Entrepreneur Alan Finkel named Australia’s chief scientist

The appointment of Alan Finkel as Australia’s next chief scientist will help bolster the commercialisation of research, the federal government says.

Finkel (pictured) will take over from Ian Chubb, who has held the role of the nation’s top scientist since May 2011. Chubb’s term will conclude at the end of the year.

The role of the chief scientist is to provide independent advice to the government on science, innovation and commercialisation and lift the profile of Australian scientific endeavour domestically and internationally.

The new chief scientist is a prominent engineer, respected neuroscientist, successful entrepreneur and philanthropist with a taste for innovation and commercialisation. He is currently the chancellor of Monash University and is president of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering.

He has a post-doctorate in electrical engineering and biophysics, and started his career as a neuroscientist. From there he went on to found Axon Instruments, a company that manufactures electronic and robotic instruments and software for use in cellular neuroscience, genomics and drug discovery. The company was listed on the Australian Stock Exchange in 2000 and was sold four years after that for $140 million.

He also helped introduce science education programs into high schools, called Cosmos Lessons, designed to engage students in contemporary scientific issues such as renewable energy.

He led the amalgamation of the Howard Florey Institute, the Brain Research Institute, the National Stroke Research Institute and the Mental Health Research Institute to form the Florey Neuroscience Institutes.

He is also known for his advocacy for the use of nuclear energy to help reduce Australia’s carbon emissions.

Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science Christopher Pyne congratulated Dr Finkel, who he said was selected from a high calibre field following an international search:

“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 believes his commercial and scientific background will help contribute to the nation’s future innovation. He said in a statement:

“My personal experience across research, business and STEM 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, Australia needs both.”

Pyne also praised Chubb for his landmark achievements in the role:

“Professor Ian Chubb has made an incredible contribution to science in Australia and we thank and commend him on his outstanding contribution as Australian chief scientist and also as an eminent university administrator and academic over the course of his distinguished career.”

Finkel will begin his three year term on January 25.

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