The science career that allows Bradley to keep asking, why?

Southern Cross University chemist Bradley Eyre

Southern Cross University chemist Bradley Eyre

Southern Cross University chemist Bradley Eyre, 54, does not remember ever having a specific ambition.

“But my mum has always said that my favourite word when I was young was ‘why’. So I suppose it was natural that I would have a career that allowed me to continually answer that ‘why’ question,” says the ocean acidification expert based in both the environment and engineering departments.

A study he conducted, which was published by Science in January, bore the ominous title “Coral reefs will transition to net dissolving before end of century”. Despite his work’s heavy, topical side, he describes himself as happy as well as focused and persistent. His top success tip is: “Never stop learning”, speaking of which, his job title, “biogeochemist”, means a scholar in the field of biogeochemistry, which signifies the study of the chemical, geological and biological tensions that govern the natural environment’s structure.

The dummies version of his work is studying the flow of carbon and nitrogen through coastal ecosystems. That means spaces including estuaries, coral reefs, mangroves and sea grasses. He scrutinises the impact on the “flows” caused by global change stressors such as climate change, ocean acidification and “eutrophication”, which is inordinate nutrient richness in a lake or other body of water. It is often caused by runoff from the land, which sparks dense plant life growth and accompanying animal death from oxygen deprivation.

For him, the key skill is imagination. He must think of a new way to study what he frames as “society’s grand environmental challenges”. He cites his coral reef “acid reef-flux” study.

He says his discovery that sand is 10 times more sensitive to acidification than coral and that sediment will be on the way out by 2048 was a huge breakthrough. Until then, predictions of when carbonate ecosystems would be impacted by acidification were conservative. In his view, they under-estimate the problem. So, he says, his work is driving a paradigm shift in how we understand and manage shallow water carbonate ecosystems.

Meantime, he says, he needs to show commitment, perseverance and resilience. Getting funding to do science is tough. So too is undergoing the peer-review process.

He handles stress through surfing, playing touch, working out in the gym and running. The most rewarding aspect of his work, he says, is students’ success and the thrill of discovery. Hopefully, he says, he is making a small difference in helping society transition to a more sustainable relationship with the Earth and its resources.

The biggest myth surrounding his work is he spends his day in a white coat in the laboratory. “I did when I was doing my PhD, but I rarely spend time in the laboratory these days – the only time I wear a lab coat is for media photo shoots.”

His dream is to obtain an Australian Research Council Laureate Fellowship. Already, according to his research page, he has achieved formidable success on that score. His page documents no less than 26 Australian Research Council (ARC) grants. That translates as $10,017,511.

David Wilson, The Sydney Morning Herald, 13 October 2018. Article.

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