$1m donation launches UNSW water research team

Posted 12 April 2006

Mr Gary Johnston

A Sydney business executive has donated $1 million to create Australia's first Chair of Water Management, based at UNSW. The philanthropic gift by Gary Johnston, of Jaycar Electronics, has helped to forge a research team of scientists and engineers, headed by Professor Ian Acworth, who has been appointed to the new Chair.

Professor Acworth, of the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, has 30 years of experience in Britain, Africa and Australia, and is one of Australia's most senior practitioners in the field of groundwater research.

"More than 95 percent of the world's accessible water is groundwater," Professor Acworth says. "Yet we know precious little about it and how to manage it. Australia already pipes vast amounts of underground water for agriculture and inland cities and towns and we've been using it as if it were a magic pudding that will never run out. There's an urgent need not only for research in this area but for public education about it as well."

Mr Johnston says he is delighted to be able to give something back to a country that has been very good to him: "As a nation, I think it's clear that we have misused or misunderstood many of our water resources until now and I hope this appointment marks the start of a new era of better understanding and better management of our groundwater reserves in particular."

He told guests at the recent launch of the Chair at the UNSW Water Research Laboratory, at Manly Vale, that he believed Australians needed to embrace more long-term strategic thinking, setting in train projects that were vital for the country's future but which they might not see concluded in their own lifetimes.

Australians consume millions of bottles of mineral water every year with barely a thought about where that water comes from: beneath the Earth's surface. Despite being the driest inhabited continent and facing a water crisis, Australia's groundwater reserves are vast but poorly understood.

"I view this appointment as a fantastic opportunity to integrate engineering and science because there's no real division between them when it comes to water: this kind of research fills a central need for Australia," says Professor Acworth.

The Dean of Science, Professor Mike Archer, and the Dean of Engineering, Professor Brendon Parker, have both thrown their personal support behind the new Chair. The Faculty of Engineering has committed to establish the companion Lectureship while the Faculty of Science has committed to establishing a companion Postdoctoral position.

Source: UNSW

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