News and Events

Geographers in the School of Geosciences review latest IPCC Report

On Monday 31 March, Working Group II of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate change (IPCC) released its 5th Assessment Report into the implications, vulnerabilities and adaptive needs of the human people population in light of climate change. Coinciding with the release of this Report, Associate Professor Dale Dominey-Howes in the School of Geosciences participated in a panel session convened by the Sydney Environment Institute which reviewed the Report and its broader implications. This event was attended by more than 350 people both from within and outside the University. Also coinciding with the Report, Associate Professor Bill Pritchard from the School wrote an analysis of the Report’s findings on the links between climate change and food security, which was published as a Blog by the Sydney Environment Institute and can be read here.

Planet Terror: Is Earth Becoming More Dangerous?

18 Mar 2014

Presented by Associate Professor Dale Dominey-Howes
School of Geosciences, the University of Sydney

Date: Wed 19 March 2014
Time: 5.45PM - 6.45PM
Venue: Eastern Avenue Auditorium
Cost: FREE


It seems that natural hazards are becoming more frequent and severe, but is this true? And what can we do about preparing for and responding to natural disasters? Associate Professor Dominey-Howes uncovers the nature, causes, impacts and effects of some of the most significant natural hazards.

Everybody is at risk from natural hazards – either physically and/or economically. However, some individuals, communities and societies are more at risk than others and sustain greater losses following natural disasters.

Explore current research by the University of Sydney's Hazards Research Group on some of the major types of natural hazard like earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, tropical cyclones and epidemics, as well as ‘megahazards’ like asteroid impacts with the Earth! Understanding where, when, how and why natural hazards and disasters occur is important because this information provides the building blocks for developing monitoring, detection and early warning systems – all part of the ‘tool box of safety’ used by our governments and emergency services to protect our communities. When things go well, losses from hazard events are small. When things go wrong, major disasters occur.

Join us after this talk for hands-on activities and demonstrations.

Register for this lecture.

Lost in the paddock: Australia flying blind on farm ownership

14 Mar 2014

The debate about who owns Australia’s farmland is often expressed in crude and narrow ways, and not just on talkback radio. Take last year’s leaders debate at Rooty Hill during the final week of the election campaign in which Kevin Rudd declared himself “old fashioned” on the issue of foreign access to Australian land.

The problem is the question of “farmland” has come to mean many different things to many different interest groups. It now exists as narrative shorthand for diverse moral panics about the future of food, the nation’s water resources, the environmental effects of coal seam gas, the political economy of foreign investment (especially from China), and the power of big agribusiness.

Dig into this debate, and what emerges is a sense of middle Australia fearing for the fortunes of “mum and dad” farmers.

Read the full article.

How the world missed out on a Saharan Atlantic ocean

5 Mar 2014

When dinosaurs still roamed the Earth, land could have torn apart to create a Saharan ocean in the middle of Africa, University of Sydney research explains.

Between 150 and 100 million years ago the southern continents were still united in the supercontinent Gondwana but rift systems, indicative of the imminent breakup of continents, extended between present-day South America and Africa, as well as within Africa.

Read the full news article.

School of Geosciences involved in major push by the University of Sydney into global food security research

28 Feb 2014

Assoc Prof Bill Pritchard of the School of Geosciences is an organiser and speaker in a major University-wide initiative towards multi-disciplinary food security research. The “Good Food, Good Health: Delivering the Benefits of Food Security in Australia and Beyond” forum, to be opened by the Vice-Chancellor at Maclaurin Hall on 17 March, will bring together expertise across campus and elsewhere to set research priorities in this vitally important area. This is a collaborative event involving the Charles Perkins Centre, the Marie Bashir Institute, and the Sydney Southeast Asian Studies Centre. Registration is free. To register, complete the details here.

Scientific excellence recognised with awards

21 Jan 2014

The early-career achievements of three University of Sydney academics, conducting research in veterinary science, geoscience and chemistry, have been recognised with prestigious awards from the Australian Academy of Science.

The annual awards are given for scientific excellence in diverse fields of science.The awards are presented to both outstanding early-career researchers under the age of 40 and to career researchers for life-long achievements.

Dr Maria Seton, from the School of Geosciences, received the Dorothy Hill Award for female researchers in the earth sciences.

Congratulations Maria!

Read the full story.

Mapping Pacific Maritime Boundaries

4 Dec 2013

This year Kiribati, one of the least developed countries in the world, finalised maritime boundaries with the United States of America.

The successful outcome, in September, was the result of the work that the Pacific Island country, along with 12 others, undertook at the Maritime Boundaries and Ocean Governance working sessions at the University of Sydney.

The latest session is currently underway at the University and ends on 6th December.

"Technical and legal personnel from thesePacific Islandcountries have been coming to the University of Sydney for the last six years to secure rights to their marine spaces," said Professor Elaine Baker from the University's School of Geosciences, which hosts the meetings.

"Global interest in marine resources, including fisheries and seabed minerals, and the threat of climate change and sea level rise, has spurred Pacific Island countries to settle their maritime boundaries.

Read the full news story.

Professor Elaine Baker was also interviewed by Radio New Zealand International in regards to the Maritime Boundaries and Ocean Governance workshop sessions. Read the interview transcript.

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The School of Geosciences has hosted Maritime Boundaries and Ocean Governance working sessions for six years.

Phil McManus elected to a Fellowship of the GSNSW

3 Dec 2013

Phil McManus was elected to a Fellowship of the Geographical Society of New South Wales (FNGS) in recognition of his outstanding contribution to Geography and to the work of the School of Geosciences at The University of Sydney, The Geographical Society of New South Wales and the Institute of Australian Geographers. The Fellowship was presented at the GSNSW Prize Night on 2nd December by Professor Gordon Waitt, President of the GSNSW. Congratulations!

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Associate Professor Phil McManus with the Fellowship of the Geographical Society of New South Wales award

The new reality of Australia-Indonesia relations

26 Nov 2013

Australia-Indonesia relations have managed to withstand several serious diplomatic crises over the years, from Australia's involvement in East Timor through to the issues of Papuan asylum seekers and differing attitudes towards Indonesian-based people smugglers. However, the current tensions caused by revelations of Australia's intelligence gathering activities in Jakarta are being played out on a rapidly shifting, and largely unchartered geopolitical canvas.

Dr Jeff Neilson is an expert on Indonesia from the University of Sydney's Southeast Asia Centre.

Read the full news story.

Honours Student Conference and Jim Rose Awards

19 Nov 2013

The School of Geosciences at the University of Sydney was once again prominent at the Geographical Society of NSW Honours Conference on 15th November. In 2013 the conference was held at the Urban Research Centre on the Bankstown campus of the University of Western Sydney. There were 17 student presentations from six universities; Melbourne, Newcastle, Sydney, UNSW, UWS and Wollongong. Four students represented the University of Sydney; Aran Hirsch, Amy I'Anson, Elizabeth Robertson and Mischa Vickas.

The quality of presentations was fantastic. The University of Sydney students all performed very well. Amy I'Anson was awarded the Jim Rose Award for a Highly Commended Physical Geography Paper. The commensurate award for a human geography paper went to Carrie Wilkinson from the University of Wollongong. The Jim Rose Award for the best paper overall went to Ryan Frazer (University of Wollongong) for his research on ageing bodies and volunteer tourism in the Philippines. To see photographs of the award presentations and images from the day, please go to the GSNSW Facebook site.

Visit The Geographical Society of New South Wales

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Amy I'Anson receiving her award from Professor Kevin Dunn. Photo Credit: Dr. Garth Lean

Gem of an idea puts opal miners on the right path

11 Nov 2013

Australia dominates the global opal market but, until now, prospecting for the brilliantly coloured gem has been largely a black art.

Little was known about the preconditions for the formation of opal - knowledge that would have given hints on where to look for it. Powerful data mining software developed by University of Sydney geophysicist Dietmar Muller and colleagues has put more science into the quest.

The software, GPlates, has yielded a map that narrows down the places likeliest to host opal. It could also light the path to new reserves of economic minerals, oil and gas.

Muller and his team have made the finals of the minerals and energy category of The Australian Innovation Challenge. The awards, which offer a total of $70,000 in prizemoney, are run by The Australian in association with Shell, and with the support of the federal body Innovation Australia. A panel of eminent Australians is judging the awards in seven professional categories and one Backyard Innovation section open to the public.

Read the full news story.

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University of Sydney geophysicist Dietmar Muller and his team have developed software that helps narrow the search for opals. Picture: Sam Mooy Source: TheAustralian

A Geosciences Graduation!

8 Nov 2013

Congratulations to our recent Geoscience graduates Dr Oulavanh Keovilignavong, Dr Chem Phalla, Dr Mattijs Smits and Dr Laurence Troy!

Dr Oulavanh Keovilignavong has now qualified for the award of PhD, having completed the emendations on his thesis, “Private investment in the resources sector and the poverty-environment nexus (PEN) in Laos”. Additionally, Dr Chem Phalla has qualified for the award of his Doctorate, successfully completing emendations on his PhD thesis entitled "Integrated catchment management and irrigation development: the role of hydrological analysis in improved water governance in Cambodia".

Dr Mattijs Smits is currently employed in a research position with the Environmental Policy Group at the University of Wageningen and is developing a postdoc project with that group. His thesis was entitled “Electricity, modernity and sustainability: A critical scalar analysis of energy transitions in Thailand and Laos”.

The School of Geosciences welcomes Dr Laurence Troy as its newest Postdoctoral Fellow, working on a funded research project looking into the accessibility of public transport networks in Sydney, Adelaide and Brisbane. His thesis was entitled “Cloaked in Green: Growth Politics and Sustainability”.

Congratulations and best of luck in your future endeavors!

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Our graduands Laurence Troy and Mattijs Smits.

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Prof Phil Hirsch, Mattijs Smits, Laurence Troy and Dr Kurt Iveson celebrating at graduation.

Great Barrier Reef memories: First deepwater fossil study reveals reef's past and future

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Dr Liz Abbey and Dr Jody Webster, from the School of Geosciences, analysed fossil coral samples as part of their world-first study on the deepwater fossil reef system in the Great Barrier Reef. This sample pictured is about 10 000 years old.

12 Oct 2013

As the first comprehensive study of its kind on the deepwater fossil reef system in the Great Barrier Reef, the results are the first analysis of the environments and timing these reefs developed in. These deepwater reefs are called mesophotic reefs and extend from 30 metres to 100 metres underwater.

"My recently finished PhD student, Liz Abbey, and I looked at the mesophotic fossils, which are too deep to access via scuba diving, so very little research has been carried out on this type of reef around the world, especially in comparison with their more accessible shallow-water counterparts," said Dr Jody Webster".

"Even in the low light, the modern mesophotic reefs support corals, sponges and algae as the dominant structural components".

The research led by University of Sydney scientists Dr Liz Abbey and Dr Jody Webster, from the School of Geosciences in the Geocoastal Research Group, with colleagues from the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, Universidad de Granada in Spain, University of Oxford in the UK, University of Edinburgh in the UK, Aix-Marseille Université in France, Queen's University Belfast in Ireland and University of California, Santa Cruz in the US, was published in the journal Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology on 9 October 2013.

Read the full news story.

Seminar Series: The post-2015 Global Agenda for Food Security

11 Oct 2013

Assoc Prof Bill Pritchard will be giving a public seminar to the Sydney Environment Institute on the topic of the post-MDG agenda for global food security. For details, click here.

Data Mining for Gold

10 Oct 2013

'Data mining’ methods used to analyse the stockmarket are being applied to huge sets of geophysical data in a bid to better understand the geological evolution of Australia and find mineral deposits in the continent’s vast interior.

“We are using data mining to improve our reconstructions of the ancient world,” says the project leader, Dietmar Müller, Professor of Geophysics at the University of Sydney. In addition, he hopes the project will reveal ore deposits – such as gold, copper, silver and rare earth elements used in electronic devices – that are currently well hidden.

“Even though there is a set of complex reasons why the mining boom has declined, one of those reasons is that the rate of discovery of new major mineral deposits has declined strongly over the past few decades,” Müller says.

Read the full story.

Congratulations on being part of the Building Brand Australia Program!

Data Mining for Gold

Professor Dietmar Müller (left) and colleague Dr Jo Whittaker

Geosciences Cricket Day

21 Sep 2013

Some highlights from our Geosciences Cricket Day from Saturday 21st September, where staff, students and their families and friends played a one-day 'Staff versus Students' cricket match at the Bicentennial Park in Glebe.

The winners? Staff proved to be victorious on the day! Congratulations!

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A beautiful day for a school cricket match

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Dr Jeff Neilson presented with the Cricket Shield by Chetan Choithani

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Our Geosciences staff and students celebrating after cricket day. Congratulations everyone!

Professor Elaine Baker appointed as UNESCO Chair

20 Sep 2013

Professor Elaine Baker, from the School of Geosciences, has received the prestigious appointment of a UNESCO Chair in Ocean Governance at the University of Sydney from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, starting in mid-September 2013.

The international UNESCO Chair positions aim to improve the capacity of institutions to work globally and form partnerships with each other to deal with issues which transcend the borders of any single state. Professor Baker's position is for four years, with the option of renewal at the end of this period.

"Being made a UNESCO Chair is a great honour and I am hoping that it will enable us to develop a more visible presence at the University of Sydney for the science that supports the sustainable use of the oceans. There is growing interest in how we use and value the resources of the ocean," said Professor Baker.

"Most recently the United Nations has launched a program - the World Ocean Assessment - to make regular reports on the state of the marine environment including socioeconomic aspects. I have been very much involved in this process," explained Professor Baker.

Read the full news story.

Elaine Baker

Professor Elaine Baker, from the School of Geosciences, has received the prestigious appointment of a UNESCO Chair in ocean governance from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.

Data mining: a new frontier for mineral exploration

27 Aug 2013

A ground-breaking data mining initiative is developing new methods to target unidentified mineral deposits hidden under deep cover by harnessing Geoscience Australia's rich datasets.

Read the full news story in the Australian Journal of Mining.

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On the cover (bottom right): Lead developer of the GPlates software, John Cannon, Professor of Geophysics at the University of Sydney and ARC Australian laureate fellow, Dietmar Müller and research associate Simon Williams, all of whom are involved in the Big Data Knowledge Discovery Project.

Rock Tour: Geology field trip exchange with Peking University

22 Aug 2013

It was a rock tour with no guitars but plenty of geology, when Professor Geoff Clarke and Professor Jonathan Aitchison took a group of University of Sydney students on a joint field trip with staff and students from Peking University in China.

The two-part geology field trip, run jointly by the School of Geosciences at the University of Sydney and Peking University, started with a 12-day excursion to the Qinghai Plateau in western China in July, and will continue with a trip in late August to the New England area of NSW.

"We took six undergraduate students and one first year PhD student from the University of Sydney to China in July to the North Qilian Mountains, which are located on the northern margin of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau," said Professor Geoff Clarke, from the School of Geosciences.

"It was a rich scientific and cultural experience, as the Sydney students worked with students from Peking University to identify and interpret a series of rock associations in Permian eclogites, blueschists, ophiolites and sedimentary molasse that once formed along an ancient convergent plate margin," explained Professor Clarke.

Read the full news story.

Peking

The group of staff and students from the University of Sydney and Peking University who are participating in the joint field trip, led by Professor Geoff Clarke and Professor Jonathan Aitchison, from the University of Sydney, and Professor Shuguang Song and Associate Professor Gui-Bin Zhang, from Peking University.

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Profesor Trevor Hambley, Dean of the Faculty of Science, welcomes the Peking University staff and students to the University of Sydney before the Australian segment of the field trip.

School Event: Compass - your way to higher education!

21 Aug 2013

The University of Sydney's Compass - your way to higher education program launched on Wednesday, 21st August 2013 which aimed to make schools and parents aware of the breath of post-school options offered within the University of Sydney. The event encouraged primary and secondary school students' participation in higher education, where Year 8 students from various schools around NSW got the opportunity to enjoy a range of exciting and educational activities and projects organised throughout the different Schools and Faculties, from 'Creative & Constructive' projects with the Faculty of Architecture to 'Get Scientific' activities with the School of Geosciences.

The School of Geosciences ran a Magic Planet activity led by postgraduate candidate Sabin Zahirovic, where students were able to interact with a 3D globe projector which displayed Earth visualisations of plate sea surface temperatures through time, cloud distributions, oceanic seafloor changes and other geophysical measurements of the Earth's surface, atmosphere and hydrosphere. Students also enjoyed learning about fossils and experienced viewing various rock samples under a microscope, giving our future geoscientists an insight into the exciting world of Geosciences.

Magic Planet

Sabin Zahirovic showing students Earth simulations on the Magic Planet

Lecture

Geoscience lecture for our future geoscientists

Microscopes

Students viewing rock samples under a microscope

Fossils

Year 8 students learning about fossils

Careers in Natural Sciences

20 Aug 2013

How do you get a job in the natural sciences and what can you actually do for work? Science graduates work in many different industries, in many different roles. Watch these videos to find out how some of our graduates here at The University of Sydney got their jobs and where their careers have taken them.

Career Profile Feature: Lindsay Soutar, Sustainability Campaign Manager.
Lindsay completed an Honours in Geography here at the School of Geosciences, University of Sydney. She now works as a Sustainability Campaign Manager for the 100% Renewable Community Campaign.


Natural hazards expert Associate Prof Dale Dominey-Howes joins School of Geosciences

16 Aug 2013

With a research career studying natural hazards such as tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tropical cyclones, heatwaves, bushfires, coastal floods and storms, Associate Professor Dale Dominey-Howes is much in demand as an expert from governments, policy makers, risk assessors, corporations and media.

Associate Professor Dominey-Howes joined the School of Geosciences in the Faculty of Science at the University of Sydney in mid-July and has brought with him a team of staff and students to conduct his wide ranging research.

"I'm fortunate to have a vibrant research team working with me and a series of research project grants and external funding to support our activities," said Associate Professor Dominey-Howes.

View the full story or learn more about Associate Professor Dale Dominey-Howes.

Jigsaw puzzle of tectonic plate patterns detailed

12 Aug 2013

The biggest jigsaw puzzle in the solar system has a split personality: The number and sizes of Earth's tectonic plates can flip, according to a new study.

Today, the pieces of Earth's broken shell are unequal in size. Of about 50 plates, a mere seven account for 94 percent of the surface. The biggest, the Africa and the Pacific plates, are antipodal, meaning they sit on opposite sides of the Earth.

But about 100 million years ago, the tectonic plates tiled the planet as evenly as a real-life jigsaw puzzle.

Read the full article on NBC News.




Qinghai Plateau, Western China Field Trip

1 Aug 2013

University of Sydney geology students enjoyed a rich scientific and cultural experience on a 12-day field excursion to the Qinghai Plateau, Western China which was organised by the School of Geosciences, University of Sydney and Peking University.

Sydney students worked with peers from Peking University to identify and interpret a series of geological objects in Permian eclogites, blue schists, ophiolites and sedimentary mollase formed along a fossil convergent margin. Travel from Beijing to Xining by overnight train was substantially lengthened by the effects of a tragic earthquake in the Lanzhou area. Additionally, flooded rivers meant further changes to the planned itinerary. Fair weather eventually prevailed, and the group enjoyed several long walks at altitudes between 2500 and 4000 m. The return overnight journey to Beijing on the Lhasa train stayed on schedule and the group then spent a day seeing some of the city's cultural highlights.

In one month's time the combined University group will reassemble in Sydney for another excursion to the New England area.

Check out the field trip photo album to see more trip highlights.

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Staff and students outside the beautiful Peking University entrance

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Prof Jonathan Aitchison, Geosciences Head of School

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Our students in action!

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German-Australian collaboration maps the Coral Sea

Media Release
14 July 2013

An underwater cliff recently discovered in the Coral Sea will help shed light on the ancient past, and could also prove to be a hotspot of marine life diversity. The steep, 800-metre cliff is on the western edge of the Queensland Plateau, to the northeast of Cooktown. It was found during a collaborative expedition by German marine scientists and Australian researchers from James Cook University and the University of Sydney.

During June and July, working on one of Germany’s largest research vessels, the RV Sonne, scientists have been mapping the seafloor of the northern Coral Sea – from Papua New Guinea, south along the deep Great Barrier Reef to Townsville, and then east into New Caledonian waters.

Read the Media Release.

Big Data Knowledge Discovery project launched at SIRCA

Big Data Knowledge Discovery project members

Big Data Knowledge Discovery project members

6 June 2013

The School of Geosciences EarthByte Group teams with NICTA, SIRCA and Macquarie University to unearth ‘big data’ insights for the natural sciences. This $12M, three-year research and innovation project will advance fundamental mathematics and statistics to provide a framework, methodologies and tools for data-enabled scientific insight and discovery. It is supported by $4M from the Science and Industry Endowment Fund (SIEF) and $8M from the research collaborators over the life of a three-year research project. It will combine NICTA’s world-class machine learning capabilities and SIRCA’s expertise in big data software engineering with three of Australia’s three domains leaders in natural science from Macquarie University and the University of Sydney:

  • Geosciences and Earth dynamics and tectonics led by Professor Dietmar Muller
  • Terrestrial Ecology led by Professor Mark Westoby at Macquarie University
  • Physics and Mathematics of Complex Laser Systems led by Professor Deb Kane at Macquarie University

How do we distinguish underlying trends in datasets from random variations - or ‘noise’ - and extract the meaningful information? Can we find out what Australia looked like 1.5 billion years ago when it consisted of 5 continents surrounded by rings of fire generating some of the world’s richest metal deposits? These are the sorts of questions the project will address, drawing on the skills of a multi-disciplinary team from NICTA, SIRCA, Macquarie University and The University of Sydney. NICTA is Australia’s Information and Communications Technology Research Centre of Excellence and SIRCA’s technology is used by over 400 leading institutions in the financial services industry worldwide. SIRCA technology, in partnership with Thompson Reuters, powers the largest and most comprehensive research database of historic financial markets data in the world.

The essence of the Big Data Knowledge Discovery project is to bring some of brightest people in the world in computer science from NICTA (in machine learning and analytics) and SIRCA (in software and big data) together with three of Australia's most distinguished natural scientists in physics, plant science and geosciences to tackle grand scientific challenges in completely new ways. “Working together we plan on developing a new space-time data mining approach, exploiting similarities with other research fields such as finance and taking a new look at huge geo-data sets to unravel the structure and evolution of Australia in a global context,” Professor Muller said. His team has previously had success in applying big data mining for earthquake hazard mapping and opal exploration.

“If this project succeeds in its admirably ambitious aims, Australia could one day be home to a new generation of big data analytics tools that could be used by all manner of scientists around the world to advance knowledge discovery around the world,” said Ian Chubb, Chief Scientist of Australia.

“Motivated by the grand challenges of big data, this initiative brings together world leading experts in finance and geoscience - possibly for the first time. SIRCA is very excited by this ground breaking opportunity for two such diverse disciplines to work collaboratively towards a common goal." Said Dr. Michael Briers, CEO, SIRCA.

“We imagine this project will provide a new and powerful platform for data intensive science – not just in the domains we’re talking about tonight, but to many others such as in medical sciences and nutrition,’ said Professor Hugh Durrant-Whyte, CEO, NICTA.