Australia reinforces data and quantum as priority research areas in new roadmap

The 2021 National Research Infrastructure Roadmap has identified priorities for future investment in Australia's national research infrastructure.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

Developing a national digital research infrastructure (NDRI) strategy has been put forward as one of the eight recommendations outlined in the federal government's 2021 National Research Infrastructure (NRI) Roadmap that was launched on Thursday.

According to the roadmap, the NDRI strategy will help coordinate, integrate, and support research across fields by providing the computing resources, digital tools, data governance frameworks, and expertise needed to make the most of data, plus provide direction to address issues such as digital skills, data collections, data standards, and data analysis and visualisation.

It will also streamline access to data, and address computing, storage and analysis needs for researchers, the roadmap said.

At the same time, the roadmap suggested the NDRI strategy should help plan and prepare for future challenges and opportunities, including around high-performance computing, exascale computing, quantum computing, big data, and commercial and non-commercial cloud services, such as Nectar Research Cloud and AARNet CloudStor.  

"To address the growing data and computing needs of Australian researchers, maintain research excellence and remain competitive on the international stage, a strategy to develop an integrated NDRI ecosystem is necessary," the roadmap said, noting the government should develop the NDRI strategy over the next year.

As part of launching the NRI Roadmap, the federal government announced it will invest AU$900 million over five years on tools, technology, and skills to make Australian research more globally competitive.

"The government believes strongly that we need to achieve better outcomes in translating Australian research into commercial outcomes. The roadmap encourages greater commercialisation of research by allowing industry and researchers to engage more effectively," Minister for Science and Technology Melissa Price said.

The roadmap also recommended for government to provide continued investment in research infrastructure beyond 2028-29, including the Australian Research Data Commons, as well as adopt a so-called challenge framework that would help guide the NRI planning and investment. Recommended challenge areas that the roadmap put forward included space, defence, and frontier technologies and modern manufacturing.

The establishment of an NRI advisory group within the next six months was another recommendation in the roadmap, pointing out the advisory group would be responsible for developing a workforce strategy to address the existing technical skills gap, review current NRI facilities and services, and provide government advice about NRI planning and funding strategies.

The government said it will respond to the roadmap's recommendations in its 2022 Research Infrastructure Investment Plan to be released later this year.

Also on Thursday, the federal government identified artificial intelligence and quantum computing as one of four priority research and collaboration areas under the Australian government's AU$60.2 million Global Science and Technology Diplomacy Fund. 

The aim of the fund, according to Minister for Science and Technology Melissa Price, is to boost Australia's partnership in key priority research areas. For AI and quantum, the federal government believes countries including the UK, Japan, France, Spain, and the US would be suitable collaboration partners for Australia.

The other priority areas that were identified were advanced manufacturing, hydrogen production, and RNA vaccines and therapies.

"This fund will provide Australian researchers and businesses with the skills, knowledge and global opportunities to ensure our nation remains at the forefront of science and technological innovation, while solving some of the worldwide challenges we face," Price said.

Separately, the federal government is seeking feedback on its national quantum issues paper that would be used to help with the development of the country's quantum strategy. The development of the strategy will inform the Quantum Commercialisation Hub and Australian Quantum Prospectus.

Submissions for feedback on the issues paper close 3 June 2022.

Quantum was identified as one of 63 critical technology areas by the federal government's Blueprint for Critical Technologies, which was announced at the end of last year. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, at the time, touted the blueprint "sets out a vision for protecting and promoting critical technologies in our national interest".

"It aims to balance the economic opportunities of critical technologies with their national security risks. And it gives us the right framework to work domestically and with like-minded countries to support the further development of these technologies," Morrison said.

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