A year of The Next Big Thing.

From the frontline: what the scientists say

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Empowering our energy future

Australia has the resources to lead the world in battery production. If we did more than merely export those raw materials, we could supercharge our economy.

Historically, Australia has been a country that has done no more than mining for raw materials rather than processing them to make valuable goods and holding a prominent role in the global supply chain of various technologies. But things are about to change, because of the trade war between China and the rest of the world. China currently controls the supply chain of batteries because they dominate the processing of the critical battery minerals. Other industrial countries such as South Korea, Japan, USA and Europe make batteries, but they rely heavily on China for those materials. If Australia could pick up that refining and processing, we would be the more reliable trading partner.

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When bus timetables and particle physics collide

The challenges of mathematics equate to the most exciting new frontiers of science.

In Cuernavaca, Mexico, a driver pays a small fee to an observer at each stop for information about when a previous bus departed on the same route. If the departure time was recent, the driver waits. If the departure time was some time ago, the driver departs. They adjust the waiting times and speeds so as not to lag too far behind or get too close to the next bus. It is an example of a system designed to maximise passenger numbers on each bus while minimising waiting time between buses.

The beauty of mathematics is that the description of the Cuernavaca bus arrival times also works in other situations… Think about large prime numbers and how they are spaced apart from each other on the number line… Large prime numbers form the basis of the RSA algorithm, which is a public-key cryptographic system widely used to ensure secure data transmission. 

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Australia: The still-not-so-clever country

Australian business leaders who know how to articulate to their stakeholders and government the importance of science and innovation.

Science and innovation in Australia are constrained by the behaviour of our firms. Even allowing for our industrial structure, with its comparative absence of technology firms, Australian business leaders are poor at articulating to their stakeholders and the government the importance of science and innovation. They are reticent to invest and collaborate in science and innovation and mediocre at using them to their advantage. Our firms are hamstrung by the risk-averse and compliance orientation of lawyer- and accountant-heavy boards of directors. Nations succeed with science and research when firms know why and how they need to innovate, and if they don’t they are keen to learn.

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Overcoming the barriers to reef recovery

Understanding the life cycle of coral is key to preserving our precious underwater worlds.  

The tools that we have currently are insufficient to address the scale of coral decline globally. At AIMS, I’m involved in two big programs focused on developing new and innovative methods to improve the resilience of coral reefs affected by climate change: the Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program and the Australian Coral Reef Resilience Initiative. My hope is that we can develop a toolkit of strategies to implement on reefs that aren’t recovering naturally.

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A chance to change the world

With a net zero emissions target, we have an opportunity to reinvent the way we inhabit this planet.science communication.

The focus of my work has required me to bring people and resources together, across the world. In this way, we’ve been able to produce the highly interdisciplinary and integrative research that is required to produce global and Australian budgets of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. These budgets are the building blocks to develop pathways to decarbonisation, and they account for all human and natural emissions and removals of greenhouse gases. We also use these budgets to assess how much more greenhouses gases can still be emitted before we need to have the global carbon-based economy stopped.

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