industry. “Currently, the magnets to keep these layers together are not there,” said Dr Paterson.
An outstanding outcome of the evening was the commitment of the group to continue meeting and discussing these issues to see how they can work together to effect change, not only for the relatively new field of nanoscience, but also for science, research and innovation in NSW.