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Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)
CSIRO Logo.svg
CSIRO.jpg
Former corporate headquarters.
Agency overview
Formed 1916
Preceding agencies
  • Advisory Council of Science and Industry (1916–1920)
  • Institute of Science and Industry (1920–1926)
  • CSIR (1926–1949)
Jurisdiction Australia
Headquarters Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia
Motto We imagine. We collaborate. We innovate.
Employees 5,565 (2017)
Minister responsible
  • Minister for Industry, Science and Technology
Agency executives

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) is an Australian Government agency responsible for scientific research.

CSIRO works with leading organisations around the world. From its headquarters in Canberra, CSIRO maintains more than 50 sites across Australia and in France, Chile and the United States, employing about 5,500 people.

Federally funded scientific research in Australia began in 1916; the Advisory Council of Science and Industry was established in that year, but was hampered by insufficient available finance. In 1926, the research effort was reinvigorated by establishment of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), which strengthened national science leadership and increased research funding. CSIR grew rapidly and achieved significant early successes. In 1949, further legislated changes included renaming the organisation as CSIRO.

Notable developments by CSIRO have included the invention of atomic absorption spectroscopy, essential components of the early Wi-Fi technology, development of the first commercially successful polymer banknote, the invention of the insect repellent in Aerogard and the introduction of a series of biological controls into Australia, such as the introduction of myxomatosis and rabbit calicivirus for the control of rabbit populations.

Structure

CSIRO is governed by a board appointed by the Australian Government, currently chaired by Kathryn Fagg. There are eight directors inclusive of the chief executive, presently Doug Hilton, who are responsible for management of the organisation.

Research and focus areas

CSIRO is structured into Research Business Units, National Facilities and Collections, and Services.

Research Business Units

NICTA Eveleigh offices
Data 61 head office, Eveleigh, New South Wales

As at 2023, CSIRO's research areas are identified as "Impact science" and organised into the following Business Units:

  • Agriculture and Food
  • Health and Biosecurity
  • Data61
  • Energy
  • Manufacturing
  • Mineral Resources and
  • Environment (being the amalgamation of the former Land and Water and Oceans & Atmosphere BUs)

National facilities and collections

National facilities

CSIRO manages national research facilities and scientific infrastructure on behalf of the nation to assist with the delivery of research. The national facilities and specialised laboratories are available to both international and Australian users from industry and research. As at 2019, the following National Facilities are listed:

  • Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness (ACDP)
  • Australia Telescope National Facility – radio telescopes included in the Facility include the Australia Telescope Compact Array, the Parkes Observatory, Mopra Observatory and the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder
  • Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex
  • Energy Centre and National Solar Energy Centre
  • Marine National Facility (R.V. "Investigator")
  • New Norcia ground station
  • NovaSAR-1 satellite
  • Pawsey Supercomputing Centre

Collections

CSIRO manages a number of collections of animal and plant specimens that contribute to national and international biological knowledge. The National Collections contribute to taxonomic, genetic, agricultural and ecological research. As at 2019, CSIRO's Collections are listed as the following:

  • Australian National Algae Culture Collection
  • The Atlas of Living Australia
  • Australian Tree Seed Centre
  • Australian National Fish Collection
  • Australian National Insect Collection
  • Australian National Herbarium
  • Australian National Soil Archive (managed through A&F)
  • Australian National Wildlife Collection
  • Cape Grim Air Archive

Services

CSIRO ScienceImage 609 Automatic Rain Collector for Measuring Acidity
An automatic rainwater collector, designed by CSIRO for measuring acidity of rainfall in remote areas (February 2000).

In 2019, CSIRO Services are itemised as follows:

  • Materials and infrastructure services
  • Agricultural and environmental analysis
  • Environmental services
  • Biological, food and medical science services
  • Australian Animal Health Laboratory services

Other services are noted as including education, publishing, infrastructure technologies, Small and Medium Enterprise engagement and CSIRO Futures.

History

Evolution of the organisation

A precursor to CSIRO, the Advisory Council of Science and Industry, was established in 1916 on the initiative of prime minister Billy Hughes. However, the advisory council struggled with insufficient funding during the First World War. In 1920 the council was renamed the Commonwealth Institute of Science and Industry, and was led by George Handley Knibbs (1921–26), but continued to struggle financially.

Implementing the 1923 Imperial Conference's call for colonies to broaden their economic base, in 1926 the Australian Parliament modified the principal Act for national scientific research (the Institute of Science and Industry Act 1920) by passing The Science and Industry Research Act 1926. The same conference led to the creation of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research in New Zealand.

The new Act replaced the institute with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). With encouragement from prime minister Stanley Bruce, strengthened national science leadership and increased research funding, CSIR grew rapidly and achieved significant early successes. The council was structured to represent the federal structure of government in Australia, and had state-level committees and a central council. In addition to an improved structure, CSIR benefited from strong bureaucratic management under George Julius, David Rivett, and Arnold Richardson. Research focused on primary and secondary industries. Early in its existence, CSIR established divisions studying animal health and animal nutrition. After the Great Depression, research was extended into manufacturing and other secondary industries.

In 1949 the Act was changed again, and the entity name amended to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. The amendment enlarged and reconstituted the organisation and its administrative structure. Under Ian Clunies Ross as chairman, CSIRO pursued new areas such as radio astronomy and industrial chemistry. CSIRO still operates under the provisions of the 1949 Act in a wide range of scientific inquiry.

Participation by women in CSIRO research was severely limited by the Australian government policy, in place until 1966, forcing women public servants out of their jobs when they married. Even unmarried women were considered a poor investment because they might eventually marry. Single women such as Helen Newton Turner nevertheless made major contributions.

Since 1949, CSIRO has expanded its activities to almost every field of primary, secondary and tertiary industry, including the environment, human nutrition, conservation, urban and rural planning, and water. It works with leading organisations around the world and maintains more than 50 sites across Australia and in France, Chile and the United States of America, employing about 5500 people.

Inventions

Notable inventions and breakthroughs by CSIRO include:

  • A4 DSP chip
  • Aerogard, insect repellent
  • Atomic absorption spectroscopy
  • Biological control of Salvinia
  • Development of Linola (a flax variety with low alpha-linolenic acid content) with a longer life used as a stockfeed
  • Distance measuring equipment (DME) used for aviation navigation
  • Gene shears
  • Interscan Microwave landing system, a microwave approach and landing system for aircraft
  • Use of myxomatosis and calicivirus to control rabbit numbers
  • Parkes Radio Telescope
  • The permanent pleat for fabrics
  • Plasma sintering
  • Polymer banknote
  • Production of metals from their halides
  • Relenza flu drug
  • Sirosmelt lance
  • "Softly" woollens detergent
  • Phase-contrast X-ray imaging
  • Method to use titanium in 3D printing
  • UltraBattery
  • Essential components of Wi-Fi technology
  • Zebedee - Mobile Handheld 3D Lidar Mapping technology

Historic research

CSIRO had a pioneering role in the scientific discovery of the universe through radio "eyes". A team led by Paul Wild built and operated (from 1948) the world's first solar radiospectrograph, and from 1967 the 3-kilometre-diameter (1.9 mi) radioheliograph at Culgoora in New South Wales. For three decades, the Division of Radiophysics had a world-leading role in solar research, attracting prominent solar physicists from around the world.

CSIRO owned the first computer in Australia, CSIRAC, built as part of a project began in the Sydney Radiophysics Laboratory in 1947. The CSIR Mk 1 ran its first program in 1949, the fifth electronic computer in the world. It was over 1,000 times faster than the mechanical calculators available at the time. It was decommissioned in 1955 and recommissioned in Melbourne as CSIRAC in 1956 as a general purpose computing machine used by over 700 projects until 1964. The CSIRAC is the only surviving first-generation computer in the world.

Between 1965 and 1985, George Bornemissza of CSIRO's Division of Entomology founded and led the Australian Dung Beetle Project. Bornemissza, upon settling in Australia from Hungary in 1951, noticed that the pastureland was covered in dry cattle dung pads which did not seem to be recycled into the soil and caused areas of rank pasture which were unpalatable to the cattle. He proposed that the reason for this was that native Australian dung beetles, which had co-evolved alongside the marsupials (which produce dung very different in its composition from cattle), were not adapted to utilise cattle dung for their nutrition and breeding since cattle had only relatively recently been introduced to the continent in the 1880s. The Australian Dung Beetle Project sought, therefore, to introduce species of dung beetle from South Africa and Europe (which had co-evolved alongside bovids) in order to improve the fertility and quality of cattle pastures. Twenty-three species were successfully introduced throughout the duration of the project and also had the effect of reducing the pestilent bush fly population by 90%.

Domain name

CSIRO was the first Australian organisation to start using the Internet and was able to register the second-level domain csiro.au (as opposed to csiro.org.au or csiro.com.au). Guidelines were introduced in 1996 to regulate the use of the .au domain.

Governance and management

When CSIR was formed in 1926, it was led initially by an executive committee of three people, two of whom were designated as the chairman and the chief executive. Since then the roles and responsibilities of the chair and chief executive have changed many times. From 1927 to 1986 the head of CSIR (and from 1949, CSIRO) was the chairman, who was responsible for the management of the organisation, supported by the chief executive. From 1 July 1959 to 4 December 1986 CSIRO had no chief executive; the chairman undertook both functions.

In 1986, when the Australian Government changed the structure of CSIRO to include a board of non-executive members plus the chief executive to lead CSIRO, the roles changed. The chief executive is now responsible for management of the organisation in accordance with the strategy, plans and policies approved by the CSIRO Board which, led by the chair of the board, is responsible to the Australian Government for the overall strategy, governance and performance of CSIRO.

As with its governance structure, the priorities and structure of CSIRO, and the teams and facilities that implement its research, have changed as Australia's scientific challenges have evolved.

Numerous CSIRO scientists have gone onto distinguished careers in the university sector. Several have been appointed to the role of Vice-Chancellor/President. They include: Sir George Currie (UNZ 1952–62, Western Australia 1945–52), Paul Wellings CBE (Wollongong 2012–21, Lancaster 2002–12), Michael Barber AO (Flinders 2008–14), Mark Smith CBE (Southampton 2019–ff, Lancaster 2012–19), Annabelle Duncan (UNE 2014–19), Attila Brungs (UNSW 2021–ff, UTS 2014–21), Alex Zelinsky AO (Newcastle (2018–ff), Andrew Parfitt (UTS 2021–ff), Chris Moran (UNE 2023–ff).

Chairs

# Name Background Term start Term end Duration Notes
1 Julius, GeorgeGeorge Julius Mechanical engineer 1 April 1926 31 December 1945 19 years, 8 months
2 Rivett, DavidDavid Rivett Chemist 1 January 1946 18 May 1949 3 years, 4 months Acting chair to 31 March 1946
3 Clunies Ross, IanIan Clunies Ross Veterinary scientist 19 May 1949 20 June 1959 10 years, 1 month
4 White, FredFred White Physicist 1 July 1959 22 May 1970 10 years, 10 months Executive chair
5 Price, JerryJerry Price Chemist 26 May 1970 24 March 1977 6 years, 9 months Executive chair
6 Burgmann, VictorVictor Burgmann Physicist 25 March 1977 13 December 1978 1 year, 8 months Executive chair
7 Wild, PaulPaul Wild Astronomer 14 December 1978 24 September 1985 6 years, 9 months Executive chair
8 Boardman, NormanNorman Boardman Chemist 25 September 1985 4 December 1986 1 year, 6 months Executive chair
9 Wran, NevilleNeville Wran Politician 5 December 1986 4 December 1991 4 years, 11 months
10 Clarke, AdrienneAdrienne Clarke Botanist 5 December 1991 4 December 1996 4 years, 11 months
11 Allen, CharlesCharles Allen Corporate executive 5 December 1996 5 November 2001 4 years, 11 months
12 Livingstone, CatherineCatherine Livingstone Corporate executive 6 November 2001 31 December 2006 5 years, 1 month
13 Willcox, PeterPeter Willcox Corporate executive 1 January 2007 29 May 2007 4 months
14 Stocker, JohnJohn Stocker Immunologist 28 June 2007 27 June 2010 2 years, 11 months
15 McKeon, SimonSimon McKeon Corporate executive 28 June 2010 14 October 2015 5 years, 3 months
16 Thodey, DavidDavid Thodey Corporate executive 15 October 2015 14 October 2021 5 years, 11 months
17 Fagg, KathrynKathryn Fagg Corporate executive 15 October 2021 incumbent 2 years, 7 months

Chief executives

# Name Background Term start Term end Duration Notes
1 Rivett, DavidDavid Rivett Chemist 1 January 1927 31 December 1945 18 years, 11 months
2 Richardson, A. E. V.A. E. V. Richardson Agricultural scientist 1 January 1946 18 May 1949 3 years, 4 months
3 White, FredFred White Physicist 19 May 1949 13 December 1956 7 years, 6 months
4 Bastow, StewartStewart Bastow Chemist 1 January 1957 30 June 1959 2 years, 5 months
Functions of chief executive carried out by chairman from 1959–1986.
5 Boardman, NormanNorman Boardman Chemist 5 December 1986 4 March 1990 3 years, 2 months Acting to 4 March 1987
6 Stocker, JohnJohn Stocker Immunologist 5 March 1990 4 March 1995 4 years, 11 months
7 Green, RoyRoy Green Physicist 5 March 1995 3 January 1996 9 months Acting to 20 July 1995
8 McIntosh, MalcolmMalcolm McIntosh Public servant 3 January 1996 7 February 2000 4 years, 1 month Died in office
Adam, ColinColin Adam Metallurgical engineer 7 February 2000 14 January 2001 11 months Acting chief executive
9 Garrett, GeoffGeoff Garrett Metallurgist 15 January 2001 31 December 2008 7 years, 11 months
10 Clark, MeganMegan Clark Geologist 1 January 2009 19 November 2014 5 years, 10 months
11 Marshall, Larry R.Larry R. Marshall Physicist 1 January 2015 30 June 2023 8 years, 5 months
12 Hilton, DougDoug Hilton Molecular biologist 1 July 2023 incumbent 11 months

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Organización de Investigación Científica e Industrial del Commonwealth para niños

  • Australia Telescope National Facility
  • Australian Animal Health Laboratory
  • Australian Bird and Bat Banding Scheme
  • Australian Dung Beetle Project
  • Australian Space Research Institute
  • Backing Australia's Ability
  • Biosecurity in Australia
  • Cooperative Research Centres
  • Council for Scientific and Industrial Research – Ghana
  • Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, India
  • Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, South Africa
  • CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere
  • CSIRO Publishing
  • Defence Science and Technology Group
  • Fraunhofer Society, Germany
  • George Bornemissza
  • Goyder Institute for Water Research, a research collaboration with universities and SA government
  • Parkes Observatory
  • Peter Rathjen
  • SINTEF, Norway
  • Susan Wijffels
  • Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research
  • Waste management in Australia
  • Yingjie Jay Guo
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