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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Mission control, space discovery centres announced for Adelaide

The space industry is set to further take off in South Australia’s capital when a Mission Control Centre and Space Discovery Centre are established alongside the new Australian Space Agency.

The Mission Control Centre will provide a focal point for orbiting spacecraft and will be established alongside the national space agency within innovation precinct and former Royal Adelaide Hospital site, Lot Fourteen.

The Federal Government today announced a total $12 million investment into the nation’s space industry, including $6 million for the Mission Control Centre, and $6 million towards establishing a Space Discovery Centre, also at Lot Fourteen.

The funding will form part of the yet-to-be finalised Adelaide City Deal which is designed to boost the city’s population and drive economic growth.

Federal Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews says the Mission Control Centre will complement the work of the Australian Space Agency.

“The Mission Control Centre will be a focal point for space missions in Australia, providing facilities to control small satellite missions, enabling real-time control and testing and accelerated development of Australian satellite technology,” she says.

“It will be available for use by space start-ups and small-to-medium enterprise space businesses, as well as research and educational institutions from across Australia.

“These investments will help the Australian Space Agency foster the growth of a globally competitive space industry, worth about US$345 billion.”

An artist’s impression of Lot Fourteen once fully redeveloped. Photo: Renewal SA.

The Space Discovery Centre will provide science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, engagement and inspiration for young Australians, and activities such as mission simulation and training for university students.

SA Premier Steven Marshall told ABC Radio Adelaide on March 18 that youth in the state were already excited about the career and education prospects the Australian Space Agency will create.

“When I’m out speaking to people, especially young people, they’re pretty excited about this opportunity to have this facility here in SA,” he says.

“You speak to university students … they’re all talking about the space agency … when you have a focus on space it actually lifts people’s aspirations around studying STEM subjects at school, which has a flow-on effect for plenty of other industries around our state.”

Both the Mission Control Centre and Space Discovery Centre will complement the work of the Australian Space Agency, which is set to be up and running by mid-2019.

The national agency was established in July 2018 with a Federal Government investment of $41 million over four years. The government plans to triple the size of Australia’s space industry to $12 billion and create up to 20,000 new jobs by 2030.

In December 2018, it was announced that Adelaide had won the bid to host the agency, expected to allow Australia greater access to the US$345 billion global space sector.

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’s newest high school opens its doors

Adelaide’s newest high school featuring a multi-storey building with a glass atrium linking to the refurbished University of South Australia Reid Building has officially opened its doors to students.

The $100 million Adelaide Botanic High School, on Frome Road in the CBD, has welcomed 350 Year 8 and 9 students as the school holidays ended and Term 1, 2019 began.

The six-storey institution will have a strong focus on STEM education (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in aim of preparing students to enter the workforce of the future.

Key design features include external learning and recreation spaces on the upper levels of the building and also around the parklands. The school also houses a music and drama theatre with a typographical projector, modern laboratories with investigative science equipment and food technology kitchens.

Students in senior grades will fill the school in coming years, with enrolments eventually totalling about 1250.  From 2022 the school will also take Year 7s as all SA public high schools move towards the Year 7-12 model.

The $100 million Adelaide Botanic High School has opened its doors to Year 8s and 9s. Photo by Chin Tan, Cox Architecture.

Adelaide Botanic High School is adjacent the Adelaide Park Lands, Adelaide Botanic Gardens and is nearby the state library, museum, art gallery and the University of Adelaide.

Premier Steven Marshall said in December 2019 that the school’s location next to the highly anticipated Australian Space Agency headquarters and the rest of the Lot Fourteen innovation precinct will offer “unprecedented opportunities for students”.

Botanic High will share a single zone with Adelaide High School, located on West Terrace.

Adelaide Botanic High School features:

  • Science, design and technology labs that underpin the school’s focus on STEM.
  • State of the art engineering and investigative science equipment.
  • Food technology kitchens.
  • Spaces to encourage creativity in design technology, media studies and art.
  • Performing arts theatre
  • A modern library and research centre.
  • External learning and recreation spaces around the parklands and on the school’s upper levels.
  • Indoor gym and fitness studio.
  • Cafeteria with an outdoor terrace.
  • Basement parking for 170 bicycles.

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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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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