Scientists have welcomed the news that science entrepreneur and publisher Dr Alan Finkel is to be the next Chief Scientist for Australia, and with good reason.
Finkel is a successful businessman, science publisher, respected neuroscientist and university Chancellor. He has first hand understanding of the relationship between science and productivity, between research and creating good jobs.
He is a man very well=suited to the times in a number of ways.
Announcing his appointment Prime Minster Turnbull said:
“He has been a very successful businessman, entrepreneur. He has applied the knowledge that he learned at university, he’s applied that knowledge to do extremely well. He absolutely fits the spirit of the times in which we live. A scientist and an entrepreneur, an innovator, a communicator.”
But perhaps the most interesting comments come from the man who understands the demands and importance of the job like no other, the incumbent Professor Ian Chubb, who winds up his term at the end of this year.
Chubb described his successor’s appointment as a “testament to his [Finkel’s] great vision for Australia, pursued with energy, insight and imagination over many decades.
“He comes to the role of Chief Scientist with that rare blend of passion, patience and persistence the position demands.
“Dr Finkel has called in recent days for Australian governments to ‘wrap their arms around the future’. As Chief Scientist, he will encourage all of us to embrace a bolder vision of the century ahead,” Professor Chubb said.
Finkel did his PhD in electrical engineering at Monash, and came to Canberra and ANU as a post doc researcher. Like many other highly qualified and skilled Australians he went to the United States to make his fortune. He founded his own company AXON, which supplies top-of-the-line robotic and electronic instruments and later designed a device that speeds up drug research. He is co-founder of Cosmos magazine, as well as an investor and philanthropist across a wide range of projects.
He has been an advocate for nuclear power and electricity as replacements for coal, and when questioned at his first press conference he stuck by his zero emissions vision: “My vision is for a country, society and world where we don’t use any coal, oil or natural gas, where we have zero emissions electricity…” but he tempered it with “but you can’t get there overnight.”
The Finkel appointment is part of a wave of optimism that has swept the science and technology community as the Prime Minister has repeatedly emphasised the importance of science and innovation to prosperity.
And there are reasons for everyone to smile. Finkel has a nuanced understanding of how to turn knowledge into products and jobs, and that’s essential if we are to prosper.
Like Larry Marshall before him – the Australian scientist and business man who was appointed head of the CSIRO last year – Finkel knows that innovation involves taking risks and sometime failing as well as succeeding.
And he’s an adventurer, one of the first people to book a $200,000-plus seat on the Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic private space flights. When asked why, he said: “Why not? Who wouldn’t fly into space if they had the chance?”
It seems Alan Finkel is a “why not” kinda guy, unafraid of taking evidence-based risks, profoundly interested in science and its power, with an infectious ability to have us all share that enthusiasm. It sounds like it will be a pretty exciting ride for all of us.
Catriona Jackson is CEO of Science & Technology Australia, the peak body for science and those working in technology.