Tag Archives: Australia’s Chief Scientist

5 ways to get to Mars

Find the best 5 ways to get to Mars

Featured image above: Could this be your new home? We take a look at the best 5 ways to get to Mars if living on another world is an idea that entices you.

Looking for an escape from planet Earth? We look at the quickest and most likely 5 ways to get to Mars and start your new adventure.

1. Ask a genius

Serial entrepreneur extraordinaire Elon Musk announced earlier this year that Space X has a Mars mission in its sights. In an hour long video, the billionaire founder announced his aim to begin missions to Mars by 2018, and manned flights by 2024. The planned massive vehicles would be capable of carrying 100 passengers and cargo with a ambitious cost of US$200,000 per passenger. He’s joined by other ambitious privately funded projects including Amazon founder Jeff Bezo’s Blue Origin, which describes a reusable rocket booster and separable capsule that parachutes to landing. Meanwhile American inventor and chemical engineer, Guido Fetta has pionered a concept long discussed by the scientific community, electromagnetic propulsion, or EM drive, which creates thrust by bouncing microwave photons back and forth inside a cone-shaped closed metal cavity. Rumours this week from José Rodal from MIT that NASA was ready to release a paper on the process, which would be game-changing for space travel as the concept doesn’t rely on a propellant fuel.

2. Hitch a ride

In November 2016, NASA and CSIRO’s Parkes telescope opened the second of two 34-m dishes that will send and receive data from planned Mars missions, while also listening out for possible alien communications as part of UC-Berkeley-led project called Breakthrough Listen, the largest global project to seek out evidence of alien life. The Southern Hemisphere dish joins others in the US in using signal-processing hardware to sift through radio noise from Proxima b, the closest planet to us outside of the solar system. Whether an alien race would be willing or able to offer humanity a ride off its home planet is another question.

3. Aim high

While they are focused on getting out of the solar system, a team led by Dr. Philip Lubin, Physics Professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara think they could get the travel time to Mars down to just three days (as opposed to six to eight months). Their project, Directed Energy for Relativistic Interstellar Missions, or DEEP-IN, aims initially send “wafer sats”, wafer-scale systems weighing no more than a gram and embedded with optical communications, optical systems and sensors. It’s received funding of US$600,000 to date from NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts, and theoretically could send wafer sats at one-quarter the speed of light – 160 million km an hour – using photonic propulsion. This relies on a laser beam to ‘push’ a incredibly small, thin-sail-like object through space. While it may seem a long shot for passenger travel, the system also has other applications in defence of the Earth from asteroids, comets and other near-earth objects, as well as the exploration of the nearby universe.

deep-laser-sail
Image: An artist’s conception of the laser-led space propulsion. Credit Q. Zhang

4. Volunteer

The Mars One project already has 100 hopeful astronauts selected for its planned one-way trip – out of 202,586 applicants. The project is still at ‘Phase A’ – early concept stage – in terms of actually getting there, but makes the list of the top 5 ways to get to Mars due to the large amount of interest: it has raised US$ 1 million towards developing a practical way to safely land some of these select few on the red Planet.

5. Ask the experts

In 2020, Australia will host the COSPAR scientific assembly, a gathering of 3000 of the world’s top space scientists. The massive conference will no doubt include some of the top minds focussed on this very problem, offering new hope in our long-term quest for planetary travel.

“We come to the table with a bold vision for our nation’s place in science – and through science, our place in space, said Australia’s Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel.

Fast-tracking women in STEM

Featured image above: Jane Elith from the University of Melbourne is an early career researcher, yet in the field of environment and ecology, she is the 11th most cited author worldwide over the past 10 years, and is the only Australian woman on the highly cited list. Women in STEM represent just 18% of academic positions in Australia.

Advocacy for gender equity in science is changing, with men as likely as women to make the case for increased participation for women in STEM, former Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick says.

And there’s a simple business case as to why: “No one of us can ever be as good as all of us acting together,” says Broderick, who served as Sex Discrimination Commission from 2007–2015 and in 2010 founded the Male Champions of Change group, which brings together some of Australia’s most influential and diverse male CEOs and Chairpersons.

“Women represent such a small percentage of [staff at the] professorial level and organisation leading level, and yet 50% of our talent resides in women,” Broderick told 320 delegates at the SAGE symposium on Friday 24 June.

SAGE is Australia’s Science and Gender Equity initiative to promote gender equity for women in STEM. Broderick will chair the program, which with the Male Champions of Change group will receive the bulk of the $13 million National Innovation and Science Agenda funding to support women in STEM careers.

Practical initiatives for women in STEM

SAGE runs the Athena Swan Charter, which takes a data analysis approach to effect change in organisations, which then work towards a series of awards based on the success of their gender equity programs.

On Friday SAGE announced that another eight organisations including the Burnet Institute, Federation University Australia, James Cook University, Defence Science and Technology Organisation, Bond University, Macquarie University, University of the Sunshine Coast, and the Australian Astronomical Observatory had signed on for the charter, bringing total participation in Australia to 40 research and academic institutions.

Women make up just 16% of the STEM-qualified workforce, according to the Chief Scientist’s March 2016 report, Australia’s STEM Workforce.

“At a turning point”

“We are at a conscious turning point for enabling equity for women scientists. We need role models that can unconsciously change perceptions,” says Dr Susan Pond AM, Co-Chair of SAGE and Interim Chief Operating Officer and Adjunct Professor in Sustainability at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney.

Broderick adds that while women comprise more than half of graduates and postgrads in STEM, they comprise just 18% of academic positions. “The absence of women perpetuates the absence of women.”

“If we don’t actively and intentionally include women, the system will unintentionally exclude them.”

The gender pay gap also sits at around 18%, Broderick says.

Two practical ways the Male Champions of Change addresses gender equity for women in STEM is through the ’50:50, if not why not’ and the panel pledge, says Broderick.

In the panel pledge, males commit to speaking at events only if there is equal representation by women in STEM, and reserve the right to pull out even at the last minute if this isn’t happening.  The Male Champions of Change developed the ’50:50, if not why not’ slogan in response to gender inequity.

“In our DNA”

Seeking out and addressing gender imbalance “ought to be in our institutional DNA”, Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel, told the symposium.

Fewer than one-third of graduates in 2011 (the latest figures available from the Australian census) were women in STEM, says Finkel.

“I look to universities to not just reflect society today, but to model the society of tomorrow.”

– Heather Catchpole

STEM workforce

Australia’s STEM workforce

Featured image above from the Australia’s STEM Workforce Report

Australians with qualifications in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are working across the economy in many roles from wine-makers to financial analysts, according to a new report from The Office of the Chief Scientist.

Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel says Australia’s STEM Workforce is the first comprehensive analysis of the STEM-qualified population and is a valuable resource for students, parents, teachers and policy makers. The report is based on data from the 2011 Census, the most recent comprehensive and detailed data set of this type of information. The report will serve as a benchmark for future studies.

“This report provides a wealth of information on where STEM qualifications – from both the university and the vocational education and training (VET) sectors – may take you, what jobs you may have and what salary you may earn,” Finkel says.

“Studying STEM opens up countless job options and this report shows that Australians are taking diverse career paths.”

The report investigates the workforce destinations of people with qualifications in STEM fields, looking at the demographics, industries, occupations and salaries that students studying for those qualifications can expect in the workforce.

STEM workforce
Click here to see an infographic of key facts from the Australia’s STEM Workforce Report

The report found that fewer than one-third of STEM university graduates were female, with physics, astronomy and engineering having even lower proportions of female graduates. Biological sciences and environmental studies graduates were evenly split between the genders. In the vocational education and training (VET) sector, only 9% of those with STEM qualifications were women.

Finkel says that even more worrying than the gender imbalance in some STEM fields, is the pay gap between men and women in all STEM fields revealed in the report. These differences cannot be fully explained by having children or by the increased proportion of women working part-time.

The analysis also found that gaining a doctorate is a sound investment, with more STEM PhD graduates in the top income bracket than their Bachelor-qualified counterparts. However, these same STEM PhD holders are less likely to own their own business or work in the private sector.

Finkel says that preparing students for a variety of jobs and industries is vital to sustaining the future workforce.

“This report shows that STEM-qualified Australians are working across the economy. It is critical that qualifications at all levels prepare students for the breadth of roles and industries they might pursue.”

Click here to download the full Australia’s STEM Workforce report.

Click here to read Alan Finkel’s Foreword, or click here to read the section of the report that interests you.

This information was first shared by Australia’s Chief Scientist on 31 Mar 2016. Read the original media release here