06Aug2017

Australia Failing To Inspire And Retain Next Generation Of Scientists

Dr Abigail Allwood knows the lack of homegrown opportunities all too well.

Dr Abigail Allwood

Join the League of Nations or risk falling out of space — that’s the message to Australia from a top astrobiologist who played a key role in the Mars rover mission. We need to heed this advice!

After growing up in the Brisbane suburbs and graduating from QUT with a first-class honours degree in geoscience, Dr Abigail Allwood made a name for herself on the world stage. Most impressively she holds the prestigious honour of being the first female and first Australian principal investigator to lead any mission to Mars.

However, the astrobiologist and co-leader of NASA’s Mars 2020 rover mission warned achievements like hers could become a thing of the past if Australia doesn’t join the growing League of Nations involved in space exploration.

Ms Allwood said Australia was missing a golden opportunity to inspire and retain the next generation of homegrown scientists, engineers and technologists. “The lack of opportunities to pursue basic research in general is forcing many of our brightest minds overseas,” she said.

“With precious little research funding, loss of CSIRO jobs and the disappearance of clever industries, we lack domestic inspiration for young Australians to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers.”

Ms Allwood said she believed space exploration is one of the greatest sources of inspiration for young minds and Australia has to capitalise on this. “The recent Pluto mission and the discovery of Earth 2.0 have captured the imagination of people all around the world,” she said. “Now, it’s about inspiring those young minds to take up careers in the field and I feel this would be much easier if they had the prospects of good jobs in Australia.”

Ms Allwood said while our education system was great for nurturing talent, the harsh reality was little to no opportunity on a local scale outside the education system. “By the time I was doing astrobiology in Sydney, I pretty much knew I had reached the point where I would have to be going overseas for employment,” she said. “We have fantastic science and engineering education, but for many of us who graduate the best — or only — opportunities are overseas. “Our country may never reap the benefits of these hard-won assets.”

While Ms Allwood admits Australia is achieving some great discoveries in regards to the great unknown, she thinks we need more people working on homegrown projects to give us global recognition.

“Australia doesn’t need to be on the sidelines here as other nations take up the challenge,” she said. “We could be participating in numerous ways, putting an Australian flag in the space news. “It’s a pride thing to able to say you were part of a mission landed on Mars or whatever example you want to use.” News.Com.Au

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