We are 70 years young – here are some things you might not know about us!

February 16, 2024
Much to celebrate! Clockwise from top left: Academy education programs are used by teachers and schools across Australia every day; Queen Elizabeth was instrumental in the commencement of the Academy; Sir David Attenborough became a Fellow in 2007;  the Academy’s first president Sir Mark Oliphant; and the recipient of the 2023 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science, Professor Michelle Simmons.

The Academy’s 70th anniversary is Friday 16 February 2024

Read on for a glimpse of who we are.

1. A right Royal Charter

As Queen Elizabeth II prepared for her first visit to Australia in 1954, it was a race against time to get a Royal Charter ready, the document that would establish the Australian Academy of Science.

A Royal Charter had not been presented in person by any monarch since King Charles II presented one to the oldest national scientific society in the world, the Royal Society of London, in 1662.

On 16 February 1954, the first 10 members of the Academy went to Government House, Canberra where Queen Elizabeth II handed Sir Mark Oliphant the Royal Charter – founding our organisation and establishing the Academy as an independent not-for-profit body with government endorsement.

2. 20 presidents

We’ve had 20 presidents since then. Our first was physicist Sir Mark Oliphant, known globally for his work in nuclear physics and microwave radar. Our current President is also a physicist, Professor Chennupati Jagadish, who is known for his work in lasers and is based at the Australian National University.

3. Home truth

Our home, and the home of science for all Australians, is a 710-tonne National Heritage listed concrete dome. The Shine Dome’s unique mid-century design continues to fascinate visitors to Canberra and as well as being a centre for sharing science, it is available for people to enjoy – we’ve held weddings, movie and TV productions, conferences, swing dance parties and festivals in and around the building.

4. R&D review

We recognise that government investment in research and development aimed at advancing knowledge is good for society. We also know that 88% of Australians agree with us on this. Australia’s R&D system is outdated and that’s why we are calling on the Australian Government to review the nation’s R&D system.

5. Going public

We build public awareness and understanding of science. We were one of the most prominent sources of information for the public and the government during the COVID-19 pandemic. Governments and society continue to turn to the Academy and science for evidence to help make decisions and to solve the global challenges we are facing.

6. Outstanding Fellows

Sir David Attenborough is perhaps the most globally recognisable of all our nearly 600 Fellows. They’ve all been elected for their outstanding contributions to science. As an organisation we know that science benefits from diversity and that’s why we were proud to achieve gender parity in the annual election of our new Fellows in 2022 and why we continue to provide guidance to the science sector to improve diversity practices.

7. Start them young

We’re proud of our long-standing role helping to build the capability Australia’s teachers and students, and equipping our next generations with skills they’ll need in the future.

From the world-renowned Biological Science: Web of Life text first published in the 1960s to our Primary Connections, Science by Doing and reSolve programs which are used by teachers and schools across Australia every day, we’ve had a positive impact. In the past year alone, our teacher resources were downloaded over 380,000 times and we’ve had more than 700 enrolments in our online professional learning courses.

8. Shaping science

We’ve played a leading role in shaping Australia’s science landscape. This includes the establishment of national parks, Antarctic expeditions, shaping the scientific disciplines and establishing our national astronomy infrastructure. 

We incubated the National Youth Science Forum and the organisation now known as Science and Technology Australia, partnered with the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering to roll out the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) pilot, and are now incubating Water Trust Australia, amongst other achievements.

9. Going global

Since we were established, we have held Australia’s vote on the International Science Council – the global voice of, and for science. We maintain links with scientific bodies worldwide, ensuring science diplomacy plays its part in maintaining peaceful international relations. Today we lead scientific cooperation efforts across the Asia-Pacific region.

10. Science for justice

The Academy played a key role in helping to overturn one of Australia’s biggest miscarriages of justice, the case of Kathleen Folbigg. We are now working to ensure justice systems across Australia are better informed by science, to prevent future wrongful convictions.

11. Rich history

We hold a rich archival collection that provides a valuable window into the history of Australian scientific discoveries in the 19th and 20th centuries, including photos and diaries of some of Australia’s first explorers to Antarctica.

12. Research ready

We celebrate scientists through awards and support scientists to undertake research projects, travel and give lectures in Australia and abroad including through initiatives such as our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Scientist Award. We’ll be announcing the 2024 recipients of our awards soon.

13. Proudly independent

Over the years, many generous donors have recognised the unique role the Academy plays in bringing science to the service of the nation and in advancing Australia as a nation that embraces scientific knowledge, so we all benefit. They have made much of our work possible and assured our independence. We are ever grateful. You can join them.

Related content

Celebrating seven decades of the home of Australian science

70th anniversary President’s message

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