Queensland researchers to work with Smithsonian Institution

Published Wednesday, 31 August, 2016 at 04:00 PM

Minister for Innovation, Science and the Digital Economy and Minister for Small Business
The Honourable Leeanne Enoch

Four Queenslanders have been awarded the opportunity of a lifetime to work with researchers at the world famous Smithsonian Institution in the United States.

Minister for Innovation, Science and the Digital Economy Leeanne Enoch said the Queensland Government-funded Queensland-Smithsonian Fellowship program gave Queensland researchers the chance to collaborate with leading researchers at the Smithsonian Institution, the world’s largest museum and research complex.

“This is an opportunity of a lifetime with the Smithsonian Institute encompassing 19 museums, nine research centres and more than 140 affiliate museums around the world,” Ms Enoch said.

“The fellowships are up to $25,000 each and pay for travel and accommodation expenses in the United States.”

The Queensland Government last year committed $360,000 to support the Queensland-Smithsonian Fellowship program and the Queensland-Cooper Hewitt Fellowship program for Queensland teachers.

“The fellowship programs have been running since 2001 and researchers who have been through the programs come back to Queensland with strong links with their counterparts in the USA and a wealth of knowledge they share with their colleagues back home,” Ms Enoch said.

Recipients are Gold Coast City Gallery Senior Curator Ms Virginia Rigney, Queensland Museum Head of the Geosciences Program Dr Andrew Rozefelds, University of Queensland’s Dr Chris Campbell and Boyne Island Environmental Education Centre’s Dr David Kopelke.

Gold Coast City Gallery Senior Curator Ms Virginia Rigney will spend time at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC where she will look at how American culture has shaped the Gold Coast in the post-Second World War period.

Ms Rigney is involved in developing new cultural facilities at the Gold Coast Cultural Precinct, Stage One, set to open in 2018, and her fellowship to the US would support this work to improve the Gold Coast as a cultural tourism destination as well as increase local audiences’ connection to the arts.

She said the Gold Coast was the only major city in Australia to be largely developed after the Second World War and had been heavily influenced by American culture.

“I want to explore not simply the ideas that the Gold Coast copied from America but what we took, what we adapted and even what we have given back – all of which I think helps shape contemporary understanding of our city and allows us to speak with more confidence about who we are,” Ms Rigney said.

Head of the Geosciences Program at the Queensland Museum Dr Andrew Rozefelds, who will also spend time at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, is particularly interested in the evolution and history of modern Australian flora and how it has responded to changes in the Australian climate over the last 60 million years.

“This is an important period because our modern Australian flora evolved during this time in response to both the Australian continental plate moving northwards and the concurrent changes in climate,” he said.

Some of the fossil plants that have been found are associated with the volcanic rocks of southern Queensland. In the Tallebudgera Valley a new fossil deposit 23-26 million years old is yielding fossil evidence of eucalypts and southern beeches. He is also studying a recently discovered site, approximately 30 million years old, in the Bowen Basin which has an interesting rainforest flora of flowering plants, conifers and ferns.

“Very little is known about the fossil plant history of Northern Australia, and the fellowship will allow me to examine Australian fossil collections held in the Smithsonian and also provide the opportunity to study comparative modern plants as well. The comparative studies will allow us to classify and identify these fossils,” Dr Rozefelds said.

His research will focus on using the fossil plant record of Northern Australia to understand how the environment has changed during this time. He expects that study of the flora of these sites, and other newly discovered sites, will collectively provide important insights into the history and evolution of modern Australian flora.

Lecturer in Digital Technologies in the School of Education at the University of Queensland, Dr Chris Campbell will work at the Smithsonian Centre for Learning and Digital Access in Washington DC to look at what they have been doing to assist science teachers in the US.

She intends to use what she learns to help Queensland’s up and coming and established science teachers access and utilise the Smithsonian’s considerable digital resources for teaching science.

Dr David Kopelke from the Boyne Island Environmental Education Centre, near Gladstone, will visit the Smithsonian Environmental Center in Maryland to learn how the Smithsonian Institution runs its environmental education programs.

He will use the information gained from the fellowship to develop training courses to assist staff at environmental education centres in Queensland.


Media contact: Daniel Lato 0438 830 201