Brain Drain Costing CSIRO Real Money!

Posted on March 8, 2015. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: |

The following articles were published in the Australian Newspaper and ScienceDaily News respectively and indicate an alarming trend suggesting that the CSIRO is cutting off its proverbial nose to spite its face in retrenching world class researchers who subsequently pioneer new research of substantial value both commercially and to our society collectively.

Victims of CSIRO previously wrote about Dr Fred Prata, a world class scientist who after being retrenched from the CSIRO developed a technology which permits aircraft to circumnavigate volcanic ash clouds and thus avoid major airport closures such as occurred for a prolonged period over European airspace as a result of a massive volcanic eruption in Iceland in 2010.

Liming Dai, a professor of macromolecular science and engineering and a former CSIRO employee who was also retrenched has recently been credited with developing a carbon based catalyst for use in Fuel Cell technologies capable of replacing the expensive metal catalysts currently used. This is an area of research which scientists have been working on for over 50 years.

The sacking of these former CSIRO researchers represent a permanent loss of benefit to the Australian public which runs counter to the CSIRO’s charter and an organisation that was established for the benefit of Australians.

Former CSIRO Senior Principal Research Scientist, Dr Warwick Raverty, who resigned from CSIRO in protest at the dysfunctional nature of the senior management of the organisation, commented that:  “When a dysfunctional organisation like CSIRO cuts the fat, it usually pushes out the bone marrow first because senior managers in these organisations do not have the skills or ability to judge which scientists are conducting truly ground-breaking work and which ones are simply following fashion and doing mediocre R&D with the prefixes, bio-, nano- and nanobio- in front of them.”

These are just two examples of irreconcilable losses to Australia from the sacking of CSIRO scientists. How many other similar stories are there as a result of CSIRO hack and slash approach to its workforce and how many more stories will occur as a result of the organisation’s future staffing cuts and its generally reprehensible treatment of its employees?

Know of any other losses to Australian science?  Please contact us at victimsofcsiro@gmail.com

 

CSIRO brain drain accelerates with staff numbers at historic low

John Ross

Higher Education Reporter

Sydney

 

BRAIN drain from Australia’s national science organisation has accelerated, with the CSIRO workforce now at historic lows.

A Senate estimates committee has heard that the number of full-time equivalent staff slipped below 5000 last year for the first time in decades, after the agency lost about 500 people between July and December.

CSIRO has about 2000 fewer workers than the 7400 it employed 20 years ago, when it described itself as one of the largest scientific research institutions in the world. It has lost 1300 employees since mid-2010, when it entered a period of steady decline.

Staff say the losses have been understated, with up to another 100 redundancies likely by June.

CSIRO Staff Association secretary Sam Popovski said the head count could slide as low as 5200, down from 5387 last week.

Last November, the association warned that the agency would lose almost 900 people this financial year. Combined with more than 500 job cuts last year, this adds up to one-fifth of the workforce over a two-year period.

CSIRO management disputes the claim, saying the losses this year would be about 700.

But Mr Popovski said the union didn’t have “any reason to revise our figures”.

He said redundancies were still being rolled out in CSIRO’s manufacturing and digital research areas. Digital research could be further destabilised by a mooted merger with National ICT Australia.

In its May budget, the government revealed it would withdraw all funding for NICTA in mid-2016. Last week CSIRO chief executive Larry Marshall confirmed that his organisation was in negotiations with NICTA but said there was no firm proposal to merge.

Mr Popovski said staff had been kept informed at a “general” level but still had no idea whether NICTA would be absorbed into CSIRO, become a subsidiary or form a completely new company.

“If there was a move to a new entity with NICTA staff, what resources would be available? (It could) mean further job cuts for people in that area because CSIRO would have to allocate its own money to the venture.

“Ultimately it depends on resources. The decisions are going to be influenced by how much money the new entity can access.”

The staff association also has disputed comments by Special Minister of State Michael Ronaldson, who blamed about 60 per cent of the recent CSIRO staff cuts on the former Labor government. Senator Ronaldson told estimates that 600 job losses were due to “efficiency dividends” imposed by Labor, compared with 420 “as a result of the dividends of this government”.

Mr Popovski said Labor was to blame for only about 200 of the efficiency dividend cuts. But Senator Ronaldson’s office said several hundred more redundancies announced under the Coalition last April had been due to changes imposed by Labor.

 

2nd March 2015

New inexpensive metal-free catalyst

Structure enables a carbon-based catalyst to perform comparably with metal catalysts in an acidic fuel cell.

OHIO, US: For nearly half a century, scientists have been trying to replace precious metal catalysts in fuel cells. Now, for the first time, researchers at Case Western Reserve University have shown that an inexpensive metal-free catalyst performs as well as costly metal catalysts at speeding the oxygen reduction reaction in an acidic fuel cell.

The carbon-based catalyst also corrodes less than metal-based materials and has proved more durable. The findings are major steps toward making low-cost catalysts commercially available, which could, in turn, reduce the cost to generate clean energy from PEM fuel cells–the most common cell being tested and used in cars and stationary power plants. The study was recently published online in the journal Science Advances.

“This definitely should move the field forward,” said Liming Dai, the Kent Hale Smith Professor of macromolecular science and engineering at Case Western Reserve and senior author of the research. “It’s a major breakthrough for commercialization.”

Dai worked with lead investigator Jianglan Shui, who was a CWRU postdoctoral researcher and is now a materials science and engineering professor at Beihang University, Beijing; PhD student Min Wang, who did some of the testing; and postdoctoral researcher Fen Du, who made the materials. The effort builds on the Dai lab’s earlier work developing carbon-based catalysts that significantly outperformed platinum in an alkaline fuel cell.

The group pursued a non-metal catalyst to perform in acid because the standard bearer among fuel cells, the PEM cell, uses an acidic electrolyte. PEM stands for both proton exchange membrane and polymer electrolyte membrane, which are interchangeable names for this type of cell.

The key to the new catalyst is its rationally-designed porous structure, said Dai. The researchers mixed sheets of nitrogen-doped graphene, a single-atom thick, with carbon nanotubes and carbon black particles in a solution, then freeze-dried them into composite sheets and hardened them.

Graphene provides enormous surface area to speed chemical reactions, nanotubes enhance conductivity, and carbon black separates the graphene sheets for free flow of the electrolyte and oxygen, which greatly increased performance and efficiency. The researchers found that those advantages were lost when they allowed composite sheets to arrange themselves in tight stacks with little room between layers.

A fuel cell converts chemical energy into electrical energy by removing electrons from a fuel, such as hydrogen, at the cell’s anode, or positive electrode. This creates a current.

Hydrogen ions produced are carried by the electrolyte through a membrane to the cathode, or negative electrode, where the oxygen reduction reaction takes place. Oxygen molecules are split and reduced by the addition of electrons and combine with the hydrogen ions to form water and heat – the only byproducts.

Testing showed the porous catalyst performs better and is more durable than the state-of-the-art nonprecious iron-based catalyst. Dai’s lab continues to fine-tune the materials and structure as well as investigate the use of non-metal catalysts in more areas of clean energy.

© ScienceDaily News

 

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