The National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) was conceived in 2004 by the Australian Government in response to the increasing costs and complexity of research facilities. Guided by the 2006 NCRIS Strategic Roadmap, the original investments began 10 years ago, strategically funding Australian research infrastructure across a wide range of fields including health, biosecurity, physics and the environment.
Since then, the Australian Government has provided $2.8 billion to the program, alongside $1 billion co-investment from state and territory governments, universities and industry. The investment is now recognised as a key driver of Australia’s research innovation in recent years.
“NCRIS has helped Australian researchers collaborate with colleagues in over 30 countries. It has paved the way to our involvement in other great projects, like the Square Kilometre Array. And it has brought remarkable people who I am proud to know into the circle of Australian science,” says Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel AO in support of NCRIS earlier this year.
The 27 current NCRIS projects include 222 institutions employing over 1700 technical experts, researchers and facility managers. More than 35,000 researchers, both in Australia and abroad, use these world-class facilities.
Many NCRIS-funded projects are household names in the scientific community, such as the high profile particle accelerator, the Australian Synchrotron, and the Atlas of Living Australia, which inventories the natural history of our unique flora and fauna.
There’s the Australian National Fabrication Facility where materials such as metals, ceramics or polymers can be manipulated, and many more state-of-the art facilities.
NCRIS recognises the need for data-intensive research in order to take on major challenges. The initiative funds a wide range of data-intensive facilities, as well as the specialist data services required to support them (including ANDS).
Australia now has two high-performance supercomputing centres funded by NCRIS, which includes the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre in Perth and the National Computational Infrastructure (NCI) at the Australian National University.
Sophisticated data storage and access facilities are also supported by NCRIS. The Research Data Storage Infrastructure (RSDI) project (succeeded by Research Data Services, or RDS), has produced cost-effective, scaled up, shared storage services in order to improve research collaboration.
The National eResearch Collaboration Tools and Resources project (Nectar) provides an online infrastructure that supports researchers to connect and collaborate with colleagues in Australia and around the world using virtual research laboratories and a national research server.
Data gathering infrastructure also plays a vital role in Australia’s research community by collating data to make it more coherent.
The projects and collaborations supported by NCRIS are gaining Australia international recognition when it comes to data management and new discovery.
“Overall, Australia plays a disproportionately large and useful role in global data sharing, and much, probably most, of that work is supported through NCRIS,” explains Mark Parsons, Secretary General for the Research Data Alliance.
Australian researchers “have made huge contributions to global data infrastructure,” he says.
An expert working group of eminent Australians led by Dr Finkel is currently working on the 2016 National Research Infrastructure Roadmap to support future investment decisions and “position the
nation to respond to the world’s big research challenges.”
The industry impact of the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy
A snapshot by Dr Tim Rawling, CEO of AuScope
Earth and geospatial scientists are heavy users of data products. When industry geologists access spatial data from the field and the exploration office they require data products that are discoverable, searchable, interoperable and attributed with robust metadata.
Over the last decade AuScope has utilised NCRIS funding to provide a variety of data products including geophysical data (reflection and passive seismic, magnetotellurics and gravity), GIS layers from state and national geological survey organisations, hyperspectral core logging (National Virtual Core Library) and time-series geospatial data from GNSS and VLBI instruments – all delivered using AuScope GRID technologies based on the Spatial Information Services Stack (SiSS).
Perhaps one of the best examples of collaboration to deliver data products to industry users is the national Mineral Library. Working with researchers at Curtin University’s John de Laeter Centre and ANDS, AuScope has also supported the development of a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS). The project has produced an entirely new workflow, based around a TESCAN TIMA field emission scanning electron microscope, that allows metadata to be collected and recorded from the sample collection and preparation right through to data delivery and publication.
This process has facilitated the scanning of a large stockpile of mineral samples from across Western Australia that will produce a state-wide Mineral Library, allowing mineral explorers to better understand the composition of critical rock outcrop samples from all over the state.
This new NCRIS supported initiative provides a dataset that underpins both academic and applied research programs and is important for the economic future of Australia. Mining companies do a lot of heavy mineral analysis in research and development but, because there isn’t a baseline for mineralogy across each state, it is difficult to have full confidence in the heavy mineral data. This creates an issue for pinpointing where the next major mineral deposits are.
Having solid baseline data will help improve targeting, which in turn reduces the costs associated with exploration and supports new discovery.