Collaboration fund up and running

Tuesday, 10 May, 2005

Scientific research in Australia has received a major boost with the launch of a fund designed to foster collaborative research between universities, CSIRO and other publicly funded research agencies (PFRA's).

As part of the Government's 'Backing Australia's Ability - Building our Future through Science and Innovation' package, the Flagship Collaboration Fund (FCF) will invest $96.8m over seven years to support collaborative research geared to contribute to the objectives of CSIRO'S National Research Flagships program.

CSIRO chief executive, Dr Geoff Garrett, said the Flagship Collaboration Fund will give some of Australia's most brilliant researchers the chance to work with teams of other great scientists on projects of the utmost importance to our nation - to strive for breakthroughs in crucial areas like energy, health, water, food, light metals, and the oceans.

"No one research organisation can take on these challenges alone - but by working together - scientists and engineers from any part of our research community can have a huge impact on Australia's future," Dr Garrett said. "And the breakthroughs will occur at the interfaces between sciences. For example, we will be better able to understand the relationships between the human genome and the health and well-being of individuals if we have the mathematical capacity to interpret vast amounts of data - that's biology meets mathematics, meets computer systems engineering.

"This is why partnerships and collaboration are the cornerstones of the Flagship research program," he said. "It has to be a real 'Team Australia' approach where Flagships seek the best science from inside and outside of CSIRO."

One of the major initiatives of the Collaboration Fund is the call for cluster proposals. Clusters are large research activities focussed around specific research themes, with each cluster expected to receive a minimum of $1 million over a 3 year period.

The objective of one such theme is to prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease - through new approaches to early detection and novel preventative strategies including diet and lifestyle. Recent Access Economics research shows that about 1000 Australians are diagnosed with dementia each week. The disease is expected to affect 200,000 people this year and cost Australia around $6.6 billion.

CSIRO deputy chief executive, Dr Ron Sandland, stressed that funding was contestable, that proposals would be strictly assessed and monitored and that part of the Fund would also be open to Australian PFRA's and overseas universities.

"To deliver maximum impact for Australia the Flagships need to access world's best science. As a result, funds may be provided to overseas universities for Visiting Fellowships when the specific expertise required is not readily available in Australia," Dr Sandland said.

"The funding of Visiting Fellowships and Postgraduate Scholarships for some of Australia's most promising scientists will also add to Australia's base of scientific knowledge and expertise."

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