Scientists learn to sell their research

21/05/2014 - 11:31

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A dozen of Australia’s top scientists recently faced off in national competition to determine the effectiveness of their ‘elevator pitches’ for commercial support.

WINNER: Former WA chief scientist Lyn Beazley congratulates FameLab winner Michael Smout. Photo: International FameLab

A dozen of Australia’s top scientists recently faced off in national competition to determine the effectiveness of their ‘elevator pitches’ for commercial support.

Young scientists from across Australia were in Fremantle last week, including from the University of Western Australia and Edith Cowan University, each with three minutes to demonstrate how their research can make a difference in everyday people’s lives, and its commercial prospects.

The scientists’ work varied from creating new aircraft fuels, improving the efficiency of solar panels, and using exercise to overcome sexual dysfunction after prostate cancer.

ABC science broadcaster Robyn Williams, who hosted the competition, called FameLab, said scientists could no longer just carry out research, and presenting their findings often lead to helpful developments.

“I’ve interviewed scientists for 42 years and some of them you couldn’t believe they got the job in the first place. They couldn’t put two words together,” Mr Williams said.

“That’s not good enough anymore. You have to be able to articulate what you’re doing. They’re trained now, they practice now, and it’s making all the difference in the world.

“This (competition) goes round the world. Young people get feedback from those who want to employ them, who want to exploit their ideas they’re working on and from colleagues who want to cooperate. It really produces an incredible synergy.”

Queenslander Michael Smout won first prize and a trip to England to compete in the international grand final in June for his presentation on ‘magic bandages’, which harness the healing powers of parasites in the human liver to quickly heal wounds.

Mr Smout said such a product would be especially useful to diabetics, the elderly and the military, but the idea for it only came out of his primary research towards developing a vaccine against the cancer the parasite eventually causes.

Mr Smout said 9 million people, mostly in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia had the parasite in their livers, and at least 26,000 people died from the cancer it caused every year.

Many of the scientists are already working with businesses, including UWA researcher Francis Torres who is collaborating with an international consortium.

Along with companies from Taiwan and France, as well as laboratories in Australia, Mr Torres is developing a tool that can be bolted onto surveying equipment to detect hard-to-find resources and water.

Mr Torres said his amplifier could improve surveying results in orders of magnitude by identifying resources well below the surface that have previously eluded existing surveying techniques.

He is hopeful his amplifier could also be used in space, where it could be added to Mars rovers or probes to help search for water, rare minerals or bacteria.

Western Australian governor Malcolm McCusker, whose McCusker Charitable Foundation flew the interstate finalists to Perth, said while the scientists work would interest industry, he also hoped it would encourage WA school children to consider careers in science.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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