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Research School of Earth Sciences
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Director's Introduction 2008

2008 was the first year in which the Research School of Earth Sciences was engaged with the full range of educational activity from undergraduate, honours, Masters by coursework and higher degree research. All education activities are carried out in the Earth and Marine Science Education Program and all courses now appear with a single code EMSC irrespective of their origins in the former Research School or Department. I would like to thank the Associate Director - Education, Professor S Cox, for steering the education activities of the School successfully through the year. We have had high numbers in first year in courses shared with the Fenner School and a large Honours class. Most undergraduate teaching is carried at the D.A. Brown Building (#47), but Honours and Masters teaching is concentrated at the Jaeger Building (#61).

The integration of research activities between the D.A. Brown and Jaeger buildings has worked quite well and some rearrangements of facilities are planned to make the best use of technical resources. Movements of staff have been two way and many members of the school keep fit by walking (or cycling) between the two buildings.

The administrative structure in the University continues to evolve. As a result of a University Review of Biological Sciences, the College of Science and the College of Medicine and Health have been reconfigured into the College of Physical Sciences and the College of Medicine, Biology and Environment with a joint college administration for the major functions. The Dean of Science - Prof Byrne is responsible for Education in Science across both colleges. Prof Byrne who is a nuclear physicist also has the role of Director of the College of Physical Sciences within which RSES sits. The full details of the administrative changes are still being worked out, but there has been a subtle but significant shift in the position of the School. Budgetary and Strategic issues are now expected to be worked in a College context.

Members of the School received many honours during the year:

  • Prof. B.L.N. Kennett was awarded the Gold Medal in Geophysics from the Royal Astronomical Society and the Peter Baume award for exceptional merit from ANU
  • Prof. R. Grun was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London and the Australian Academy of the Humanities
  • Professor H. O'Neill was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science
  • Prof. M. McCulloch has been made a Fellow of the Geochemical Society
  • Prof. G. Lister was elected a Fellow of the Geological Society of America
  • The SHRIMP team, comprising Dr John Foster, Dr Peter Holden, Mr Peter Lanc, Mr Ben Jenkins, and Mr Norm Schram, received a Vice Chancellor's Award for Innovation and Excellence in Service Quality

With the election of Prof R. Grun to the Australian Academy of the Humanities for his contributions to archaeology we now have fellows in three Australian Academy (Academy of Science, Academy of Technological Science, Academy of the Humanities) which is unusual for a Science based School.

As a fitting tribute to his very distinguished career in Earth Sciences, Em. Prof S.R. Taylor has been appointed as an Honorary Companion of the Order of Australia. In the internal promotion round for 2008 Drs V. Bennett and M. Norman were promoted to Level D.

The number of grants funded through the Australian Research Council was down once more in 2008, but there was continuing success in the areas of earth physics and climate change. Two successful LIEF grants will see renewal in mass-spectrometers for environmentally oriented work.

2008 has seen the establishment of the Australian Office for the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) at RSES and Prof Neville Exon appointed as Program Scientist. Australian membership of IODP is supported by a multi-year ARC LIEF grant and contributions from a wide- ranging consortium across the country. The IODP membership brings a substantial foreign currency exposure (US$1.4M per year). Fortunately this year's partial subscription (~US$1M) was paid near the top of the A$ rate against the US$ before the recent precipitate decline. The Terrawulf II computer cluster funded through AuScope was formally launched in June, this 384 core system is being used for a wide range of research including atmospheric effects in GPS, through ocean modelling to studies of the Earth core and geodynamo.

The Jaeger 5 extension building with the ground floor SHRIMP stable and second floor offices for the Planetary Sciences Initiative was completed in mid-year. The energy efficient building provides a contrast and complement to the rest of the Jaeger complex. SHRIMP II was successfully moved to the ground floor working area to join SHRIMP RG in the original space. SHIRIMP SI grows in place in the floor and already the general form can be visualised. The offices above are in use and we have gained a valuable area for teaching and small meetings. We have received permission to call this the ‘D.H. Green Room’ in honour of the former Director of the School who has recently ‘retired’ to Tasmania.

The Campus Planning and Development committee has approved the design for the replacement of the rear section of the Old Hospital Building (OHB-B) that provides an interesting contrast to the Heritage listed OHB-A. This ‘Jaeger-8’ project now awaits release of funding. It will include additional teaching space and a clear front entrance to the School.

Research at RSES mobilises a wide range of geological, geochemical and geophysical techniques and expertise to try to understand the nature of the Earth and its environment. The research is organised through the four main Research Areas: Earth Chemistry, Earth Environment, Earth Materials & Processes and Earth Physics. These research areas link groups with a common style of activity or equipment. Much cross-area cooperation occurs, and many activities transcend area boundaries.

The following pages provide an account of many facets of the research activity of RSES undertaken in 2008.

B.L.N. Kennett
Director, RSES