Message from our Centre Advisory Board

Strategic investment in science and technology is Australia’s path to future economic growth and national prosperity. When the Labour government came into power, Prime Minister Albanese outlined the notion of an economic future powered by science. If COVID-19 taught us anything, it is that continuing advances in science and technology research will secure our nation’s health, well-being, and economic security.

The TMOS community will undoubtedly play a critical role in this future. Australians are resourceful and innovative; our record of invention ranges from the black box and Wi-Fi to cochlear hearing aids and vaccines to prevent cervical cancer. And having riffled through several papers and publications from TMOS scientists, I have no doubt that pioneers will similarly emerge from the field of metaoptics. I’m honoured to join the Centre Advisory Board and the world-class researchers at TMOS as the Centre evolves, focusing on industry partnership and identifying commercial pathways for its blue-sky research toward applications that benefit society.

As a technologist straddling space and cloud computing, processing power is an everyday conversation. In the current development of electronic chips, I’m keenly aware Moore’s Law is about to meet the physical limit as advanced semiconductor processes continue to approach the 3 nm process. It is becoming more and more difficult to shrink the line width of semi-conductors while the cost gets higher. The development release increases in the computing speed of electronic chips are gradually slowing; conversely, data processing grows unabated.

Photonics is already being heralded as a possible solution across the industry. Photonics that carry high-dimensional information can effectively expand the bandwidth of information operations. Optical neural network computing based on meta optics can break through the bottleneck of electronic computing power and computing speed. Indeed, as a platform, meta-optics is so flexible it can be slipped into phones, woven into wearables, and seamlessly integrated into computers, autonomous cars, or satellites. The ability to resolve features at the subwavelength scale will revolutionize fields in biology, medicine, environmental monitoring, renewable tech, and materials science. This work is critical.

In order to undertake such highly innovative and potentially transformational research of international caliber, we must focus on skills development, extending existing capabilities, and acquiring knowledge to turn our imagination and curiosity into reality. I don’t just mean technical and scientific skills. It takes many years for individuals to acquire entrepreneurial skills and the industry content knowledge necessary to become leaders in their field. Researchers and scientists are rightly lauded for technical prowess. This focus, however, often leads to a belief that nontechnical skills are less relevant and that the behaviours that typically lead to successful academic careers do not correlate highly with those required in the corporate world. Early-career scientists often must calibrate their behaviours to align with corporate expectations to successfully get a product to market for societal impact.

This includes an appetite for interdisciplinary and collaborative approaches–to communicate, develop relationships, network, pick up mentors, build networks with national and international research institutions, and cultivate industry linkages. To storytell, be comfortable pitching, and understand how to raise funds. To lead a team and galvanise them towards goals, to think entrepreneurially about patents, tech transfer, scaling, the applicability of products on the consumer market and crossing the chasm from scientific discovery to commercial success.

My own academic background is a medley of physiology, computer science, and technology innovation. I know from experience it is not always easy for well-trained logical heads to consider so-called soft skills. But it was soft skills that allowed me to accelerate my career and make an impact on the industry. I can quote stats and literature on the importance of soft skills, but take my word for it. Professional development beyond technical skills will boost your career. Academia is a difficult career at the best of times. But so is running a business. Now think about doing both things simultaneously, because that is essentially the path you walk from research to commercialisation.

Finally, I’m delighted that TMOS as a Centre is deeply committed to inclusion and diversity. Science and engineering benefit greatly from a community that approaches problems in a variety of creative ways. A diverse community drives excellence and is better able to generate new research methods, explanations and ideas, which can help science overcome challenging hurdles and shed new light on problems. Paradigm shifts and revolutionary thinking rarely arise in a homogenous environment. So, it’s not just a moral obligation to meet equity goals and national needs, but important for the construction of knowledge and for the enterprise of science itself. In my day job, I’m a huge advocate for diversity and inclusion across space and technology just as I am passionate about leadership development, communication for impact, and collaboration for innovation success. If these are areas of interest to you, let’s chat – I welcome your connection and dialogue.

And I look forward to meeting as many of you as possible over the course of the year.

Mani Thiru
Head of Space & Satellite, Asia Pacific,
Amazon Web Services

Read the full TMOS 2022 Annual Report here.

About the author/s

Mani Thiru

I have great appreciation for Walter Isaacson’s observation that innovation will come from people who are able to link beauty to engineering, humanity to technology, and poetry to processors. The creative, eclectic, non-linear is as necessary as structure, discipline, rationale – and I bring ... more

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