Australian science continues to make national and international headlines, most recently focusing on the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2019 – 2020 Australian bushfires. Behind these headlines, you will find a community of impassioned researchers. And behind them, you will find a network of research enablers from NCRIS, the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy. Since 2004, NCRIS has enabled a wealth of research excellence, making it both headline-worthy and a critical pillar of the Australian economy. Leading economists agree.
Powerful economic findings
Recently, a number of research infrastructure organisations from the NCRIS community commissioned Lateral Economics (LE) to assess the positive impacts of NCRIS for Australian society and the environment. LE’s report has identified ways in which NCRIS funding has and will continue to support the Australian community and economy.
The report found that the direct benefit of investment in NCRIS is calculated to be above a $7 return for every $1 invested, which is a return on investment (ROI) of 7.5:1. The report notes that by 2022-23 the investment could support the employment of an additional 1,750 scientific and technical staff, support staff, and supply chain and industry staff. These benefits along with others outlined in the report indicate the significant impact NCRIS has made on Australia’s economic security. The report concludes:
“Based on economic theory and evidence from the time of the GFC to present, we can think of few approaches to providing additional stimulus to the Australian economy that are more cost effective than increasing investment in NCRIS.”
The impact of NCRIS is clear, however, the program itself is not often centre stage. It is time to shine a light on NCRIS. From supercomputers and microscopes, to data collection and software platforms NCRIS provides the infrastructure that supports Australia’s scientists.
The result is a network of world-class research facilities that are driving innovation and research in Australia and internationally. This network is made up of 22 NCRIS projects, which link over 200 institutions employing more than 1,900 highly skilled researchers and technical experts. This interconnected infrastructure and the specialist teams who run NCRIS programs allow Australia to meet the key challenges outlined in the UN sustainability goals and tackle some of the biggest scientific and societal challenges we face today. These have been highlighted in the Lateral Economics report as:
|Bushfire preparedness. With a range of sensors across Australia supported by NCRIS facilities such as TERN and AURIN, Australia can be better prepared for bushfire threats in the future.|
|Cyclone warnings. IMOS is providing rich, high frequency data from Australia’s surrounding oceans which can provide early warning signs of cyclones, not to mention ocean acidification and sea level rise associated with climate change.|
|Population health. A range of NCRIS facilities (e.g., PHRN, Phenomics Australia, Bioplatforms Australia, Therapeutic Innovation Australia) are helping to improve the health of Australia’s population.|
|Understanding the building blocks of reality. NCRIS facilities such as Microscopy Australia, National Imaging Facility, ANSTO, and Astronomy Australia Ltd are contributing to world leading research on the building blocks of the universe and of life.|
|Monitoring biodiversity. Australia’s unique biodiversity is being monitored, described and protected by the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA), BioPlatforms Australia, IMOS and TERN. In particular, ALA is our national biodiversity data infrastructure. It integrates and delivers fundamental data on Australia’s plants, animals and fungi to support ecosystem assessment, monitoring and planning.|
|Boosting crop yields and resilience. The Australian Plant Phenomics Facility contributes fundamental services in the effort to improve crop yields and crop resilience with genomic and molecular characterisation performed through Bioplatforms Australia.|
|Deriving value from data. ARDC, Pawsey Supercomputing Centre and the National Computational Infrastructure enable data from many fields of research across a wide range of scales to be stored, curated, managed and analysed.|
|Understanding the earth. AuScope improves our understanding of fundamental earth science and enables a range of benefits including substantial reductions in the cost of and more effective resource exploration.|
|Advanced manufacturing. The Australian National Fabrication Facility (ANFF) and Therapeutic Innovation Australian (TIA) provide industry and the wider community with access to cutting-edge advanced manufacturing technologies. Furthermore, NCRIS organisations such as Astronomy Australia Ltd are involved in advanced manufacturing activities.|
Selected examples of major benefits of NCRIS-supported infrastructure to the Australian community from the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure (NCRIS) spending and economic growth report, June 2021.
The Noun Project (top to bottom), Kevin, OCHA Visual, Nociconist, Sergey DemushkinImage, Felipe Perucho, Abdulloh Fauzan, Gregor Cresnar, Lluisa Iborra and iconcheese
Why Australia needs science innovation
Current global challenges have proven the ability of science to respond and to break new ground when faced with a novel challenge. The fact we have vaccines a year into a global pandemic is testament to this. The ability to respond quickly and skillfully requires infrastructure and team work. The challenges are numerous and Australia has, through NCRIS, been building its scientific capability. A flow on effect of this is that investment in NCRIS has also resulted in a stronger and more resilient economy. The Lateral Economics report noted that:
“The economic impact analysis has revealed that NCRIS stimulus has contributed to supporting the economy during the GFC and the current COVID-19 pandemic.”
Dr Cathy Foley in her inaugural speech as Australia’s new Chief Scientist in March 2021 was perhaps thinking along similar lines when she noted that science is critical to solving humankind’s greatest challenges:
“The question for me is how to strengthen the connections [between] scientists, researchers and innovators, with industry and policymakers.” — Dr Cathy Foley
This question highlights the direction in which Australia’s science must head. NCRIS will be a key driver of this interdisciplinary and impact driven future.
Supercomputing in Australia is accelerating the science underpinned by most of the NCRIS facilities. At the Pawsey Supercomputing Research Centre, in Perth, we work closely with researchers and other NCRIS facilities to provide them with access to supercomputing, data, visualisation services, training and expertise and we have done it for over 10 years.
Pawsey’s work enables science and accelerates discovery, and we do this by bringing together the critical infrastructure, expert staff, sector knowledge and focus needed to solve pressing problems in every field.
The research that we support has impact – it helps solve complex problems and makes a difference in the daily lives of people.
The urgent problems of the 21st century demand analysis and action sooner than can be achieved by traditional computing, and Pawsey’s powerful supercomputing systems provide that speed, compressing the work of decades into minutes.
Innovation is derived from the research that Pawsey supports in leading Australian industries such as minerals and energy, radio astronomy, agriculture, environment, and health and medicine.
Pawsey’s supercomputers have supported research that led to:
- mapping craters on Mars
- providing live monitoring of premature babies
- maximising resource extraction from WA gold mines
- limiting environmental impact from seabed pipelines, and
- the genomic mapping of WA’s quokka.
Pawsey helps deliver science of national and international significance thanks to the support of the Australian Government, WA Government and our partner institutions.
The full report can be downloaded here: National Collaborative Research Infrastructure (NCRIS) spending and economic growth by Lateral Economics, 2021
If you would like to know more about this report, please contact Nicola Tew (Communications Officer, Population Health Research Network, University of Western Australia).
Philomena Manifold (AuScope), Jo Curkpatrick (Australian Plant Phenomics Facility) Romy Pearse (Astronomy Australia Ltd), Nicola Tew (Population Health Research Network) and Karina Nunez Machado (Pawsey) on behalf of the NCRIS Communications Network