If you listen to the news, it's easy to get the impression that Australia is home to a bunch of people who don't do anything innovative and are all focused on drinking beer and eating burgers. In reality, though, there are many Australians doing interesting things that are changing the world around us. I've compiled a list of 10 such individuals—some well known, some not so much—who prove that Australia is an innovative place after all.
Helen Milroy is a professor of gender and cultural studies at the University of Sydney. She has published many books, including "The Politics of Transnational Feminist Practices" (1999), "The Sexual State" (2003) and "Sexing the State" (2007).
Camille Wardrop Alleyne
Camille Wardrop Alleyne is a medical scientist and entrepreneur with a passion for improving access to healthcare globally. She has made significant contributions to the field of malaria research, including identifying the role of mosquitoes in spreading this infectious disease.
In 2009, Alleyne founded the Australian Institute for Tropical Health (AITH), an independent institute dedicated to supporting research on tropical diseases such as malaria and dengue fever. AITH provides scholarships for postgraduate students as well as funding opportunities for new researchers. In addition, it operates an incubator program that helps early-stage companies develop new products or services related to tropical diseases.
Alleyne's work has been recognized both nationally and internationally; she was named one of Australia's most influential women in 2017 by The Australian Financial Review Magazine and received a Medal of the Order of Australia in 2018 for her contribution to public health policy development through community engagement activities aimed at reducing global health inequities across Asia Pacific regions
Dr Alan Finkel
Dr Alan Finkel is the chief scientist and director of the CSIRO. He's an engineer and neuroscientist with a PhD in physics from Cambridge, as well as a member of the Australian Academy of Science. In 2012 he was made an Officer of the Order of Australia for his contributions to science, particularly through his research into renewable energy sources such as photovoltaic cells and liquid fuel generation.
Bridget "Brigid" Maher is a geologist and paleontologist at Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia. She has discovered the oldest evidence of life on Earth, as well as the oldest evidence of animal life on Earth—and she's done it all in her native country!
In 2016, Maher discovered what she believes to be the earliest known fossilized animal burrows (burrowed by worms) in ancient mudstones from 1.4 billion years ago. This discovery was made at Strelley Pool in Western Australia's Pilbara region, which was once part of an ocean floor during that time period.
Maher has also worked with colleagues to find fossils from North America and Scotland dating back nearly 2 billion years ago—making them some of the most ancient known remains ever found by humans!
Chris de Bruyn
Dr. Chris de Bruyn is an Australian professor of computer science at the University of Sydney, where he specializes in machine learning and artificial intelligence. He has been featured in multiple press outlets as one of Australia's leading innovators in this field, including Forbes, Wired and The Age.
He also received several international prizes for his research over the years—including the IEEE International Conference on Computer Vision (ICCV) 2017 Best Paper Award and a Microsoft Research Fellowship Award from Microsoft Research Asia that allowed him to spend two years working with researchers at Microsoft's Beijing headquarters on how to improve image recognition technology through deep learning algorithms.
Prof Sean Smith
Sean Smith is a professor of neuroscience at the University of Sydney, a position he has held since 2014. His research focuses on understanding how the brain works, with a particular interest in how we process language. He has also co-founded the Sydney Neuroscience Institute and was elected to membership in Australia's National Academy of Science in 2011.
In addition to his academic work, Prof Smith has received prestigious awards for his contributions to science and society. In 2016, he was awarded the Australian Academy of Science's Pawsey Medal for Excellence in Science (the highest honor bestowed by that body) along with being named as one of Australia's 100 most influential people by The Australian Financial Review Magazine.
Melinda Richards is an Australian social entrepreneur and founder of the non-profit organisation, Code Club. She was born in Australia but grew up in England. Melinda has been recognised for her work with Code Club with a number of awards including World Teacher Prize and Young Australian of the Year.
Melinda is passionate about helping young people develop skills that are essential to life, such as critical thinking and problem solving through coding. She believes that by providing these skills early, children will grow up to be more successful adults who can contribute positively to their communities.
Paul Dalgarno and Yasser Rashid
Paul Dalgarno and Yasser Rashid are the brains behind the world's first 3D-printed shoe. The Sydney duo were inspired by a trip to Cambodia, where they saw children walking barefoot in areas where it was unsafe to do so. When they returned to Australia and saw how much plastic waste was being produced, they decided it was time for something better than mass production: individualized shoes that could be customized according to your needs. They call their project "Shoes That Work," as each pair is created with the wearer's foot shape in mind—and you can even choose which parts of your feet will be supported (the arch or heel).
The company received some major support when Adidas purchased 50 percent share of its technology last year, thus granting them access not only to Adidas' resources but also those of parent company Bayer MaterialScience (BASF). Since then, BASF has helped develop a stronger material for printing footwear that's both flexible enough for comfort but strong enough not break when you wear them. This material will allow BASF/Adidas-powered Shoes That Work not just print custom shoes on demand but also recycle old pairs into new ones!
Matt Hooper and Jason Yeap
Matt Hooper and Jason Yeap are the founders of Sydney-based design consultancy, Hooper&Yeap. The pair have designed a number of innovative products since their first collaboration in 2000—from the world’s first waterless urinal to an app that helps you track parking meters via your phone—and have been recognized for their work by both the Australian Design Award and Chief Executive Women (CEW).
In 2014, CEW presented them with its Innovative Woman of the Year award for their work on a self-cleaning bathroom system at Surry Hills Library. Their aim was to create a space that could be used by all members of the community regardless of age or ability level.
Guy Lawrence and Dr Alex Wodak
Guy Lawrence and Dr Alex Wodak are the founders of the Medically Supervised Injecting Centre in Kings Cross, Sydney. It is one of the most innovative health care facilities in Australia and has been open for over 20 years. The centre aims to reduce deaths from drug overdoses by providing a safe place for people who use drugs to inject drugs under supervision. The centre has been modelled on similar initiatives around the world and pioneered harm reduction programs like pill testing at music festivals to prevent overdoses from adulterated substances.
For all the talk of Australia's perceived lack of innovation, we have in fact produced quite a few very interesting and inspiring innovators.
For all the talk of Australia's perceived lack of innovation, we have in fact produced quite a few very interesting and inspiring innovators. Many of them are still alive and well today.
Innovation is a constant process, but it's often unevenly distributed across countries—and even regions within countries. While some areas have struggled with a perception that they're behind the times when it comes to new ideas and technologies, others seem to be on the cutting edge. But no matter where you live or work as an innovator, there will always be someone doing something better than you are at any given time—and that can serve as motivation for pursuing even more innovative goals in your own research field!
We hope that this list has given you some insight into the many ways in which Australians have contributed to the world, and how their ideas may shape our future. With all these great innovators here at home, it's clear that we shouldn't be afraid of being called boring or uncreative - after all, we're doing just fine!
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