Chief scientist Caroline McMillen taking SA research to the world

Six months into her three-year tenure as South Australia’s Chief Scientist and Professor Caroline McMillen is working towards her aim of taking the state’s health and science capabilities to the world.

Lured back to SA in 2018 after spending seven years in NSW, biomedical expert Prof McMillen is confident SA’s health research outcomes and infrastructure are “well above world-class” and our transforming industries capable of attracting international interest.

“I know from the work I do and access to detailed analyses that exist, that SA’s research is well above world standard,” she says. “The translation of that research delivers value to the state, it’s what brings people into SA, it builds new opportunities for business and industry and it’s what builds a global footprint to put SA on the map.”

“World-class, high-quality research, when it includes collaboration and engagement with industry and government, drives and delivers real impact for our economy, our health and our environment.”

Prof McMillen draws attention to the work required to attract over $100 million in funding for a co-operative research centre focused on SA satellites, an example of how great research, collaboration and investment can build a new space industry sector right here in the state.

Succeeding former Chief Scientist Leanna Read, Prof McMillen gives independent advice to the State Government, education institutions and industry on matters of science, research, technology and innovation.

SA’s chief scientist Caroline McMillen returned to SA after seven years as vice chancellor at the University of Newcastle. She is pictured at SAHMRI. Photo by JKTP.

Prof McMillen’s own research is internationally recognised, in particular, her research into the impact of the nutritional environment in early development on cardiovascular health and metabolic disease later in life.

Born in Northern Ireland and growing up in England, Prof McMillen went on to attend Oxford University, where she completed a BA (Honours) and a Doctor of Philosophy. She also completed her medical training, graduating with a MB, BChir from the University of Cambridge.

Moving to Australia in the early 1990s, Prof McMillen launched a career at Victoria’s Monash University in academic leadership roles before a call came for her to head to SA to lead the University of Adelaide’s Department of Physiology.

Prof McMillen’s family has been based in SA ever since, with her three children raised here and her husband still working as a doctor in a busy general practice at Christie’s Beach.

In 2011, she left SA to become the University of Newcastle’s vice chancellor and was instrumental in driving collaboration between industry, researchers, start-ups and investors, leading the institution towards its ranking in the top 1% of universities worldwide.

During her time in Newcastle, Prof McMillen travelled regularly back to SA to be with family. However, it wasn’t until she made the move back permanently last year that she was able to appreciate the full extent of Adelaide’s rejuvenation, both from a lifestyle perspective – small bars, laneways, and affordable living – and from an industry and economic perspective.

“There is a literature on ‘magnet cities’, cities that have gone through a period of decline and then transition to blossom,” Prof McMillen says.

“At the heart of that transition are creative, young professionals. Whether it’s Pittsburg or Barcelona, across the world you can chart journeys of these cities from decline to success. I think the creative industries in Adelaide and the strong STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) base provides the city with a real buzz and sets Adelaide on a clear upward trajectory.”

Settling into her role as Chief Scientist, Prof McMillen is engaging with businesses, government departments and key industry stakeholders in a range of STEM fields and is currently working on The State of Science Plan with government agencies to determine future priorities and strategies to build SA as ‘The State of Science’.

She also meets with start-ups, university students and faculty members, as well as school students to discuss pathways into STEM careers and engage with the next generation of researchers.

SA chief scientist Professor Caroline McMillen is a champion for science education and gender equality in STEM. Photo by JKTP.

Prof McMillen is a champion for gender equality in STEM and highlighting issues that are still prevalent in the sector, including the gender pay gap.

A study conducted by Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel showed in 2011 that only 16% of people with a STEM qualification were female.

“When I became a scientist many years ago at Oxford I was pretty sure that we’d have any gender issues sorted in a few years, but it turns out I was wrong,” Prof McMillen says. “I’ll be more than 100 years old before 50% of our professors in science are women and frankly I don’t think we should have to wait that long!”

As part of her role, she continues to champion women at all stages of their careers in STEM and is determined that SA can lead the change towards gender equity in science careers.

“I’m keen to be able to do that and make sure we’re having the outcomes that will set the stage for success for girls and women in STEM,” Prof McMillen says.

“SA has reached many gender equality milestones, we were the first in the world to run for parliament, so if there’s any state that can do it, it’s us.”

Prof Caroline McMillen is Brand South Australia’s latest I Choose SA ambassador for the health industry.

Industry in focus: Health

Throughout the month of April, the state’s health industry will be explored as part of I Choose SA.

South Australia’s health sector is among the best in the world, renowned for developing new and advanced technologies and research outcomes. Our health industry infrastructure is world-class, providing new pathways and job opportunities, as well as a growing potential for health tourism.

Read more health stories here.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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Scientist of the Year drills into mining breakthroughs

South Australia’s top scientist is hoping world-leading drill rig technology created in this state will generate millions of dollars for the local mineral exploration industry.

The RoXplorer rig was developed at the state’s renowned Deep Exploration Technologies Cooperative Research Centre (DET CRC) and is being hailed as a game-changer in cutting costs, time and improving safety.

Geologist and explorer Professor Richard Hillis says vast tracts of the continent contained potential undercover mineral deposits currently too difficult and expensive for geologists to pursue.

“What I’m hoping for is this new cheaper and safer drilling will spark a new wave of undercover exploration and discovery in SA and Australia,” he says.

The rig was developed under Professor Hillis’s leadership as chief executive of the CRC.

And it was this work, along with his extensive contribution to his field and in commercialising a range of world-leading technology that led to Professor Hillis being named the state’s Scientist of the Year on August 10.

The revolutionary new drill rig, the RoXplorer, has been labelled a “game-changer” for the mining sector.

The Scotsman first joined the University of Adelaide in 1992 and held positions that included Mawson Professor of Geology and Head of the Australian School of Petroleum, before he joined the DET CRC for the past eight years.

Professor Hillis believes the future of SA’s mining sector and its supply chain industries is promising.

“I think job opportunities are good at the minute, the mining industry is picking up and probably longer term, and hopefully it will be less cyclic in mining services,” he says.

The potential value of discoveries during Professor Hillis’s time at the DET CRC was estimated to be US$200m in extra value each year to Australia, according to Industry and Skills Minister David Pisoni.

“His work at the DET CRC has led to the commercialisation of technologies with projected future licensing income of around $3m per year,” Mr Pisoni said at the SA Science Excellence Awards night.

“For example, the RoXplorer, a coiled tubing rig developed by the centre, is a revolutionary game-changer for the mining sector and has recently been licensed to global mining equipment, services and technology giant IMDEX.

“This rig will drill low-cost bores and produce a suite of real-time geological data at a drilling cost of $50 per metre, around one sixth of the typical cost.”

SA Scientist of the Year Professor Richard Hillis.

The RoXplorer CT rig replaced individual drill rods with a continuous steel coil.

“In my view, research works best when industry defines the problem, industry knows what challenges it has and in this case, industry had to drill holes cheaper or Australia was going to lose mineral exploration,” Prof Hillis says.

“In the old days, if you were at 1000m you unscrewed 333 drill rods to put a new drill bit on and screwed them back on and got the drill bit to the bottom of the hole.

“What this rig, that drills about six times cheaper than conventional drilling, will do, is make mineral exploration in Australia cost effective again.”

Professor Hillis says the RoXplorer rig was successfully tested earlier this year near Port Augusta and another site at Horsham in Victoria.

Since then it was licensed to the ASX-listed global mining equipment, services and technology giant IMDEX, with its headquarters in Perth, and a new drilling trial was now set to happen with Barrick Gold exploration in Nevada, USA.

While he was now planning a year off after finishing at the DET CRC, Professor Hillis suggests those wanting to explore the world of mining, energy or geology in SA should take advantage of the state’s focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects.

“We have good courses, I think there are currently not as many students in them as we would like,” he says.

“I’m feeling positive about employment at the minute but the mining sector can be cyclic.”

DET CRC chairman Tom Whiting is proud of the research centre’s work, saying its major technologies – Wireless Sub, Lab-at-Rig, AutoSonde, AutoShuttle and RoXplorer CT drilling system – had been taken to working prototype and licensed in revenue-generating agreements to supplier participants, Boart Longyear and IMDEX.

The project team developing the RoXplorer coiled tubing drilling system was led by Soren Soe and it also received contributions from Boart Longyear, CSIRO, Curtin University, University of South Australia, University of Adelaide and IMDEX.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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MOD. shocks with pain chairs, futuristic babies and Josh the robot

A lifelike robot head modelled on a real-life teenager, modified silicone babies, and a room dedicated to testing the perception of pain – welcome to the Museum of Discovery (MOD.).

The interactive public science and creativity space’s director, Dr Kristin Alford, says the museum has already attracted up to 6000 people since opening in May this year.

The futuristic museum of discovery, housed in the University of South Australia’s $247m health and research facility, aims to inspire young adults about the world of science and technology.

MOD. sets out to help shape people’s understanding of the world and explore possibilities of the future.

“We’re here to inspire young adults aged 15–25 about the potential of science and technology for their futures, whether that’s to keep them engaged in science and tech for their careers or just keep them engaged in, enjoying and appreciating science,” Dr Alford says.

“We will need science for most careers of the future.”

Josh the robot ‘wakes up’ when approached.

Spread over seven galleries across two floors, the rotating exhibitions at MOD. change every six months.

Among the exhibitions is a lifelike robot head placed in the corner.

Approach ‘Josh’ – modelled on a real life 18-year-old Adelaide man – and he will speak, 14 small motors under his skin controlling his expressions to match his words.

But to reach Josh, visitors must stroll past Transfigurations, a conversation starter by Agi Haines that explores surgical enhancement of babies to adapt to future conditions.

One of the baby’s heads features extra folds of skin allowing for greater ventilation to adapt to global warming, while a feature on another baby allows for faster absorption of caffeine.

Visitors wander through each of the silicone babies that have surgically enhanced features to help them cope with future conditions.

Another of MOD.’s highlights is the ‘pain room’ – a dark space dedicated to exploring the human perception of pain.

Two armchairs in the middle of the room invite daring visitors to sit, before they’re distracted by pictures and given a minor electric shock.

MOD.’s permanent exhibition is the Universal Gallery’s first Science on a Sphere – an Australian first featuring a large sphere hanging from the ceiling.

At the touch of a button the sphere can be transformed into planet Earth, the sun, moons, and other planets, and is currently set up to explore astronomy with Aboriginal stories.

Data can also be projected onto the sphere, showing weather movements and other data.

MOD.’s Universal Gallery is a permanent exhibition.

Dr Alford spent two years collaborating with researchers, artists, the public, students and government to build the futuristic museum, which she says is attracting about 1500 visitors a week.

Among the visitors who have so far stuck in her memory is a teenager who spent more than two hours exploring MOD. with her family.

“I went into the Universal Gallery on opening weekend and there was a 14 year-old-girl, she was wearing a t-shirt that said, ‘don’t talk to me’,” Dr Alford says.

“She just laid back and cried, ‘I love this place!’.

“She and her dad and sisters were still there two hours later exploring everything.”

Dr Alford has lived in SA for over a decade and is originally from Brisbane.

When she arrived in Adelaide she admits that things “felt a bit flat”.

MOD. director Dr Kristin Alford.

“I could see that there were lots of exciting things under the surface because as a futurist that’s what you’re looking for,” she says.

“I think there was a lot of discussion around that time around advanced manufacturing and there was a desire for things to move on but yet to see the traction.

“In the last 10 years I think we’ve seen that traction … with the work that’s being done at Tonsley (Innovation District) and there’s a whole lot of work that’s going on in creative industries and technology, co-working spaces, and software development.”

Dr Alford says Adelaide’s small size makes it the perfect place for entrepreneurs, artists and scientists to make connections fast.

“You can quickly find interesting people doing really interesting things,” she says.

“If you want to connect with an artist or a scientist to explore something it’s not hard, it’s probably two phone calls away.”

MOD.’s current exhibitions will remain until November when new installations will move in.

Entry to MOD. is free and it’s open every day except Mondays.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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Adelaide University scientist to build world’s fastest charging battery

A University of Adelaide scientist is powering ahead with a plan to build the world’s first quantum battery, which could be charged in less than a second and provide opportunities for the renewable energy sector.

The university’s newest Ramsey fellow and expert in quantum physics, Dr James Quach, will be working within the Precision Management Group in the university’s Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing.

Once built, the quantum battery could replace conventional batteries used in small electronic devices such as watches, phones, iPads, computers or other products that rely on stored energy.

Once developed, the university says it hopes larger quantum batteries could lead the way for opportunities in renewable energy.

Dr Quach says the invention is based on the theory that the more quantum batteries you have, the faster they charge, unlike ordinary batteries which take some time to charge irregardless of the number.

“If one quantum battery takes one hour to charge, two would take 30 minutes, three would take 20 minutes, and so on,” he says.

“If you had 10 thousand batteries, they would all charge in less than a second.”

The fastest charging battery would be possible due to a feature of quantum mechanics known as entanglement.

The University of Adelaide’s newest Ramsey fellow Dr James Quach.

“Quantum mechanics deals with interactions at the very smallest of scales, at the levels of atoms and molecules – at this level you get very special properties that violate the conventional laws of physics,” Dr Quach says.

“One of those properties is entanglement. When two objects are entangled it means that their individual properties are always shared – they somehow lose their sense of individuality.

“It’s because of engagement that it becomes possible to speed up the battery charging process.”

Dr Quach says he intends to “take the theory from the blackboard to the lab” with the idea of a quantum battery first discussed in a research paper in 2013.

“Entanglement is incredibly delicate, it requires very specific conditions – low temperatures and an isolated system – and when those conditions change the entanglement disappears,” he says.

“… I aim to extend the theory of the quantum battery, construct a lab conducive to the conditions needed for entanglement, and then build the first quantum battery.”

Dr Quach says the the quantum battery could support renewable energy technologies by allowing for a continuous energy supply no matter the weather conditions.

He is undertaking the four-year Ramsey Fellowship at the University of Adelaide’s School of Physical Science.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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21st Century learning a priority for new SACE chief

Science education expert and new South Australian Certificate of Education (SACE) chief Professor Martin Westwell is leading South Aussie school kids into the future.

No longer will our children hit the classrooms armed with just textbooks, pencils and papers.

Instead its about 21st Century learning involving online examinations, contemporary subjects and self-directed assignments.

As the SACE Board’s incoming chief executive, Prof Westwell will oversee a $10.6m program set to transform SA classrooms and prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow.

Changes include a move away from handwritten exams to electronic tests – a move that reflects how students are already learning and working.

English Literary Studies will be the first to undergo the transition in 2018, with more subjects to follow by 2020.

“We are meeting the 21st Century needs of our students … the idea of writing essays long hand is outdated,” Prof Westwell says.

“But we don’t want to do electronic exams for the sake of it, we want to make sure it works well for us.”

SACE chief executive Professor Martin Westwell is an I Choose SA ambassador. PHOTO: James Knowler/JK+Crew.

More than 60 subjects have been reviewed to ensure they are relevant and meet the needs of a changing society, meaning Digital Studies will be taught for the first time in 2018.

“We always ensure the curriculum is up-to-date,” Prof Westwell says.

“We’ve looked at more than 60 of our current subjects to make sure they’re modern and fast-paced.”

SACE is awarded to students who complete their senior secondary schooling in SA.

The certificate is administered by the SACE Board, which is independent of the State Government.

Among other changes to SACE is a rebranding of the authority body, including a new logo to be publicly revealed at the 30th Merit Ceremony, in early 2018.

The 30th Merit Ceremony recognises Year 12 students who have achieved a perfect score in one or more subjects.

A total of 1196 merit certificates were awarded to 920 students – including 107 students from country SA – in 2017.

“It’s a cause for celebration when we have this many students achieving excellence,” Prof Westwell says.

Prof Westwell’s appointment to the role comes at a record time for SA high school education with a record number (15,175) of students completing Year 12.

The proportion of Year 12 students who successfully completed their final year of school is also at a record high, rising to 97% in 2017.

The number of Aboriginal students completing their SACE also hit top levels with 377 students finishing high school.

Prof. Westwell will also build on the success of the Research Project, a compulsory subject most Year 12 students undertake.

It allows students to choose a topic of their interest, carry out analysis and research, before creating an entrepreneurial project, scientific study, art piece or historical investigation.

“We are asking them to research information, to question, to apply their knowledge and make a judgement – and we let them do that in an area they feel passionate about,” Prof Westwell says.

“We need young people who have got the knowledge and know how.”

While the Research Project was partly designed to allow students to gain skills needed at university, Prof Westwell says the SACE structure is for students pursing all pathways.

“Students might choose to do a trade or go straight to work and then go to uni, the pathway into university is not as restrictive as it used to be,” he says.

Prof Westwell is originally from the UK and in 1999, British newspaper The Times named him the ‘Scientist of the New Century’.

The father-of-two moved to SA 10 years ago after visiting in his role at Oxford University’s Institute for the Future of the Mind.

“I went back to my wife and said, ‘the students are so articulate (in SA), our children will love it there’,” he says.

“So when the opportunity came up, I grabbed it.”

He now has a decade of experience in SA education, as director of the Flinders Centre for Science Education in 21st Century and Flinders’ strategic professor in the Science of Learning.

Prof Westwell has been on the SACE Board since 2012.

He says the education system will always be a relevant job provider in SA.

“One of the things I see time and time again is the list of jobs that are irrelevant and teachers are never on the list,” Prof Westwell says.

Prof. Westwell replaces Dr Neil McGoran.

Visit I Choose SA to find out how you can support our state by choosing South Australian businesses, products and services.

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Two SA women to set sail on Antarctic voyage

By Melissa Keogh

Two South Australian women will join an all-female expedition to the edge of the earth – Antarctica – in 2018.

Laura Trotta of Roxby Downs and Dr Elizabeth Schmidt of the Adelaide Hills will swap South Australian heatwaves for subzero temperatures during the three-week voyage to the icy continent next February.

The two women were chosen to join a group of 80 female explorers from across the world as part of the 12-month Homeward Bound program.

The first Homeward Bound Antarctic expedition was in 2016.

The first Homeward Bound Antarctic expedition was in 2016.

Homeward Bound is a global movement raising awareness for the low representation of female leaders in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine (STEMM).

Throughout the three-week Antarctic trip, the women will withstand temperatures of about -15C and will battle inevitable seasickness through the notoriously rough waters of Drake’s Passage between Cape Horn and South Shetland Islands.

They will use the opportunity to develop leadership capabilities, networking skills, and showing that female researchers and environmentalists can also influence significant issues such as climate change.

Laura has spent more than a decade working as an environmental professional and now runs a successful eco-consulting businesses from Roxby Downs, helping people live more sustainable and lifestyles.

Roxby Downs mother-of-two Laura Trotta will head to Antarctica in February.

Roxby Downs mother-of-two Laura Trotta will head to Antarctica in February.

“It’s not just about going to Antarctica, it’s about a 12-month leadership program to really give this group of women the skills and confidence to raise their scientific voices collaboratively on a global scale against climate change,” Laura says.

Dr Schmidt comes from a research background and is currently working in business development for scientific research organisation, CSIRO.

The news of the Antarctic voyage came out of the blue, she says.

“I was really surprised and incredibly delighted,” Dr Schmidt says.

“I think it’s a wonderful thing to learn skills and help younger women coming through in science and technology areas.

Dr Elizabeth Schmidt will also embark on the trip to the white continent.

Dr Elizabeth Schmidt will also embark on the trip to the white continent.

Both women must raise funds to support their trip and book a berth on the ship.

Got a spare penny? Make a donation to Laura via her website and to Dr Schmidt, who can be contacted on

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