RACI 100: SCI Symposium report from Australia

31 August 2017

1 September 2017

In July this year David Witty, SCI Board of Trustees, and Richard Thwaites, Chair of SCI Australia International Group, chaired an SCI Symposium as part of the RACI 100 event. Here they report on the highlights of the SCI Symposium - where science met business.

SCI participation in the Royal Australian Chemical Institute’s Centenary Congress represented a valuable opportunity to raise the profile of SCI in Australia to a potential audience of over 3000 chemists from around the world, and to re-launch the SCI brand in Australia.

Approximately 3200 delegates registered to attend the Congress, between a third and a half from Australia and the rest from overseas. Many delegates would have had the opportunity to engage with SCI members and representatives during the course of the Congress occurring in the last week of July at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre.

The three day SCI symposium provided a distinct programme of presentations and discussions which, in contrast to the many purely scientific talks at the congress, focussed on the application of the chemical sciences in the business environment. The format was deliberately diverse but covered a range of topics relevant to scientists in business, not just in Australia, but globally.

Day one of the Symposium began with a look at the serious global political trends that are impacting science and industry, presented by David Witty, indicating how SCI remains a key player in bridging between scientists, businesses and government. This was followed by a talk, thankfully incorporating lighter notes, with advice for those considering experiencing science in different cultures, presented by former Solvay executive Len Sharpe, with great anecdotes from his time as an Australian Manager in the UK. The worrying trend towards irrational use of precautionary principles without consideration of the underlying science, especially in the food and water industries, was highlighted by Clive Thompson, challenging the audience to hold authorities to account for arbitrary standards.

A feature of the SCI Symposium was entrepreneurship and the afternoon session on the first day started with a perspective from New Zealand by former SCI executive director Joanne Lyall, highlighting how a small country can punch above its weight, but also pointing to areas for future development.   Publication is key both for academic achievement and career progression. Wiley representatives Peter Geolitz and Eva Wille reviewed how the world of scientific publications has changed over the past 20 years with the move to all-online journals and different publication business models, but also provided valuable insights as to how to ensure your paper is published.

The final afternoon session on the first day saw a return to the focus on food with a thought-provoking presentation by Nicolas Georges on the challenges facing humanity with the need to feed a world population approaching 10 billion and how both government agencies and businesses were planning, or not planning, for that eventuality. This was followed by a presentation from Oliver Jones which focussed on contamination in food from Non-Intentionally Added Substances (NIAS) migrating from packaging materials. He noted how studies into migration mechanisms and analytical techniques continue to assist policy makers and industry to set and meet standards acceptable to the public.

The second day of the symposium focussed on publishing, kicking off with an editors’ view of the mistakes that scientists make when submitting papers. Mark Shepherd gave sound advice as to how to improve your chances. Alice Williamson followed up with an analysis of how the current publication scene is changing and what it will look like in the future as the different publishing houses adapt to the reality of the internet. She gave an insightful perspective on the rules on downloading and sharing content and the ownership of copyright. Esther Levy concluded with hints and tips on ensuring your paper is recognised through citations. The session concluded with a Q&A discussion with excellent participation from an audience keen to make their mark in print.

Day three of the SCI symposium started off on a business focus with one of the most impressive presentations given by a leading Melbourne Venture Capitalist, Joshua Funder. He explained what VCs are looking for when intrepid inventors front up seeking financial support and how they have successfully enabled scientists to start new enterprises. Bronwyn Capanna then presented on the role of industry associations, ensuring innovation is promoted and that sensible standards are adopted.

The second session got to the meat of the business programme with three new enterprise success stories. Spencer Williams presented the Fibrotech case showing how a small business can grow to multinational status. Guillaume Lessene focused on the early biology of BCL-2 which had allowed the creation of drugs focussed on a particular mechanism. Finally, Vern Bowles described a bold attempt to take an off the shelf product and create a new market for head-louse treatment, where an unmet medical need had been identified and a potential mechanism of action providing the opportunity. However, he cautioned those listening on the time and dedication that is required to create a successful business.

The final session of the Symposium was devoted to intellectual property, with speakers from four leading Australian patent attorneys who covered a comprehensive range of IP topics. The day ended with a lively panel discussion chaired by SCI Australia Committee member and Emeritus Professor David Wood in which it was clear that there continues to be an intense interest in all things related to Intellectual Property and patent protection.

Feedback from delegates and the Congress organising committee to SCI participation in the Congress was overwhelmingly positive. The Congress organisers were very pleased to be able to offer within the overall context of the Congress a program of talks with broader appeal and a less academic focus. We are now focussed on putting together a program for the next few months to strengthen SCI activities in Australia. If you would like to find out more, or to get involved, please contact membership@soci.org.

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