The Solutionists with Mark Scott

The Solutionists, with Mark Scott

Big challenges need big solutions. Meet the minds making it happen.

Join Mark Scott, Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Sydney, and get ready to view the world from a different perspective.

From our own wellbeing to the preservation of the planet, The Solutionists dives into the most pressing issues of our time and introduces you to the people unearthing the seeds of remarkable solutions.

You'll discover a world of progress and possibility.

Listen to the latest episode

Episode 5: The sewage solution – The promise of recycled water and why it’s so hard to swallow

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As the climate changes and populations boom, water supplies are under increasing pressure.

The idea of drinking water that was once swirling down your toilet bowl or kitchen sink may make you feel squeamish, but it could hold the key to future water security.

University of Sydney Professor Stuart Khan explains the promise of purified recycled water, and how it can future-proof water supplies in a thirsty nation prone to drought.

“There is the opportunity to start thinking more about a circular economy and how we might reuse the water that we’re currently discharging.”

Professor Khan points out that all water on Earth is recycled – the water you’re drinking “has quite likely been drunk by dinosaurs in the past” and could be described as “purified dinosaur pee”. 

But there’s a huge psychological hurdle involved in drinking water that’s gone from ‘toilet to tap’. So how do you sell the idea to a skeptical public? You’ll hear from Dee Madigan, creative director of advertising agency Campaign Edge and a regular on ABC TV show Gruen. 

You’ll also get a taste of how the technology works as you go inside Sydney Water’s Purified Recycled Water Demo Plant, with plant manager James Harrington.

Published: 15 May 2024

Episode 4: Turning pages, changing lives – How the humanities teach us to live in uncertain times

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When Sophie Gee’s husband was suddenly rushed to hospital, her life was plunged into uncertainty. 

Amid the chaos, she discovered a surprising source of strength: her study of classic literature, and in particular, the works of Jane Austen.

Sophie, who was Associate Chair of the English Department at Princeton until she came to the University of Sydney as a Vice-Chancellor's Fellow, says stories have made her more resilient. “Literature teaches us how to be uncertain, how to tolerate discomfort, how to tolerate difficulty,” she says.

Arts and humanities degrees sometimes get a bad rap, but Sophie argues they are more valuable than ever in the age of AI. 

She says stories cut through in a way science cannot – just look at the documentary My Octopus Teacher – and equip you with the skills you need to have “truly transformational ideas”.

 “Storytelling is one of the most important ways to have access and equity to new pathways. If you’re able to tell your story, you’re able to change your life.” 

She also makes the case for returning to old favourites, whether it’s Shakespeare or Harry Potter. And she weighs in on the value of Book Tok.

Sophie Gee is an alumna and a Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow at the University of Sydney.

Published: 1 May 2024

Episode 3: Political powerhouse Alastair Campbell on broken politics, the Iraq War, and why he’s grateful for his breakdown

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“If you’re going to have a breakdown, try not to have it in a top secret secure naval Dockyard.”

You might know Alastair Campbell as the formidable former press secretary of British prime minister Tony Blair and co-host of popular podcast The Rest is Politics.

But back in 1996, when Alastair was a high-flying tabloid journalist, his mind suddenly unravelled. “I was hearing voices and seeing things that weren’t there.”

Alastair thought his breakdown would spell the end of both his marriage and his career. But these days, he sees it as the best thing to ever happen to him. He offers candid insights into his struggles with addiction and depression. 

Alastair also takes you inside 10 Downing Street at some critical moments in history, such as the death of Princess Diana, and the controversy over the Iraq War. “Deep down, I wish it never happened. But at the same time, I can still defend the decisions that Tony Blair made at the time.”

You’ll hear Alastair’s take on what’s gone wrong in politics and how to fix it. Plus, what could happen to democracy if Donald Trump is re-elected as US President.

Read: Transcript and episode notes

Published: 22 April 2024

Episode 2: Clones, cheats, and ChatGPT – How the AI revolution is reshaping education  

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If you had a clone of yourself, what would you want it to do?

Professor Danny Liu pictures a classroom in the not-too-distant future where teachers work alongside AI ‘clones’ to help their students learn.

“It’s not about replacing them as teachers. It’s about empowering them and making them more effective.”

The role of artificial intelligence in education has been hotly debated, with concerns about cheating creating headlines. But what if we could harness regenerative AI to transform education for the better?

Danny Liu says AI can herald a new era of personalised learning, and he explains how he’s grappling with issues around student integrity and AI bias.

You’ll also go inside the classroom of Matthew Esterman at Our Lady of Mercy College Parramatta to find out how he’s rethinking assessments in the digital age.

“It’s going to be a massive challenge for students to prove that work is their own in a world where you can press a button and have an assignment done for you.”

Read: Transcript and episode notes

Published: 3 April 2024

Episode 1: Saving nature’s unsung heroes – Why pollinator decline threatens life as we know it and how you can help

Listen now on: Apple Podcasts | SpotifyPocketcast

If you go into your backyard right now, you’ll be able to find a species of insect that is new to science. Tanya Latty guarantees it – even if you live in the inner city.

Tanya has loved creepy crawlies since she was little, and is now an entomologist at the University of Sydney. “You would be surprised how many things we don't know. There are all sorts of critters, most of which are probably unidentified.” 

But around the world, insects are in trouble. “We’re almost certainly losing species faster than we’re naming them.”

The decline of pollinators such as bees, beetles, butterflies, and flies has enormous implications for people and the planet. One in every three mouthfuls of food you eat is thanks to a pollinator (and that includes chocolate!)

“I worry about that slow creep. How many can we lose before things just get crummy? We might be closer to that than we think,” Tanya warns.

Tanya sheds light on the challenges around insect conservation and explains how you can help pollinators.

You’ll also visit Whites Creek Community Garden with Professor Dieter Hochuli, and get to know some of his favourite pollinators. Dieter leads the Integrative Ecology group at The University of Sydney. 

Read: Transcript and episode notes

Published: 20 March 2024

Episode 6: Not sleeping enough can kill you. Master the art of good sleep, with Dr Carmel Harrington

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After her son died of SIDS, Dr Carmel Harrington left her job as a lawyer to devote her career to finding answers.

Her groundbreaking research into SIDS opened up another mission: to wake society up to the critical importance of sleep. 

Carmel is the managing director of Sleep for Health. High-flying CEOs and even the Australian military are now turning to her expertise in a bid to master the art of sleep.

Read: Transcript and episode notes

Published: 20 December 2023


Episode 5: The first 1,000 days – baby doctor Adrienne Gordon on giving your child the best start in life

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University of Sydney Clinical Professor and Neonatologist Adrienne Gordon helps save the lives of tiny babies in intensive care. They constantly amaze her. Their unique personalities. How fast they learn. The way they can be so close to death and yet go on to thrive.

Adrienne shares what parents need to know about the first 1,000 days, the critical period from conception to the age of two.

Read: Transcript and episode notes

Published: 6 December 2023


Episode 4: The longevity revolution – how to invest in your future and plan a meaningful 100-year life

Listen now on: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Pocketcast

We’re all living longer, and in many countries, a baby born today could easily live to 100.

Professor Andrew Scott is a world-leading expert on longevity, a Professor of Economics at London Business School and the author of The 100-Year Life.

But longevity isn't about 'being old for longer’. Andrew says it gives us the chance to completely rethink the stages of our lives. You will have more time – as much as 100,000 extra hours – and you need to act now to set yourself up for the best possible future.

You’ll also hear from a group of movers and shakers at a Dance Health Alliance class in Sydney about the upsides of being older.

Read: Transcript and episode notes

Published: 22 November 2023


Episode 3: This is the room where it happens – How leaders unlock the power of collaboration, from the Thai cave rescue to leading a minority government

Listen now on: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Pocketcast

Dr Kate Harrison Brennan is the director of the Sydney Policy Lab and a University of Sydney alumna. Her work brings people together to collaborate on solutions to the most pressing challenges of our time. In this episode, she shares practical ways to bring people together – be it at work, at home, or in the public policy sphere. 

And Dr Richard Harris reflects on what the Thai cave rescue taught him about teamwork and trust.

Read: Transcript and episode notes

Published: 8 November 2023


Episode 2: Superstar teacher Eddie Woo on unlocking a love of learning (at any age)

Listen now on: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Pocketcast

Eddie Woo, alumni of the University of Sydney and the teacher you wish you had, is here with a lesson on embracing learning at any age. He also gets personal, reflecting on his own life, how the death of his mother shaped his view of growth mindset, and how he came to realise teaching isn’t about knowing all the answers.

Read: Transcript and episode notes

Published: 25 October 2023


Episode 1: How to cool your body and survive in extreme heat

Listen now on: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Pocketcast

Heatwaves kill more people than all natural disasters combined – but because they’re not visually dramatic, we underestimate how dangerous they are. Professor Ollie Jay, whose groundbreaking research has informed the likes of Google and the Australian Open, has another way of showing us how dangerous heatwaves can be.

Read: Transcript and episode notes

Published: 11 October 2023

Meet Mark

Professor Mark Scott and Professor Ollie Jay

Professor Mark Scott and Professor Ollie Jay

Professor Mark Scott AO is the Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Sydney and a University of Sydney alumni. He is a highly respected and successful senior leader of large and complex institutions, across public service, education and the media.

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