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Director's Review of 2011

The last year has sped by and has seen major developments in the life of the Research School of Earth Sciences (RSES). I have focused my activity on behalf of the School on four major areas of strategic importance: renewal of academic staffing, acquiring the space required for the ongoing activities of the School, achieving financial sustainability, and full integration of teaching activities into RSES. Significant progress has been made on all fronts.

As I noted in my report last year, the biggest strategic challenge for RSES is to maintain and enhance our reputation. This will be challenging because the next 5-10 years are likely to see the retirement of some of the School’s most distinguished scientists. Performance benchmarks within RSES are exceptionally high and these standards will only be maintained or enhanced if we can attract scientists of outstanding promise to the RSES. At the beginning of 2011, we undertook a recruitment process to attract high-calibre early-mid career individuals to the School. Four individuals were recruited, including Drs Andrew Berry, Penny King, Simon McCluskey, and Jimin Yu. All have arrived except for Dr Jimin Yu who will commence employment later in 2012.

Construction of a new Earth Sciences building has been a major commitment throughout 2011. Staff, PhD students and Honours students will move in over the summer with the intention of having the building ready for the start of the new teaching semester in February 2012. The main reason for constructing this new building has been to enable co-location of colleagues and students from Building 47. Additional purposes are to provide significant teaching space, to house administrative staff, and to provide a clear front entrance to RSES for the first time in its history. It is also an environmentally sustainable, attractive and modern building that significantly enhances the Jaeger complex, and will benefit the full range of RSES activities. The William Smith map of 1815, purchased by Prof. D.A. Brown, has pride of place in an elevated display case in the foyer (with protection from ultraviolet radiation). Efforts are continuing to secure the space required to relocate the remaining laboratories from Building 47 closer to the Jaeger complex.

Success at the Australian Research Council (with $4M in new funding in 2011) and with a range of other funding agencies has been heartening and is providing funding to support a range of excellent research programs. Global economic conditions and Government policy mean that we are becoming increasingly dependent on new external income sources to support the School’s activities. We have recently appointed a Philanthropic Development Manager, Mary Anne King, to help re-engage with alumni and former staff, and to help me to engage with potential philanthropic donors who wish to support the School’s activities. RSES will celebrate its 40th anniversary in 2013. We will be working to engage more actively with our alumni in anticipation of this event.

We embarked upon a curriculum review over 2010 and 2011 with the intention of developing an undergraduate Earth science program with a stronger emphasis on quantitative skills and with broader scientific underpinning in addition to the excellent Earth science training that we already provide. More academic staff have become involved in the undergraduate program, which has spread teaching loads across RSES and has exposed our students to a wider range of people and their expertise. The new curriculum will be delivered for the first time in 2012. We look forward to ensuring that this provides the intended positive educational outcomes.

Several individual milestones have conferred great credit to RSES in 2011 and should be mentioned. Prof. Kurt Lambeck was made a Chevalier de l’Odre National de la Légion d’Honneur of the Republic of France. Prof. Brian Kennett was awarded the 2011 Matthew Flinders Medal and Lecture of the Australian Academy of Science “for scientific research of the highest standing in the physical sciences”. Prof. Ian Jackson was awarded the 2011 Jaeger Medal of the Australian Academy of Science “for investigations of a high order into the solid Earth or its oceans carried out in Australia or having some connection with Australian Earth science”. It was a privilege to be present at the Academy’s awards evening and to witness RSES colleagues receive two of the four major awards in the Physical Sciences. Dr Graham Mortimer was awarded a 2011 ANU Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Career Achievement. Prof. Trevor Ireland was a member of the Japanese Hayabusa mission in which an unmanned spacecraft landed on an asteroid and returned to Earth with samples. Initial results of this work were published in a series of 4 papers in Science in 2011 (with a photograph on the cover of Science). Dr Geoff Davies was awarded the Mary B. Ansari Best Reference Work Award by the Geoscience Information Society for his book Mantle Convection for Geologists (published by Cambridge University Press). This was the second successive year in which an RSES author has won this international award. Dr Davies was unable to attend the prizegiving ceremony, which was held during the Annual Meeting of the Geological Society of America. I was at the meeting and had the privilege of receiving the award on his behalf. It is gratifying, when attending such meetings, to hear of the esteem with which RSES is held in the international community.

The Jaeger-Hales Lecture is always a major event in the life of RSES. The 2011 Jaeger-Hales Lecture was delivered by Prof. Hugh Taylor of the California Institute of Technology, and was well attended and enjoyed.

I extend my thanks to all RSES colleagues for their efforts during 2011. Much hard work has gone into the many outstanding successes that have been earned and enjoyed this year.

Prof. Andrew P. Roberts
Director, RSES