Answers With… Professor Alex Zelinsky

Professor Alex Zelinsky

Professor Alex Zelinsky AO is the Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Newcastle. His scientific career includes working as a computer scientist, systems engineer and roboticist and spans innovation, science and technology, research, commercial start-ups and education. Previously, Zelinsky was Australia’s Chief Defence Scientist and leader of Defence Science and Technology within the Department of Defence. In 2017, he was appointed an Officer in the Order of Australia (AO) in recognition of “distinguished service to defence science and technology, to systems engineering, and to education as an academic and researcher”.

What scientific or medical breakthroughs or discoveries are you most excited to see within your lifetime? – Milena, year 11 student from Springbank Secondary College, SA

 

We are at the threshold of personalised health treatments and therapies. We can now sequence people’s genomics, and revealing the gene sequence of an individual is now down well under $1000 and it is heading towards $100, and maybe $10 in the future. That means we will be able to know exactly what will happen to you due to your hereditary history and then be able to through gene therapy make a positive intervention. We can then start to think about how we can provide personalised health care – which today is really just delivered on a mass public system, that provides treatments based on averages – what works for most people, but necessarily all people. We already know that to properly treat people we need to know more than your gene sequence and your hereditary information; we need to know what symptoms you are exhibiting. Using the mobile phone as a data aggregation device, working with devices like Fitbits, and smart sensors that deliver real time information about our bodies such as heart rate, temperature and hydration etc. combined with genetic history and information, we have amazing capability to look after people. We are in the threshold of change; the basic technology exists what it really requires is the integration of these things into a single system.

Careers in this field are going to be interdisciplinary. You’ll want someone who has studied medicine and biology, but also mathematics and big data analysis. The point is we want our students to never stop learning. It used to be that you went to university, got a degree, and that was it. But now it’s about lifelong learning where you will have to pick up new skills, understand new technologies to keep you on that trajectory that keeps you at the frontier of knowledge. I think it will be about the integration of new skills an learnings and for people being able to work collaboratively together. The idea of you working on your own to solve a problem is over, today and increasingly into the future you will have to work in teams. These teams will be made of members who will each draw upon different fields of knowledge and skills to contribute to the solution.

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General Capabilities:

Literacy

Numeracy

ICT

Critical and Creative Thinking

Personal and Social Capabilities

Ethical Understanding

Additional: Careers, Technology, Engineering

Years: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, Senior Secondary

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