A message from the Minister

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Discovery newsletter

Summer 2007-08

A message from the Minister

I look forward very much to working with the higher education sector, through the ARC, to ensure that the Government supports the most talented researchers and that Australian research reflects the best academia has to offer.

The ARC, its leadership, processes and achievements, has always enjoyed my full confidence and respect, but there have been times when its independence has been compromised. I refer here to those research proposals unilaterally vetoed by Dr Brendan Nelson, when he was Minister.

I understand and sympathise with the research community’s desire to get to the bottom of this matter. However, I do not wish to put in jeopardy the ARC’s confidentiality provisions, so I have decided—for the greater good—to accept the ARC’s position that the vetoed proposals not be made public.

Having said this, let me assure you that if I should make a decision to veto a project, my reasons will be public for all to see and scrutinise. I am 100 per cent committed to protecting the integrity of the peer review system and to building a stronger, more vibrant research sector through processes that are open, honest and transparent.

There will be many steps along the way to increasing Australia’s research potential. The first is my recent appointment, based on ARC advice, of an independent Advisory Council to provide high-level strategic advice to CEO Professor Margaret Sheil. I believe that the Advisory Council members are held in enormously high regard by the sector and expect that their input will be invaluable.

The ARC and our research community play vital roles in Australia’s innovation system. I am determined that, as a result of broad consultations with all stakeholders and the planned review of our innovation system, Australia will deliver stronger outcomes of a higher calibre than ever before.

Yours sincerely

Senator Kim Carr
Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research

CEO’s Column

The New Year is only a few weeks old, but 2008 is already shaping up to be an exciting time for the ARC.

We got off to an excellent start, with the announcement by our Minister, Senator Kim Carr, of a new, independent ARC Advisory Council, whose membership includes representatives from academia and industry, several States, and a range of different disciplines. I look forward to stimulating and lively discussions with this eminent group of people that will contribute significantly to ARC strategic planning and the future shape of publicly-funded research schemes. Our first meeting is scheduled for 5 March 2008.

The ARC is working on several policy initiatives, including draft guidelines for the Government’s new Future Fellowships scheme announced during the election campaign. The scheme will aim to keep Australia’s best and brightest mid-career researchers in Australia. The guidelines will be prepared in consultation with the NHMRC for release after the 2008–09 Budget has been announced.

The ARC will also be closely involved in two of the Government’s major undertakings. The first being the development of the research quality assurance system to replace the now defunct RQF. The ARC has already been consulted by Senator Carr in relation to options for achieving the overriding policy objective of evaluating the quality of publicly-funded research in Australian universities and informing the strategic development of, and investment in, Australia’s research and innovation system. We look forward to an announcement from him on this matter.

Second, I anticipate that the ARC will contribute substantially to the review of Australia’s innovation system announced recently by Senator Carr. This presents a rare opportunity for all the players to have significant input into Australia’s R&D future, and I encourage ARC stakeholders to participate in the process.

Finally, it is with mixed feelings that I must farewell my Deputy CEO, Mr Greg Harper, Executive Director for Social, Behavioural and Economic Sciences, Professor Elim Papadakis, and Executive Director for Mathematics, Information and Communication Sciences, Professor Jonathan Manton.

Each of these individuals has contributed enormously to the ARC’s ongoing development, its expertise and the quality of the work that we do. I thank them for a job well done and wish them all the best.

Yours sincerely
Professor Margaret Sheil

Independent ARC Advisory Council appointed

The Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Senator the Hon Kim Carr, has delivered on the first stage of the Government’s promise to restore independence to the ARC.

Announcing in early January the establishment of an ARC Advisory Council to provide advice on key research issues to the CEO, Professor Margaret Sheil, Senator Carr said that research was “not a political plaything to be toyed with at the whim of the Government”.

“It is our responsibility to seek and respect the views of those individuals most able to provide valuable insight into the issues faced by researchers and shape an environment that will deliver the best possible results for all Australians,” he said.

The Advisory Council, to be chaired by Professor Sheil, will provide her with non-binding strategic and policy advice on: strategic issues relating to the mission of the ARC; policy matters relating to innovation, research and research training; and matters relating to the evaluation of the quality and outcomes of research and research training in an international context.

The members of the Council, who have each been appointed for up to three years, are:

  • Professor Terry Hughes, Director, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University

  • Dr Elizabeth Jazwinska, Johnson & Johnson Research Pty Ltd

  • Professor Stuart Macintyre, Ernst Scott Professor of History, The University of Melbourne

  • Professor John Ralston, Director, Ian Wark Research Institute, University of South Australia

  • Professor Margaret Seares AO, Senior Deputy, Vice-Chancellor, The University of Western Australia

  • Professor Arun Sharma, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research/Commercialisation), Queensland University of Technology.

For biographies of the members, visit http://www.arc.gov.au/media/Advisory_Bio.htm.


Australia taps into program to discover the ‘secrets’ that lie beneath the ocean floor

Australian researchers have the opportunity to learn more about, and eventually predict, tectonic changes, aspects of climate change and major natural disasters such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis, through membership of the largest and most effective international geoscience program, the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP).

The IODP is a $120 million a year international marine scientific research program that explores the geological structure and evolution of the Earth and its changing environments. It does so by drilling and coring the rocks and sediments that lie beneath the world’s ocean basins, its ridges, island arcs and plateaus, and its continental margins.

Laboratory analysis of rock and sediment core samples, and the fluids they contain, is progressively revealing the complex history of our planet, its atmosphere and oceans.

The origins of the IODP lie in two research drilling programs, spaning almost 40 years. One of the earliest discoveries established plate tectonics as the fundamental driving mechanisms of Earth history—the creation of tectonic plates at mid ocean ridges and their destruction at oceanic trenches and in building mountain belts. The discovery changed the way scientists think about our changing world and its endowment of natural resources.

The Program’s three principal themes are described as: The deep living biosphere beneath the ocean floor; Environmental change, processes and effects; and Geology and tectonics of the solid Earth. Researchers anticipate that the long-term goals of research in these areas will have huge implications for humankind, including:

  • placing natural climate and environmental change in context with that caused by human activity

  • understanding and eventually predicting major natural disasters, such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis

  • understanding the evolution of life on an evolving world

  • understanding the ultimate limits to sustainable resource exploitation.

Australia is the 22nd country to subscribe to the IODP, joining a consortium of science funding agencies based in the USA, Japan, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK, China and Korea.

The US, Japan and the European consortium are each contributing significant infrastructure. An intermediate drillship, operated by Joint Oceanographic Institutions, is the US mainstay of the program. This vessel can drill in 6,000m of water to 2,000m sub-bottom (‘riserless drilling’).

The largest drillship in the scientific fleet was recently brought into service by the Japanese Marine Science and Technology Agency. This vessel can drill in 2,500m of water to 4,000m sub-bottom, maintaining full drillhole stability (‘riser drilling’).

And a series of ‘mission-specific’ drilling platforms, which can drill in such challenging locations as the Arctic Ocean and the coral platforms off Tahiti, is operated by the British Geological Survey.

The IODP operates in a ‘collegiate’ fashion that allows scientists from any contributing nation to submit drilling proposals, be part of the scientific advisory structure that recommends research projects, participate in global drilling expeditions as part of the scientific party at sea and ashore, share in scientific publication and have general free access to Program data for teaching and further research.

Much of the important research conducted by the IODP has a particular focus on climate change and environmental evolution. Forthcoming scientific expeditions that will be of particular interest to Australian scientists include:

  • the New Jersey continental margin (USA)—to study the history of sea level changes over the past 30 million years in a low sediment supply, tectonically stable regime

  • the Canterbury Basin (New Zealand)—to study the history of sea level changes over the same period in a high sediment supply, tectonically unstable regime

  • Wilkes Land (Antarctica)—a long-term record of Antarctic glaciation and its relationship with global sea level, paleoclimate and paleoceanographic changes

  • a series of expeditions to the Nankai Trough, off Japan, to study the zone of earthquakes that dips beneath this volcanic island arc. This is a long-term project to gain an understanding, and eventually prediction, of the earthquakes that cause so much damage and loss of life.

There is also a proposal to obtain shallow core samples from near the Great Barrier Reef, in order to understand the past 20,000 years of reef history and contribute to better scientifically informed reef management.

The Australian National University will manage Australia’s five-year IODP subscription, which is supported by an AUD6 million ARC Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities grant. The other Australian participants include Curtin University of Technology, James Cook University, Macquarie University, Monash University, Queensland University of Technology, The University of Adelaide, The University of Melbourne, The University of Newcastle, The University of Queensland, The University of Sydney, The University of Western Australia, University of Tasmania, University of Wollongong, the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation.

Results from drilling within Australia’s marine jurisdiction will provide an understanding of the oceans’ state under past climates through high resolution records of the range of oceanographic and biological responses to climate change, the role of the deep biosphere in shaping oil and gas deposits, hydrothermal and igneous processes involved in ore genesis, and enhanced understanding of some of the world’s largest earthquake- and tsunami-generating processes.

For more information, visit http://www.iodp.org/.


An Outcome by any other Name…

Every time I talk to colleagues from US, European or Japanese funding agencies, the ‘new message’ reverberates more and more often: The research community may judge itself, with ever increasing sophistication, by its research outputs, but governments want to hear more about outcomes.

In harsh terms, this equates to the very direct question: What does the Australian taxpayer actually get out of the several billion dollars invested every year in research?

I recall when I was a younger researcher that my mother asked me what I did. With great care and devotion, I explained about searching out new knowledge, peer review, papers in prestigious journals and invitations to lecture, but to no avail.

“Okay,” she said, “but what do you really do?”

Mum didn’t particularly care about the stuff we generally take as the ultimate and sacred product of research innovation. She just wanted to know what use it actually was to anyone!

That was more difficult to explain, but I think a clear and publicly comprehensible answer is vital, if the research community is to justify its very credible contribution to our society in terms that ‘real’ people understand.

The simplest way I have found to describe an ‘outcome’ is using the flow chart below.

Of course, it is the last box that still causes some very real misunderstandings among many researchers and perhaps this is not too surprising. It remains standard operating procedure in nearly all universities and research agencies to give a very high weighting to a candidate’s publication record (effectively, the second last box) when considering appointment or promotion. Outputs (publications) are relatively easy to measure and compare, but the game is changing and outcomes (benefits) now need to be communicated, as well.

I have found that the best way to introduce ‘outcomes’ in the research context is in terms of what follows on from the research results and has an impact on the community.

The process of translating ‘outputs’ into ‘outcomes’ is ‘knowledge transfer’—a very broad concept that focuses on research uptake and application. A simple example from my own field of geoscience will illustrate.

Some time ago, a colleague involved in mineral exploration research described how one of his research teams had discovered new geochemical ‘indicators’ that could improve exploration targeting. My enthusiastic follow-up question was “well, what happened?” We struggled back and forth through descriptions of reports, papers, international peer acknowledgement and new research grants, until we got to the real outcome… An exploration company had used the technique to discover an ore body containing some three million ounces of gold.

At the current AUD850 per ounce, the word ‘outcome’ becomes startlingly clear. The wider benefits include employment, royalty payments, dividends, infrastructure investment, etc. And with modern environmental and cultural regulations affecting all new mine developments, wider research activities are indicated.

There are many other such examples in the wider spectrum of research: sciences, maths, engineering, economics, sociology and humanities. For example, to my mind, when the discovery of the ‘hobbits’ that lived in Indonesia some 10,000 years ago reached the public domain, that new knowledge also became an outcome. It wrote another chapter in the chronicle of humankind.

Therefore, the art is to not only recognise, but also to communicate outcomes and benefits, because the taxpayer not only deserves to hear such good news stories, they are generally interested and excited by where our research has led.

Here, the ARC and its community of researchers probably have a more difficult task than the community supported by the NHMRC. Medical research outcomes are understandably more personal. Steps down the road towards a cure for cancer will always grab headlines. But ours is not an impossible task, it just takes a little more effort.

With this in mind, the ARC has decided to host the Graeme Clark Research Outcomes Forum on 18 June 2008. In its inaugural year, the Forum will focus on the outcomes achieved by ARC Centres and Federation Fellows.

Already, proposals are coming in, and first indications are that it will be a very interesting day. The real challenge will be making the research understandable to the media, politicians, public servants, business leaders and investors.

I have already suggested to some potential contributors that if you can explain the importance of your research and its outcomes to your Mum, you’ve got it pretty right!

See page 10 for the call for submissions for the Graeme Clark Research Outcomes Forum.


Supporting Australia’s rural industries

Researchers at the ARC Centre of Excellence in Structural and Functional Microbial Genomics at Monash University are providing unique support to farmers and other rural industries struggling as a result of Australia’s devastating drought.

The team, led by Professor Ben Adler, is unravelling the intricate mechanisms of bacterial pathogenesis in a range of veterinary infectious diseases that cause farmers, in particular, substantial financial losses.

“The research seeks to shed light on the key aspects of microbial pathogens and the hosts they infect, in diseases that have a significant impact on Australian primary industry,” Professor Adler says.

“Specifically, we are looking at fowl cholera, ovine footrot, avian necrotic enteritis, leptospirosis and swine dysentery, with the intention of discovering vaccine antigens, a prerequisite for the development of modern subunit vaccines.”

The ARC Centre of Excellence brings together a team of internationally-renowned researchers with complementary expertise in bioinformatics and functional genomics, structural biology, proteomics, molecular pathogenesis and mechanisms of immunity, as well as an assembly of specialised infrastructure in genomics, proteomics, protein production and x-ray crystallography.

“This infrastructure, collectively known as a ‘high throughput microbial pipeline’, allows us to adopt a high throughput screening approach to protein purification and structural analysis of the array of proteins of the microbial pathogens under study,” Professor Adler says.

The ARC Centre works in partnership with the veterinary faculties of The University of Sydney and The University of Queensland, the CSIRO, the Victorian Bioinformatics Consortium, the Victorian Partnership for Advanced Computing, the Victorian Department of Primary Industries, the Australian Genome Research Facility and Pfizer Australia.

In addition, the Centre’s vaccine development projects involve collaborations with Pfizer Animal Health, Intervet International, and the Australian Poultry Cooperative Research Centre.

In 2007, fundamental research conducted by the ARC Centre of Excellence into microbial genomics and pathogenesis was published in prestigious scientific journals such as Nature, Nature Immunology, Science and Nature Biotechnology.

For more information, visit http://www.microbialgenomics.net.

NUE wheat & barley

The Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics (ACPFG), an ARC and Grains Research and Development Corporation co-funded centre, has agreed to develop and commercialise nitrogen-use-efficient (NUE) wheat and barley in partnership with the CSIRO and US-based plant technology company Arcadia Biosciences Inc.

Nitrogen is a key input for wheat and barley crops but NUE technology enables plants to use nitrogen fertilizer much more efficiently. This is significant for a major wheat and barley producing country like Australia because the technology will allow considerable cost savings for farmers while providing high yields and reducing greenhouse gas emissions and nitrogen pollution in waterways.

“Nitrogen fertilizer costs have been spiralling and the environmental benefits of reducing its use will be irresistible to the Australian grains industry,” ACPFG’s General Manager, Mr Michael Gilbert, said.

The Director of CSIRO’s Food Futures Flagship, Dr Bruce Lee, described CSIRO’s pre-breeding and novel grain trait research, Arcadia’s NUE technology and the ACPFG’s high quality research as a “perfect fit”.

“Leveraging each organisation’s strengths has produced a highly effective international collaboration with significant opportunities not only in reducing nitrogen use but also the potential to impact positively on grain quality attributes,” Dr Lee said.

NUE wheat and barley varieties produced through the collaboration are expected to be commercialised in 2015–2016.

For more information, email michael.gilbert@acpfg.com.au.


Confronting the climate change challenge

Climate change and its impact on so many aspects of our lives has become one of the key problems in the 21st century for which scientists around the world are urgently looking, from every angle, for solutions.

One approach to be undertaken by Ms Cass Hunter, with the aid of an ARC Indigenous Research Fellowship, involves examining the consequences of climate change on marine processes, harvested resources and ecosystem functioning by identifying vulnerable species and habitats.

Following the completion of her PhD at the CSIRO in early 2008, Ms Hunter will join the Spatial Ecology Laboratory at The University of Queensland, which is led by ARC Federation Fellow Professor Hugh Possingham. There, she will work closely with colleagues at University of Tasmania and the CSIRO to link global climate ecosystem models for predicting the impact of climate change on marine life, with climate models.

The plan is that this will enable evaluation of management strategies that can be applied to protect biodiversity, increase resilience of marine ecosystems, and provide sustained economic benefit for Australia under climate change.

“Australia is particularly vulnerable to climate change because of our unique marine biodiversity and the significant economic wealth marine systems generate,” Ms Hunter says. “In fact, global climate models predict that the greatest warming in the Southern Hemisphere oceans this century will be in the Tasman Sea, and we are already aware of repeated mass coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef, a decline in giant kelp forests in Tasmanian waters, and shifts in seabird species along the west coast of Australia.

“Ecosystem modelling is essential if we are to be in a position to be able to provide management advice to a range of Australian stakeholders, including national, state and local government agencies, on balancing ecosystem integrity, economic efficiency and ecosystem resilience under climate change.”

Ms Hunter will use the Atlantis ecosystem model—the leading marine ecosystem model in the region—with scenario output from global climate models to gain insight into how an ecosystem will function under different management options.

“It is critical that we not only have an idea about how ecosystems will change, but how we will need to modify our management strategies to adapt to that change as well as how to limit that change by boosting ecosystem resilience,” she says.

The research will focus on four main questions:

1. Which forcing function that will alter under climate change—temperature, precipitation, light, salinity, currents, nutrient input—will have the greatest impact on the ecosystem?

2. Which key biological group/s—marine mammals, invertebrates, harvested fish—may be most vulnerable to climate change?

3. How well will fish resources cope in the future under climate change if they are harvested at current levels?

4. How can we foster resilience in the marine ecosystem by changing fishing strategies or other forms of management?

Ms Hunter’s research will underpin Australia’s long-term commitment to maintain environmental biodiversity and sustainability in the face of climate change, and may put our scientists at the forefront of research that focuses on the adaptation of marine ecosystems to such change.

Specifically, she anticipates that her research will:

  • produce future trends in the abundance and distribution of many important and charismatic marine species

  • describe potential consequences to harvested resources from fishing and climate change

  • detail possible changes to ecosystem structure and function in response to climate change

  • identify species sensitive to climate change

  • identify habitats that may be particularly vulnerable to climate change

  • recommend management options to maintain ecosystem resilience in the face of climate change.

For more information, email cass.hunter@csiro.au.


Movement at the top

In this issue of Discovery, we farewell three highly valued members of staff whose outstanding contributions to the ARC will leave a lasting impression.

Deputy Chief Executive Officer Greg Harper is retiring following a long career in the public sector—Commonwealth and ACT—in a diverse range of agencies, primarily in policy and business & financial management positions.

A university medallist, Mr Harper holds a B.Sc. (Hons) majoring in biochemistry and genetics, honours in molecular genetics, and M.Sc. in molecular genetics from The University of Sydney, but his academic career was stopped short for personal reasons.

Fortunately for us, he was well suited to the bureaucracy, climbing the ladder quickly and, along the way, becoming a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and a Fellow of CPA Australia.

His strategic and administrative prowess, combined with a passion for learning and a particular interest in the hard sciences, meant that Mr Harper and the ARC were a perfect fit. A cautious public servant, he soaked up details like a sponge, while his enquiring and analytical mind processed and stored them for quick retrieval later.

Endlessly fascinated by knowledge, Mr Harper took advantage of opportunities to pick the brains of the ARC’s academic executive directors and keep “somewhere near”
up-to-date with Science and Nature, and he was always delighted to share his extensive knowledge on any topic.

Equally, Mr Harper made time to listen to, and advise, staff in need of extra support, and he provided an excellent ‘sounding board’ for the organisation. More often than not, his office hours extended until well past midnight as he worked to ensure the establishment of a respected stand-alone organisation after the ARC became a statutory authority in 2001.

His ability to follow argument in a variety of disciplines allowed him to play key roles in a wide range of forums, notably in the establishment of the Australian Stem Cell Centre and the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics, and in a number of issues relevant to Australian astronomy.

Mr Harper’s illustrious career included working in the Office of the Public Service Board and the Department of Finance, where he headed up the latter’s Accounting Policy Branch. He led the Financial Management Reform Unit in the ACT Chief Minister’s Department, the Commonwealth’s Bureau of Transport Economics, and the Corporate Division of the Department of Transport and Regional Services.

Immediately before joining the ARC in May 2002, Mr Harper was a Deputy Secretary in the Department of Defence. And he acted in the position of ARC CEO for several months between the departure of the previous CEO and the arrival of the incumbent.

The ARC thanks Mr Harper for his tremendous contribution to the organisation and wishes him an enjoyable, interesting, stimulating and challenging retirement.

The ARC’s loss is the medical research community’s gain, with former Executive Director for Social, Behavioural and Economic Sciences Professor Elim Papadakis taking up the position of Executive Director, Research Investment Branch, Knowledge and Innovation Division with the NHMRC.

During Professor Papadakis’ tenure, which began in late 2003, he was variously responsible for Discovery Projects; Federation Fellowships; Research Networks; the Special Research Initiative ARC Centre of Excellence in Policing and Security; and the Internationally Coordinated Initiative Social Sciences Collaboration.

On the eve of his departure, Professor Papadakis reflected on his time with the ARC.

“There have been many highlights,” Professor Papadakis said. “The interaction with members of the College of Experts, whose dedication and good humour has always impressed me, and the involvement in our work of hundreds of Australian and International Readers, who form the backbone of our peer review processes.

“Their willingness to contribute—to advise, support and encourage our first-rate researchers—is pivotal to the future of the ARC.”

Professor Papadakis said it had been a privilege to work at the ARC during a period that was characterised by:

  • a rapid increase in the number of applications

  • the emergence of multidisciplinary networks

  • extensive links with industry partners not usually associated with proposals led by university researchers

  • the strengthening of international collaboration.

“In all the schemes I have managed, the ARC has had to address issues raised by numerous sceptics,” Professor Papadakis said.

“A case in point is the creation of research networks, which elicited sharp criticism from some, who regarded them as a diversion of resources from some of our core schemes.

“It has been terrific to see some networks exceed expectations, especially in terms of supporting early career researchers and forming the basis for large-scale project proposals with numerous collaborators.

“The extent of links between some networks and end-users has been another impressive outcome.”

Professor Papadakis especially enjoyed representing the ARC and the Commonwealth in various forums.

“Working at the ARC has provided me unparalleled opportunities to work across the boundaries that characterise academia and the public service,” he said.

“The experience has been even richer than I expected and allowed me to work with some outstanding professionals within the ARC and other government agencies, and in the higher education community.”

The ARC looks forward to working with Professor Papadakis in his new role at the NHMRC—where we hope his quick wit, analytical mind and refined sensibilities will be equally appreciated—and, with has assistance, to developing an even stronger relationship with the NHMRC.

Finally, the ARC’s Executive Director for Mathematics, Information and Communication Sciences, Professor Jonathan Manton, is preparing to take up a Future Generation Professorship at The University of Melbourne in May 2008.

Professor Manton, who has been with the ARC for almost two years, is grateful for his public sector experiences, which have given him an excellent insight into how the ‘system’ works and a greater understanding of Australian research overall than he could otherwise have obtained.

Professor Manton’s efforts at the ARC have substantially been behind the scenes, where he has dedicated himself to a program of continuous improvement in peer review processes, the benefits of which will become apparent into the future.

His work has involved analysing the peer assessment processes to determine how the ARC might better match assessors to research proposals, what and how information about assessors should be collected, how information could be ‘combined’ and presented to College of Experts members so as to be of more use, and what sorts of research projects should be selected for funding.

“The ARC has the enormously challenging and important responsibility of trying to achieve an appropriate balance between the funding it provides to highly innovative research, research of great national benefit, research that will result in significant advances in a specific field of knowledge and excellent researchers,” Professor Manton says. “How do we decide where the emphasis should be placed and on what premise should the ARC allocate its limited amount of funding to each project it supports?

“These are not trivial matters and there is always room for improvement.”

Professor Manton says that being on the administrator side of the ARC funding process has proven an invaluable learning experience that he plans to share and put to good use when he’s back in a university environment, especially in relation to thinking outside his own area of expertise.

“I have really enjoyed my contact with researchers across the sector, which has given me a broader perspective on the issues faced by specific disciplines or groups, such as early-career researchers, and those that are common to many.

“I can’t speak highly enough about the generosity shown to me while I have visited various research organisations, the time and patience and energy each has demonstrated, and the open and respectful way in which researchers and administrators have analysed the information I have been able to share.

“And I am full of praise for my academic and other ARC colleagues, who have indulged my ideas and given me the grace to explore them.

“In my new role, I look forward to making a stronger, better informed contribution to Australian research and hope to continue forging fruitful relationships between academia, government and industry.”

The ARC wishes Professor Manton every success in his ongoing research career.


Graeme Clark Research Outcomes Forum

Call for submissions

The Australian Research Council (ARC) is calling for submissions from Federation Fellows and researchers attached to ARC Centres, including early-career researchers, to participate in the inaugural Graeme Clark Research Outcomes Forum and contribute to an ARC research outcomes coffee table book.

Graeme Clark Research Outcomes Forum

In June 2008, the ARC will host the inaugural Graeme Clark Research Outcomes Forum to showcase the outstanding achievements of ARC Centres researchers, including early-career researchers, and Federation Fellows (who may or may not be associated with ARC Centres). The focus of the Forum will be on the applications, uses and wider benefits of research, rather than research outputs.

The forum will take place on Wednesday, 18 June 2008 at Parliament House in Canberra. It will include short, plain English presentations from ARC-funded researchers selected through a competitive application process, sessions on topical themes, displays, media briefings, and a keynote address by Professor Graeme Clark AC.

Professor Clark pioneered the Cochlear ‘bionic’ ear implant, founded the Bionic Ear Institute and is considered one of Australia’s living treasures. Now in his 70s, Professor Clark has devoted his career, with significant support from the ARC, to improving the quality of life of thousands of hearing-impaired people around the world. Still an active researcher, Professor Clark is working with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science, headquartered at the University of Wollongong, and St Vincent’s Hospital on developing a modified version of the implant to make it possible for victims of spinal cord injury to again feel and move. And he continues to work at the Bionic Ear Institute.

Professor Clark—his dedication to research and his brilliant achievements—personifies the importance of high-quality innovative research to Australia’s intellectual, cultural, social and economic prosperity. The Graeme Clark Research Outcomes Forum will recognise, celebrate and promote the achievements of other ARC-funded researchers and the benefits their work bring to the Australian community.

Coffee table book

The ARC is partnering with specialty publishing house Palamedia Ltd to produce a coffee table book featuring articles about outcomes achieved—based on research by Federation Fellows and researchers at ARC Centres—through projects funded predominantly by the ARC.

Other publications produced by Palamedia’s custom publishing division include:

  • Australian Innovation, the official publication of the 2008 Australian Innovation Festival

  • Australia India Business, officially endorsed by the Australia India Business Council

  • American Australian Business, for and on behalf of the American Chamber of Commerce in Australia and Invest Australia

  • China Australia Business, for and on behalf of the Australia China Business Council.

Palamedia writers/editors will work with the researchers whose submissions are selected to produce feature articles for inclusion in the coffee table book.


Researchers will be afforded the opportunity to publicise and present the outcomes of their research in two formats:

a. a plain English oral presentation during the forum itself

b. a plain English component ‘article’ in the coffee table book.

In addition, opportunities for publicising achievements/outcomes/presentations may be available through the ARC website, a stand alone forum website and/or conventional media outlets.

Submissions should address one or more of six key outcome areas for consideration in one of three categories.

Key outcome areas

1. Economic (generating wealth; creating employment in sustainable and/or new industries)

2. Social (improving equity and quality of life; reducing social risk)

3. Cultural (improved understanding of other peoples and ourselves, our region and our world)

4. Environmental (protecting or restoring the environment; sustainable development)

5. Policy and Administration (improving decision making and governance)

6. Scientific Advancement (understanding ourselves and nature)


i. outcomes derived from ARC support within the past five years

ii. Outcomes derived from ARC support within the past five to 10 years

iii. Outcomes derived from ARC support within the past 20 years

Selection criteria

Submissions will be assessed by a panel of academic ARC Executive Directors against the following, equally weighted, criteria:

  • Relevant publications, including peer-reviewed publications, that have led to the outcomes

  • Impact of the outcome areas on the nation, including benefits that fall within the National Research Priorities

  • International significance as measured by recognised applications, uses and awards, formal evaluation or commercial advantage

  • Significance and extent of public outreach and/or knowledge transfer outcomes.


Submissions must be received at the ARC by 5.00pm AEDT on Thursday, 14 February 2008 to be considered for inclusion in the forum and the book.

Each submission should be no longer than 800 words (plus a title page) and must be lodged with the ARC individually via email. The email address for submissions is: clarkforum@arc.gov.au

The title page must include the following information:

  • Full name

  • Contact details (telephone, email, postal address)

  • Key outcome area/s

  • Category

  • ARC Project or Centre ID

  • Administering organisation

  • Position

  • Discipline/s.

Enquiries should be directed to:

Dr David Falvey
ARC Executive Director
Tel: 02 6287 6729

Ms Fiona Skivington
ARC Corporate Communications Manager
Tel: 02 6287 6716

Australia makes quantum leap in race for supercomputer

Physicists at Griffith University’s Centre for Quantum Dynamics have produced what they believe to be the basic building blocks of ion-trap quantum computer hardware.

The team trapped in a vacuum a string of 10 ions made from atoms of ytterbium, a rare metallic element, and bombarded them with precisely the right frequency of laser light to be able to move and control them.

The ARC-funded researchers, Dr Erik Streed and Dr Dave Kielpinski, foresee that many parallel strings of  ions could eventually be harnessed together on a single chip to produce a processor with computing potential far exceeding any available today.

This achievement makes Australia a contender to produce the world’s first supercomputer, but the science is still in its infancy.

“Quantum computing was where traditional or ‘classical’ computing was in the 1930s,” Dr Streed says. “Computers used to weigh several tonnes and comprise thousands of vacuum tubes, but could only carry out the most basic addition.

“That’s where we are today.”

Theorists predict an advanced quantum computer could break encrypted codes indecipherable to conventional computers, posing huge challenges to international defence, online banking and finance.

“Quantum computers aren’t designed to make word processing faster,” Dr Kielpinski said. “Their application is for solving ‘needle in a haystack’ type problems that require massive amounts of data to be processed quickly.

“This level of computing power may still be decades in the future, but Australia now has a horse in the
ion-trap race.”

For more information, visit http://www.griffith.edu.au/centre/quantumdynamics/

RMS project update

Since the last update, the Research Management System (RMS) project team has continued to develop functionality to replace the GAMS system in parallel with enhancing and extending the functionality already implemented to support ARC selection meetings.

The ARC has recently re-established the RMS reference  group, with a wide range of research organisations offered the opportunity to participate. In early December 2007, the reference group met in Canberra for a demonstration of the functionality developed so far, including user profile creation & maintenance and proposal preparation & submission. Following the demonstration, a workshop was held to enable members to provide valuable input into the further development of the system.

For more information, contact:
Mr Ian Laslett
Assistant Project Manager
Tel: 02 6287 6635 | Email: rms@arc.gov.au

Note: The Spring 2007 issue of Discovery was cancelled due to the federal election.

Submitting articles

The ARC welcomes suggestions and articles for Discovery. Articles may be edited for style and length. Edited articles are referred to authors before publication for correction and feedback. There is no guarantee that all submitted articles will be published. Submissions should be sent to fiona.skivington@arc.gov.au.

Contact information

Australian Research Council
1st Floor, 8 Brindabella Circuit
Brindabella Business Park
Canberra Airport ACT 2609

GPO Box 2702, Canberra ACT 2601


General Inquiries
Tel: +61 2 6287 6600
Fax: +61 2 6287 6601

National Competitive Grants Program

Australian Government Australian Research Council, Canberra
© Commonwealth of Australia, January 2008
ISSN 1448-3815 (Print)
Editor: Fiona Skivington
Designer: Fusebox Design, Melbourne
Printer: Union Offset Printers, Canberra
Publisher: Australian Research Council

Printed on recycled paper.


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