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Objective 3: Manage national research infrastructure for the nation

Our third objective is addressed by a single function:

3.1: Ensure utilisation of national facilities and collections.

Function 3.1: Ensure utilisation of national facilities and collections

Our key activities for Function 3.1 contributed to our strategic focus areas via the:

We delivered on this function by:

  • hosting world-class, science-ready research facilities and biological collections available for use by the national and international science community across government, academia and industry
  • advising on the identification of facility needs and the design and creation of new national infrastructure.

We host world-class national research infrastructure on behalf of the Australian Government to provide the scientific community with access to specialist infrastructure to assist in the delivery of research in the national interest. Our national research facilities and national biological collections are provided to researchers across Australia and their international collaborators through merit-based assessment. This includes landmark research platforms, specialist laboratories, scientific and testing equipment, supercomputers and digital capability, and other specialist research facilities and expertise.

The national research infrastructure receives funding from the Australian Government’s National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) program, state governments and commonwealth and state departments, and partnership arrangements specific to the infrastructure. Significant funding is from our appropriation.

Advisory committees for each national facility or collection guide their specific strategic development and access arrangements. In addition to scientific and applied research, activities also include school student and tertiary education programs, practical training, and access to research data and publications. The national research facilities and collections are also potentially available for use through commercial arrangements.

In 2019–20, the Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) broadened its role in protecting Australia from animal diseases to also include human disease prevention. To recognise this broader role, AAHL was renamed the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness, and it is playing a significant national and international role in the research and development for vaccines and potential treatments for COVID-19.

The COVID-19 pandemic impacted other national research infrastructure. Marine National Facility voyages were cancelled from March and rescheduled where possible to future voyage programs; other facilities had lesser or no disruptions.

In addition to our national research infrastructure as part of the NCRIS program, we also invest – often in collaboration with others – in other world-class infrastructure that addresses national challenges. For example, a collection of ice cores from Antarctica containing trapped air dating back thousands of years, and a more than 40‑year air archive from the Cape Grim Baseline Air Pollution Station in north-west Tasmania. Analyses from these collections provide evidence of the change in the Earth’s atmospheric composition over time and are invaluable in understanding climate and the increasing levels of greenhouse gases. These facilities are used by our scientists and collaborators as well as the science community as part of national and international science programs.

In 2019–20, we invested in the recently launched satellite NovaSAR-1. This national facility provides extremely high-resolution images of Earth from space, which will lead to new remote sensing research, training, and data analytics that will help us manage the Earth’s resources. Researchers will be able to access the facility in the new financial year. We also started operating the European Space Agency’s spacecraft tracking station at New Norcia, Western Australia.

Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness

The Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness is Australia’s highest-level biocontainment laboratory. It houses expert scientific and operational support staff who work together to protect our region from the world’s most devastating diseases. The Centre provides disease preparedness, prevention and outbreak response capability by delivering prominent science, diagnostic response and training that address the diseases that threaten Australia, www.csiro.au/Research/Facilities/ACDP.

The Centre draws expertise from across CSIRO to understand how humans, animals and environments interconnect in disease development. In 2019–20, the Centre has been a key partner in our One-Health approach to disease prevention and management.

 coordinating, communicating and collaborating are in the middle. To the right is another circle with a map tothe world to achieve the best outcomes for our plant. To the left is people who protect us, animals and the environment
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's One Health approach,

The Centre delivers services to a range of stakeholders. It undertakes projects for the Australian Government, particularly the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), to identify, monitor and respond to emerging diseases that threaten Australia’s trade, market competitiveness, and animal and public health. Support from DFAT provides opportunities for longer-term engagement and greater support for biosafety in the Asian region.

To build capability in preclinical trials in animal models, the Centre is working towards implementing the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development principles of Good Laboratory Practice (GLP). Attaining GLP accreditation will increase the appeal for Australian and international entities who want access to the Centre’s infrastructure and services. These principles have been implemented in pre-clinical testing of two COVID-19 vaccine candidates. Read more at: Understanding COVID-19.

To ensure the best practices in bio-risk management, the Centre participated in the international Biosafety Level 4 Zoonotic Laboratory Network and the Five Eyes Research and Development COVID-19 network. This is critical to safety, enables us to share knowledge and results, speeds up critical research and avoids duplication of efforts.

Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centre undertook strict measures to protect the health and productivity of its workforce while prioritising the delivery of COVID-19 related work. This impacted the volume of new and existing projects executed this financial year. The Centre continues to receive requests from organisations proposing ancillary COVID-19 research, which are managed through the Centre’s access process.

The Centre worked closely with our health and biosecurity and manufacturing researchers to deliver a pipeline of preclinical animal studies and customer experience at the Centre. This included collaborating with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations to create a new rapid response platform for developing and testing new vaccines against previously unknown pathogens, aiming to reduce the development time from years to weeks.

In response to COVID-19, the Australian Government announced $10 million in new funding for our virus and vaccine work and confirmed support for the $220 million facility upgrade. The refit works ensure we continue to meet evolving regulatory compliance standards to remain fit-for-purpose into the future.

Australia Telescope National Facility

The Australia Telescope National Facility (ATNF) operates radio telescopes for use by astronomers around the world to improve our understanding of the Universe.

In 2019–20, 132 papers were published in refereed journals using data from our telescopes, which revealed discoveries such as the detection of the missing ‘ordinary’ matter in the Universe, pinpointing the locations of fast radio bursts and rapid follow-up of short-lived astronomical phenomena.

Astronomers completed the first astronomy surveys with the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP), our newest telescope, and are now examining the data. These surveys are a crucial part of demonstrating the capabilities of the ASKAP and the data processing that occurs at the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre. Read more at: Pawsey Supercomputing Centre.

ASKAP is situated at the world’s premier radio quiet site, our Murchison Radio‑astronomy Observatory (MRO). The MRO will soon be home to a telescope of the international Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project, in which we have a technical leadership role for Australia and are planning to partner with the international SKA Observatory to operate the SKA telescope in Australia.

We also operate NASA’s Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex (CDSCC) at Tidbinbilla and manage Australian astronomers’ access to the CDSCC antennas. This year we started operating the European Space Agency’s (ESA) tracking station at New Norcia, near Perth.

We also prepared for Australia’s scientists to access the NovaSAR satellite as a national facility. After commissioning, an internal trial, and an export review by the Department of Defence, NovaSAR will operate as a national facility available to the Australian research community based on scientific merit. The facility was planned to be ready by June, however the impact of COVID-19 working arrangements has caused a short delay, and we expect it to be ready in the new financial year.

Telescope and space-tracking operations continued despite COVID-19, with appropriate measures in place to protect our staff. However, our visitor centres at Parkes, ATCA and the CDSCC were closed.

We received more than 200 access proposals requesting more than twice the available observing time. Around 60 per cent of astronomers that used our telescopes were from overseas, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy. Time on our telescopes can also be purchased. The National Astronomical Observatories of China used Parkes to follow-up pulsars found with its Five‑hundred-metre Aperture Spherical Telescope.

An independent steering committee advises the CSIRO Board and the ATNF Director on the Facility’s strategic development, performance and allocation of time on the telescopes.

ASKAP is located at the MRO. We acknowledge the Wajarri Yamatji as the Traditional Owners of the MRO site.

Marine National Facility

The Marine National Facility (MNF) provides dedicated marine research capability for Australian researchers and their international collaborators to enable work in Australia’s vast and largely unexplored marine estate and adjoining waters. The MNF delivers excellent research in the national interest that supports government, industry and other stakeholders to make evidence based decisions to enhance the long-term viability and prosperity of the marine environment, industries and communities.

The MNF’s multidisciplinary research vessel Investigator can be at sea for up to 60 days, accommodates a science team of 40 participants, and can cover 10,000 nautical miles per voyage, operating anywhere from the Antarctic ice edge to the tropics.

In 2019–20, the MNF was scheduled to deliver 303 days of merit-based research. A total of 214 days at sea were successfully delivered in the first eight months before the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the schedule.

From July to February, seven voyages comprising four primary, two transit and one technical voyage were completed. In addition, the first, five-yearly mandatory dry dock maintenance period for Investigator was completed in July.

The science projects delivered by Investigator included:

  • investigating the evolution of the Australian tectonic plate through study of seamount chains in the Coral Sea
  • maintaining the East Australian Current mooring array located off Brisbane, which forms part of the Integrated Marine Observing System
  • mapping Wessels Marine Park, located off the Northern Territory coast, in a collaborative project with Traditional Owners
  • collecting ocean and atmospheric data from our far northern waters to improve weather and climate models
  • investigating the origin of seafloor terrain in the Indian Ocean to assist in the management,
  • protection and expansion of Australia’s marine estate
  • launching the Indigenous Time at Sea Scholarship (ITSS) to increase the opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander STEM students to participate in research and the management of the marine environment.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic led to at-sea operations of Investigator being suspended in March and all voyages planned for the remainder of 2019–20 were cancelled. The MNF worked closely with those affected to identify options for rescheduling their research projects. Where possible, cancelled voyages have been rescheduled for 2020–21 or subsequent years. In addition, while in port, research was undertaken using Investigator’s state-of-the-art instruments to collect valuable data about Hobart’s complex atmospheric environment.

An independent Steering Committee advises the CSIRO Board and the MNF Director on the Facility’s strategic development, performance and allocation of sea time.

Pawsey Supercomputing Centre

The Pawsey Supercomputing Centre provides world‑class infrastructure and expertise in supercomputing, data and visualisation services that enable Australia’s researchers to solve large-scale data problems and obtain critical knowledge into the challenges facing our nation.
Pawsey is one of only two Tier 1 High-Performance Computing and Data facilities available in Australia and is an unincorporated joint venture between CSIRO and four Western Australian universities: Curtin University, Edith Cowan University, Murdoch University, and the University of Western Australia.

In 2019–20, Pawsey achieved significant results in science domains including radio astronomy (providing essential computing power to analyse data from the ASKAP and Murchison Widefield Array telescopes and the SKA), space, energy and resources, engineering, bioinformatics and health science.

The Australian and international research community accessed Pawsey to undertake COVID-19 research during the height of the global pandemic, with a joint Pawsey and the National Computational Infrastructure call for researchers to access the advanced computing and data services of each centre to accelerate research projects directly responding to the pandemic.

Pawsey also enabled researchers to: develop more effective and less addictive oral analgesics for chronic pain from venomous animal toxin; pioneer virtual tools to create a method to rapidly and accurately detect coronary artery disease; develop a diagnostic test to keep grape vines clear of viruses that can reduce fruit quality by up to 70 per cent; use artificial intelligence and machine learning to determine the surface age of planets; and create some of the deepest images produced of the sky over wide areas. Read more about the work Pawsey enables at pawsey.org.au/case-studies. Demand for Pawsey facilities exceeded the available allocation this year.

In 2018, the Commonwealth Government announced a $70 million upgrade of the infrastructure with deliverables staged across four years to ensure Pawsey remains a cutting-edge supercomputing facility. New Nimbus Cloud infrastructure became available to users in May, and the procurement of the Murchison Widefield Array compute cluster was awarded in February – this new cluster will be available from mid-2020, providing users with enhanced graphics processing unit capabilities to power artificial intelligence, computational work, machine learning workflows and data analytics. We expect the upgrade and the performance benchmarking of the new infrastructure will be completed by mid-2022. The current status of the upgrade, is available at pawsey.org.au/about-us/capital-refresh/.

National Research Collections Australia

National Research Collections Australia are the most taxonomically and geographically comprehensive specimen-based representation of Australia’s unique natural heritage.

There are six national collections including insects, plants, fish, mammals, birds and reptiles, algae and tree seeds. Together these collections contain over 15 million specimens, tissue samples, sound recordings, images, DNA sequences and environmental data, that document and characterise Australia’s diverse and changing environment back to 1770.

In 2019–20, we commenced design of a new purpose-built facility to open in 2024 at our Canberra site, to include state-of-the-art archival collection halls, and research and digitisation laboratories. The ongoing digitisation of the specimens and the addition of new layers of data from genomic and phenotypic analysis using new equipment has made lab work faster and cheaper.

We commenced an upgrade of our data systems, which will deliver a new whole-of-collections data management system. This will increase our ability to manage the rapidly growing digital data from the collections and provide it to the research community, citizen scientists and the public through the Atlas of Living Australia.

Our initiatives are contributing to the national challenges of biosecurity, environmental monitoring, human health, future industries and biomedical research.

This year, our datasets were used in machine learning to develop an artificial intelligence-based mobile phone app for species identification for biosecurity purposes. Our collections were explored for bio-active molecules to develop new pharmaceuticals to treat human diseases, and our specimens were surveyed for DNA profiles to be used as reference data sets for environmental studies. Our two living specimen collections (algal and tree seed) also provided Australian industry with reference strains and breeding material and supplied expertise and advice to SMEs and regional partners in developing countries.

Atlas of Living Australia

The Atlas of Living Australia (ALA) is our national biodiversity database platform. It’s a collaborative, open, digital platform that harmonises Australian biodiversity data making it accessible and re‑useable. The ALA is a critical tool for biodiversity scientists, policy makers, land managers, educators and students. As the Australian node of the Global Biodiversity Information Facility, it ensures Australia’s biodiversity data are accessible to the world through www.gbif.org/.

In 2019–20, the ALA delivered over 87 million biodiversity occurrence records to 40,000 registered users to support innovative science. In addition, the ALA infrastructure supported major national and state data programs including the March release of the Index of Marine Surveys for Assessments with the Western Australia Government, and the planning, monitoring, and evaluation tool for natural resource management grants with the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment. These partnerships play an important role in supporting our stakeholders to collect, manage and deliver trusted biodiversity data to the ALA. Finally, our partnership with the global iNaturalist network led to the launch of the Australian node, which provides a critical new capability to support Australia’s biodiversity community through crowd-sourced, cutting-edge species identification capability. Find out more at inaturalist.ala.org.au.

Analysis of performance

Our efforts this year contributed to us delivering towards our outcome (see 3.13: Summary of our performance for managing national research infrastructure):

  • World-class facilities and collections are available to be accessed and used effectively by the research community and public.
3.13: Summary of our performance for managing national research infrastructure

Performance measures
Source: 2019–20 Corporate Plan

Target

Result

World-class facilities and collections are made available for access by the research community and used effectively

ACDP: Compliance with Australian legislation and regulations, and International Organization for Standardization accreditations

Maintain or exceed compliance

Achieved: Up-to-date and compliant with all current audits

Facilities and collections achieve a threshold rate of successful usage, with lost time minimised

Achieve or exceed usage rates:
(Source: 2019-20 Portfolio Budget Statement)

Results for each facility detailed below

ATNF: successful astronomical observation1

Minimum of 70% successful astronomical observations

Achieved: 76.9%

ATNF: time lost during astronomical observations and operation2

Maximum 5% time lost during scheduled astronomical observations

Achieved: 2.3%

Pawsey: supercomputer core-hour use

90% core hours on Pawsey supercomputer facility

Achieved: 93.7%

National Collections: outward loans of collection3

70% outward loans of collections (averaged over 5 years)

Achieved: 70%

MNF: successful marine research days delivered4

Minimum of 90% successful research days delivered on MNF and maximum of 10% of time lost during scheduled MNF operations

Not achieved: 71% of days delivered before voyages suspended by pandemic measures

1 This data is for April–September 2019 and October 2019 – March 2020 observing semesters for Parkes and ATCA.

2 Supercomputer core-hour use represents the percentage of core hours available on the Pawsey Cray XC-40 supercomputer Magnus that are used by research projects awarded an allocation on Magnus during 2019–20.

3 The target recognises that preparing loans requires significant time investment and some requests may not be possible to comply with international conventions and legislation.

4 This data is for July–March as operations at sea were not permitted from March due to COVID-19.

In 2019–20, we continued our strong record of providing researchers with access to specialist infrastructure for research in Australia’s interest. Not only were all but one standard performance measures achieved (and this was due to COVID-19 safety measures) but the remit and activities of two of the facilities was broadened to account for challenges posed by COVID-19.

Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness

ACDP is a vital part of Australia’s biosecurity infrastructure. Its significantly increased role in human disease prevention, notably relating to zoonotic diseases and researching vaccines and potential treatments for COVID-19, was recognised in April by changing the name from AAHL to ACDP. ACDP continues to maintain or exceed the regulatory requirements certified by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator, the Department of Health’s Security Sensitive Biological Agents legislation, and all relevant International Organization for Standardization accreditation. It is imperative that ACDP meets regulatory standards so that Australia continues to have its frontline, high-containment facility for research into highly infectious agents in the world, biosecurity, and protecting Australia’s multi-billion-dollar livestock and aquaculture industries.

Australia Telescope National Facility

As all of the ATNF’s telescopes can be operated remotely from our Sydney headquarters or virtually from elsewhere in the world, the ATNF continued to carry on ‘business-as-usual’ throughout the COVID-19 restrictions. It maintained its excellent performance standard for observations and achieved results similar to previous years. This enabled high‑level impact radio astronomy research to continue with researchers improving our knowledge of the Universe by investigating the evolution of galaxies, magnetic fields, black holes and the use of pulsars.

Pawsey Supercomputing Centre

The ongoing strong demand for Pawsey’s supercomputing facilities, and the requirement for continued excellence in operating the facility to ensure supercomputing availability increased, with advanced computing and data services used for COVID-19 related analyses. The outcome of 97.3 per cent for supercomputer core hour use is above the target and continues the positive trend of previous years, indicating the continued high level of use of Pawsey’s supercomputer. The facilities, expertise and infrastructure at Pawsey enable advanced research in astronomy and geoscience and other high-end science relying on supercomputing.

National Research Collections Australia

The National Research Collections Australia continue to meet the target for outward loans, enabling scientists affiliated with research institutions to access our specimens without travelling to our sites. Travel can be difficult and costly, particularly for international researchers. Specimens are lent at no cost to other national and international institutions to support research into Australia’s unique biodiversity. The Collections help researchers deliver their research as well as contribute to national and international conservation of biodiversity.

Marine National Facility

The MNF has historically achieved or exceeded the target for successfully delivering sea days. The 2019–20 voyage schedule planned to deliver 303 days at sea, and the MNF was 100 per cent on track in March with all 214 planned sea days successfully delivered with no lost sea days. That research provided key information to government, industry and other stakeholders to support decision-making related to fisheries management, geological resources, regional and global climate, and marine operations.

However, COVID-19 prevented further voyages after March. The remaining 89 days of planned research days have been rescheduled to future years. Although Investigator’s sea operations were suspended from March onwards, this did not mean that the science was shut down. We continued to provide researchers with access to the ship’s advanced atmospheric instruments to monitor emissions and pollutants in the Hobart area.