Australia appoints new chief scientist

By on 28/10/2015
Dr Alan Finkel, Australia’s chief scientist

Dr Alan Finkel, the founder of a Silicon Valley robotic instruments company, has been appointed Australia’s next chief scientist.

Finkel, who in 1983 established Axon Instruments, a California-based, supplier of electronic and robotic instruments used in neuroscience research and pharmaceutical drug development, will take up his post in January next year.

He is currently chancellor of Monash University, which has campuses in Australia, Malaysia, South Africa, India and China; as well as president of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE).

Finkel, who will replace Professor Ian Chubb who has been in post since May 2011, said: “My personal experience across research, business and STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] education will guide my ability to formulate relevant advice.

“We exist in a competitive international environment and to compete effectively, business needs science, science needs business, and Australia needs both.”

As chief scientist, Finkel will report to the minister for industry, innovation and science – Christopher Pyne – and work closely with the prime minister, by whom he is appointed.

Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, who announced Finkel’s appointment yesterday, said: “The Australian Government recognises the importance of science, innovation and technology to our future prosperity and economic security as a nation in a rapidly expanding and diversifying global economy.”

And Pyne said: “Dr Finkel is renowned for his outstanding research, industrial and entrepreneurial achievements in Australia and overseas, his leadership and service in the university and education sector, the academies and national science bodies, and his experience in providing high-quality expert advice to government.

“His will be a vital role in shaping Australia’s economic future and leading our national conversation on science, innovation and commercialisation across the research, industry and education sectors and with the wider community.”

Finkel’s company Axon was acquired by the US firm Molecular Devices Corporation for $140m in 2004, after which Finkel took on the role of chief technology officer at Molecular Devices.

Post Axon, Finkel co-founded Cosmos and G magazines to promote science awareness and sustainability. In 2010 and 2011 Finkel served as the chief technology officer for Better Place Australia – a company established to provide clean energy to run Australia’s future fleet of electric cars.

He is the chairman of the Australian Centre of Excellence for All-Sky Astrophysics and the Executive Chairman of Stile Education – an education technology company based in Melbourne.

Finkel established the Australian Course in Advanced Neuroscience to provide advanced training to early career neuroscientists.

He also leads a secondary school science programme named STELR, administered by ATSE, which is currently running in nearly 450 secondary schools around Australia.

Finkel received his bachelor of engineering in 1976 and a doctorate in electrical engineering from Monash University in 1981, following which he served two years as a neuroscience research fellow at the John Curtin School of Medical Research, located at the Australian National University.

About Winnie Agbonlahor

Winnie is news editor of Global Government Forum. She previously reported for Civil Service World - the trade magazine for senior UK government officials. Originally from Germany, Winnie first came to the UK in 2006 to study a BA in Journalism & Russian at the University of Sheffield. She is bilingual in English and German, and, after spending an academic year abroad in Russia and reporting for the Moscow Times, Winnie also speaks Russian fluently.

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