Inspiring the ACT Decision Makers!

Inspiring the ACT Decision Makers!

Success for Inspiring Australia will mean a more scientifically-engaged Australia. A big part of this is building partnerships and influencing all levels of government. Our decision makers need to understand the value of our sciences, and how important science and technology is to our economy. Research is a major driver of economic growth. Advanced physical and mathematical sciences are responsible for 11% of Australia’s economic activity, underpinning 760,000 jobs. Future prosperity will rely on the decisions made now.

Inspiring the ACT has been playing a key role in engaging our decision makers and explaining the role of the Inspiring Australia strategy in the ACT as well as the importance of innovation and entrepreneurship. In the ACT, we are particularly focussed on leveraging the work that the CBR Innovation Network does in innovation and entrepreneurship with our important task of engaging more school-aged people in STEM – encouraging them to see opportunities past academia for the sciences.

At the relaunch of Inspiring the ACT, we were honoured to have both Andrew Barr MLC, ACT Chief Minister and also Karen Andrews MP, at the time of the launch the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Industry and Science attend.


Under Chief Minister Barr, the ACT Government has been focussed on accelerating local innovation to create wealth and jobs, as outlined in the business development strategy Confident & Business Ready: Building on Our Strengths. It was very much a push from the ACT Government that the Inspiring the ACT program be housed at the CBR Innovation Network, so that where possible, increased science engagement is linked to innovation and entrepreneurial programs.



Minister Karen Andrews, herself an engineer and a champion for STEM and in particular, encouraging women and girls in STEM, is now the Assistant Minister for Science. A week before that change, she spoke at our launch, emphasising the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics to the Australian economy. It is estimated that 44% of Australian jobs are at risk from digital disruption over the next 20 years. She is perfectly placed to commit to working with industry and the science sector to ensure the development of a national STEM strategy puts us on the right trajectory to capitalise on the jobs of the future.

We also had Jeremy Hanson MLA, Leader of the ACT Opposition visit. This was another great opportunity to explain the programs at CBR Innovation Network, which Inspiring the ACT is part of. He was very interested to hear how we are incorporating STEM and entrepreneurship as a way of delivering science engagement in the ACT.

Jeremy Hanson

Next up, in one of his first actions as the new Assistant Minister for Innovation, Wyatt Roy MP, Australia’s youngest ever Minister, visited the CBR Innovation Network. We were able to discuss the importance of STEM and how innovation will drive fundamental change. From his perspective, he said we need research, higher education, science and innovation to work together. And Inspiring the ACT is certainly trying to help that and it was great to have him come and sit on our famous pink beanbags, where all good ideas come from!

Wyatt Roy


It was also fantastic to have Bill Shorten MP, Federal Leader of the Opposition, Ed Husic MP, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary assisting with Digital Innovation and Startups, and Andrew Leigh MP, Shadow Assistant Treasurer come and visit us too! It was great to explain to the Opposition what achievements and plans Inspiring the ACT has for STEM engagement in the ACT.

Bill Shorten


I have also had the honour of being invited to a couple of events here in Canberra that continue to put science front and centre in the minds of our decision makers. The first was the launch of the John Howard Walk of Wonder at Questacon. This is a great Science Tourism initiative – a self-guided walking tour, guided by an app around the Parliamentary Triangle to discover the hidden science in the heart of the Nation. The former Prime Minister John Howard, famous for his morning walks, was in attendance, as was the current Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull MP.

Malcolm Turnbull WOW

On entering Questacon, Mr Turbull said to the gathered crowd of school kids that “you are living in the most exciting time, and the key to that is science”. He went on to say during his speech that “the key to innovation is science”.

And finally, we’ve had the Logies of Science, the Prime Minister’s Awards for Science, held in at Parliament House. There was so much optimism in the room that night for the future of science – he again stressed the importance of science to the future of Australia and that he would be putting it “front and centre of the national agenda.”

PM Science Awards


So if Inspiring Australia aims to develop strong partnerships and shared vision to better engage Australians in science, I think that we can be hopeful that all levels of government are also aiming to support science and that can only be a good thing for the future of this country.

Teen Start-Up Camp

Teen Start-Up Camp

In our “new phase” of Inspiring Australia in the ACT, one of the things we want to achieve is to encourage young people to engage with the sciences and also innovation and entrepreneurship as a career pathway.

I had a meeting with the amazing team at Lighthouse Business Innovation Centre, who had found that when working with young adults on entrepreneurial thinking and skills, they often had no experience of creative idea generation, developing business ideas and marketing strategies, and pitching concepts. And so, they developed the idea of piloting a Teen Start Up Camp for teenagers to develop entrepreneurial skills, whilst working on STEM-based problems.


So, Inspiring Australia ACT sponsored the first Teen Start-Up Camp! Teams of teens came together to come up with an idea for a product or a service that provides a solution to global issues and challenges in the areas of:

  • energy
  • communication
  • health

To help spark the creative ideas, the Lighthouse team gathered some inspiring speakers in each of the problem areas to put some context and clarity around what are really “big picture” problems. So the teams got to listen to Lachlan Blackhall, from Reposit Power, Ken Kroeger from Seeing Machines and Francis Owusu from Kulture Break. What I really found inspiring about listening to all these people talk was the amazing brain power and passion that Canberra has! These businesses are truly ground-breaking.

All pumped up and ready to go, the teams then had to work out what problem they were trying to solve, research to make sure it was a problem, and come up with a solution! For this part of the day, the teams were joined by a wide variety of mentors – entrepreneurs, youth workers, err Inspiring Australia program managers(!) who helped them with the brainstorming process and idea refinement.





Now, not all of the teams found this process easy! There were a couple of teams who came to the weekend with a product/service already formed as an idea. Other teams had only just met each other that morning and had to start the brainstorming process from scratch, and I mean completely from the beginning. It was (as always) also interesting to watch interpersonal skills and team dynamics in action! There were definitely some interesting synergies going on there!

All this thinking is hard work, so through lunchtime, the kids were treated to more inspiration – this time a Tech Showcase, coordinated by the Canberra Entrepreneur. The idea was to show how technology can be utilised as a tool to help solve problems. The participants enjoyed displays and hands-on activities from the Creative Element, WindLab, and Made For.Me (again, all Canberra-based entrepreneurs!).


The next day was all about the pitches! Teams had a short “how to pitch” workshop and then they had to put theory into practice. The teams had to explain their idea and how it solved a problem and then explain how it might become a business. After lunch, it was crunch time – presenting to a judging panel of investors, industry experts and entrepreneurs, and err, Inspiring Australia program managers!


After some debate, we awarded first place to Novice Coders, who wanted to create a platform to connect new coders with mentors to help them develop their skills.


Second place went to the girls of Charge, who were developing anti-bullying software on social media platforms, that detected incorrect usage of terms such as “gay” and “spastic” which are in common use amongst teens, but have significant negative impact.


And third place went to Homonavitas, who wanted to be able to convert the energy in the soles of shoes whilst walking to usable energy.


The best part of the whole weekend for me was watching these kids grapple with concepts like problem-solving and product development. Every team managed to present an idea and no matter how polished the final pitch, all the teams learned something about working as part of a team and innovative thinking.

The Lighthouse team is now looking at how to take this program into schools, so a wider audience can be reached and taught entrepreneurial skills from a younger age. To start with though, they are going to run a school holiday program in January 2016. If you know high school aged kids who may be interested, you can contact them at or ring (02) 6163 8300.

Women in Science – Challenges and Solutions

Women in Science – Challenges and Solutions

In the middle of National Science Week, I had the pleasure of attending The League of Remarkable Women in Science exhibition at the CSIRO Discovery Centre.

CSIRO exhibit

This exhibition was organised by Dr. Anne-Sophie Dielen and Britta Foster, with the support of the ANU Gender Institute and Inspiring Australia. It started life as Tumblr blog, interviewing 40 female scientists working in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) about what it means to be a women in science in 2015, what challenges they have faced as well as rewards of working in science. They also shared their visions of what could make a difference for gender balance in research.


The scientists featured in the blog and exhibition have achieved successful careers no matter which hurdles they found on their way. They have all taken different routes, but all have remained true to themselves and are extraordinarily inspiring examples for the next generation of female scientists.

Objects from the National Museum of Australia were also displayed, linking women in science from the past to the present.


A public discussion forum was also held at CSIRO Discovery. A panel of scientists, both men and women, discussed their own experience as well as the initiatives that could lead to better diversity and gender balance in research. The forum was chaired by Prof. Brian Schmidt and the Hon. Karen Andrews MP.






Dr Sophie Lewis, ANU; Dr Britta Foster, ANU; The Hon Karen Andrews, Prof. Elanor Huntington, ANU; Dr Anne-Sophie Dielen, ANU; Prof. John Evans, ANU; Dr Megan Heming, Dr Craig Wood, CSIRO; Prof. Brian Schmidt, ANU

I left feeling very inspired by amazing women in science, the men willing to stand up and call out gender inequity and again by the huge numbers of science supporters we have in Canberra – the event was a full-house and we could have easily had double the time for questions!

The very exciting news is that Dr Dielen has agreed to be the Chair of the ACT National Science Week Committee for next year, so science is in good hands!!

What do you think is the biggest hurdle for women in science?