Chairman Peter Yates recognised for contribution to science

Story courtesy of The Australian Academy of Science

Outstanding Australians recognised for contributions to science

How do we get science into Australia’s culture and more connected with the business community? It’s a question that Australian businessman and Chairman of the RCH Foundation Peter Yates AM continues to pursue since noticing that science was largely missing from mainstream media and parts of the business community 15 years ago.

He joins Australian Space Agency Head Dr Megan Clark AC as the joint 2019 recipients of the prestigious Australian Academy of Science Medal. These two trailblazers in Australian science have worked across industries to advance the cause of science and technology through the public domain.

Dr Clark has led innovation in science nationally, as the first female chief executive of CSIRO, and now due to her ambitious leadership of the Australian Space Agency Australia is making exciting waves in space research and future space exploration.

President of the Australian Academy of Science, Professor John Shine, said the medal recognises outstanding contributions to science by means other than 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,” Professor Shine said.

Previous recipients of the medal include Bob Hawke (1990), Dr Norman Swan (2004), Professor Sue Serjeantson (2008) and Professor Ian Chubb FAA (2016).

In 2004 Mr Yates 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,” said Mr Yates.

In 2005 Mr 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. Today 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 businesspeople, who are starting to learn more about why they need to be involved in that conversation.

“In that regard I am honoured to have received this award and thank all of the scientists and businesspeople as well as the amazing teams at the RiAus and the AusSmc for their tremendous encouragement and support over the past 15 years.”

Dr Megan Clark AC is an Australian 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, R&D 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 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 microorganisms) could create a new way to make copper at BHP or new animal vaccines or gene technology for cotton at CSIRO,” Dr Clark 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.”