Australia's Chief Scientist

Thomas Baker Oration:  Dr Cathy Foley AO PSM

This year’s address delivered by Chief Scientist, Dr Cathy Foley AO PSM made a compelling case for science and technology being front and centre in Australia’s future, both from an economic perspective, and social and medical perspectives as well.

In telling her own career story, Dr Foley highlighted the importance of mentors in her educational and personal development journey, noting that mentoring helps people, at their formative stage, believe in themselves and unlock their potential.

She reminded us that Thomas Baker was an innovator who challenged the status quo, partnering with his wife and sister in his research and development effort, contrary to the typical male dominated employment practices of the early 20th century.  She noted that Baker was a true innovator developing and adopting photographic dry plates and then roll to roll photographic film.  He was a technological disruptor with a truly innovative mind-set.

Dr Foley took us on a journey through the past 40 years highlighting the first appearance of transformative innovations such as cellular mobile phone, the Super Mario Nintendo Game,  Windows PC operating system Version 1, Compact Disks (CD’s), diagnostic procedures for AIDS and the hole in the earth’s Ozone layer.

Recent developments unheard of 20 years ago include smart phones, electric vehicles, driverless motor vehicles, pilotless aircraft and the Internet of Things, with in 2021= 40 billion connected devices.  She highlighted the recent Artificial Intelligence and the consequent of speech recognition and applications, health care, education and manufacturing.

Recent challenges of severe drought deadly floods, rampant bushfires, and the one in a century COVID-19 pandemic, with consequent impact on supply chain logistics, geopolitical tensions and more.  She foreshadowed advances in the next 30 - 40 years will bring unimaginable benefits and change.

We were challenged to think about vaccine development time, being reduced more than 900% from a decade to 300 days, for Covid vaccines.  She foreshadowed the likelihood that new vaccine development will be down to 100 days before too long.

Dr Foley touched on the challenges of food security and the current reality that 800 million people go hungry each night.  She highlighted the challenge of reducing carbon emissions to net zero by 2050 and the imperative for excellent science led research and development.

In noting that Australia is well placed at the forefront of Quantum computing she highlighted the use of high powered Quantum computing in simulation, through the creation of digital twins to simulate physical systems, creating opportunity for more ambitious economic modelling by simulating the economy, and in healthcare.  She foresaw opportunities for Australia in modelling the removal of CO2, developing better drugs, predicting changing weather patterns and cyber security. 

Her conclusion:  Australia is sitting pretty and globally well advanced, illustrated by the powerful Quantum random number generator at ANU, which is in hot demand from across the globe.

She highlighted the importance of trusting science and deploying it in policy making, business strategy and technological innovation.

For a transcript of Dr Foley's Oration Click Here

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