Australian science falling behind till we replace luck with hope

Cosmos Magazine


Cosmos is a quarterly science magazine. We aim to inspire curiosity in ‘The Science of Everything’ and make the world of science accessible to everyone.

By Cosmos

One of Australia’s leading scientists has called for a radical rethink about how science converges with every facet of society to replace Australia’s reliance on luck with a foundation of hope.

Professor Mark Hutchinson, Director of the Centre for Nanoscale BioPhotonics, and the outgoing President of Science and Technology Australia, made his comments while giving the inaugural “Hope Oration,” at the Science Exchange in Adelaide.

Hutchinson told the invitation only guests that if we want our future scientists, engineers, and educators to be not just consumers but also creators, then hope must become an integral component of our educational fabric.

“This shift demands a radical rethinking of our pedagogical approaches, demanding time and space for inquiry-based learning, fostering creativity, and nurturing a culture that doesn’t just prize the right answers but also values the courage to ask the right questions,” he said.

“We’ve seen some astounding achievements coming out of Australian labs and institutions, from the invention of the cervical cancer vaccine to pioneering research in quantum computing and the creation of WiFi, the list is both extensive and inspiring.

“But here’s a challenging question: Are these successes the result of intentional, hope-fuelled systems, or are they merely the by-products of serendipity? Are we benefitting from a culture of hope, or are we just ‘lucky’?

“Clearly, in Australia we are falling behind other developed countries in our investments and expenditure on research and development. We simply need to do more. But we are clever, we are smart. Simply fuelling the system with more funding doesn’t engineer hope. It fuels luck. Let’s be clever.”

Hope oration mark speech
Professor Mark Hutchinson delivering The Hope Oration at the Science Exchange in Adelaide on October 9, 2023.

The Oration was hosted by the Royal Institution of Australia, which publishes  Cosmos Magazine and Australia’s online science news service

The editor in chief of Cosmos Magazine, Gail McCallum, pointed out to the guests that while they were listening to the unveiling: “We have just travelled 107,000 kilometres. “Science can take us to any future we want.”

The publication celebrated it’s 100th edition by commissioning “Reasons to Hope,” a wall sized mural depicting science, by artist Jenny McCracken.

“We exist at a time in history when science has never been more important – when facts have never been more crucial – and when the white noise around these facts grows louder and more confusing day by day.,” McCallum said.

“We enter this field of conflict to confront using our most powerful weapon: words. The magazine has published writing by some of the planet’s most influential scientist/thinkers, including Paul Davies, Margaret Wertheim, Brian Cox and David Suzuki. It has made its own genre of Australian journalism by supporting scientists to talk about their research and also growing science journalism, bringing writers to tell stories in ways we hope entertain and energize.”

Referring to the artwork, which was unveiled by the Governor, Frances Adamson, Prof. Hutchinson said hope doesn’t operate in isolation.

“It’s deeply integrated into the scientific hypothesis and research methodologies that we employ. So when we discuss hope tonight, we’re not merely pondering a nebulous concept but exploring an actionable tenet deeply embedded in the scientific ecosystem.

“I was struck by a recent conversation with my daughter, Sophie. When I asked her where hope was taught in her science or maths classes, her response was candid: “Dad, you just have to know stuff.” It made me pause and ponder—are we, as educators, merely teaching the art of knowledge gathering, or are we instilling the skills of knowledge creation?

If we want our future scientists, engineers, and educators to be not just consumers but also creators, then hope must become an integral component of our educational fabric.

“The new $2.4 billion Australian Economic Accelerator program, alongside the $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund and other exciting developments like the transformative potential of the newly merged Adelaide University suddenly provide an opportunity to intentionally string together the brilliance of concept creation with the manufacturing and scaling of capability.

“These initiatives are not just massive injections of funding; or simple organisational restructuring, they are investments in hope. And just like any sound investment, they require a balance between risk and reward.

“We should not be so averse to risk that we stifle innovation; instead, we should plan for a headroom of non-linear explosion of hope. By that, I mean we need to build systems flexible enough to accommodate unforeseen, exponential advancements, without collapsing under the weight of their own complexity.”

Hutchinson says The Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics (CNBP) stands as an example of what intentional hope can achieve.

“Rooted in the principles of convergence science, headquartered here at the University of Adelaide, the CNBP has been instrumental in orchestrating and transforming concepts into real-world applications across the globe.

“Our ambition isn’t only confined to scholarly articles gathering dust on a shelf but extends to delivering market-ready solutions that have a tangible impact on society. During its ongoing tenure, the CNBP has catalysed the creation of 22 startups with a staggering market impact exceeding $512 million. From developing the world’s smallest microscope—a ground-breaking tool that promises to revolutionise brain surgery and the diagnosis of heart disease—to devising meat quality probes that are globally employed to ensure premium protein products, to next generation IVF technologies for humans and animals, CNBP epitomises how science can be attuned to the needs and demands of end-users, whilst simultaneously breaking ground at the frontiers of fundamental knowledge AND training the future workforce of academic and industry innovators.

The T-shaped model of education—deep expertise in a single domain—has served us well but is increasingly inadequate for the complex challenges of the 21st century. Instead, we must strive for the education creating ‘comb-shaped’ individuals—those with deep expertise in multiple fields, all connected by a foundational layer of broad knowledge.

“Imagine the impact of a medical researcher trained in genomics but also versed in ethics, public policy, and data analytics. Or consider the promise of a civil engineer who understands not just the mechanics of building bridges but the environmental science of the ecosystems they cross, and the sociopolitical implications of connecting communities. This ‘comb-shaped’ model isn’t just an academic exercise; it’s a necessity for a future where challenges are as interconnected as the solutions they require.

“Let us commence this journey towards a hope-infused future. A future where silos are dismantled in favour of collaborative ecosystems. A future where our educational systems produce not just experts but polymaths. And most crucially, a future where hope serves as the foundational ethos guiding our collective endeavours in science, technology, and beyond.”

Cosmos100coverart jennymccracken noborder
“Reasons to Hope” Jenny McCracken

Subscribe to our quarterly print magazine

Please login to favourite this article.