The Science and Industry Endowment Fund (SIEF) invests in science that contributes to Australia’s future. I’m delighted to present the 2018–19 report of SIEF’s important role in helping to solve the greatest challenges through innovative science and technology.
This year, SIEF has supported fundamental research into new paradigms for more sustainable use of resources; tactical research that aims to fast-track solutions to national problems; and support for high-quality infrastructure; just to name a few.
SIEF’s commitment to addressing our national priorities has been strengthened this year through collaboration and partnerships, funding for research breakthroughs, and its receipt of two new gifts, in addition to the CSIRO Gift and New South Wales Endowment already underway.
The CSIRO Gift funds the Experimental Development Program (EDP) among others, to help research projects attract industry investment and commercialise their technology. Five EDP projects were completed this year, including Megasonics and Going for Gold.
The Megasonics project funded a pilot olive oil extraction plant at an industrial scale demonstrating that using high-frequency ultrasound standing waves increases efficiencies in the production system while maintaining a quality end product. This is a great result for producers as they derive greater profitability from their product.
Going for Gold supported the construction and operation of a mobile demonstration plant that recovered gold using non-toxic products from various gold ores in the field, at scale. The products have the potential to disrupt the gold industry by replacing highly toxic cyanide, currently the industry standard method, thus reducing the industry’s environmental impact. This project is expected to increase the economic value of gold recovery markets, with an estimated $3 billion per year of additional gold production in Australia through increased efficiencies of gold recovery practices.
Collaboration is a priority for SIEF through the CSIRO Gift. It is extremely pleasing to see how SIEF funding is providing significant and tangible benefits to Australian and international research through collaboration. One of SIEF’s Research Infrastructure programs is a case in point. The Perth Advanced Resource Characterisation Facility is a collaborative partnership with the University of Western Australia, Curtin University and CSIRO. A SIEF grant of $12.4 million helped fund the acquisition of three keystone assets: Maia Mapper, NanoSIMS and Atom Probe, to enable metre to atomic scale analysis of rock. The facility, now fully operational, is experiencing high demand for the use of its keystone assets. Publications indicate that the facility is being used for its intended purposes of geology and minerology research, but is also being sought after by national and international teams for environmental and biomedical research.
The STEM+ Business Fellowship program is also proving to be a highly successful collaborative initiative. Delivered by CSIRO’s SME Connect team, its purpose is to embed early career researchers into an industrial workplace environment over a two-to-three-year period to break down the cultural divide between researchers and small to medium‑sized enterprises (SMEs). The program provides these early career researchers experience working in industry and fostering innovation. To date, 32 researchers have been funded to work with SMEs in projects with universities and research organisations. The impact of the program is becoming evident: at a House of Representatives Inquiry into Funding Australia’s Research in 2018, our colleagues in the Innovative Research Universities network noted the program’s streamlined and flexible approach and the benefits they have gained by working closely with industry partners.
As many of the activities supported by the CSIRO Gift are complete, or nearing completion, the funding landscape is changing. Our focus will now shift to our new gifts.
In October, SIEF received a gift from National ICT Australia Ltd (NICTA) for the Future National ICT Industry Platform program. The program is intended to promote the NICTA purposes by funding substantial scale, collaborative research in data and digital technologies. Recognising the power of digital technologies to accelerate the impact and scale of domain expertise, the now-completed pilot program addressed food provenance. Three additional research activities have since commenced addressing supply chain integrity, energy, and data‑driven cities.
In April 2019, SIEF received the Metcalf Gift through a significant and generous bequest from the late David Ross Metcalf who was a great inventor. Consistent with his wishes and in consultation with his family, I have directed this Gift to enable an additional 8–10 Fellows take part in the successful STEM+ Business Fellowship program, mentioned above, to deliver more solutions from science.
Following the original endowment made in 1926, this brings the total portfolio of gifts and endowments that SIEF manages to five. In my role as SIEF Trustee I am assisted by the advisory bodies and reviewers who generously contribute their time and expertise to SIEF to provide advice for funding decisions across the portfolio. I sincerely thank them for the advice they have provided me this year. With the establishment of the NICTA Gift, I would like to welcome the NICTA Program Advisory Council, and I look forward to working with them.
The future relies on innovation, and innovation is a team sport. Collaboration is key and SIEF’s role in investing in Australian science, early career researchers, and cutting-edge technology ensures that we’re able to work together to solve the nation’s greatest challenges.
SIEF advisory bodies
CSIRO Gift Advisory Council Members
Emeritus Prof Alan Robson (Chair)
Dr Peter Riddles (Chair, EDP Review Panels)
Mr Nigel Poole
Dr Ezio Rizzardo
Prof Margaret Sheil
Prof Tom Spurling
Generation STEM Consultative Council (NSW Government Endowment)
Prof Brian Boyle (Chair)
Ms Maile Carnegie
Mr Simon Rowell
Mr Tom McGinness
Ms Gail Fulton
Mr Graeme Plato
NICTA Program Advisory Council
Ms Michelle Price
Ms Petra Andren
Mr John Paitaridis
Mr Adrian Turner
Dr Larry Marshall