Last week, Distinguished Professor Sue O’Reilly officially added an Order of Australia Medal to her exceptional list of achievements.
A Professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Professor O’Reilly is also Director of the ARC National Key Centre for Geochemical Evolution and Metallogeny of Continents (GEMOC) and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Core to Crust Fluid Systems (CCFS).
Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Sakkie Pretorius congratulated Professor O’Reilly on her outstanding contribution to her discipline and on her well-deserved inclusion in the 2016 Queen’s Birthday Honour list.
“I believe in Macquarie University’s mandate for world-leading research with world-changing impact, and Professor O’Reilly has carried out this mandate for many years. Professor O’Reilly’s contributions to earth sciences are world-changing and her academic contributions have been sustained at a world-leading standard for her entire career.
“Professor O’Reilly’s recognition is testament to her international excellence and a most fitting recognition of her commitment to earth sciences.”
Professor O’Reilly downed her geological tools to share some reflections about her work and her time at Macquarie with us.
This Week: What have been the most significant developments in earth sciences over the course of your career?
Professor O’Reilly: The development of technology has transformed the way that earth sciences research can be done. Geophysical techniques allow extraordinary resolution of regions of the Earth down to 3000 kilometres beneath the surface, and the harnessing of the Earth’s subtle “song” from wave noise has opened up new ways to probe these inaccessible parts of our amazing planet.
At the same time, high-technology geochemical analytical instruments and techniques have allowed us to analyse a large spectrum of elements (and their isotopes) in the periodic table to very low levels with very high spatial resolution (microns): the ARC Centre of Excellence for Core to Crust Fluid Systems has built up a world-class facility (the Geochemical Analysis Unit) for such high-resolution analysis and micro-imaging. Computing power has provided the tools for manipulation and integration of the large datasets from these geophysical and geochemical techniques – the stars are aligned for a new era in understanding the way the Earth works.
What has been your greatest professional accomplishment as a researcher at Macquarie?
Establishing the GEMOC ARC Key Centre, followed by CCFS. These centres, with critical mass of interdisciplinary research expertise, have so far provided the vibrant, international environment to nurture over 90 postgraduate students and over 50 early career researchers into fulfilling careers. Along with outstanding mid-career and senior researchers (including seven Future Fellows) and industry collaborators, we have been responsible for many world-first breakthroughs that have changed concepts in the discipline and in the minerals exploration space.
How do you maintain a passion for your research after having worked in your field for so many years?
The excitement of discovering the story in a rock that is a piece of the Earth from 50–200 kilometres below the surface has never gone away. The excitement of guiding the research of bright young minds also has never waned.
With the benefit of hindsight, what is your best advice for someone who is just starting their research career?
Firstly, set the compass to follow your passion, then shape your strategy by listening to those with vision, and be diligent. Be generous and professional with your colleagues.
What are your plans for the next 10 years?