This she did for both the New Year, Australia Day, and (in my youth) the Queen's Birthday (they were Imperial honours in her era, it was only later in her life they were changed to Australian honours). In that era, many were ex-servicemen who were well known in any case. Many Australians still enjoy this past time ascertaining those who have received well-deserved 'gongs'.
This year, I was pleased to note again, that among the usual community leaders, politicians, arts luminaries and a few religious leaders, a sprinkling of scientists and medical researchers were presented with awards.
One of the highest Honours went to Professor Brian Schmidt, an astronomer and Nobel Laureate, who received the Companion in the General Division of the Order of Australia (AC). Of the next level, Member of the Order of Australia (AM), were three Fellows of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute, among them Dr David Rand, emeritus researcher in electrochemistry at CSIRO. (www.abc.net.au and www.abc.net.au)
Professor Brian Schmidt
Brian Schmidt, an emigrant from the USA, won the Nobel Prize for physics in 2011 for the further understanding of the energy and dynamics of the universe, which helped astronomers understand how it has changed back in time. He is also passionate about improving the education of young scientists, and to this end one of his particular interests to is to encourage science teachers.
One of the ways he achieves his aims of encouraging science activities for both teachers and young kids is through volunteering in the Federally funded 'Scientists in Schools' program. (www.scientistsinschools.edu.au/)
He admits that jobs in science in Australia are very competitive, but says he tries to convince "those people who really enjoy doing science that it is a good career."
This year, however, he is hoping to spend more time doing what he really loves – more research using the new SkyMapper telescope at Siding Spring in western NSW. Recently, this was thankfully saved from the recent bushfires, partly due to precautions taken as a result of lessons learnt from the tragic destruction of astronomical equipment at Mt Stromlo, near Canberra, in 2003. (www.gizmodo.com.au/2013/01/how-the-fire-fight-for-australias-greatest-observatory-was-won-2/)
Dr David Rand
Dr Rand's current title is Chief Research Scientist Emeritus at CSIRO Energy Technology. His award is for the important area of development of new batteries as storage for electricity; he is particularly interested in rechargable batteries.
All of us have had the batteries in our phone, camera or even our car go 'flat' at inconvenient moments, so we all realise that storage of electrical energy has not kept pace with the developments in electronics and renewable power generation.
Two examples of how we haven't got it right yet are: during a recent storm in Canberra, the battery back-up for Calvary Hospital failed during a mains blackout (thankfully, patient care was not compromised); and the lithium ion batteries in the new Boeing Dreamliner aircraft recently overheated and caused grounding of the fleet until the problem can be rectified. (the-riotact.com and www.canberratimes.com.au)
Rand says: "Research on batteries is important because it can help humanity shift away from fossil fuels to more sustainable energy sources, most of which are intermittent and require storage."
Having arrived in Australia as a young scientist from England on the day that Man landed on the moon, Professor Rand has helped develop all sorts of more efficient batteries during his long career – some for industry, some for personal use (such as in hybrid cars) and some for the military.
He advocates more basic training for students in electrochemistry, so that their minds are open to new and innovative solutions to the problems of electricity storage that his generation has not yet been able to solve, such as storage of solar power.
Having been raised in a Christian family that placed a high importance on achievements through education, I would agree with both these eminent scientists to open yourself to knowledge and likewise, as a Minister, the reading of the Scriptures. Proverbs 4 verse:7 "Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding."
Whether or not we personally agree with all the theories that scientists propose, we also realise that is the best they can do with their current state of knowledge – which when new discoveries are found, sometimes new theories are presented. Their awards are for consistent and meticulous observations, and humanly logical conclusions drawn from that data.
Humans are not perfect, but this Biblical verse from Proverbs, and many people of wisdom down through the generations, indicate that the only way to improve our understanding is through more research (not less), therefore more encouragement of our youth to reach their potential intellectual achievements. That way lies the hope for the next generation in our technological age. We need only look at the medical advances that have saved millions of lives.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html