CSIRO innovator wins NSW Telstra Business Women award

By October 15th, 2009

Dr Cathy Foley from CSIRO’s Materials Science and Engineering Division was today awarded the NSW Nokia Business Innovation Award in the Telstra Business Women’s Awards.

Dr Foley leads CSIRO’s work in materials physics, instrumentation, engineering and the Advanced Materials Research Platform. She is also renowned as one of the country’s top applied physicists.

The prestigious award is primarily for Dr Foley’s invention of the method to make a highly sensitive magnetic field sensor using a high-temperature superconductor. This sensor is the basis of the mineral exploration tool, LANDTEM™, for which she led the initial development and commercialisation in collaboration with BHP Billiton and then the Canadian mining company, Falconbridge. LANDTEM has since been licensed to an Australian start-up company, Outer-Rim Development and has ultimately helped to unearth around $6 billion of new mines worldwide. 

Mineral deposits such as nickel, gold and silver that are buried deep below the surface are often hard to find because they are too ‘electrically conducting’ or, in some cases in Australia, buried beneath ancient conducting soils, making them impossible to detect using conventional coil magnetic sensors. 

“This award is an enormous acknowledgement of the progress of women in science and physics in particular,”

Dr Foley said .

LANDTEM is a portable exploration tool which uses highly sensitive magnetic sensors known as SQUIDs (Superconducting Quantum Interference Devices) to differentiate the ore from other conductive material.

As well as being an internationally recognised leader in Superconducting Electronics, Dr Foley is also very active in promoting science and women in science. She was the first woman to be elected President of the Australian Institute of Physics (AIP) in 2007.

“This award is an enormous acknowledgement of the progress of women in science and physics in particular,” Dr Foley said.

“When I entered this career, there were few women physicists – less than 5 per cent – and virtually none in senior roles. I will use this award to leverage the funding of women in science initiatives through the AIP.”

Dr Foley is also the rapid communications editor and board member of the UK’s Institute of Physics’ journal, Superconductor Science and Technology, and President Elect (from November 2009) of the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies (FASTS) which represents 60,000 scientists and technologists in Australia.

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