We are naturally inquisitive and, since time immemorial, have always strived to make sense of the world around us. Scientific discovery has shaped all aspects of human living, from finding new planets, to the development of medications and vaccines to combat deadly illnesses and the discovery of new materials for space exploration.
Once in a while people come up with new ideas that change the way we live, work and play for the better. And sometimes, enormous corporations decide to support those ideas – leading to extraordinary change. Many of these world-changing ideas come from science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). STEM skills are valuable in all aspects of problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity, teamwork and more, and have played an important role in Australian discovery and invention.
Australia is a nation of inventors, from the invention of notepads and the plastic disposable syringe to anti-counterfeiting technology for banknotes and long wearing contact lenses. And even before this, about 50,000 years ago, Indigenous Australians led the world with inventions like the aerodynamic boomerang for hunting, numerous bush foods and medicines, and a technique for hunting involving the controlled burning of grass fields called ‘fire stick farming’. Today our world is increasingly shaped by science and technology. Now more than ever discovery and invention in STEM will shape the world.
The Bragg Prize is an annual award celebrating the best non-fiction science essay written for a general audience. An initiative of UNSW Press, UNSW Science and Refraction Media, The UNSW Bragg Student Prize for Science Writing is designed to encourage and celebrate the next generation of science writers, researchers and leaders. For an aspiring university Dean of Science or Walkley Award-winning journalist, this could be the first entry on their CV.
The Bragg Prizes are named for Australia’s very first Nobel Laureates, the father-and-son team of William Henry Bragg and William Lawrence Bragg. William Henry Bragg was a firm believer in making science popular among young people, and his lectures for students were described as models of clarity and intellectual excitement.
Australian electrical engineer John O’Sullivan’s work in radio astronomy led to the invention of a core technology and made wireless LAN fast and reliable. The technology was patented by CSIRO and is now a component of wi-fi – a local area wireless computer networking technology that allows electronic devices to be connected to the network and allows us to network all of the billions of devices we use today, like video-game consoles, smartphones and tablet computers. In 2009, O’Sullivan was awarded the CSIRO Chairman’s Medal and the Australian Prime Minister’s Prize for Science.
Where would we be without wi-fi? This iconic Australian invention came about because radioastronomers were seeking out black holes in space.
The amazing man whose work led to fast and reliable wireless technology
Read the wi-fi story right from the start
Penicillin-based antibiotic medicine
Penicillin, a group of antibiotics derived from fungi, has revolutionised our protection against harmful and deadly bacterial infections. It was first discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1928, and followed earlier work on infectious moulds by scientists such as Louis Pasteur, Joseph Lister and Ernest Duchesne.
Australian Howard Florey co-developed the first penicillin-based antibiotic medicines in the late 1930s with fellow medical researcher Ernst Chain. They pushed the boundaries of science in the 1930s and early 1940s to develop a method of purifying penicillin from a special strain of mould, which allowed them to create medicine that effectively killed harmful bacteria. It was used en mass shortly after to help World War II victims. Now people are treated with antibiotics everyday to heal infections that 80 years ago would have less to illness or death.
In 1945, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was jointly awarded to Fleming, Chain and Florey.
The great Australian who developed antibiotics from penicillin.
In 1976 Australian company Ausonics commercialised grey-scale imaging technology, developed at CSIRO’s Ultrasonic Research Centre, in the UI Octoson ultrasound scanner. The technology breakthrough picks up fine difference in ultrasound echoes bouncing off soft tissue in the human body and converting them into TV pictures.
Ultrasound is used to check on the progression of babies growing inside pregnant women and to diagnose medical problems in the breast, stomach and other soft tissue.
You are HERE.
In 2003 brothers Lars and Jens Rasmussen showed the world how innovation and entrepreneurship can go a long way – they formed a mapping technology that led to the development of the platform for multi-billion dollar enterprise: Google Maps.
The Maps ‘top down’ view shows amazing high-resolution imagery of cities taken from aerial photography using flying aircraft and satellites. Google Maps is now used by approx. 1/3 of all Google visitors and represents over 3% of all total global Google traffic.
In 2010 the brothers were awarded the Pearcey Award for NSW ICT (information and communications technology) Entrepreneurs of the Year.
How Sydney techies created Google Maps.
The award the inventors scored for turning the technology into a thriving business.
Plastic surgeon and burns specialist Professor Fiona Wood, based at Royal Perth Hospital, co-invented a patented skin culturing treatment for burns victims with scientist Marie Stoner.
The Australian-invented ‘spray-on-skin’ technology uses healthy cells from the patient to produce a lab culture that can be sprayed onto the wound in just five days – an alternative to painful grafting techniques.
It was used to treat victims after the 2002 Bali bombings, and is currently approved for use in Australia, Europe, Mexico, Canada and China.
Watch a short video about spray-on skin from the inventor herself and hear how well it works from the victim of a burn.
How did Fiona become such a great inventor? Did you know she once dreamed of being an Olympic sprinter?
How spray-on skin helped save lives after the Bali bombings.
Find out more
Here are some other resources to give you great ideas and get those cogs turning!
A timeline of Australian inventions.
What are some other Australian inventions and discoveries that have gone on to change the world?
What makes Australians so ingenious? Who were our first inventors and our backyard inventors?
South Australia has an Inventors Association. Maybe you’d like to talk to one of their inventors?
Who has won Australia’s Good Design awards and what did they make?
Many inventors patent their products. You can search Australia’s patents to see who made what.
What is the innovation cycle? Find out and play the innovation game!