We celebrate 60 years of the Spitfire Association and commemorate the founders of the Spitfire Memorial Defence Fellowship. As we look forwards, President of the Spitfire Association, Geoff Zuber spoke with several our Fellows to get their reflections on what the Fellowship means to them and how it helps Australia remain resilient.

Fellow: Professor Frank Marino
Focus area: Human Physiology and Hydration
Year of Fellowship: 2016

How has the Fellowship supported your research, and what difference has it made?

I have conducted research into the impacts of hydration on the human body and on the performance of soldiers in warfighting situations. I believe this area of research is important to keeping Australia resilient and maintaining our warfighting edge.

The initial idea was the little-understood impacts of water deficits on the body and how a person makes decisions. What we learnt, is that it appears a degree of de-hydration is OK provided you train your military personnel in the conditions they are expected to operate in. For example, if they march in hot conditions with a full pack, and have not drunk any water, how does this affect their ability to aim and shoot? Does being slightly de-hydrated affect their posture and ability to aim?

To date, our protocols have relied on experimental studies, not personal experiences. You need scientific data to inform policy, but you also need feedback from the field.

I firmly believe it is important for Australia to draw on its own research, so we are not influenced by other's policies, and to establish our own intellectual property, relevant to the Australian context and Australian needs.

Humans are built to withstand de-hydration and, while we don't need to interfere with that, but we do need to understand what a safe operating threshold for our military personnel is. Understanding this has implications for how much water they need to carry and its impact on their performance in the field.

The Fellowship has not only helped me to further my research, but it has helped develop the knowledge of my PhD student. Together we have published 3 papers and my PhD student has been so inspired by his work on the Fellowship that he wants to continue his studies.

What advice would you have to potential Fellowship applicants?

I'd say have a look at the past Fellowships and the successful research topics. Then consider your research in view of the needs of our Defence Force. That is what I did with my third application. After being knocked back with my first applications, I re-evaluated my proposal and re-framed it in the context of the Australian military and what it would mean for them.

Before I was notified that I'd been awarded the Fellowship, I got a call from Lysle Roberts asking me, "If you got the Fellowship, what would you do with it". That is a great question for potential Fellows to ask themselves.

If you could meet the founders of the Fellowship today, AVM Lyndon Compton AO OBE, FLTLT Edward (Ted) Sly DFC and FLTLT Peter Watson DFC, what you say to them about your experience of the living memorial they established?

It is difficult not to be in awe of the Spitfire Memorial Defence Fellowship founders for their foresight in setting up the Fellowship. I feel the best way to honour them is to contribute via the Fellowship and how I do this is by adding to our stock of knowledge, so that if we must be in wars, I can contribute via the knowledge I have developed and shared.

For me the Fellowship is a very personal contribution to Australia. My father came to Australia in 1952 and had a deeper love of Australia than anyone I know. So, I feel my research with the Fellowship is me doing my bit for Australia. Every time I interact with students and PhD students, I feel that I am contributing to Australia's intellectual wealth and that we are generating practical outcomes from the knowledge we are generating.

My love of Australia means I saw opportunities for me and my family. Plus, my grandfather's recollections of Italy's great scientists, Marconi, and Fermi, is why I pursue science. I believe in the power of science and individuals to make a difference and that is what I am focused on with my research through the Fellowship.

For those of you who met FLTLT Lysle Roberts, how did he inspire you to become a Fellowship recipient?

I have a family history with defence and defending our values. My father and grandfather were both involved in World War II and had to flee Europe because of the war. I told Lysle, when I met him, that our grandparents may have been enemies but now we are working together. I instantly connected with Lysle. In many ways, he reminded me of my grandfather. I remember Lysle as someone who ‘got things done'.

I feel the Fellowship gives me the chance to do something good for the country – Australia – that adopted my family and contribute to the Australian ideals of the Fellowship.