Last Wednesday, Australia’s new chief scientist, Dr Cathy Foley, gave the National Press Club Address for Science meets Parliament.
Foley spoke of her vision for the future of science in Australia, emphasising the collaboration between industry and the science community, and placing science at the heart of policy development.
“Science is a crucial tool for solving the big challenges that we face here and overseas,” she said. “The question for me is how to strengthen the connections – connecting the work of scientists, researchers and innovators, with industry and policymakers.
“How do we ensure the science community makes the biggest impact it can and the biggest contribution it can?”
Foley went on to outline four critical foundation issues that she intends to champion as chief scientist.
- Embracing the rapidly changing tools of science, by recognising that emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and quantum computing will transform society.
- Educating our children in STEM, particularly in digital technology, ensuring they are fluent in the tools of the future and have the creativity and critical thinking skills necessary to push boundaries.
- Increasing diversity in the research community, calling on people from many different backgrounds, perspectives and experiences, including the knowledge base of indigenous Australians.
- Improving open access to research, ensuring that the people who need to access cutting-edge research including pharmacists, teachers or nurses can do so without paywalls, potentially leading to innovation and research commercialisation.
Foley also spoke of how the lessons learned from the international response to the COVID-19 pandemic – such as foundational research knowledge, open sharing of data and government support – can help us tackle other issues facing the country.
“The pandemic has shown us that what we thought to be impossible becomes possible if we have the building blocks in place and if we work together,” she said.
“Now it’s time to bring those lessons to the challenges that come next – climate change, energy and food security to name a few.
“I can’t be sure what the next three years will bring, but I know science, research and technology will play a significant role.”
Foley is the ninth person and second woman to be appointed to the position of Australia’s chief scientist. She comes to the position after spending 30 years at CSIRO specialising in physics, including two years as the organisation’s chief scientist.
Lauren Fuge is a science journalist at The Royal Institution of Australia.
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