Science industry booming
Tomorrow’s scientists are finding their skills are in demand today, Hannah Silverman reports.
DEVELOPMENTS in climate change, mining, water and technology have created specialised careers in science.
Demand for scientists in nanotechnology, renewable energy and biotechnology are among the thriving fields that are creating jobs for tomorrow’s scientists.
Adelaide University Dean of the Faculty of Sciences Professor Bob Hill says climate change has affected many science fields, from agriculture to geology to marine science.
‘‘A lot of people don’t realise that the reality of climate change cuts across so many different areas,’’ he says.
‘‘We train people in agricultural science, where there are massive issues around climate change and population growth. Can we actually feed the population in 50 years time with the reality of climate change?’’
Prof Hill also identifies environmental monitoring as an emerging area, thanks to the state’s mining boom. Scientists are needed to ensure that mining carried out is performed with minimal damage to the environment.
Flinders University science educator Brent Banham says that groundwater hydrology is in demand as a niche area of environmental science – also affected in part by the mining boom.
‘‘It’s in demand because of the mining boom and in Australia we are large users of ground water,’’ he says.
His student Dylan Irvine has just completed his honours degree in ground hydrology and is about to start his PhD in the field.
‘‘I started studying in 2007 and I thought of it as an emerging field where there’s only going to be more people needed,’’ he says.
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‘‘There’s a lot of demand. During the GFC, the mining was on hold.
‘‘Now that it’s all back on the table, there’s heaps of work, especially for consulting companies.’’
Australian Institute of Policy & Science executive director Elektra Spathopoulos agrees.
‘‘Groundwater hydrology, I think, is going to be an increasingly important area,’’ she says. ‘‘Sustainability and water generally will become a bigger issue for South Australia.’’
Mr Banham says nanotechnology is a multi-billion-dollar industry that is increasing in popularity because the associated technology in microscope development has improved.
‘‘Because we can play with atoms, we can now understand atoms,’’ he says. ‘‘Nanotechnology as a study field has only been around for 10 years . . . it’s predicted around the world to be a very big employer.’’
Bio Innovation SA chief executive officer Jurgen Michaelis saysthat, over time, existing disciplines of science begin to overlap. ‘‘ For example, nanotechnology has evolved from the combination of material science and engineering, while proteomics has evolved from the combination of biochemistry and information technology,’’ he says.
He adds that students who study interdisciplinary or two basic degrees will have a workforce advantage.
‘‘Universities are now developing courses and programs using an interdisciplinary approach,’’ Mr Michaelis says. ‘‘Examples include pharmaceutical science and environmental science. A good understanding on information technology as an enabling technology also gives graduates an added advantage.’’
National Science Week, which runs in South Australia from August 6 to 22, will include a careers day for high school students as part of Science Alive weekend on August 6.
Among the modern career paths highlighted will be a presentation by Rising Sun Pictures’ Ian Cope on special effects, which not many people realise is an area of chemistry.
National Science Week SA coordinator Rona Sakko says science as a career means more than ‘‘wearing a white coat in a lab. ‘‘A lot of people aren’t aware of how science affects their everyday lives,’’ she says.
EMERGING: Students Matthew Knowling and Dylan Irvine.