16/01/2007 - 22:00

Clear vision on collaboration

16/01/2007 - 22:00

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Business may not think investigating the eyesight of a parrot has much to offer them. But for Western Australia’s new chief scientist, Lyn Beazley, there are very real applications for industry.

Clear vision on collaboration

Business may not think investigating the eyesight of a parrot has much to offer them.

But for Western Australia’s new chief scientist, Lyn Beazley, there are very real applications for industry.

Professor Beazley said getting more businesses to understand the benefits of basic research and getting academics to better understand the needs of industry is part of her challenge as the government’s chief science adviser.

Last year the Federal Government put an end to a $220 million wind farm project in Victoria because it had the potential to threaten the existence of the orange-bellied parrot.

“Parrots fly into wind farms,” Prof Beazley said. “The farms are placed in windy areas and that happens to be where migratory birds are. If we can work out the colours the orange-bellied parrot sees then we may be able to change the way wind farms are developed.”

Prof Beazley has been in role of chief scientist in a part-time capacity for just one month after filling the spot left vacated for seven months following the resignation of Bruce Hobbs, who quit after disagreeing with the government’s focus on new technology sectors instead of playing to WA’s strength in the mining and agriculture sectors.

The government also scrapped the WA Science Council and the WA Technology and Industry Advisory council in preference of a merged Science Advisory Council, which will have input into how the government spends the $72 million dedicated to science and innovation in the last state budget.

The government is still working on a list of members who will make up the advisory committee, which Prof Beazley will chair.

Prof Beazley said it was too early in her tenure to make judgements on specific areas or challenges that needed government attention and focus.

But what is clear is the need to better foster the links between industry and business, she said.

It has proven a challenging task for both sides of the fence, with business often criticising academia’s slow pace and lack of commercial direction.

Prof Beazley has collaborated with businesses such as Johnson & Johnson for numerous years in her role as a neuroscientist at the University of Western Australia.

But she admits that private funding for her research programs came about in a very round-about way.

Two graduates left her research team to take up work in the corporate sector and ended up contacting Prof Beazley about potential collaboration with the company that employed them.

“It was then that I started to wise up to it and I have developed those links (with industry) for the past five years,” she said.

Prof Beazley said having industry participate in her projects gave students a more rounded approach to working in the field of science because they learnt basic research, how to apply and an understanding of commerce.

“They learn how to take out a patent,” Prof Beazley said.

“It gives a much more balanced portfolio but of course that does not apply to everyone. I happen to be in the middle of the spectrum between industry and academia.”

Prof Beazley said splitting science into sectors such as agriculture and mining is too simplistic because each industry impacted on others, for example, a mine site impacts on the environment.

Prof Beazley said she would cast the net wide during the next six months and wanted to learn as much as she could about the challenges facing science and industry.

“At the moment it is an important part of my job to walk the ground and to gain as much input as I can.”

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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