University signs up for deeper ties with China
Source: Kirsty Needham
Beijing: University of NSW vice chancellor Ian Jacobs has urged Australian universities to continue collaborating with China to stay competitive in science and technology research that could be turned into economic benefit for Australia.
One of the world’s leading science publishers, Springer Nature, has formed a partnership with the University of NSW and China’s top science institute to deepen collaboration between Australian and Chinese researchers on artificial intelligence, renewable energy, materials and health science.
Speaking in Beijing, Professor Jacobs praised the “brilliant minds” at the Chinese Academy of Science, which will co-host an annual Springer Nature innovation summit, and said Australia would be “foolish not to be looking to partner with a country that is doing such extraordinary things”.
Staying competitive was “fundamentally dependent on an approach that embraces collaboration and shares ideas”.
Australian researchers were world leaders in discovery science but needed to improve the rate of translating that research into the real world, while China is the second-largest investor in research and development worldwide.
UNSW is already one of the biggest co-authors of scientific papers with the Chinese Academy of Science. The UNSW Torch program, which invites Chinese technology companies to locate on a UNSW campus, was a way to commercialise discoveries, he said.
“In doing all of that we understand our responsibilities to work in a way that is protecting new ideas that we develop and that is protecting Australia’s defence and security,” he said.
Responding to a recent Australian Strategic Policy Institute report which alleged Chinese military researchers were collaborating at a high rate with western universities including UNSW, he said: “We go to great lengths in the university to ensure we are doing due diligence with our partners.”
“We comply very carefully with defence and trade controls. If we were to find any issues that had arisen we would take them very, very seriously … The support we have had from DFAT, from defence, from ASIO is excellent. We are in discussion and we have good advice.”
The federal government has raised the prospect of a national interest test for ARC funding.
Professor Jacobs defended the need for an independent, peer-reviewed selection process to distribute public funding for domestic research, that was free from political interference. “Independent peer review is the best way to do that in the national interest,” he said.
On Monday at the forum in Beijing, artificial intelligence researchers presented their work on healthcare and surgical robots.
The chief scientist at The George Institute and Royal Prince Alfred Hospital cardiologist Anushka Patel said Chinese AI could help with community health risks such as cardiovascular disease.
“China’s strength around AI, data science and computer science will be critical in some of the solutions we will develop together,” she said.
CAS professor of chemistry Hou Jianhui said he was working on new solar cell materials that could potentially power the myriad of devices connected in the future to the Internet of Things.
He said a smart watch would be more convenient if it charged from its surroundings.
These new solar power materials would need to operate in indoor light and be non toxic.
UNSW professor of computer science Claude Sammut said the benefits of working with Chinese researchers was that the large size of the Chinese market made it financially possible to commercialise research in a way that wouldn’t be possible in Australia.
Professor Sammut works on building trust and predictability in robots that could be used in aged care.
Asked about criticism by the ASPI that Australian researchers shouldn’t be jointly working with Chinese counterparts on so-called dual use technology that could have a military application, Professor Sammut said: “Most technology is dual use.”
He said even self driving cars can be used in different ways. “Its almost unavoidable.”