22 November 2012
Visiting the South Australian Museum offers the chance to see the jewels of other worlds: from artefacts of Ancient Egypt and the Pacific Islands, to bones and shining metals from under the earth and the colourful life of our deep oceans. What many visitors may not realise is that behind every collection is an impressive body of growing research in the Science Centre behind the Museum.
Our staff members dedicate their lives to documenting the natural and cultural worlds and to helping the public understand them.
The latest round of annual research grants reflects the outstanding performance of our scientists, particularly in comparison to Museum counterparts around Australia. These exciting projects will throw light on some of the most important questions facing scientists today.
In the last financial year, the Museum was awarded $5.5 million in research funding - a thrilling result. Between 2007 and 2011, our scientists outperformed museums in New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia and Victoria, winning more than 25 Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Applications and nearly 40 ARC Linkage Applications. In the 2010–2011 financial year, our scientists published 200 papers, including two articles in the prestigious scientific journal Nature.
Our Mineralogy Team is considered to be among the top four research groups of its kind in the world. With South Australia in the midst of a mining boom, there is no question of the benefit to industry of the scientists' discoveries.
Head of Earth Sciences, Professor Allan Pring, and colleagues at the University of Adelaide, have just been awarded a $1.25 million grant to investigate the rate of water flow through underground rocks.
"Our grant is to look at why the hydrothermal fluids in these free-flowing systems aren't flowing as fast as we thought they would. About 4 km down, the rocks are not as porous as expected, so we're trying to find out what causes that. That will help companies target better places to drill their holes, saving a huge cost in geothermal energy exploration."
His colleague Dr Joël Brugger has just been successful in attracting a $340,000 Discovery Grant, to also be shared with Adelaide University researchers. The project will examine the hot, salty fluids that carry metals in the Earth's crust, combining "molecular-level simulations to predict metal transport, providing a sound basis for improving mineral exploration and sustainable discovery of new deposits." Our Minerals Team demonstrates ongoing successes in winning funding to explore the fundamental questions of how things work on Earth.
Our other departments are also high-achievers. Archaeologist Dr Keryn Walshe was granted $32,000 for 3D modelling of Aboriginal Australian ancient art in flint caves of South Australia's remote north. Palaeontology Assistant Collections Manager Mary-Anne Binnie won a grant to conduct a highly-successful community workshop involving the preparation of ancient fossils near Burra.
Our Evolutionary Biology Unit has won several funding applications for studies into Australian reptiles, insects and other wildlife. One study will investigate the diversification and conservation of Australian frogs, while others will look at the impacts of climate change on ecosystems.
There are also studies delving into life on Antarctica and how to best protect marine mammals in South Australia's Upper Spencer Gulf. This exciting array of scientific projects is occurring behind the beloved North Terrace building, paving the way for more informative and interactive displays in our galleries, for progress in international research fields, and for improved economic and technological practices for industry.
The South Australian Museum is proud of its scientific achievements. Chair Dr Jane Lomax-Smith says, "The South Australian Museum, like all great museums, is more than a custodian or collector. We use our material as the basis of our outreach and educational programs but also the foundation for original research. Importantly our research has implications to assist us in understanding our world and in many cases assisting industry to find future solutions to a range of dilemmas. These are achievements that help make South Australians proud of our Museum."