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Scientific breakthroughs can be either accidental or built on the result of painstaking and time consuming trial and error.

Discoveries such as penicillin and radioactivity were the unexpected by-products of research. And the theory behind GPS technology, which relies on very accurate timekeeping, is the most celebrated application of Einstein’s theory of general relativity in 1915.

Underpinning them all was a passion for discovery built on an in-depth knowledge of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Promoting the study of STEM subjects to all students, especially those who are disadvantaged, has been identified as a key area for support by both BHP and the charity it funds, the BHP Billiton Foundation.

BHP Billiton Foundation Chairman, Karen Wood, said: “Encouraging students to not just study but to delight in the discovery and exploration of these disciplines is extremely important to our future.

"The BHP Billiton Foundation aims to inspire students and help them recognise the exciting potential STEM subjects offer.

“By helping to increase interest and achievement in STEM subjects, the Foundation is recognising the need for skills that will help prepare young people for work opportunities of the future,” Karen said.

It is predicted that in Australia alone, half of the future workforce will need high-level programming, coding and software design skills by 2030.

The BHP Billiton Foundation has committed more than $55 million over five years to Australian STEM programs to ignite interest in the field and lift academic achievement.

BHP Billiton Foundation Executive Officer, James Ensor, said: “The Foundation was established in 2013 to help address some of the critical global sustainable development challenges facing our generation.”

“Increasing participation in STEM education can help young people build skills and knowledge for our changing world, so we work in partnership with groups like the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute (AMSI) and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) to deliver projects that make a valuable contribution.”

The Foundation’s partnership with the CSIRO aims to increase STEM education access for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

The AMSI partnership focuses on the underrepresentation of girls in STEM studies.

“These Foundation projects will also contribute to more diverse and inclusive Australian workforces of the future,” James said.

Ongoing sponsorship of events such as the BHP Billiton Foundation Science and Engineering Awards and the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute (AMSI) Choose Maths Awards have ignited greater interest in the STEM field.

This year the Science and Engineering Awards attracted 26 finalists with exciting solutions to real-world problems. These include a beach-side rip warning system, a laser-based safety solution for cyclists and research ideas into treatments for diabetes and antibiotic resistant bacteria.

The Choose Maths Awards celebrate the importance of inspiring and upskilling the next generation of STEM professionals, with an emphasis girls and women.

BHP’s Head of Geoscience, Laura Tyler, said: “Australia’s future success will rely on a highly educated and diverse workforce founded on a strong pipeline of science and technology skills.”

“Investment in mathematics education is critical to provide students, particularly girls, with the foundational skills and confidence to drive industry and innovation into the future,” she said.

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