Monday, 19 March 2012

When the Royal Society was founded in 1660, it was possible for a knowledgeable person to be able to understand the full gamut of scientific discovery of that time.

Centuries later, it is hard to keep up with the furious pace of research advances even in one's own discipline.

While some in the community might view this rapid growth of scientific knowledge as an indication that we've pretty much covered all that needs to be discovered, the application and impact of academic research on our daily lives continues apace.

The truth is that we can't really begin to imagine what the world will be like in 30 years. We do know it will be fundamentally different from today; and we can be sure that it will be different because of science, technology and innovation which will almost certainly start out in the university research environment.

Research is not only critical to the economic and social development of society; it is also critical to the mission of our University.

Some research benefits are obvious - for example, benefits of an economic kind (a new product, technology or service), a social kind (increased knowledge of relevance to policy makers), of an environmental kind (improved techniques to ensure sustainable food production), of a cultural kind (increased understanding of cultural values or social approaches) or of a health kind (a better understanding of the causes of medical conditions or better means of delivering health services).

For some research the benefit may not be so obvious. As Albert Einstein once remarked: "If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?"

Nevertheless, it is this research which is the foundation for knowledge that makes possible so much of the innovation and application that provides wider benefit. There is a large element of serendipity in research and we need to acknowledge that for every successful connection between research and application, there are many projects that will not succeed in the same way. But such research, nevertheless, adds to the stock of global knowledge and provides the source of new ideas, methods, techniques and innovation across a whole range of disciplinary and multi-disciplinary areas.

There is no doubt that the emphasis on the social, cultural, economic and environmental impacts of research has increased greatly. This has been partly driven by the debate over the impact and quality of research and also by a pragmatism that applied research is more likely to persuade funding bodies to spend on research.

Our economy is based very strongly on technology and innovation - and in Western Australia that centres on the resources sectors of agriculture, energy and minerals.

And as we continue to pursue our global research agenda, we can look to a vast range of opportunities to build a future economy based on the existing strengths of our resources wealth backed by research from this University.

Paul Johnson



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