The scientist with 2020 vision

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Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel has welcomed the extension of his term to the end of 2020, announced by the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, the Hon Karen Andrews MP on 5 September 2018.

Dr Finkel vividly remembers his first official duty in office, celebrating the announcement of the first-ever detection of gravitational waves at a ceremony in Parliament House. “I began my term with confirmation that my all-time hero, Albert Einstein, was right. What could possibly be better?”

Dr Finkel’s approach has reflected his breadth of experience as an engineer, researcher, entrepreneur, science publisher and philanthropist. In his two and a half years in office, he has established the first online science activity finder for teachers, parents and students; commissioned far-reaching reports on frontier technologies such as precision medicine and synthetic biology; and piloted a Science Fellowship program bringing scientists into government.

His advice has been sought on policy issues at the centre of contemporary debate, beginning with his first commission: to develop a roadmap for our critical national research facilities. It was swiftly followed by the ‘Finkel Review’ of the National Electricity Market.

This year, Dr Finkel scoped out the untapped potential for industry to bring its people and resources into STEM education, in a report to the nation’s education ministers. “There’s a perception in the community that STEM degrees are only useful for students who intend to pursue traditional research jobs,” Dr Finkel said. “Our consultations confirmed the opposite: people with deep STEM expertise are needed right across the economy.

“I look forward to working with Minister Andrews on strategies to help our young people, including young women, connect their studies in STEM to the real-world problems they want to solve.”

Next on Dr Finkel’s agenda is an official visit to Japan to see the world’s first ‘Hydrogen Economy’ taking shape. “If you’ve never heard of hydrogen’s potential as a fuel, this is the time to pay attention,” Dr Finkel said. “Today the Japanese economy relies heavily on imported fossil fuels. Tomorrow, government and industry intend to run on hydrogen, which produces zero emissions when burned, and can be manufactured using known technologies by near-zero emissions methods.

“It can’t be produced at commercial scale in Japan; but they could certainly import it from Australia – and we are very much in the running to claim what could be a decades-long, multi-billion dollar global market.”

Dr Finkel also flags our future with artificial intelligence as a priority for the two years ahead.

Along the way, he’ll continue to pursue the causes close to his heart – such as the 2017 “Storytime Pledge” campaign encouraging every grown-up to read books to children. He promises that his sign-off won’t change.

“May the Force be with you!”

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