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Director's Review of 2012: a Year of Change

­After two-and-a-half years of distinguished service to the School as Director, Professor Andrew Roberts was appointed Dean of the ANU’s College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences with effect from late August. Following an internal search, I was appointed Director, RSES from mid-October. On behalf of the School, I wish to thank Andrew Roberts for his considerable legacy including strong morale reflecting his consultative and supportive style of management, and his leadership in the important process of ongoing renewal involving the appointment of several mid-career researchers  (Drs. Andrew Berry, Penny King, Simon McClusky and Jimin Yu) and the recruitment of ARC Laureate Fellow Professor Eelco Rohling due to join the School in March 2013. We also thank the long-serving School Manager Mike Avent who retired at the end of 2012, but not before receiving appropriate recognition through the Vice Chancellor’s award for innovation in service delivery.  Special thanks are also due to Dr. Vickie Bennett for so ably serving the School as Interim Director between August and October.

My appointment as Director is the culmination of a long association with earth sciences at ANU. With a newly-minted Physics honours degree from the University of Queensland, I arrived in Canberra in 1972 to start a PhD supervised by Bob Liebermann and Ted Ringwood in the then Department of Geophysics and Geochemistry of the Research School of Physical Sciences. During the first two years of my PhD project, I also enjoyed the opportunity to study geology for the first time – taking introductory geology, and mineralogy and petrology classes in the then Geology Department well-taught by David Brown, Ken Campbell, Bruce Chappell and Tony Eggleton, amongst others. So, I am a proud alumnus of both strands of the ANU earth science tradition which came together in 2008 to form the modern Research School of Earth Sciences (RSES). After a Postdoc at the California Institute of Technology, I returned to RSES as a Research Fellow and have enjoyed the privilege of pursuing a rewarding research career here in rock physics ever since.

Completion of the School’s new building in late 2011 allowed co-location on the Jaeger site of all staff and PhD and Honours students, along with much of the undergraduate teaching activity – a significant step towards full realization of the merger of 2008. Some environmental geoscience laboratories remain for now in Building 47, pending their ultimate relocation to refurbished space adjacent to the Jaeger site in the heritage-listed building that previously housed part of the John Curtin School of Medical Research.

2012 was a particularly successful year for RSES as indicated by research funding outcomes and external recognition. The School enjoyed a 35% success rate in Discovery Project funding from the Australian Research Council (ARC) as well as success in the Laureate Fellowship (Rohling), Future Fellowship (Berry, Hogg), Linkage and LEIF programs with new research funding totalling more than $7 million. Emeritus Professor Kurt Lambeck was awarded the 2012 Balzan Prize for solid-earth sciences with emphasis on inter-disciplinary research ‘for his exceptional contribution to the understanding of the relationship between post-glacial rebound and sea level changes. His findings have radically modified climate science’. Professor Hugh O’Neill was elected to Fellowship of the Royal Society for ‘fundamental contributions to the study of mineral equilibria and their application to understanding planetary processes’. Three staff members were recognised in 2012 by the Australian Academy of Science: Professor Patrick De Deckker was elected to Fellowship for ‘pioneering studies of the Quaternary history of the oceans bordering Australia, using microfossils and their chemical composition to reconstruct past changes’. The Mawson Medal and Lecture for outstanding contributions to earth sciences was awarded to Professor Gordon Lister for his studies of ‘tectonic processes that lead to the building and destruction of mountain belts’. Dr. Andy Hogg was awarded the 2012 early-career Frederick White Prize for physical, terrestrial and planetary sciences work which contributes to the understanding of natural phenomena for his work in ‘using models of ocean circulation to understand the role of oceans in climate’.

In October, at a function well-attended by staff, students and friends of the School, we formally launched the Allan White Endowment and the Chappell-White memorial bench in the grounds of the Jaeger complex. The endowment honours the legacy of the late Professor Allan White, a distinguished member during the 1960s of the then Department of Geology.  The endowment funds the Allan White scholarship to be awarded annually on merit as a Ph D top-up scholarship. The scholarship is intended to foster the study of hard rocks in the tradition of Allan White - in a way that integrates field observations, with petrology and petrography, and with chemical and experimental data. The inaugural Allan White scholarship was presented to Helen Cocker by Allan White’s widow Heather White and Connie Treloar, the sister of the late Bruce Chappell.

The Jaeger-Hales lecture for 2012 entitled ‘The last deglaciation as a key example of long-term global warming’ was delivered in July to an appreciative audience by Professor Edouard Bard of the Collège de France and Université Aix-Marseille. During the same week, Professors Bard and Rohling and Dr Tregoning addressed a well-attended Sea-Level Rise Forum ‘Climate change and its impact on the oceans’.

The challenge of maintaining and enhancing our reputation for national and international leadership in research and research-intensive training requires an understanding and continuing exploitation of the factors responsible for our competitive advantage. Foremost amongst these are the distinctive capacity to draw upon the enabling sciences to address the big questions in earth sciences, the recruitment and retention of skilled technical and workshop staff, provision of a special environment for the training of graduate students, and research-led undergraduate training.
Our successes with research funding, external recognition and satisfied graduates reflect the hard work and commitment by all – faculty members and research students, specialized technical and workshop staff, and those responsible for IT and administrative support. To all, my thanks for the hard work and commitment during 2012.

In 2013, we will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Research School of Earth Sciences, and look forward to sharing that occasion with the many alumni and friends of the School.

Professor Ian Jackson
Director, RSES