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Lyn Beazley, WA

2015 Australian of the Year Awards

Professor Lyn Beazley AO

Scientist

Australian of the Year 2015, Western Australia

Professor Lyn Beazley AO is a scientist who has dedicated more than 30 years to the field of neuroscience, researching recovery from brain damage and changing clinical practice in the treatment of infants at risk from pre-term delivery.

Lyn Beazley
Professor Lyn Beazley AO, scientist, Western Australia. Photo: Brendan J Doyle, Broken Yellow.

For Professor Lyn Beazley, science has been a lifelong passion. After graduating from Oxford and Edinburgh universities, Lyn has dedicated more than 30 years to the field of neuroscience, researching recovery from brain damage and changing clinical practice in the treatment of infants at risk from pre-term delivery. As Chief Scientist of Western Australia from 2006 to 2013, Lyn advised the state government on science, innovation and technology, as well as fulfilling the role of science ambassador both in Australia and internationally.

Lyn has been determined to demonstrate that science is not just a theoretical exercise, but a practical one too. She helped set up a nationwide ‘hotline’ for laboratory technicians in schools, worked for healthier waterways across the state by establishing Dolphin Watch and was involved in the negotiations for the Square Kilometre Array, the radio telescope project that is arguably the world’s largest scientific endeavour. Lyn’s goal is for every Australian child to learn and love science.

Pea-crab brooch and carved pearl oyster shell

This pearl and diamond ‘pea-crab’ brooch, a gift from friend and mentor, Dr Patricia Kailis AM OBE, and the pearl oyster shell, carved by Indigenous artist, Bruce Wiggan, illustrate Lyn Beazley’s lifelong love of science and fascination with what humans can learn from nature and the universe. The crab is a recurring motif in Lyn’s life and happens to be her star sign.

Pearl and diamond brooch in the shape of a pea-crab.
Pea-crab brooch. On loan from Professor Lyn Beazley AO. Photo: George Serras.
Carved pearl oyster shell.
Carved pearl oyster shell. On loan from Professor Lyn Beazley AO. Photo: George Serras.

Understanding nature

'Every healthy oyster has a tiny pea-crab that lives inside it … It shares the food the oyster sucks in and probably keeps it clean … The relationship between the two species is an example of the amazing complexity of nature that so fascinates me. It reinforces the need to understand marine life to protect the health of our oceans.'

Crabs and the universe

'I was thrilled to "listen in" a few years ago to the radiowave emissions of the pulsar in the Crab Nebula ... I never imagined that … as Chief Scientist of WA, I would help argue Australia’s case to host the Square Kilometre Array … of radio-telescopes … arguably the largest science project ever undertaken on the planet.'

Science and understanding

'Perhaps most surprisingly I applied my knowledge of how the brain develops and might be repaired after injury (by understanding what controls the division, migration and maturation of cells) to study how to produce better pearls. It was satisfying to know that my knowledge could be applied in a novel way, in this case to advance the 100 million dollar pearling industry.'

Transcript of video

Jeremy Lasek: Travelling the furthest to join us today is Lyn Beazley, the West Australian Australian of the Year. Lyn is a former Chief Scientist in the west and a great champion of science. When she received the award, I should say it was pointed out by the MC on that occasion she has the best smile in the world not just in the west. Lyn, it's great you are here today. You are a great champion for science and particularly for young Australians. How is that battle going for you in terms of turning people onto science? I must admit I was more an English and history-type guy. Science I struggled with. How are we doing in 2014 getting kids activated into science?

Lyn Beazley: I think every young person is curious about the world around them, and that means science and art put together the way it is in this wonderful museum and museums across the country and across the world. But you must have asked as a young person: What's the moon doing up there? Why is grass green? We just have to make sure we keep that enthusiasm, that spirit, alive so that every Australian, I think, has the chance of the best education - science being amongst that. It's going to make us an even smarter country, and that means a better future for us economically, socially, environmentally and importantly culturally.

Jeremy Lasek: Lyn, your special object is quite beautiful, as are all the objects. Tell us about your crab brooch - and is it an oyster shell?

Lyn Beazley: It is indeed. Thank you for saying they are beautiful. I think they are too. I chose them because I’d spent a lot of my life studying how to protect the developing brain and to fix it up after injury. In fact, I was fortunate enough to do research that actually helped ensure the health of one of my granddaughters when she was born prematurely, which was very special for me.

But I could apply that information, that knowledge, to help the pearling industry to design better pearls. So that is why the brooch is there. But the brooch is a crab and the little tiny crab lives inside a pearl oyster, hence the pearl oyster shell. It’s been carved by an Aboriginal man from the Kimberley, Bruce Wigan, and I wanted to acknowledge the art and science of the first Australians. So that is why that is there. The two creatures only work if they are together so it is part of that community in which we all live. It is understanding our environment better, whether it is the marine environment or terrestrial, to protect it. But it is also discovering so that we can protect our environment as we develop, for example, the resources sector for our oil and gas industry off the North West Shelf.

So for me science is part of the community. We want to be smarter even than we are now as Australians for a better future. I want to make sure that I do my bit, just my little bit, towards giving everyone, particularly young Australians, the best chance in life. And that includes it is a great education, and science will be part of it. So that is why I chose the objects.

Jeremy Lasek: Ladies and gentlemen, Lyn Beazley.