Celebrating science

December 01, 2020

2020: it’s been big.

As we count down the final days of what has been an unexpected year, join us as we reflect on the challenges and successes experienced by the Australian Academy of Science over the last 12 months. And, as we look ahead to a better tomorrow, we will be celebrating science and the leaders who will guide us there.

Keep an eye on the Academy social media channels through December as we share videos and profile articles introducing the 2020 cohort of Fellows elected earlier this year. We will also revisit some of the biggest stories we covered through the year. You can follow the Academy on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn or subscribe to our monthly newsletter.

But for now, let’s have a quick look back at the year that was:




2020 started with much of Australia on fire, prompting a clear statement from the Academy President Professor John Shine on how human-induced climate change will continue to increase the frequency and severity of extreme weather. It wasn’t long before Canberra experienced another form of extreme weather, with a severe hailstorm causing catastrophic damage to the copper roof of our beloved Shine Dome, threatening the Academy’s unique and valuable scientific archives. Ian Potter House, where most of the Academy’s staff work, was also damaged to the point of being unsafe to occupy. For many staff members, this was the beginning of ‘working from home’.


In February, the Academy co-hosted the Catalysing Gender Equity conference where hundreds from across the Australian STEM sector, including twelve changemakers from the STEM Women online community, travelled to Adelaide to discuss how to advance gender equity in Australia and how to realise the opportunities described in the Decadal Plan for Women in STEM. The SAGE Athena SWAN awards were also held for the last time while SAGE was in its pilot phase. The Academy stands alongside co-founding partner, the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering, in wishing SAGE Ltd a strong and successful future.


Our first Latest From Science video responding to COVID-19.


The honorific awardees for 2020 were announced in March, with 18 talented scientists recognised for their significant contributions to Australian science. Keep an eye on our social platforms as we revisit these discoveries and careers over the coming weeks. March also saw the implementation of COVID-19 restrictions nationally, and the Academy responded by making a call for the data underpinning COVID-19 decisions to be made public, and launching of a series of factual videos to support community awareness.


In early April, the COVID-19 Expert Database was launched providing access for decision-makers and journalists to key experts relevant to the pandemic. Later that month, along with Australia’s Chief Scientist and other learned academies and partners, we also launched the Rapid Research Information Forum (RRIF) to provide the best available evidence to rapidly respond to pressing questions about COVID-19 thereby supporting government decision-making in response to the pandemic. RRIF has so far provided 13 briefs along with additional updates.


May would normally be one of the biggest months in the Australian science calendar with our annual Science at the Shine Dome event. This year we still announced the 2020 cohort of Academy Fellows and Corresponding Members—keep an eye on our social channels during December as we recognise each of the new Fellows individually for their contribution to science and Australia. In May we also warned decision makers that the response to the pandemic risked wiping out many of the hard-won gains for women in STEM.


Global Science TV host, journalist and clinical psychologist Nuala Hafner.

On World Environment Day, the Academy joined 17 other academies to call on world governments to ensure a sustainable recovery from the pandemic. June also saw the launch of a new outreach initiative, Global Science TV, a collaboration with the International Science Council that evolved from the science news capability developed at the Academy over the last three years.


In July we revisited the bushfire season, with Fellows providing evidence to Government via senate estimates and evidence briefs on the effect of the fires on soil health, biodiversity and later, the health impacts. A reminder was also issued by the InterAcademy Partnership (IAP) that only a low-carbon recovery will provide for social equity, the environment, and human health. The Academy program, Future Earth Australia, also called for local community needs not to be overlooked as we adapt to climate change.


Text reads: Science Will Solves This
A drone image of our message for the Satellite Selfie, assembled by Academy staff.

During August, we celebrated National Science Week with two online webinar events on saving our oceans and fighting bushfires with science. We also co-hosted a discussion with the Australian Academy of Law on the reception, quality and evaluation of scientific evidence in Australian courts. A satellite selfie was taken from space of the Shine Dome, and we took the opportunity to share more inspiring stories of the Academy’s Fellows. We also took a look back at the past 12 months of championing the vision for women in STEM, applauding the successes and recognising where more work still needs to be done.


In September, we made a call for data governance standards in sport, recognising the lack of oversight in how data is being collected and the associated impacts on athletes’ rights and protections. We also held the Australian final of Falling Walls Lab and recognised three winning ideas from early career researchers who then represented Australia in the international finals held in Berlin, Germany.


October saw the release of the delayed Federal Budget, which signalled a significant response to the crisis facing Australia’s scientists as a result of the pandemic. The Academy also contributed a policy brief to the parliament recommending the development of an independent national biodiversity agency, or ‘biodiversity BOM’, to be the custodian of biodiversity data in the same way BOM manages national weather data.


A scan from our archives of Mawson, David and Mackay at the South Magnetic Pole. The camera was operated via a string.

During November, we celebrated NAIDOC Week with two inspirational webinars that explored how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have knowledge that stretches back thousands of years and have so much to contribute to Australia’s future. We also announced the repair work to the Shine Dome, and a commitment towards net zero emissions at Australia’s home of science. We have also begun digitising the first of many collections in the Academy archives, which have already been accessed by researchers internationally.


Finally, during December we will be Celebrating Science. Over the next four weeks we will share videos introducing the 2020 cohort of Fellows elected earlier this year. We will also revisit some of the biggest stories we covered through the year as we prepare for what 2021 will bring.

The Academy has so many to thank for their support throughout 2020. Partners and sponsors from the private, government, science and education sectors, along with many generous donors, have made it possible for the organisation to achieve what it has this year. We will continue to recognise our supporters’ contributions in the second edition of Science Matters in the first half of 2021.

And we acknowledge the hard work of all our Fellows who make the Academy what it is. The Academy’s Fellowship of brilliant minds makes major contributions to the success and prosperity of Australia.

© 2022 Australian Academy of Science