Academy of Science recognition for ASA head

Max Blenkin

Australian Space Agency head Dr Megan Clark AC is the joint 2019 recipient of the prestigious Australian Academy of Science Medal for her long contribution to Australian science.

Academy of Science recognition for ASA head
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Dr Clark shares the award with businessman and science communication exponent Peter Yates, AM.

President of the Australian Academy of Science Professor John Shine said the medal recognised outstanding contributions to science by means other than through research.

“The medal is awarded to a person outside the Fellowship who has, by sustained efforts in the public domain, significantly advanced the cause of science and technology in Australia or who has made a substantial contribution to the Academy,” he said.

Previous recipients include Prime Minister Bob Hawke (1990), Dr Norman Swan (2004), Professor Sue Serjeantson (2008) and Professor Ian Chubb, AC (2016).

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Although now head of the new Australian Space Agency, Dr Clark started out as a geologist with an extensive career in both the private and public sector.

Starting as a mine and exploration geologist, she subsequently worked in mineral exploration, mine geology, research and development management, venture capital and technical strategy areas.

In 2009 she was appointed chief executive of the CSIRO. Under her leadership, CSIRO was credited for several new ventures, including wireless research. Dr Clark headed the review that convinced the government that Australia needed its own space agency and in 2018 was chosen to lead the new organisation.

She is also currently a director of Rio Tinto, CSL Limited and CARE Australia, and recently chaired the Expert Working Group into the Review of Australia’s Space Industry Capability.

Dr Clark said it is a surprise and an honour to be awarded the Academy Medal.

“My career has been dedicated to using breakthrough science to create value for our nation and everyday lives: whether it was using geological science to discover mines or understanding how primitive archaea (single-celled micro-organisms) could create a new way to make copper at BHP or new animal vaccines or gene technology for cotton at CSIRO,” she said.

“Now I am lucky enough to be building an amazing team working to transform and grow Australia's space industry. I can only accept this wonderful award from the respected Australian Academy of Science on behalf of these extraordinary team members.”

Peter Yates is a prominent businessman, deputy chairman of the Myer Family Investments, who in 2004 noticed that science was missing from the mainstream media.

“It struck me that given how important science is and the decision making around science for our community, that if the leading television station in the country (Channel Nine at the time) didn’t really have any focus on science in any of its program meetings, I felt we had a problem,” he said.

In 2005, Yates helped found the Australian Science Media Centre and later the Royal Institution of Australia. His objective was to change the way Australia looked at science. Now he hopes that science can be an even broader influence on society.

“The biggest surprise for me has been the disconnect between the business and science communities in Australia and I think that gets to a deeper issue for our community but also a tremendous opportunity,” said Mr Yates.

“It’s improving a lot and the academies have done a tremendous job in reaching out to business people, who are starting to learn more about why they need to be involved in that conversation.”

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