Strengthening our European connections to EMBL and beyond

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On a recent visit to EMBL Heidelberg, Ian Smith, Chair of the EMBL Australia Council, spoke about the synergies between EMBL and EMBL Australia, opportunities for collaboration and ideas for exciting future programs.

Ian Smith, Chair of the EMBL Australia Council, chatted to EMBL about the synergies between the organisations, opportunities for collaboration, and ideas for exciting new programs during a recent visit to EMBL Heidelberg.

EMBL Australia Council Chair Ian Smith talks about the benefits, opportunities, and potential for future collaborations between European and Australian researchers. Photo provided by Ian Smith, image by Creative Team/EMBL.

This article originally appeared on the EMBL website

EMBL is an intergovernmental organisation with 28 member states. The laboratory also has a strong and deeply valued southern hemisphere connection; Australia has been an EMBL associate member state since 2008.

EMBL Australia is a life science network that maximises Australia’s use of EMBL membership, supporting ambitious research projects and facilitating access to infrastructures and training. The flagship programme of EMBL Australia is the Partner Laboratory Network, a network of research groups led by outstanding early-career researchers at nodes around the country.

Australia’s associate membership of EMBL is funded through the Australian government’s National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS). Representatives from Australia’s NCRIS Health Group – a collaboration of capabilities, including EMBL Australia, working together to improve the health of Australians – recently visited EMBL’s headquarters in Heidelberg. The delegation toured EMBL facilities and met with scientists and senior leadership, including Director General Edith Heard.

We took the opportunity to chat with EMBL Australia Council Chair Ian Smith about the benefits, opportunities, and potential for future collaborations between European and Australian researchers.

What do you consider the benefits of Australia’s associate membership?

We have been absolutely delighted with the quality of the research that is taking place across our Partner Laboratory Network, which is a direct consequence of the quality of the fellows that we have managed to recruit and the research partnership community that has been built up in Australia, all through our EMBL membership. Through these partner programmes, we’re training the future scientific leaders of Australia, supported by contacts with the other EMBL sites and associated networks.

An unexpected benefit of our affiliate membership is the kind of meetings that we’re having on this visit – using EMBL as a vehicle to explore other areas of opportunities and learnings within Europe, particularly in the research infrastructure space. For example, we are learning about European best practices, how best to share new techniques, and where collaborative opportunities lie. Across the globe, we are all facing similar challenges in managing research infrastructure, so it’s beneficial having the opportunity to share our experiences and, importantly, discuss how we can best address these challenges.

What were the most outstanding discussion topics during your visit?

An example is the TREC Expedition in which EMBL is mapping flora and fauna and changes around the coastlines of Europe. We have similar programmes in Australia, which has diverse and, like Europe, changing climate conditions. We are therefore very interested in the opportunities to work more closely and to share and combine data. Data management is crucial but challenging, and EMBL-EBI is an organisation that knows how to handle data and can help solve some of these data problems.

Of course, we are looking at the challenges of climate change – many of the challenges in Australia are similar to the ones in Europe. By working together, we can exchange ideas and hopefully come up with new solutions.

Besides these challenges and opportunities, we also discussed the importance of properly recognising and rewarding the people who run research infrastructure and how to improve our training programs. EMBL leads the way in terms of training and we would like to take advantage of these established training programs, but at the same time, we also have much to offer in terms of training. We would like to see two-way traffic between Australia and Europe as part of the shared vision that we should be doing more together. I think now, after the pandemic, people are starting to move towards building these kinds of relationships and revisiting and sharing experiences.

Do you see future areas of collaboration and scientific exchange beyond those already mentioned?

We already have good exchange programs with students and our younger fellows visiting regularly, but the area we haven’t explored yet is more senior career people. We see, for example, opportunities for more senior researchers to do sabbaticals of between three to six months in both Europe and Australia. The specific aim would be to help facilitate the exchange of ideas, to learn and introduce new techniques, and to perhaps explore co-supervision opportunities for students.

During these discussions, we all felt that these expanded exchange programs would be beneficial for the researchers, open the door for more collaborations, and promote EMBL / EMBL Australia partnership growth. We would, however, need to think carefully about how best we should approach and implement these additional programmes.

The International Conference for Research Infrastructures (ICRI) will be held soon in Australia. What are your expectations?

I think the programme itself will be great, but what excites me most is the potential satellite meetings. For example, we are anticipating that the research infrastructure leaders from the health and biology space will hold a meeting to work through many of the issues we raised and discussed at the recent European/Australian/EMBL research infrastructure meeting in Prato, Italy. I think this is very exciting and, together with our global colleagues, not only will we start developing solutions to these problems, but such a meeting will also help build stronger ties, enable the sharing of critical insights, and start building a more globalised and collaborative community.

Your final word?

I would like to highlight the continued high level of goodwill and cooperation between EMBL and EMBL Australia, which has led to a truly impressive level of collaboration and interaction. I think the expanded and very ambitious programme that EMBL has put in place (Molecules to Ecosystems) will open the door for more people to engage, both from within the EMBL Australia partnership, as well as from within the broader Australian research community.

The spirit of cooperation and the willingness to collaborate has already led to several successful shared programmes between different institutions. This growth in cross institutional collaborations is both a real highlight, as well as a great indicator of the EMBL partnership success.

Dr Stuart Newman

Therapeutic Innovation Australia

Since completing a PhD in Antarctic Biology from the University of Tasmania, Stuart has built up considerable experience of science policy, pharmaceutical R&D, grant funding, IP management, business development and commercialisation in the university and not-for-profit sectors.|

Stuart joined TIA as CEO in 2017. Under his leadership, TIA has focussed investment on the gap between research and development of high-value therapeutics, including pharmaceuticals, biologics, vaccines and cell & gene therapies. He also devised an innovative infrastructure access voucher scheme. He is a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors

Beryl Morris

Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network

Merran Smith

Population Health Research Network

Merran is the inaugural Chief Executive of Australia’s Population Health Research Network and chairs the PHRN Participant Council. She is a past Director of the International Population Data Linkage Network (2019-2020) and current member of the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre Board.

Merran has an extensive background in science, health, and economics with strengths in strategic leadership and many years’ experience in Australia’s health and research infrastructure systems.  She is well versed in data management and oversaw the WA Department of Health’s Health Information Centre for more than 10 years. While with the Department, she established data linkage as a core service and served on Australia’s peak national health information committees. 

Prof Michael Dobbie

Phenomics Australia

Prof. Michael Dobbie has worked to establish and operate Phenomics Australia since its foundation in 2007, serving as CEO since 2013. Prior to leading the development and implementation of these national research infrastructures, Michael was a biomedical research with a PhD in Neurochemistry from the University of London and gained over 20 Years’ experience at the bench in field including genetics, vascular biology, cancer angiogenesis, neuroscience, metabolism, developmental biology, malaria and oxidative stress.

Mark Stickells

Pawsey Supercomputing Centre

Mark is a research executive with more than 20 years’ experience working at a senior level in innovative research and business development roles in complex, multi-stakeholder environments. Through national and international programs and joint-ventures, Mark had successfully led initiatives to accelerate the impact of research, development and education programs for Australia’s key energy, mining and agricultural sectors.
He is a former Chief Executive of an LNG research and development alliance of CSIRO, Curtin University and UWA, partnering with Chevron, Woodside and Shell. Prior to his appointment at Pawsey Mark led the innovation and industry engagement portfolio at The University of Western Australia. In addition, Mark is the current Chair of the Board of All Saints’ College and was appointed an adjunct Senior Fellow of the Perth USAsia Centre (an international policy think tank) in 2017.

Craig Humphrey

National Sea Simulator

Craig Humphrey has worked at AIMS for more than 25 years. He presently serves as the Director of the National Sea Simulator, a position he has held for the last two years. During the ten years preceding his directorial role, Craig was instrumental in the initial conceptualisation, creation, and implementation of the SeaSim. Prior to joining the SeaSim team, Craig worked as an experimental scientist at AIMS for 15 years, where he conducted research on various projects including fish ecotoxicology, inshore reef biological indicators of water quality, and coral reef climate-related studies.

Wojtek Goscinski

National Imaging Facility

Prof Wojtek Goscinski, with over two decades of leadership in research and innovation, heads the National Imaging Facility (NIF), Australia’s premier imaging network. As CEO, he oversees NIF’s collaboration among universities, research institutes, and government agencies. An Adjunct Professor at Monash University, he contributes to the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences. Prof Goscinski’s notable past roles include founding MASSIVE, a high-impact national analytics facility. He also serves on the Scientific Advisory Committee for Euro Bioimaging ERIC and has led significant international neuroinformatics programs.

Prof Sean Smith

National Computational Infrastructure

Sean Smith commenced as Director of the NCI in January 2018 and is conjointly Professor of Computational Nanomaterials Science and Technology at ANU. He has extensive theoretical and computational research experience in chemistry, nanomaterials and nano-bio science and technology.

Dr Lisa Yen

Microscopy Australia

Lisa is currently Microscopy Australia’s Chief Operating Officer and has over 15 years of experience in university administration, strategic research management in Centres of Excellence, and operations and management of national collaborative research infrastructure. She has been with Microscopy Australia since 2019. Lisa has a doctorate in cognitive science and a first–class honours degree in psychology.

Tamin Darwish

National Deuteration Facility (ANSTO)

Tamim leads the National Deuteration Facility at ANSTO, managing its operations and scientific advancements. With a Ph.D. in Chemistry, his expertise spans deuterium labeling, NMR spectroscopy, and organic synthesis. Tamim’s research focuses on creating deuterated molecules for advanced analytical techniques. His career includes postdoctoral fellowships and contributions to the field as a member of prestigious science communities and committees. His dedication to chemistry and material science is evident in his extensive work and achievements in the field.

Michael Steer

Southern Coastal Research Vessel Fleet

Professor Mike Steer is the Research Director at the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI), with over 20 years of expertise in marine science. He specialises in fish biology, fisheries science, cephalopod ecology, and fishery reform. Dr. Steer has led numerous research initiatives that have significantly advanced Australia’s seafood industry. He is known for fostering collaborations between academia and industry to address challenges in aquatic ecosystems. Prof. Steer holds a PhD from the University of Tasmania and serves on several national committees, including the National Coastal Research Vessels Working Group and the National Marine Science Committee.

Toni Moate

Marine National Facility (CSIRO)

Toni Moate is Director of the Marine National Facility and Director of CSIRO’s National Collections and Marine Infrastructure business unit. 

Toni is responsible for ensuring CSIRO’s national collections and marine infrastructure programs and research areas are effectively positioned, managed and utilised for long term financial sustainability and support science delivery in the national interest. 

Toni has extensive experience in strategic, financial, project and stakeholder management and has worked for CSIRO for over 30 years. In 2015 Toni was awarded the Public Service Medal for outstanding public service in Australian marine and atmospheric science, as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honours List. This was followed in 2017 when Toni was awarded the Tasmanian Telstra Business Woman of the Year. 

Dr Michelle Heupel

Integrated Marine Observing System

Michelle Heupel, with over two decades in marine science, leads Australia’s Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS) at the University of Tasmania. Her work, pivotal in deploying oceanic observing equipment, supports marine and climate research. Heupel’s expertise in marine predator ecology, especially sharks, is recognized globally. She has a BSc in Zoology and a PhD in Marine Science, contributing to over 160 scientific papers. Her roles have included Vice Chair of Strategy for the IUCN Shark Specialist Group and advisor for the Ocean Tracking Network. Heupel’s dedication to marine conservation and management reflects her profound impact on the field.

Thomas McGoram

Heavy Ion Accelerators

James Whisstock

European Molecular Biology Laboratory Australia

Professor James Whisstock is based at Monash University, where he is currently an Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow, an Honorary National Health and Medical Research Council Senior Principal Research Fellow and Deputy Dean Research in the Faculty of Medicine Nursing and Health Sciences.

Ceri Brenner

Centre for Accelerator Science (ANSTO - Nuclear Science Facilities)

Andrew Gilbert

Bioplatforms Australia

Andrew Gilbert has been Bioplatforms Australia’s general manager since its inception in 2007.
He is a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. Andrew oversees the investment of $300 million in Commonwealth Government research infrastructure funding in the discovery sciences of genomics, proteomics and metabolomics.
Andrew has an extensive network of contacts from Commonwealth and State Governments, along with prominent universities, medical research institutes, agricultural research institutes and commercial entities. The Bioplatforms Australia network now supports 4500 users per annum across the spectrum of pure research to commercial production. In addition to managing the national infrastructure network, Andrew has also catalysed the formation of a series of strategic national scientific collaborations.
Each of these projects is by design multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional and contain both discovery implications and pathways to end use.

Prof Pascal Perez

Aurin

Professor Pascal Perez is a specialist of Integrative Social Simulation, using Multi-Agent Systems technologies to explore complex infrastructure systems. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of NSW and the Modelling and Simulation Society of Australia and New Zealand (MSSANZ). 

Professor Perez has published 200 refereed articles and book chapters. In 2002, he received an ARC-International Linkage Fellowship to develop social modelling research at the Australian National University. In 2006, he co-edited with his colleague David Batten the book ‘Complex Science for a Complex World’ (ANU E Press).

Rosie Hicks

Australian Research Data Commons

Rosie has 20 years’ experience working in Australia’s research infrastructure sector. With a career spanning every aspect of scientific instrumentation from product development and technical marketing to managing multi-user facilities, she works across academic and industry domains to drive innovation and research translation.

Richard Dichmann

Australian Plant Phonemics Facility

Richard is committed to advancing Australian agriculture through strengthening sustainable industry partnerships and creating new business opportunities which capitalise on innovation. His career with Bayer spans more than 25 years and five countries in roles ranging from marketing, technology scouting and sustainability. Hailing from rural Victoria and educated in Melbourne, Richard obtained an honours degree in Forestry from Melbourne University and a master’s degree in Agriculture, focusing on satellite remote sensing, from the University of Sydney. Richard is a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. As Head of Public and Government Affairs ANZ for Bayer Australia and New Zealand, Richard is dedicated to increasing awareness and understanding among political stakeholders of the critical role innovation plays in meeting the food supply and health challenges of the future. Richard is a proud ambassador for Australian agriculture and is married with four children.

Dr Jane Fitzpatrick

Australian National Fabrication Facility

Jane led ANFF’s Queensland node for a number of years, joining the HQ team as its Chief Operating officer in 2012, before becoming CEO in 2021. Her responsibilities include ensuring the network performs as a cohesive and collaborative community, and maximising ANFF’s ability to support projects from academia and industry.

Prof Andy Hogg

Australian Earth System Simulator (ACCESS-NRI)

Professor Andy Hogg is a distinguished climate scientist leading the ACCESS-NRI, where he oversees the development of Australia’s advanced climate models. As a key figure in COSIMA, he contributes to ocean-sea ice model research. His role as a Chief Investigator at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes underscores his commitment to understanding climate dynamics and extremes. His work is pivotal in shaping Australia’s approach to climate science and modeling, reflecting his dedication to environmental research and innovation.

Jamie Schultz

Australian Centre for Neutron Scattering (ANSTO - Nuclear Science Facilities)

Dr Debbie Eagles

Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness (CSIRO)

Debbie Eagles is currently the Director of CSIRO’s Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness (ACDP). Prior to this, Debbie’s roles with ACDP included 4 years as ACDP Deputy Director and 3 years as the Research Director for the Diagnosis, Surveillance and Response (DSR) Program.

Debbie is a veterinarian by training and a World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) Reference Laboratory Expert on Bluetongue Virus. She is also enrolled as a WOAH and Australian Qualified Expert on the UN Secretary-General Mechanism’s (UNSGM) Roster for investigations of Alleged Use of Chemical, Biological or Toxin Weapons, has postgraduate qualifications in veterinary public health and has a special interest in interactions at the field/laboratory interface. Debbie has extensive experience in working in the Asia Pacific region, including in laboratory capacity building projects, in field investigations and through the provision of training courses.

Heath Marks

Australian Access Federation

Heath Marks was appointed by the Council of Australian University Directors of Information Technology (CAUDIT) in July 2009 to head a team to deliver the sustainable operations of Australia’s Trust and Identity services for Research and Education. This includes the national trust authentication framework the Australian Access Federation (AAF), and the Open Researcher and Contributor ID (ORCID) Consortium Lead for Australia. He is an IT professional with a wealth of management experience in the successful delivery of transformational Information Technology within the tertiary education and research sector supporting the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS). Heath participates in many national and international committees and working groups on trust, identity, cyber security, and company strategy. 

Tim Rawling

AuScope

Tim Rawling is the CEO of AuScope Limited. AuScope is Australia’s provider of research infrastructure to the national geoscience community working on fundamental geoscience questions and grand challenges — climate change, natural resources security and natural hazards. Prior to this role, he was Director of Infrastructure Development for AuScope’s Australian Geophysical Observing System (AGOS). His recent research has involved the development of regional/crustal-scale 3D and 4D geological models as well as new exploration methodologies involving 3D modelling and finite element simulation. Tim’s background is in structural geology and IT and he has previously worked as a consultant exploration geologist, as the manager of the 3D modelling and simulation programs at GeoScience Victoria (DPI), as the MCA funded lecturer at the University of Melbourne, a commercial programmer and as a researcher at Monash University and the University of Arizona.

Dr Andre Zerger

Atlas of living Australia

Dr. Andre Zerger is a key figure at the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA), where he leverages his expertise in spatial sciences and eco-informatics to advance biodiversity research. His work at CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology has been instrumental in developing national data infrastructures. At ALA, he’s excited to lead the team in harnessing digital technologies to manage Australia’s largest biodiversity database, fostering collaboration and innovation in the field.

Mark McAuley

Astronomy Australia

Mark McAuley has worked for thirty years in research and development environments, with responsibility for securing investments, facilitating collaborations, and executing projects. As CEO of Astronomy Australia Limited, he is responsible for the NCRIS astronomy programme. Mark has previously worked for CSIRO, and in private industry, including six years in computer-aided engineering. His experience ranges from explaining science to young children to leading financial strategy discussions concerning billion-dollar research infrastructure projects.

Mark holds a Master of Business Administration, Master of Arts (Ancient History), and Bachelor of Science with Honours (Astrophysics). Upon completion of his MBA, he received the Vice-Chancellor’s Medal from the University of Notre Dame, Australia.