Achieving impact from Australian science

Dr Foley speaks at the Press Club.

Helping Australian science achieve greater impact will be a key focus for Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr Cathy Foley.

Dr Foley addressed the National Press Club on Wednesday, March 17, in her first major speech in the role.

She said Australia has no shortage of excellent research. But the benefits are too often lost overseas.

Dr Foley’s focus will be on improving the connections and collaborations between the research sector, industry and government.

Dr Foley outlined her long experience in research commercialisation, including as a researcher in superconductors and more recently as Chief Scientist at the CSIRO.

This included leading a team that developed superconducting sensors that can detect and map deposits of silver, gold and nickel very deep underground. This sensor has been used in the discovery of billions of dollars of ore bodies in Australia and overseas.

Dr Foley told the Press Club audience that while research commercialisation is not a new problem, the COVID-19 pandemic and the drive for a low-emissions economy have given Australia a unique chance to address it.

COVID has reignited interest in sovereign manufacturing capacity, including in medical manufacturing, but also in other sectors.

The need for low emissions technologies has unlocked new opportunities for Australia. These include research and investment in green hydrogen, battery storage, green steel and aluminium.

Dr Foley referred to the transformative nature of technologies such as artificial intelligence and quantum information technology and computing, which are changing the tools of science and creating new opportunities for science, research, innovation and high-tech business in Australia.

She said the best way to ensure the benefits remain onshore is to improve the pipeline from science and research discovery to impact.

That means concentrating efforts and closer collaboration between the science research sector, industry and government.

Dr Foley highlighted four foundational issues for her term as Chief Scientist:

  • Embracing the digital revolution, including the changes it brings to the way science is done
  • Educating our children for the technologies of the future
  • Diversity in science and research
  • Open access to scientific literature and open research

Dr Foley told the Press Club that Australia lags some other nations in open access to research, with well over half of Australian academic papers requiring a payment to access. It can cost $50 to access a single paper.

This costs Australian universities hundreds of millions of dollars in subscriptions. It is a significant challenge for practitioners outside the university system who don’t have access to subscriptions. It is also very difficult for the Australian community to read the science on a subject such as climate change or a rare disease.

Access to information is the great enabler for innovation and for research commercialisation. Lack of access to information is a real roadblock, and hinders our ability to compete internationally.

She said there is substantial interest in developing an Open Access Strategy in Australia, and it is something she is closely considering.

Read a transcript of her speech here.