From the ocean floor to batteries—partners in energy

Heading into deep water

Perth researchers help Chevron keep oil and gas flowing smoothly

Out in the Gulf of Mexico Chevron are operating a $7.5 billion platform that’s recovering oil and gas from two-kilometre-deep ocean.

It’s the largest and deepest operation in the Gulf, with over 146km of pipeline bringing oil and gas to refineries.

But pipelines operating at extreme depths in cold water and crushing pressure are prone to blockage. University of Western Australia researchers are helping Chevron keep oil and gas flowing through deep-water pipes.

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Healthier trucks and clean air underground—partners in mining technologies

American mines are safer and more efficient thanks to Australian technologies

‘Blood tests’ for big machines

Mining companies across America are increasing the reliability of their trucks, diggers, and other big machines, and saving hundreds of millions of dollars in the process.

They’re giving these big machines regular health tests and comparing the results with a global database for that machine.

The result? They’re fixing machines before they break. This preventative health system was developed by an Australian company, Dingo, which now has 40 people working at its bases in Denver, Brisbane, and Calgary.

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Cars, planes…partners in advanced manufacturing

Australian and American researchers and businesses are partnering to bring new manufacturing technologies to market

Paint fit for a Dreamliner

Next time you board a new Boeing Dreamliner, take note of its Australian paint.

Developed by researchers at CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, ‘Paintbond’ has now been adopted across the entire Boeing aircraft fleet, and more than 1,000 aircraft have been re-coated using the technology so far.

Why is it better? The new spray-on topcoat paint technology saves time, reduces the impact on the environment, and is safer to use.

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Eyes, hearts, bionic spines—partners in new health technologies

Across America lives have been improved by Australian inventions—the cervical cancer vaccine, the bionic eye, gum that repairs tooth decay. What’s next?

Extended wear contact lenses for healthier eyes

Some 30 million Americans use contact lenses. Today they can wear a single pair for up to 30 consecutive days and nights, safely and comfortably thanks to the work of CIBA Vision and CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency.

Contact lenses were once rigid and had to be taken out every night. In 1991, a team of researchers from CSIRO, the University of New South Wales, and the Vision Cooperative Research Centre joined forces with CIBA Vision in the US, and Novartis in Switzerland, to create a better contact lens.

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Protecting our crops—partners in food security

Australia and America are farming nations

The science underpinning modern farming has enabled our farmers to become more efficient, and more profitable.

Take grain for example. American farmers grow over 440 million tonnes of grain each year. Australia produces about 40 million tonnes. Together that’s about one-sixth of global grain production. Good science has contributed to a tripling in grain production over the past half century.

Both nations export to the world. But whenever we store and transport grain the bugs bite. The latest collaborative research between our two nations is changing that.

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Protecting phones, robots and governments—partners in cybersecurity

Your smartphone’s Wi-Fi connections are fast and reliable thanks to the work of Australian astronomers in the 1990s.

Today, your phone is also being protected from cyberattacks by Australian software that works within the kernel of the phone’s operating system to protect it from hacking and software faults. The kernel is the most fundamental part of an operating system. It acts between the hardware and the applications.

Now Australian researchers are working to secure America’s growing fleets of autonomous machines, with ‘microkernel’ software known as seL4.

The new software is built on the work of researchers at the University of New South Wales and National ICT Australia (now CSIRO’s Data61 Group).

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Science collaboration improves health

Dr Ian Frazer Administers the first Australian Gardasil Vaccination. Credit: University of Queensland
Dr Ian Frazer Administers the first Australian Gardasil Vaccination. Credit: University of Queensland

Australia’s impact on world health has been profound: from devices helping deaf children hear, to cancer-preventing vaccines and even the development of penicillin. But there is much more to come. Australians are working, often with researchers from the United States, on hundreds of projects including medical spin-outs from genome research, HIV vaccines, the use of phones to diagnose mental illnesses, and a suite of drugs to prevent and treat obesity and diabetes.

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Searching the southern sky, and unchaining the internet

Gemini North. Credit: Gemini
Gemini North. Credit: Gemini

Through their unique view of the southern sky, Australian researchers are unraveling the secrets of the cosmos—and they’re doing it with a huge helping hand from the US. In return, Australian astronomer engineers have helped change the world via discoveries that have unchained notebook computers, made flight safer, improved CT scans, and delivered clearer sound. Now, Australia and the US are working together to design the next generation of telescopes: the Giant Magellan optical telescope to be constructed in Chile; the gravitational observatories looking for echoes from the Big Bang; and what will be the world’s largest radio telescope— the Square Kilometre Array.

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The Australian science and technology system

Opal Research Reactor. Credit: ANSTO
Opal Research Reactor. Credit: ANSTO

With 22.5 million people, Australia has only about one-fourteenth the population of the US. However, Australia is as big in land mass as the 48 contiguous US states and as geographically diverse. Publicly funded science is targeted at many of the same strategic challenges as in the US—particularly, health and medical research, marine science, climate change, agriculture, energy, resources and defense.

National science agencies

RV Southern Surveyor. Credit: CSIRO
RV Southern Surveyor. Credit: CSIRO

Helping drive solutions to these challenges in Australia is the national research body known as CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation). One of the world’s biggest government research agencies, it has an annual budget of close to AU$1.4 billion (2010¬11), of which the Government provides about half directly. There is a separate body devoted to defense matters, the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO), which receives a budget appropriation of about AU$440 million. Other Government agencies include the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, ANSTO (AU$369 million in 2010-11), the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) based near Townsville in north Queensland (AU$66.2 million in 2010¬11), Geoscience Australia (AU$156 million in 2010-11) and the Bureau of Meteorology (AU$345.3 million in 2010-11).

Funding bodies

In Australia, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and the Australian Research Council (ARC) are the two most significant agencies that administer competitive research grants on behalf of the government. NHMRC, which focuses on health and medical research, had a 2010-2011 budget allocation of nearly AU$792 million. The Australian Research Council (ARC), a general research granting agency, had a 2010-2011 budget allocation of more than AU$700 million.

There are many scholarship programs available to researchers in Australia. One of the best known and most distinguished is the educational exchange program of Fulbright scholarships. These are an important mechanism for generating collaboration between Australian and US scientists.

The Australian component for 2011 has been boosted with the announcement of up to 15 ‘clean tech’ Fulbright scholarships for those interested in renewable energy and climate science research.

About two-thirds of the Australian Government’s science and technology budget is administered by the Innovation, Industry, Science and Research portfolio. The other third is administered by other government portfolios: the DSTO, for instance, is managed by the Department of Defence; and the NHMRC by the Department of Health and Ageing.

In addition, each of the eight state and territory governments has its own administration dealing with science and technology, focused on areas of specific interest. Traditionally, because of their constitutional responsibilities, all states have been interested in public health, education, and agriculture. But some states, such as Victoria and Queensland, have made research and development (R&D) itself a specific economic focus, and have put significant funding into developing research infrastructure.


Australian Synchrotron.
Australian Synchrotron.

Research is a focus at all of Australia’s 41 universities, only two of which are private. About twice as much is spent on R&D by Australia’s universities and medical research institutes as is spent directly by federal government science agencies. Much of the sector’s research funding is provided in the form of competitive grants and block grants designed to support the indirect costs of research. In total, the Australian Government provides about AU$2.5 billion to universities to support their research and research training activities, and this is complemented by research funding from the private sector, non-profit organizations and state governments.

While there is not a strong history of philanthropy or endowments in Australia, universities are increasingly undertaking their own fund-raising, and tapping into new sources of non-government funding.

Medical research institutes

Australia has about 40 independent medical research institutes in addition to its universities and hospitals. As well as tapping into philanthropic money, and being eligible for competitive grants, these institutes are supported directly by about AU$650 million a year from the Australian Government towards infrastructure, and more from the state and territory governments.

Business investment in research and development

While in the US, business has accounted consistently for about 70 per cent of total R&D expenditure, the role of private enterprise in research in Australia historically has been limited. That picture is now changing: the share of national R&D financed by business over the past 25 years has risen from 30 per cent to about 60 per cent in 2008-09. This has been supported by a range of government programs, including an R&D tax concession now worth around AU$1.6 billion a year. The Australian Government is involved strongly with particular agricultural industries in 15 Rural R&D Corporations. These corporations are financed through industry levies matched dollar for dollar by the Australian Government.

Cooperative research centres

CSIRO Solar Tower. Credit: CSIRO
CSIRO Solar Tower. Credit: CSIRO

Making a strong contribution in terms of practical research is the Cooperative Research Centres (CRCs) Program. The program supports end user driven research collaborations to address clearly articulated, major challenges facing Australia, many of which are global. CRC activities include research, utilization and commercialization, education and engagement with small and medium enterprises.

There are 42 active CRCs that operate across four broad industry categories: agriculture, forestry and fishing (11 CRCs), manufacturing (5), mining (4) and services (22). Since 1991, the Australian Government has committed more than AU$3.4 billion in CRC Program funding. Participants in CRCs have committed a further AU$11 billion in cash and in-kind contributions.


Two national academies are associated with science and technology in Australia—the Australian Academy of Science, based in the nation’s capital, Canberra, and the Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering in Melbourne, Victoria. Both have been involved heavily in promoting collaboration with colleagues outside Australia through the Australian Government’s International Science Linkages Program.

This is an part of a series of eight factsheets exploring US-Australian collaboration and outlining some of the ways that Australian science is contributing to America’s society and economy. You can download all of the factsheets as one PDF here.

  1. Overview: Innovation today means jobs and prosperity tomorrow. (Download PDF)
  2. Delivering sustainable agriculture and biosecurity. (Download PDF)
  3. Slivers of sun: clean energy and smarter mining. (Download PDF)
  4. Science collaboration improves health. (Download PDF)
  5. Understanding and responding to changing climate. (Download PDF)
  6. Traveling at Mach 5: Defense and materials science in action. (Download PDF)
  7. Searching the southern sky, and unchaining the internet. (Download PDF)
  8. The Australian science and technology system. (Download PDF)

Traveling at Mach 5: Defense and materials science in action

US Aircraft Carrier USS Nimitz which will be protected by Nulka Credit: U.S. Navy/James Mitchell
US Aircraft Carrier USS Nimitz which will be protected by Nulka Credit: U.S. Navy/James Mitchell

Blink and you’ll certainly miss it. Australian and US defense scientists have conducted two of 10 test flights of rockets that use revolutionary scramjet propulsion at the Woomera Test Range in South Australia. The rockets travel at hypersonic speeds of more than Mach 5—that’s well over 3,000 miles per hour. More conventionally, an Australian-designed missile that masquerades as a ship has been selected to protect US aircraft carriers. But it’s not just rocket science where Australian and US collaborations have raced ahead. Artificial intelligence research could see manned and unmanned aircraft fly in the same airspace. Australian materials have been incorporated into the latest American aircraft. And quantum computers could soon be solving the knottiest of problems, now that Australian scientists have pointed the way to building them.

Continue reading Traveling at Mach 5: Defense and materials science in action