World Beaters in Research
Australia has a long standing tradition of innovative, exciting research. Meet the people who top their fields, who think Australia is the best place to work …
Agriculture: Mark Tester (Research Professor)
Best known for: Pioneer in developing salt tolerant plants
An international team of scientists lead by Professor Mark Tester developed salttolerant plants using a new type of genetic modification (GM). The breakthrough has brought salt-tolerant cereal crops a step closer. The research team, based at the University of Adelaide’s Waite Campus, used a new GM technique to contain salt in parts of the plant where it does less damage. Salinity affects agriculture worldwide. It is a problem that is only going to get worse, as pressure to use less water increases and quality of water decreases. The team is now transferring this technology to crops such as rice, wheat and barley.
“Agriculture is an important component of Australia’s economy, despite the challenging environment here, and both government and industry have the vision to invest significantly in research to keep this sector at the forefront of technological advances. This makes Australia one of the best places in the world, if not the best place in the world, for undertaking research in plant science.”
Technology: Sylvia Tulloch (Materials Scientist)
Best known for: Co-founder of Dyesol
Sylvia Tulloch is the managing director of Dyesol Industries, a world leader in the development and commercialisation of thirdgeneration photovoltaics. This technology utilises dye solar cells (DSC) to turn sunlight into electricity by imitating the way plants convert sunlight into energy. Dyesol’s solar technology works well in all light conditions – it doesn’t need bright sunlight. The company develops, manufactures and supplies a range of DSC products and works with partners and customers to integrate the technology into their products. Dyesol was included in the top 100 low-carbon pioneers on CNBC Europe in 2008 and has been a beneficiary of Austrade’s Export Market Development Grants in recent years.
“Of course the money is important because every dollar counts. Every year we invest thousands of dollars of our shareholders’ money into developing what we are doing. Grant money enables you to do what you need to do without diluting too much of the equity base. But beyond that is the validation of your government believing in what you do.”
Technology: Dr. John O’Sullivan (Electrical Engineer)
Best known for: Developing Wi-Fi technology
CSIRO scientist Dr Johnt O’Sullivan went looking for exploding black holes and in the process created a technology that cleaned up intergalactic radio waves. Using techniques he’d applied to astronomy, O’Sullivan and his team figured out how to reduce interference created by radio waves bouncing off structures. This led to the creation of Wi-Fi technology. Wi-Fi technology is now found in millions of laptops, printers, and wireless access devices. The CSIRO has reaped AU0 million from its Wireless Local Area Network technology.
“We thought we were starting something big, but we’re blown away at how widespread it now is. From the beginning we set out to match the speed of the best wired networks of the time. To have made one of the major inventions certainly fills you with pride.”
Technology: Dr. Bruce Lee (Research Scientist)
Best known for: director of the CSIRO Food Futures national Research Flagship
Dr Lee led the team that developed a new high-fibre wholegrain that can help fight cancer and diabetes. Called BARLEYmax it has twice the dietary fibre of regular grains, four times the resistant starch and a low GI. Research began in the late 1990s, with the CSIRO team developing a collection of new non-GM barley grains and assessing them for the potential to improve health by delivering high levels of resistant starch and other dietary-fibre components. One new type of barley grain emerged, which went on to become BARLEYmax. The new grain reduces risk factors for heart disease and stroke, promotes bowel health and potentially fights the onset of diseases like bowel cancer and Type 2 diabetes.
“CSIRO is recognised as one of the world’s leading scientific research organisations and continues to demonstrate its ability to translate scientific outcomes into industry and market outcomes. Increasingly, the market is a global one. Most of Australia’s needs – whether they be in agricultural production or in tailored foods for consumers – are also mirrored in global markets. BARLEYmax is a new and innovative grain that has been highly successful in cereal-breakfast products in Australian supermarkets since its launch in the middle of 2009, and the potential for this grain in foreign markets is immense.”
Technology: Lars Rasmussen (Computer Scientist)
Best known for: Inventing Google Maps
After Danish-born Lars Rasmussen lost his job in Silicon Valley during the tech wreck of 2002 he moved to Australia where he and his brother, Jens, founded mapping start-up company Where 2 Technologies. When the brothers sold the concept to Google in 2004, Lars joined Google, working as one of the engineers on the team that turned his concept into Google Maps. Lars enticed Jens to join him in Australia in 2007 and the brothers are now working on a new one-stop system combining email and instant messaging with document, maps, image and video-sharing.
“Ground-breaking technology and world-changing ideas can come from anywhere in the world and our best Australian thinkers realise that geography is no barrier to world-class achievement. The internet in particular puts the whole world at our finger tips and Australian universities are producing superb science and technology graduates. We’re going to see a lot of very exciting things from the Australian technology industry in the next few years.”
Medical research: Professor Elizabeth Blackburn (Scientist)
Best known for: 2009 Nobel Prize for Medicine
Professor Elizabeth Blackburn pioneered the study of telomeres, caps that protect chromosomes in cells, and discovered telomerase, an enzyme that does the protecting. The San Francisco-based professor won the 2009 Nobel Prize for medicine alongside US collaborators. The Swedish Academy of Sciences noted that her discoveries “added a new dimension to stimulate the development of potential new therapies.”
“I think you need time to daydream, to let your imagination take you. Just do that some of the time, because I’ve noticed [that] among the creative, successful scientists who’ve really advanced things, that was a part of their life.”
Medical research: Professor Ian Frazer (Clinical Immunologist)
Best known for: Co-creator of the cervical cancer vaccine
Professor Ian Frazer has played a major role in reducing the incidence of cervical cancer. Along with his colleague, the late Dr Jian Zhou, Frazer developed a technology for the production of human papilloma virus-like particles which enabled the development of cervical cancer vaccines, now sold globally. That breakthrough led Frazer to be named& Australian of the Year in 2006.
“Australia is good for science because both the community and government understand and appreciate the benefits of scientific research.”
Astronomy: Brian Schmidt (Astronomer)
Best known for: Lead scientist on the development of the SkyMapper
Harvard educated Professor Schmidt has overseen the development of SkyMapper, a new breed of telescope. Built at a cost of AU million, SkyMapper is undertaking Sky Survey, the first comprehensive digital map of the southern skies. The telescope will allow astronomers to catalogue every single object in the southern sky within five years. The research team, lead by Professor Schmidt at ANU in Canberra, had detailed input into the design and construction of SkyMapper which can scan the sky faster and deeper than any other telescope. A powerful digital camera was developed to work in tandem with the telescope.
“I immigrated to Australia from the US in 1994, and when I arrived, I was unsure how well I could continue to do my research on the international stage. Such a small country, so far away. To my delight, Australia turned out to be a boon for me. Working internationally in Australia is the default – it is not just for the old and well established.”