Tag Archives: Australian business articles

innovation in western australia

Innovation in Western Australia

Science is fundamental for our future social and economic wellbeing.

In Western Australia we’re focusing on areas where we have natural advantages, and an appropriate base of research and industrial capacity. Western Australia’s Science Statement, released by Premier Barnett in April 2015, represents a capability audit of relevant research and engagement expertise in our universities, research institutes, State Government agencies and other organisations. Mining and energy, together with agriculture, are traditional powerhouses, but the science priorities also reflect the globally significant and growing capabilities in medicine and health, biodiversity and marine science, and radio astronomy. It’s a great place to begin exciting new collaborations.

The Science Statement has also helped to align efforts across research organisations and industry. For instance, in 2015 an industry-led “Marine Science Blueprint 2050” was released, followed by the Premier commissioning a roundtable of key leaders from industry, Government, academia and community to develop a long-term collaborative research strategy. These meetings highlighted critical areas of common interest such as decommissioning, marine noise, community engagement and sharing databases.


“Opportunities abound for science and industry to work together to translate research into practical, or commercial, outcomes.”


Science, innovation and collaboration are integral to many successful businesses in Western Australia. In the medical field, a range of technological innovations have broadened the economy and created new jobs. Some of these success stories include Phylogica, Admedus, Orthocell, iCeutica, Dimerix, Epichem and Proteomics International. Another example in this space is the Phase I clinical trial facility, Linear Clinical Research, which was established with support from the State Government – 75% of the trials conducted to date come from big pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies in the USA.

Opportunities abound for science and industry to work together to translate research into practical, or commercial, outcomes. For example, the field of big data analytics is rapidly permeating many sectors. Perth’s Pawsey Centre, the largest public research supercomputer in the southern hemisphere, processes torrents of data delivered by many sources, including radioastronomy as the world’s largest radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array, is being developed in outback WA. In addition, local company DownUnder GeoSolutions has a supercomputer five times the size of Pawsey for massive geophysical analyses. In such a rich data environment, exciting new initiatives like the CISCO’s Internet of Everything Innovation Centre, in partnership with Woodside, is helping to drive innovation and growth.

Leading players in the resources and energy sector are also taking innovative approaches to enhance efficiency and productivity. Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton use remote-controlled driverless trucks, and autonomous trains, to move iron ore in the Pilbara. Woodside has an automated offshore facility, while Shell is developing its Prelude Floating Liquefied Natural Gas facility soon to be deployed off the northwest coast. Excitingly, 3 emerging companies (Carnegie, Bombora and Protean) are making waves by harnessing the power of the ocean to generate energy.

This high-tech, innovative environment is complemented by a rapidly burgeoning start-up ecosystem. In this vibrant sector, Unearthed runs events, competitions and accelerators to create opportunities for entrepreneurs in the resources space. Spacecubed provides fabulous co-working space for young entrepreneurs, including the recently launched FLUX for innovators in the resource sector. The online graphic design business Canva, established by two youthful Western Australians epitomises what entrepreneurial spirit and can-do attitude can achieve. In this amazingly interconnected world, the sky’s the limit.

Professor Peter Klinken

Chief Scientist of Western Australia

Read next: Professor Barney Glover, Vice-Chancellor and President of Western Sydney University and Dr Andy Marks, Assistant Vice-Chancellor (Strategy and Policy) of Western Sydney University on Making innovation work.

Spread the word: Help to grow Australia’s innovation knowhow! Share this piece using the social media buttons below.

Be part of the conversation: Share your ideas on innovating Australia in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!

Australia’s biofuture

Featured image above: Associate Professor Ian O’Hara at the Mackay Biocommodities Pilot Plant. He is pictured inside the plant with the giant vats used for fermentation. Credit: QUT Marketing and Communication/Erika Fish

QUT is supporting the Queensland Government to develop a strategy, including the creation of a 10-year Biofutures Roadmap, for the establishment of an industrial biotechnology industry in Queensland.

Associate Professor Ian O’Hara, principal research scientist at QUT’s Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities (CTCB), says we are facing big challenges: the world needs to produce 70% more food and 50% more energy by 2050, while reducing carbon emissions.

At the same time, says O’Hara, there are opportunities to add value to existing agricultural products. “Waste products from agriculture, for example, can contribute to biofuel production.”

QUT funded a study in 2014 examining the potential value of a tropical biorefinery in Queensland. It assessed seven biorefinery opportunities across northeast Queensland, including in the sorghum-growing areas around the Darling Downs and the sugarcane-growing areas around Mackay and Cairns.

O’Hara says they mainly focused on existing agricultural areas, taking the residues from these to create new high-value products.

But he sees more opportunity as infrastructure across north Queensland continues to develop.

The study found the establishment of a biorefinery industry in Queensland would increase gross state product by $1.8 million per year and contribute up to 6500 new jobs.

“It’s an industry that contributes future jobs in regional Queensland – and by extension, opportunities for Australia,” O’Hara says.

The biorefineries can produce a range of products in addition to biofuels. These include bio-based chemicals such as ethanol, butanol and succinic acid, and bio-plastics and bio-composites – materials made from renewable components like fibreboard.

O’Hara says policy settings are required to put Queensland and Australia on the investment map as good destinations.

“We need strong collaboration between research, industry and government to ensure we’re working together to create opportunities.”

The CTCB has a number of international and Australian partners. The most recent of these is Japanese brewer Asahi Group Holdings, who CTCB are partnering with to develop a new fermentation technology that will allow greater volumes of sugar and ethanol to be produced from sugarcane.

“The biofuels industry is developing rapidly, and we need to ensure that Queensland and Australia have the opportunity to participate in this growing industry,” says O’Hara.

– Laura Boness

www.qut.edu.au

www.ctcb.qut.edu.au

spin-off start-ups

Top 25 insights: spin-off start-ups

Seven leaders of the Top 25 Science Meets Business R&D spin-off companies answer the question: What insights can you share with other R&D spin-off start-ups in Australia?


CATAPULT GROUP INTERNATIONAL LTD

Fill a market need and lead that market; don’t fill a product gap and complicate your market with a technology push.

It doesn’t matter how technical your product or service is, it needs to be easily explained and have a story that resonates for it to be successful in any market, let alone overseas markets.

Shaun_intext

– Shaun Holthouse, Chief Executive Officer


SMARTCAP TECHNOLOGIES PTY LTD

A few words of wisdom.

1. Make sure there is a viable, readily accessible market that is sufficiently large to support a spin-off company.

2. The actual invention is only the trigger to start a company – you are establishing a company that will need to innovate on an ongoing basis if it wants to be successful. Make sure that innovation capability and desire exists and thrives in the spin-off.

3. Identify competent board and management capability to direct the business and generate revenue for the company. Most often the management capability is not the same people who carried out the research, but sometimes it can be. Without the right people running the show, the spin-off will not be successful. 

4. Make sure you have sufficient funding available to get the company through to a viable revenue stream, and ideally flexible funding arrangements. Unexpected things will happen and you need capability to accommodate those changes.

– Kevin Greenwood, Chief Operating Officer


PHARMAXIS LTD

“Most start-ups are focused on development plans that contain binary events and marginal financing. This makes them vulnerable to unforeseen delays and additional development steps that require additional funding.

I believe that we should be looking to generate portfolios of innovation under experienced management teams that give our projects the best chance of success – and adequate funding to reach proof of concept in whatever market we are targeting – but at the same time help to spread risk.

venture capital

– Gary J Phillips, Chief Executive Officer


ACRUX DDS PTY LTD

“Ensuring a strong board, CEO, and a quality management team will be critical to success. The availability of funds for programs is an often-discussed barrier to rapid progress. Underfunded companies and poorly thought-out product concepts or technologies are more likely to fail early.

Michael Kotsanis_intext

– Michael Kotsanis, Chief Executive Officer


SPINIFEX PHARAMCEUTICALS PTY LTD

“1. For biotechnology R&D spin-off start-ups in Australia, major hurdles are the dearth of seed capital as well as access to large follow-on venture funds that are needed to build successful biotechnology companies.

2. There is a mismatch between the 10-year life span of a venture capital fund in Australia and the 15+ years needed to translate research findings into a novel drug or biologic product for improving human health. 

3. Hence, these systemic issues are major impediments to building successful biotechnology companies in Australia and these issues need to be addressed.”

– Professor Maree Smith, Executive Director of the Centre for Integrated Preclinical Drug Development and Head of the Pain Research Group at The University of Queensland


ADMEDUS

Start-up companies may consider moving overseas, especially if the Government stops or reduces the R&D tax rebates and doesn’t establish some innovation stimulus packages.

venture capital

– Dr Julian Chick, Chief Operating Officer


REDFLOW

Nothing ever goes 100% smoothly – perseverance is a prerequisite.

Stuart Smith_intext

– Stuart Smith, Chief Executive Officer

Click here to see the full list of Top 25 Science Meets Business R&D spin-off companies, or for further insights from the Top 25 leaders, read their interviews on attracting venture capital, learning from overseas marketsgetting past the valley of death and overcoming major start-up challenges.

valley of death

Top 25 insights: valley of death

There are two potential ‘valleys of death’ for R&D spin-off companies. One is in translating their research concepts into prototype products. The other is in maturing from prototype to full commercialisation.

Here, leaders of the Top 25 Science Meets Business R&D spin-off companies answer the question: Which valley of death was most difficult for your company, and what was key to getting over the hurdle?


ADMEDUS

Taking the prototype through to full commercialisation was probably more difficult for us due to the complexities involved.

This included high-tech scale-up manufacturing, which we do at our bio-manufacturing facility in Malaga. Today, we have the ability to expand production as necessary, as well as refine and develop our processes in-house to accommodate new products and product improvements.

There was also a focus on generating sales once CardioCel was commercialised. Just because a product is approved doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be used straight away by the intended customers.

We’ve focused on educating the market about the benefits of CardioCel, such as its biocompatibility and lack of calcification (hardening) at the site of surgery. We’ve also built a strong global sales and marketing team who work closely with our customers to understand their needs.

As a result, we’ve seen continued quarter-on-quarter growth in CardioCel sales, and the product is now used in over 135 heart centres globally.

venture capital

– Dr Julian Chick, Chief Operating Officer


PHARMAXIS LTD

“For pharmaceuticals the so called ‘second valley of death’ is by far the most significant.

Lack of funding often prevents companies from attempting to cross this valley and causes them to license their technology at an earlier stage and to realise rewards as the licensor takes their innovation to market.

For a small company with limited resources, the key to success here is to understand the commercialisation risks, link the higher-risk projects with partners and try to make that step themselves for markets with lower entry costs and higher clinical need.

If done well, they should end up with a portfolio approach with the risks mitigated but still significant opportunity for value appreciation.”

venture capital

– Gary J Phillips, Chief Executive Officer


SMARTCAP TECHNOLOGIES PTY LTD

SmartCap Technologies had substantial industry support to develop the prototype products, however even with this it was a very challenging process to deliver working prototypes. 

SmartCap was exceedingly fortunate in that CRCMining provided substantially more financial support for SmartCap than originally envisaged, enabling it to finally deploy the prototype products. Those prototypes were sufficiently effective to generate commercial interest from some large mining companies.

So despite having robust plans in place, it always helps to have access to further funding, via investors or other stakeholders with a high level of commitment as well as deep pockets, to overcome unforeseen eventualities.”

– Kevin Greenwood, Chief Operating Officer


CATAPULT GROUP INTERNATIONAL LTD

“The biggest hurdle may be the combination of the two – translating research concepts (i.e. technical information associated with the technology) following commercialisation into an immature market.

Catapult‘s technology is not a consumer product and therefore is very high touch in terms of its service and client support. Due to the perceived complexity of the information obtained from the technology, part of the trick is to simplify the underlying research concepts to new markets that need a low touch product.”

Shaun_intext

– Shaun Holthouse, Chief Executive Officer


iCETANA PTY LTD

“I would argue that you should have a prototype – before any spin-off. That way you can at least prove technical viability of your concept. Ideally you would also have done some level of customer validation.

The next step of full commercialisation is definitely the hardest.

In our case it was a matter of finding early customers that were willing to spend time assessing the product and its benefits – even though it was too early to commit to a purchase and full roll-out. This phase was key to understanding the market and adjusting our path.”

– Gary Pennefather, Chief Executive Officer


ACRUX DDS PTY LTD

“The first phase is the most difficult – a poor prototype will show its deficiencies later in development. A prototype needs to demonstrate a safe and efficacious profile, and that it will meet the need you have defined in the target market.”

Michael Kotsanis_intext

– Michael Kotsanis, Chief Executive Officer


SPINIFEX PHARAMCEUTICALS PTY LTD

“Translating research concepts into clinical proof-of-concept [was the most difficult] due to the dearth of venture capital available in Australia at that time.”

– Professor Maree Smith, Executive Director of the Centre for Integrated Preclinical Drug Development and Head of the Pain Research Group at The University of Queensland


ENGENEIC LTD

“We are in the middle of our valley of death translating our platform into the clinic and we have not yet overcome it. Data is key, but one needs the funds to produce the results! So, we are seeking investors wherever we can find them and buddying up to big pharmaceuticals who have the muscle to progress our technology.”

HimanshuandJennifer_intext

– Dr Jennifer Macdiarmid, pictured above with Dr. Himanshu Brahmbhatt, joint Chief Executive Officers and Directors 


REDFLOW LIMITED

“Both were as difficult – but they had different hurdles. Key for both was having the right staff and people to address each hurdle.”

Stuart Smith_intext

– Stuart Smith, Chief Executive Officer


Click here to see the full list of Top 25 Science Meets Business R&D spin-off companies.

Top 25 leaders: Darren Kelly

Top 25 leaders: Darren Kelly

R&D company Fibrotech Therapeutics has the goal of treating fibrosis, which results from persistent tissue damage and leads to organ failure in more than 45% of diseases. Fibrotech develops orally active anti-fibrotic inhibitors designed to treat underlying pathological fibrosis in kidney and heart failure.

Kelly co-founded Fibrotech with Associate Professor Spencer Williams from the Bio21 Institute, and Dr Henry Krum and Professor Richard Gilbert from the University of Melbourne.

Their goal was to take compounds through early safety studies in animals and humans, before selling on to a pharmaceutical company. They designed compounds off the structure of tranilast, an anti-fibrotic compound, reducing its toxicity and increasing its potential.

Fibrotech was sold to global specialty biopharmaceutical company Shire in 2014 for an upfront US$75 million and further milestone payments of US$482.5 million.

In May 2015, Kelly launched OccuRx to develop drugs to treat ophthalmic disorders associated with retinal fibrosis and inflammation, and aims to take them to Phase 2 clinical trials. “We licensed the technology to administer anti-fibrotics to people with eye disease and fibrosis.”

Fibrotech Therapeutics tops the Top 25 Science Meets Business list of Australia’s most successful R&D companies.

“Key drivers to any biotechnology startup are passion and tenacity, and the desire to make a difference,” says Kelly.

Click here to read the full list of Top 25 Science meets Business R&D spin-off companies, or click here for Top 25 insights into attracting venture capital.

Top 25 insights: venture capital

Top 25 insights: venture capital

All research and development (R&D) spin-offs have significant risk attached to their commercialisation, but some cannot overcome the negative perception of that risk to attract the necessary capital.

Here, nine of the Top 25 Science meets Business R&D spin-off companies explain what it was about their product or business strategy that inspired confidence in their investors that theirs would be a viable business venture. 


ACRUX DDS PTY LTD

“An excellent intellectual property position is a key starting point. This is in addition to having a proven concept or great technology. A quality team to back up project execution is paramount. Understanding and being able to explain where your commercialised projects will fit into a market segment in terms of the need they will meet is also important.”

Michael Kotsanis_intext

– Michael Kotsanis, Chief Executive Officer


SMARTCAP TECHNOLOGIES PTY LTD

SmartCap Technologies is a spinoff from CRCMining. CRCMining carries out industry directed research, which ensured that the research into fatigue management technologies was a high priority for the mining industry at the project’s inception.

In SmartCap’s case, the industry support was sufficiently high that Anglo American, one of the world’s largest mining companies, in conjunction with CRCMining, co-funded the development of the prototype commercial SmartCap products.

This ‘incubation’ of the SmartCap technology by a significant end user was extremely important to advancing from research into prototype products. 

The prototype products performed sufficiently well for SmartCap to be selected by two other large mining companies for large supply contracts for fatigue monitoring technology.

So the support of significant end users, along with the commercial contracts the company had in place at that time, provided potential investors with the confidence to invest in SmartCap Technologies.”

– Kevin Greenwood, Chief Operating Officer


PHARMAXIS LTD

Pharmaxis has been restructured following a regulatory setback for our lead product. Rebuilding investor confidence has been critical to our longer term success. To do this we focused on three things:

1. transparency – explaining the business model and being clear about the risks as well as the opportunity;

2. building in meaningful milestones which marked development steps that significantly reduced risk and provided opportunities to realise value;

3. hitting milestones and delivering realistic objectives.”

venture capital

– Gary J Phillips, Chief Executive Officer


ADMEDUS

“I think there are a number of reasons investors are drawn to our business: Admedus has two technology platforms which diversifies the risk for investors; we have a product on market; and we are generating revenue.

The first of the two platforms is our regenerative tissue platform, where we use our proprietary ADAPT tissue engineering process to turn xenograft tissue into collagen bio-scaffolds for soft tissue repair. The second is our Immunotherapies platform, where we work with renowned scientist Professor Ian Frazer and his team to develop therapeutic vaccines for the treatment and prevention of infectious diseases and cancers.

Our lead regenerative tissue product CardioCel, which is used to repair and reconstruct congenital heart deformities and more complex heart defects, has made the journey from prototype to commercial product and is on the market in the USA, Europe and parts of Asia.

Frazer’s previous success with the human papillomavirus vaccine (HPV) program that lead to the USD$2 billion product, Gardasil, is well-recognised and gives investors further confidence in our immunotherapy work.

As a result, Admedus has a good balance of validated science via approved products and an exciting product pipeline working with successful scientists. This balance, along with our diversified program portfolio, gives investors confidence in our business. “

venture capital

– Dr Julian Chick, Chief Operating Officer


REDFLOW

“1. Marketing Potential

2. Uniqueness of the product

3. Difficult to replicate”

Stuart Smith_intext

– Stuart Smith, Chief Executive Officer


CATAPULT GROUP INTERNATIONAL LTD

Catapult‘s initial funding came from the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), the birthplace of the project that led to the commercialisation of Catapult, and the Australian government

Because the technology was engineered to take elite athlete monitoring from the laboratory to the field, value was seen in the data immediately as there was no precedent for this type of information. A new product category had been formed and Australian Olympians were now able to train in their performance sweet spot without getting injured because their coaches had objective data to guide their lead up to big events.

So this combination of pioneering a new industry in a popular space (elite sport), with the ability to create immediate value, certainly helped with the initial funding.”

Shaun_intext

– Shaun Holthouse, Chief Executive Officer


SPINIFEX PHARAMCEUTICALS PTY LTD

“Neuropathic pain is a large unmet medical need because the currently available drug treatments either lack efficacy and/or have dose-limiting side-effects.

Due to this, my patent-protected angiotensin II type 2 (AT2) receptor antagonist technology – encompassing a potentially first-in-class novel analgesic for the treatment of often intractable neuropathic pain conditions – attracted initial seed capital investment from the Symbiosis Group, GBS Ventures and Uniseed Pty Ltd. In total $3.25M was raised and in mid-2005 the spin-out company, Spinifex Pharmaceuticals was formed by UniQuest Pty Ltd, the main commercialisation company of The University of Queensland.

The raison d’etre for Spinifex Pharmaceuticals at that time was to develop AT2 receptor antagonists as efficacious, well-tolerated first-in-class novel analgesics for relief of neuropathic pain. 

In 2006, I discovered that AT2 receptor antagonists also alleviated chronic inflammatory pain in a rat model. This was quite unexpected as clinically available drug treatments for neuropathic pain, such as tricyclic antidepressants and newer work-alikes as well as gabapentin and pregabalin, do not alleviate chronic inflammatory pain conditions such as osteoarthritis. Thus the potential for small molecule AT2 receptor antagonists to alleviate chronic inflammatory pain conditions was patent protected by UniQuest Pty Ltd in 2006 and subsequently in-licensed to Spinifex Pharmaceuticals for commercialisation. 

As both neuropathic pain and chronic inflammatory pain are large unmet medical needs, Spinifex Pharmaceuticals was able to raise additional venture capital from the initial investors as well as from Brandon Capital to fund Investigational New Drug (IND)-enabling Good Laboratory Practice (GLP) toxicology and safety pharmacology studies, as well as early phase human clinical trials. “

– Professor Maree Smith, Executive Director of the Centre for Integrated Preclinical Drug Development and Head of the Pain Research Group at The University of Queensland


iCETANA

“A different technique or approach to tackling a large and growing global market opportunity.”

– Gary Pennefather, Chief Executive Officer


ENGENEIC LTD

“Investors understood that the intellectual property would be generated in-house and there was no “stacking” from the beginning.

We were fortunate at the outset to meet two venture capitalists and a number of high net worth individuals who saw the potential upside in our business plan, had already had some success with investing in biotech – e.g. Biota – and did not ask ‘who else is in?’.  

That being said, we had very limited time and money to show proof of concept, and only after that and our first patent, did we convince those investors that we had something viable.”

HimanshuandJennifer_intext

– Dr Jennifer Macdiarmid, pictured above with Dr. Himanshu Brahmbhatt, joint Chief Executive Officers and Directors 


Click here to see the full list of Top 25 Science meets Business R&D spin-off companies.

Collaborate or crumble

Collaborate or crumble

Bookshelves in offices around Australia groan under the weight of unimplemented reports of research findings. Likewise, the world of technology is littered with software and gadgetry that has failed to gain adoption, for example 3D television and the Apple Newton. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Adoption of research is a critical success measure for Cooperative Research Centres (CRCs). One CRC in particular, the CRC for Water Sensitive Cities, has succeeded in having its research adopted by governments, companies and even the United Nations. Its secret is fruitful collaborations spanning diverse academic disciplines to deliver usable results. These are the kind of collaborations CRCs are well placed to deliver, argues Professor Rebekah Brown, project leader and former Chief Research Officer of the CRC for Water Sensitive Cities and director of the Monash Sustainability Institute.

The best are not always adopted. To change that, says Brown, developers need to know how their research solutions will be received and how to adapt them so people actually want them.

“Physical scientists, for example, benefit from understanding the political, social and economic frameworks they’re operating in, to position the science for real-world application,” she says.

The big-picture questions around knowledge and power, disadvantage and information access, political decision-making, community needs and aspirations, policy contexts and how values are economised – these are the domains of the social sciences. When social science expertise is combined with that of the physical sciences, for example, the research solutions they produce can have a huge impact. In the case of the CRC for Water Sensitive Cities, such solutions have influenced policy, strategy and regulations for the management of urban stormwater run-off, for example. Brown and her colleagues have found it takes a special set of conditions to cultivate this kind of powerful collaborative research partnership.

The CRC for Water Sensitive Cities has seen considerable growth. It started in 2005 as a $4.5 million interdisciplinary research facility with 20 Monash University researchers and PhD students from civil engineering, ecology and sociology. The facility grew over seven years to become a $120 million CRC with more than 85 organisations, including 13 research institutes and other organisations such as state governments, water utilities, local councils, education companies and sustainability consultancies. It has more than 230 researchers and PhD students, and its work has been the basis for strategy, policy, planning and technology in Australia, Singapore, China and Israel.

in text green corridor
Blue and green corridors in urban areas are part of the CRC for Water Sensitive Cities’ research into managing water as the world becomes increasingly urbanised.

In a 2015 Nature special issue, Brown and Monash University colleagues Ana Deletic and Tony Wong, project leader and CEO respectively of the CRC for Water Sensitive Cities, shared their ‘secret sauce’ on bridging the gap between the social and biophysical sciences, which allowed them to develop a partnership blueprint for implementing urban water research.


8 tips to successful collaboration

Rebekah Brown
Professor Rebekah Brown, courtesy of the Monash Sustainability Institute

Cultivating interdisciplinary dialogue and forming productive partnerships takes time and effort, skill, support and patience. Brown and her colleagues suggest the following:

1 Forge a shared mission to provide a compelling account of the collaboration’s overall goal and to maintain a sense of purpose for all the time and effort needed to make it work;

2 Ensure senior researchers are role models, contributing depth in their discipline and demonstrating the skills needed for constructive dialogue;

3 Create a leadership team composed of people from multiple disciplines;

4 Put incentives in place for interdisciplinary research such as special funding, promotion and recognition;

5 Encourage researchers to put their best ideas forward, even if unfinished, while being open to alternative perspectives;

6 Develop constructive dialogue skills by providing training and platforms for experts from diverse disciplines and industry partners to workshop an industry challenge and find solutions together;

7 Support colleagues as they move from being I-shaped to T-shaped researchers, prioritising depth early on and embracing breadth by building relationships with those from other fields;

8 Run special issues of single-discipline journals that focus on interdisciplinary research and create new interdisciplinary journals with T-shaped editors, peer-reviewers or boards.

Source: Brown, R.R, Deletic, A. and Wong, T.H.F (2015), How to catalyse collaboration, Nature, 525, pp. 315-317.


A recent Stanford University study found almost 75% of cross-functional teams within a single business fail. Magnify that with PhD research and careers deeply invested in niche areas and ask people to work with other niche areas across other organisations, and it all sounds impossible. Working against resistance to collaborate requires time and effort.

Yet as research partnerships blossom, so do business partnerships. “Businesses don’t think of science in terms of disciplines as scientists do,” says Brown. “Researchers need to be able to tackle complex problems from a range of perspectives.”

Part of the solution lies in the ‘shape’ of the researchers: more collaborative interdisciplinary researchers are known as ‘T-shaped’ because they have the necessary depth of knowledge within their field (the vertical bar of the T), as well as the breadth (the horizontal bar) to look beyond it as useful collaborators – engaging with different ways of working.

Some scholars, says Brown, tend to view their own discipline as having the answer to every problem and see other disciplines as being less valuable. In some ways that’s not surprising given the lack of exposure they may have had to other disciplines and the depth of expertise they have gained in their own.

“At the first meeting of an interdisciplinary team, they might try to take charge, for example talk but not listen to others or understand their contribution. But in subsequent meetings, they begin to see the value the other disciplines bring – which sometimes leaves them spellbound.

“It’s very productive once people reach the next stage in a partnership where they develop the skills for interdisciplinary work and there’s constructive dialogue and respect,” says Brown.

In a recent article in The Australian, CSIRO chief executive and laser physicist Dr Larry Marshall describes Australians as great inventors but he emphasises that innovation is a team sport and we need to do better at collaboration. He points out that Australia has the lowest research collaboration rates in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and attributes this fact to two things – insufficient collaboration with business and scientists competing against each other.

“Overall, our innovation dilemma – fed by our lack of collaboration – is a critical national challenge, and we must do better,” he says.

Brown agrees, saying sustainability challenges like those addressed by the CRC for Water Sensitive Cities are “grand and global challenges”.

“They’re the kind of ‘wicked problem’ that no single agency or discipline, on its own, could possibly hope to resolve.”

The answer, it seems, is interdisciplinary.


Moving forward

Alison Mitchell
Alison Mitchell, courtesy of Vitae

There’s a wealth of great advice that CRCs can tap into. For example the Antarctic Climate & Ecosystems CRC approached statistical consultant Dr Nick Fisher at ValueMetrics Australia, an R&D consultancy specialising in performance management, to find the main drivers of the CRC’s value as perceived by its research partners, so the CRC could learn what was working well and what needed to change.

Fisher says this kind of analysis can benefit CRCs at their formation, and can be used for monitoring and in the wind-up phase for final evaluation.

When it comes to creating world-class researchers who are T-shaped and prepped for research partnerships, Alison Mitchell, a director of Vitae, a UK-based international program dedicated to professional and career development for researchers, is an expert. She describes the Vitae Researcher Development Framework (RDF), which is a structured model with four domains covering the knowledge, behaviour and attributes of researchers, as a significant approach that’s making a difference to research careers worldwide.

The RDF framework uses four ‘lenses’ – knowledge exchange, innovation, intrapreneurship [the act of behaving like an entrepreneur while working with a large organisation] and entrepreneurship – to focus on developing competencies that are part and parcel of a next generation research career. These include skills for working with academic research partners and industry.


– Carrie Bengston

watersensitivecities.org.au

www.acecrc.org.au

Firing up our start-ups

Firing up our start-ups

Stories of ‘unicorn’ Initial Public Offerings and billionaires in their 30s are great. But it’s the creation of quality jobs that truly makes innovation a national priority.

A recent report from the Office of the Chief Economist showed Australia added about one million jobs from 2006–11. Start-up companies added 1.4 million jobs, whereas older companies shed 400,000 jobs over the same period. But it’s not any start-up that matters; only 3.2% of start-ups take off in a dramatic fashion, providing nearly 80% of those new jobs. While Australia has a relatively high rate of companies starting up, the key seems to be getting more of them into high-growth mode.

When Israel faced a massive influx of immigrants after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, it turned to innovation as a means of providing jobs. Given the country’s lack of natural resources, they didn’t have a choice. A population of four million people taking in one million more meant Israel had to become an innovative economy.

They grew their investment in research and development dramatically – to the point where Israel is now one of only two countries consistently spending more than 4% of GDP on R&D.

Israel has translated that spending into high-tech export success. Now, multinational technology company Intel employs over 10,000 Israelis. The Israeli Government is hands-on in its approach to de-risking early stage companies. But this is not achieved through government spending alone. In fact, the Israeli Government’s share of total R&D spending is just one-third of that of Australia, and its higher education sector is just one half. Business carries the lion’s share of R&D spending in Israel, making up 80% of the total, compared with 60% in Australia.

in text graph2

If we want jobs, we need innovation. We are in a unique period when there seems to be complete political agreement on this point. If we want innovation, we should take lessons from wherever we can learn them to develop the Australian system. A lesson from Israel is to use government spending more effectively at the early stages of company development to shift more start-ups into high-growth mode. If we could double the current 3.2% of today’s start-ups that become high-growth companies, we could provide more rewarding jobs for Australia’s future.

Israel concentrates almost 100% of its government innovation support for business on small and medium-sized enterprises. The comparable figure for Australia is 50% – a big hint for what we could do differently to fire up our start-up sector.

–Tony Peacock

Tony Peacock is CEO of the Cooperative Research Centres Association and founder of KnowHow.

Farm tech saves harvest

Farm tech saves harvest

The state produced 7.2 million tonnes of grain in 2015–16, slightly down on the 7.6 million tonnes harvested in 2014–15. Although it was the seventh consecutive year the state was above its 10-year average, the result was well below the five-year average of 8.2 million tonnes.

Wheat again led the way with 4.3 million tonnes while barley contributed 1.9 million tonnes.

Grain Producers SA CEO Darren Arney says it was a rollercoaster season courtesy of a slow start followed by a cold, wet winter and a very hot, dry spring.

“In the end it was quite incredible that we actually had the harvest that we did,” he says.

“The crops had the potential to yield another 15–20% if we’d had a normal spring so it could have been 8–9 million tonnes of grain.”

Arney says a fall in world grain prices generally had been offset by a falling Australian dollar.

He says varietal advances resulting in better strains of wheat and barley, more efficient matching of fertilisers and the strategic use of herbicides were among advances helping to achieve productivity gains.

“A similar rainfall year was probably 2007 where we produced 5.5–6 million tonnes so we’ve picked up 20–25% because of advancements in research and development and advancements in cropping systems,” says Arney.

The Upper South East and Western Eyre Peninsula regions recorded below average harvests while the Eastern Eyre Peninsula and Mid North regions experienced relatively good seasons, helping them to produce about a million tonnes each.

Extreme weather conditions in late November resulted in a fire in the Pinery area, which spread rapidly and burnt approximately 85,000 ha.

About 22,500 ha of unharvested crops were burnt with estimated crop losses of 60,000 tonnes of grain, 33,000 tonnes of hay and 50,000 tonnes of straw. The fire also destroyed 18,000 sheep and 87 cattle.

Agriculture Minister Leon Bignell says the farm gate value of the crop was estimated at $1.8 billion and the export value was estimated at $2.2 billion.

“Despite the challenging season, South Australia’s grain sector continues to be a powerhouse industry generating more than $4.6 billion in revenue in 2014–15, with approximately 85% exported around the world,” he says.

Primary Industries and Resources South Australia Grains Industry Account Manager Dave Lewis says overall the yields were highly variable.

“Wheat crops were generally more affected by the hot, dry finish with significant tonnages downgraded,” he says.

The future of grain research in South Australia has been secured through a joint $50 million investment by the State Government and the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC).

Bignell says the five year deal included $25 million from GRDC and $25 million in-kind support from the State Government’s South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI).

“SARDI is the nation’s leading research provider in farming systems for low to medium rainfall areas, crop protection and improvement as well as projects such as the National Oat Breeding Program,” he says.

“SARDI will commit staff, equipment and resources to the value of $25 million and the GRDC will match the State Government’s investment with a cash investment.”

In other South Australian agriculture news, the State Government has welcomed the Federal Government’s decision to relocate offices of the GRDC and Fisheries Research and Development Corporation to Adelaide.

The latest results from the State Government’s soil improvement project have confirmed sandy soils can be greatly improved, resulting in increased grain yields.

Bignell says the New Horizons Project had shown vastly improved crop production at three trial sites through managing the top 50 cm of soil, rather than the traditional top 10 cm.

– Andrew Spence

This article was first published by The Lead on 10 February 2016. Read the original article here.

Small scale, big consequences

The nanoscale is so tiny it’s almost beyond comprehension. Too small for detection by the human eye, and not even discernible by most laboratory microscopes, it refers to measurements in the range of 1–100 billionths of a metre. The nanoscale is the level at which atoms and molecules come together to form structured materials.

The Nanochemistry Research Institute — NRI — conducts fundamental and applied research to understand, model and tailor materials at the nanoscale. It brings together scientists – with expertise in chemistry, engineering, computer simulations, materials and polymers – and external collaborators to generate practical applications in health, energy, environmental management, industry and exploration. These include new tests for cancer, and safer approaches to oil and gas transportation. Research ranges from government-funded exploratory science to confidential industry projects.


The NRI hosts research groups with specialist expertise in the chemical formation of minerals and other materials. “To understand minerals, it’s often important to know what is going on at the level of atoms,” explains Julian Gale, John Curtin Distinguished Professor in Computational Chemistry and former Acting Director of the NRI. “To do this, we use virtual observation – watching how atoms interact at the nanoscale – and modelling, where we simulate the behaviour of atoms on a computer.”

The mineral calcium carbonate is produced through biomineralisation by some marine invertebrates. “If we understand the chemistry that leads to the formation of carbonates in the environment, then we can look at how factors such as ocean temperature and pH can lead to the loss of minerals that are a vital component of coral reefs,” says Gale.

This approach could be used to build an understanding of how minerals are produced biologically, potentially leading to medical and technological benefits, including applications in bone growth and healing, or even kidney stone prevention and treatment.

Gale anticipates that a better understanding of mineral geochemistry may also shed light on how and where metals are distributed. “If you understand the chemistry of gold in solution and how deposits form, you might have a better idea where to look for the next gold mine,” he explains.

There are also environmental implications. “Formation of carbonate minerals, especially magnesium carbonate and its hydrates, has been proposed as a means of trapping atmospheric carbon in a stable solid state through a process known as geosequestration. We work with colleagues in the USA to understand how such carbonates form,” says Gale.

Minerals science is also relevant in industrial settings. Calcium carbonate scaling reduces flow rates in pipes and other structures in contact with water. “As an example, the membranes used for reverse osmosis in water desalination – a water purification technology that uses a semipermeable membrane to remove salt and other minerals from saline water – can trigger the formation of calcium carbonate,” explains Gale. “This results in partial blockage of water flow through the membrane, and reduced efficiency of the desalination process.”

A long-term aim of research in this area is to design water membranes that prevent these blockages. There are also potential applications in the oil industry, where barium sulphate (barite) build-up reduces the flow in pipes, and traps dangerous radioactive elements such as radium.

Another problem for exploration companies is the formation of hydrates of methane and other low molecular weight hydrocarbon molecules. These can block pipelines and processing equipment during oil and gas transportation and operations, which results in serious safety and flow assurance issues. Materials chemist Associate Professor Xia Lou leads a large research group in the Department of Chemical Engineering that is developing low-dose gas hydrates inhibitors to prevent hydrate formation. “We also develop nanomaterials for the removal of organic contaminants in water, and nanosensors to detect or extract heavy metals,” she says.

“To understand minerals, it’s often important to know what is going on at the level of the atom.”


The capacity to control how molecules come together and then disassociate offers tantalising opportunities for product development, particularly in food science, drug delivery and cosmetics. In the Department of Chemistry, Professor Mark Ogden conducts nanoscale research looking at hydrogels, or networks of polymeric materials suspended in water.

“We study the 3D structure of hydrogels using the Institute’s scanning probe microscope,” says Ogden. “The technique involves running a sharp tip over the surface of the material. It provides an image of the topography of the surface, but we can also measure how hard, soft or sticky the surface is.” Ogden is developing methods for watching hydrogels grow and fall apart through heating and cooling. “We have the capability to do that sort of imaging now, and this in situ approach is quite rare around the world,” he says.

Ogden also conducts chemical research with a group of metals known as lanthanoids, which are rare-earth elements. His recent work, in collaboration with the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), discovered unique elongated nanoscale structures.

“We’ve identified lanthanoid clusters that can emit UV light and have magnetic properties,” explains Ogden. “Some of these can form single molecule magnets. A key outcome will be to link cluster size and shape to these functional properties.” This may facilitate guided production of magnetic and light-emitting materials for use in sensing and imaging technologies.

“If you understand the chemistry of gold … then you might have a better idea of where to start looking for the next gold mine.”


The NRI is working across several areas of chemistry and engineering to develop nanoscale tools for detecting and treating health conditions. Professor Damien Arrigan applies a nanoscale electrochemical approach to detecting biological molecules, also known as biosensing. He and his Department of Chemistry colleagues work at the precise junction between layered oil and water.

“We make oil/water interfaces using membranes with nanopores, some as small as 15 nanometres,” he says. “This scale delivers the degree of sensitivity we’re after.” The scientists measure the passage of electrical currents across the tiny interfaces and detect protein, which absorbs at the boundary between the two liquids. “As long as we know a protein’s isoelectric point – that is, the pH at which it carries no electrical charge – we can measure its concentration,” he explains.

The technique enables the scientists to detect proteins at nanomolar (10−6 mol/m3) concentrations, but they hope to shift the sensitivity to the picomolar (10−9 mol/m3) range – a level of detection a thousand times more sensitive and not possible with many existing protein assessments. Further refinement may also incorporate markers to select for proteins of interest. “What we’d like to do one day is measure specific proteins in biological fluids like saliva, tears or serum,” says Arrigan.

The team’s long-term vision is to develop highly sensitive point-of-need measurements to guide treatments – for example, testing kits for paramedics to detect markers released after a heart attack so that appropriate treatment can be immediately applied.

Also in the Department of Chemistry, Dr Max Massi is developing biosensing tools to look at the health of living tissues. His approach relies on tracking the location and luminescence of constructed molecules in cells. “We synthesise new compounds based on heavy metals that have luminescent properties,” explains Massi. “Then we feed the compounds to cells, and look to see where they accumulate and how they glow.”

The team synthesises libraries of designer chemicals for their trials. “We know what properties we’re after – luminescence, biological compatibility and the ability to go to the part of the cell we want,” says Massi.

For example, compounds can be designed to accumulate in lysosomes – the tiny compartments in a cell that are involved in functions such as waste processing. With appropriate illumination, images of lysosomes can then be reconstructed and viewed in 3D using a technique known as confocal microscopy, enabling scientists to assess lysosome function. Similar approaches are in development for disease states such as obesity and cancer.

Beyond detection, this technique also has potential for therapeutic applications. Massi has performed in vitro studies with healthy and cancerous cells, suggesting that a switch from detection to treatment may be possible by varying the amount of light used to illuminate the cells.

“A bit of light allows you to visualise. A lot of light will allow you to kill the cells,” explains Massi. His approach is on track for product development, with intellectual property protection filed in relation to using phosphorescent compounds to determine the health status of cells.

Improving approaches to cancer treatment is also an ongoing research activity for materials chemist Dr Xia Lou, who designs, constructs and tests nanoparticles for targeted photodynamic therapy, which aims to selectively kill tumours using light-induced reactive oxygen species.

“We construct hybrid nanoparticles with high photodynamic effectiveness and a tumour-targeting agent, and then test them in vitro in our collaborators’ laboratories,” she says. “Our primary interest is in the treatment of skin cancer. The technology has also extended applications in the treatment of other diseases.” Lou has successfully filed patents for cancer diagnosis and treatment that support the potential of this approach.


Spheres and other 3D shapes constructed at the nanoscale offer potential for many applications centred on miniaturised storage and release of molecules and reactivity with target materials. Dr Jian Liu in the Department of Chemical Engineering develops new synthesis strategies for silica or carbon spheres, or ‘yolk-shell’-structured particles. “Our main focus is the design, synthesis and application of colloidal nanoparticles including metal, metal oxides, silica and carbon,” says Liu.

Most of these colloidal particles are nanoporous – that is, they have a lattice-like structure with pores throughout. The applications of such nanoparticles include catalysis, energy storage and conversion, drug delivery and gene therapy.

“The most practical outcome of our research would be the development of new catalysts for the production of synthetic gases, or syngas,” he says. “It may also lead to new electrodes for lithium-ion batteries.” Once developed, nanoscale components for this type of rechargeable battery are expected to bring improved safety and durability, and lower costs.


Atomic Modelling matters in research

Professor Julian Gale leads a world-class research group in computational materials chemistry at the NRI. “We work at the atomic level, looking at fundamental processes by which materials form,” he says. “We can simulate up to a million atoms or more, and then test how the properties and behaviour of the atoms change in response to different experimental conditions.” Such research is made possible through accessing a petascale computer at WA’s Pawsey Centre – built primarily to support Square Kilometre Array pathfinder research.

The capacity to model the nanoscale behaviour of atoms is a powerful tool in nanochemistry research, and can give direction to experimental work. The calcium carbonate mineral vaterite is a case in point. “Our theoretical work on calcium carbonate led to the proposal that the mineral vaterite was actually composed of at least three different forms,” Gale explains. “An international team found experimental evidence which supported this idea.”

NRI Director Professor Andrew Lowe regards this capacity as an asset. “Access to this kind of atomic modelling means that our scientists can work within a hypothetical framework to test whether a new idea is likely to work or not before they commit time and money to it,” he explains.

Scientists at Curtin’s Nanochemistry Research Institute investigate minerals at an atomic level, which can, for example, build an understanding of mineral loss in coral reefs.
Scientists at Curtin’s Nanochemistry Research Institute investigate minerals at an atomic level, which can, for example, build an understanding of mineral loss in coral reefs.

New direction

Formally established in 2001, the Nanochemistry Research Institute began a new era in 2015 through the appointment of Professor Andrew Lowe as Director. Working under his guidance are academic staff and postdoctoral fellows, as well as PhD, Honours and undergraduate science students.

An expert in polymer chemistry, Lowe’s research background adds a new layer to the existing strong multidisciplinary nature of the Institute. “Polymers have the potential to impact on every aspect of fundamental research,” he says. “This will add a new string to the bow of Curtin University science and engineering, and open new and exciting areas of research and collaboration.”

Polymers are a diverse group of materials composed of multiple repeated structural units connected by chemical bonds. “My background is in water-soluble polymers and smart polymers,” explains Lowe. “These materials change the way they behave in response to their external environment – for example, a change in temperature, salt concentrations, pH or the presence of other molecules including biomolecules. Because the characteristics of the polymeric molecules can be altered in a reversible manner, they offer potential to be used in an array of applications, including drug delivery, catalysis and surface modification.”

Lowe has particular expertise in RAFT dispersion polymerisation, a technique facilitating molecular self-assembly to produce capsule-like polymers in solution. “This approach allows us to make micelles, worms and vesicles directly,” he says, describing the different physical forms the molecules can take. “It’s a novel and specialised technique that creates high concentrations of uniformly-shaped polymeric particles at the nanoscale.” Such polymers are candidates for drug delivery and product encapsulation.

Sarah Keenihan

new Chief Scientist

Dr Alan Finkel will be Australia’s new Chief Scientist

Featured photo: Greg Ford/Monash University

New Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel will take over the role once the sitting Chief Scientist, Professor Ian Chubb, finishes his five-year stint in the job on 31 December this year.

Finkel was most recently Chancellor of Monash University, a post he has held since 2008. He is also the President of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE).

New Chief Scientist Finkel is an outspoken advocate for science awareness and popularisation. He is a patron of the Australian Science Media Centre and has helped launch popular science magazine, Cosmos.

He is also an advocate for nuclear power, arguing that “nuclear electricity should be considered as a zero-emissions contributor to the energy mix” in Australia.

The Australian Academy of Science (AAS) President, Professor Andrew Holmes, welcomes the expected appointment of Finkel to the new Chief Scientist role.

“The Academy is looking forward to the government’s announcement, but Finkel would be an excellent choice for this position. I’m confident he would speak strongly and passionately on behalf of Australian science, particularly in his advice to government,” he says.

“The AAS and ATSE have never been closer; we have worked together well on important issues facing Australia’s research community, including our recent partnership on the Science in Australia Gender Equity initiative.”

Holmes also thanked outgoing Chief Scientist for his strong leadership for science in Australia, including establishing ACOLA as a trusted source of expert, interdisciplinary advice to the Commonwealth Science Council.

“Since his appointment, Chubb has been a tireless advocate of the fundamental importance of science, technology engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills as the key to the country’s future prosperity, and a driving force behind the identification of strategic research priorities for the nation,” says Holmes.

This article was first published on The Conversation on 26 October 2015. Read the original article here.

Expert reactions:

Karen Taylor is Founder and Business Director of Refraction Media

“Finkel is an energetic advocate for STEM across all levels of society, from schools and the general public to corporate leaders. We’re excited and optimistic about the fresh approach science and innovation is enjoying.” 

Professor Emeritus Sir Gustav Nossal is Emeritus Professor in the Department of Pathology at the University of Melbourne

“This is truly the most fantastic news. Finkel is an extraordinary leader. He has proven himself in personal scientific research. He has succeeded in business in competitive fields. It is difficult to think of anyone who would do this important job with greater distinction.”

Dr Ross Smith is President of Science & Technology Australia

“Finkel has a profound understanding of the place of science in a flourishing modern economy, as a scientist, entrepreneur and science publisher of real note. We look forward to working closely with Finkel, as we jointly pursue better links between STEM and industry.”

2015 Publish Awards

Science beats sport at the 2015 Publish Awards

Photo from left: Refraction founders Heather Catchpole and Karen Taylor-Brown, with Production Manager Heather Curry and Publishing Co-ordinator Jesse Hawley.

Refraction Media, a Sydney-based publishing start-up, was announced Australia’s Best Small Publisher at the 2015 Publish Awards. Specialising in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths), Refraction Media came out on top in a category that included sport, luxury and lifestyle at the industry’s night-of-nights.

The jurors at the 2015 Publish Awards said:

“Refraction Media outclassed the other entrants. For a start up operation that’s only two years old, the company has managed to capitalise on an untapped market with incredible skill and with many clever, innovative and successful media streams.”

Publishing’s leaders, representing titles such as Vogue, the Australian Women’s Weekly and Gourmet Traveller, competed for accolades at the 2015 Publish Awards alongside youth disrupters such as Junkee, Vice and Pedestrian.tv while business and industry like In the Black and Australian Pharmacist brought their A-game.

Amongst the glitz and glamour at the 2015 Publish Awards, science valiantly flew its flag with New Scientist‘s Australasia reporter Michael Slezak a finalist for Journalist of the Year (Consumer/Custom) and COSMOS magazine’s Editor-in-Chief, Dr Elizabeth Finkel, a finalist for Single Article of the year for her piece ‘The buzz around brain stimulation‘.

With a strong presence on the main stage and by sharing the language and aesthetics of mass publishers, science publishers are taking science out of a niche audience and placing it firmly at the centre of a dynamic industry of interactivity, sharing and scrolling.

As science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) becomes more visual, accessible and dynamic, especially to Australia’s youth, engagement and participation rates will climb. This future STEM-skilled workforce is critical to Australia’s future prosperity. STEM graduates will facilitate innovation and collaboration.

Refraction Media fills a unique niche in the market that connects science and technology with the general public. Since its launch in 2013, Refraction has printed over half a million magazines across eight titles, shared 16 in-depth science study guides with schools, produced 13 3D animations, edited 17 scientific white papers, developed two e-learning platforms and created the worldwide, one-and-only virtual tour of a nuclear reactor.

Refraction produce two websites, for news at the nexus of research and industry, www.sciencemeetsbusiness.com.au; and careerswithcode.com.au, which aims to inspire high school students to combine their passion – whether it’s music, arts, business, sports or the environment – with STEM skills to create the careers of the future.

Refraction Media has demonstrated that rather than being ‘niche’, specialising in science uncovers a world of opportunity and discovery.

 

tan spot

Saving grains

Each year, the fungal disease tan spot costs the Australian economy more than half a billion dollars. Tan spot, also known as yellow spot, is the most damaging disease to our wheat crops, annually causing an estimated $212 million in lost production and requiring about $463 million worth of control measures. Fungal disease also causes huge damage to barley, Australia’s second biggest cereal crop export after wheat. It should come as no surprise, then, that the nation’s newest major agricultural research facility, Curtin University’s Centre for Crop and Disease Management (CCDM), is focusing heavily on the fungal pathogens of wheat and barley.

Launched in early 2014, with the announcement of an inaugural bilateral research agreement between Curtin and the Australian Government’s Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), the CCDM already has a team of about 40 scientists, with that number expected to double by 2016.

“We are examining the interactions of plants and fungal pathogens, and ways and means of predicting how the pathogen species are going to evolve so that we might be better prepared,” says CCDM Director, Professor Mark Gibberd.

An important point of difference for the centre is that, along with a strongly relevant R&D agenda, its researchers will be working directly with growers to advise on farm practices. Influencing the development and use of faster-acting and more effective treatments is part of the CCDM’s big-picture approach, says Gibberd. This encompasses both agronomy (in-field activities and practices) and agribusiness (the commercial side of operations).

“We want to know more about the issues that challenge farmers on a day-to-day basis,” explains Curtin Business School’s John Noonan, who is overseeing the extension of the CCDM’s R&D programs and their engagement with the public. The CCDM, he explains, is also focused on showing impact and return on investment in a broader context.

Two initiatives already making a significant impact on growers’ pockets include the tan spot and Septoria nodorum blotch programs. Tan spot, Australia’s most economically significant wheat disease, is caused by the fungus Pyrenophora tritici-repentis. Septoria nodorum blotch is a similar fungal infection and Western Australia’s second most significant wheat disease.

Curtin University researchers were 2014 finalists in the Australian Museum Eureka Prize for Sustainable Agriculture for their work on wheat disease. Their research included the development of a test that enables plant breeders to screen germinated seeds for resistance to these pathogens and subsequently breed disease-resistant varieties. It’s a two-week test that replaces three years of field-testing and reduces both yield loss and fungicide use.

When fungi infect plants, they secrete toxins to kill the leaves so they can feed on the dead tissue (toxins: ToxA for tan spot, and ToxA, Tox1 and Tox3 for Septoria nodorum blotch). The test for plant sensitivity involves injecting a purified form of these toxins – 30,000 doses of which the CCDM is supplying to Australian wheat breeders annually.

“We have seen the average tan spot disease resistance rating increase over the last year or so,” says Dr Caroline Moffat, tan spot program leader. This means the impact of the disease is being reduced. “Yet there are no wheat varieties in Australia that are totally resistant to tan spot.”

“The development of fungicide resistance is one of the greatest threats to our food biosecurity, comparable to water shortage and climate change.”

Worldwide, there are eight variants of the tan spot pathogen P. tritici-repentis. Only half of them produce ToxA, suggesting there are other factors that enable the pathogen to infiltrate a plant’s defences and take hold. To investigate this, Moffat and her colleagues have deleted the ToxA gene in samples of P. tritici-repentis and are studying how it affects the plant-pathogen interaction.

During the winter wheat-cropping season, Moffat embarks on field trips across Australia to sample for P. tritici-repentis to get a ‘snapshot’ of the pathogen’s genetic diversity and how this is changing over time. Growers also send her team samples as part of a national ‘Stop the Spot’ campaign, which was launched in June 2014 and runs in collaboration with the GRDC. Of particular interest is whether the pathogen is becoming more virulent, which could mean the decimation of popular commercial wheat varieties.


Wheat fungal diseases can regularly cause a yield loss of about 15–20%. But for legumes – such as field pea, chickpea, lentil and faba bean – fungal infections can be even more devastating. The fungal disease ascochyta blight, for example, readily causes yield losses of about 75% in pulses. It makes growing pulses inherently risky, explains ascochyta blight program leader, Dr Judith Lichtenzveig.

In 1999, Western Australia’s chickpea industry was almost wiped out by the disease and has never fully recovered. With yield reliability and confidence in pulses still low, few growers include them in their crop rotations – to the detriment of soil health.

Pulse crops provide significant benefit to subsequent cereals and oilseeds in the rotation, says Lichtenzveig, because they add nitrogen and reduce the impact of soil and stubble-borne diseases. The benefits are seen immediately in the first year after the pulse is planted. The chickpea situation highlights the need to develop new profitable varieties with traits desired by growers and that suit the Australian climate.

The CCDM also runs two programs concerned with barley, both headed by Dr Simon Ellwood. His research group is looking to develop crops with genetic resistance to two diseases that account for more than half of all yield losses in this important Australian crop – net blotch and powdery mildew.

Details of the barley genome were published in the journal Nature in 2012. The grain contains about 32,000 genes, including ‘dominant R-genes’ that provide mildew resistance. The dominant R-genes allow barley plants to recognise corresponding avirulence (Avr) genes in mildew; if there’s a match between a plant R-gene and pathogen Avr genes, the plant mounts a defence response and the pathogen is unable to establish an infection. It’s relatively commonplace, however, for the mildew to alter its Avr gene so that it’s no longer recognised by the plant R-gene.

“This is highly likely when a particular barley variety with a given R-gene is grown over a wide area where mildew is prevalent, as there is a high selection pressure on mutations to the Avr gene,” explains Ellwood. This means the mildew may become a form that is unrecognised by the barley.

Many of the malting barley varieties grown in Western Australia, with the exception of Buloke, are susceptible to mildew. This contrasts with spring barley varieties being planted in Europe and the USA that have been bred to contain a gene called mlo, which provides resistance to all forms of powdery mildew.

Resistance to net blotch also occurs on two levels in barley. “As with mildew, on the first level, barley can recognise net blotch Avr genes early on through the interaction with dominant R-genes. But again, because resistance is based on a single dominant gene interaction, it can be readily lost,” says Ellwood. “If the net blotch goes unrecognised, it secretes toxins that allow the disease to take hold.”

On the second level, these toxins interact with certain gene products so that the plant cells become hypersensitised and die. By selecting for barley lines without the sections of genes that make these products, the crop will have a durable form of resistance. Indeed, Ellwood says his team has found barley lines with these characteristics. The next step is to determine how many genes control this durable resistance. “Breeding for host resistance is cheaper and more environmentally friendly than applying fungicides,” Ellwood adds.

“This is a massive achievement, and we have already shown that the use of more expensive chemicals can be justified on the basis of an increase in crop yield.”


Numerous fungicides are used to prevent and control fungal pathogens, and they can be costly. Some have a common mode of action, and history tells us there’s a good chance they’ll become less effective the more they’re used. “The development of fungicide resistance is one of the greatest threats to our food biosecurity ahead of water shortage and climate change,” says Gibberd. “It’s a very real and current problem for us.”

Fungicides are to grain growers what antibiotics are to doctors, explains Dr Fran Lopez-Ruiz, head of the CCDM’s fungicide resistance program. “The broad-spectrum fungicides are effective when used properly, but if the pathogens they are meant to control start to develop resistance, their value is lost.” Of the three main types of leaf-based fungicides used for cereal crops, demethylation inhibitors (DMIs) are the oldest, cheapest and most commonly used.

Lopez-Ruiz says that to minimise the chance of fungi becoming resistant, sprays should not be used year-in, year-out without a break. The message hasn’t completely penetrated the farming community and DMI-resistance is spreading in Australia. A major aim within Lopez-Ruiz’s program is to produce a geographical map of fungicide resistance. “Not every disease has developed resistance to the available fungicides yet, which is a good thing,” says Lopez-Ruiz.

DMIs target an enzyme called CYP51, which makes a cholesterol-like compound called ergosterol that is essential for fungal cell survival. Resistance develops when the pathogens accumulate several mutations in their DNA that change the structure of CYP51 so it’s not affected by DMIs.

In the barley disease powdery mildew in WA, a completely new set of mutations has evolved, resulting in the emergence of fungicide-resistant populations. The first of these mutations has just been identified in powdery mildew in Australia’s eastern states, making it essential that growers change their management tactics to prevent the development of full-blown resistance. Critical messages such as these are significant components of John Noonan’s communications programs.

tan spot

tan spot

tan spot
The CCDM is researching solutions to plant diseases such as powdery mildew in barley (above top), and Septoria nodorum blotch (above middle) in wheat, with Dr Caroline Moffat (above bottom) leading a program to tackle the wheat tan spot fungus.

Resistance to another group of fungicides, Qols, began to appear within two years of their availability here. They are, however, still widely used in a mixed treatment, which hinders the development of resistance. Lopez-Ruiz says it’s important we don’t end up in a situation where there’s no solution: “It’s not easy to develop new compounds every time we need them, and it’s expensive – more than $200 million to get it to the growers”.

The high cost of testing and registering products can deter companies from offering their products to Australian growers – particularly if, as in the case of legumes, the market is small.

To help convince the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority that it should support the import and use of chemicals that are already being safely used overseas, the CCDM team runs a fungicide-testing project for companies to trial their products at sites where disease pressures differ – for example, because of climate. This scheme helps provide infrastructure and data to fast-track chemical registrations.

“This is a massive achievement, and we have already shown that the use of more expensive chemicals can be justified on the basis of an increase in crop yield.”


A global problem

More than half of Australia’s land area is used for agriculture – 8% of this is used for cropping, and much of the rest for activities such as forestry and livestock farming. Although Australia’s agricultural land area has decreased by 15% during the past decade, from about 470 million to 397 million ha, it’s more than enough to meet current local demand and contribute to international markets.

Nevertheless, the world’s population continues to grow at a rapid rate, increasing demands for staple food crops and exacerbating food shortages. Australia is committed to contributing to global need and ensuring the sustained viability of agriculture. To this end, Professor Richard Oliver, Chief Scientist of Curtin’s Centre for Crop and Disease Management (CCDM), has established formal relationships with overseas institutions sharing common goals (see page 26). This helps CCDM researchers access a wider range of relevant biological resources and keep open international funding opportunities, particularly in Europe.

“The major grant bodies have a very good policy around cereal research where the results are freely available,” says Oliver. “There’s also the possibility to conduct large experiments requiring lots of space – either within glasshouses or in-field – which would be restricted or impossible in Australia.” It’s a win-win situation.

Branwen Morgan

 

Supercontinent Revolution

Professor of geology at Curtin University Dr Zheng-Xiang Li considers himself a very lucky man. Born in a village in Shandong Province, East China, he fondly remembers the rock formations in the surrounding hills. But he was at school during the end of the Cultural Revolution – a time when academic pursuit was frowned upon and it was very hard to find good books to read. “Fortunately, I had some very good teachers who encouraged my curiosity,” recalls Li.

He went on to secure a place at the prestigious Peking University to study geology and geophysics. And in 1984, when China’s then leader Deng Xiaoping sent a select number of students overseas, Li took the opportunity to study for a PhD in Australia. With an interest in plate tectonics and expertise in palaeomagnetism, he’s since become an authority on supercontinents.

It is widely accepted that the tectonic plates – which carry the continents – are moving, and that a supercontinent, Pangaea, existed 320–170 million years ago. Li’s research
is aimed at understanding how ‘Earth’s engine’ drives the movement of the plates.

His work has been highly influential, showing that another supercontinent, Rodinia, formed about 600 million years before Pangaea. And evidence is mounting that there was yet another ancient supercontinent before that, known as Nuna, which assembled about 1600 million years ago.

Li suspects there is a cycle wherein supercontinents break up and their components then disperse around the globe, before once again coming together as a new supercontinent.

“The supercontinent cycle is probably around 600 million years. We are in the middle of a cycle: halfway between Pangaea and a fresh supercontinent,” he says.

“We are at the start of another geological revolution. Plate tectonics revolutionised geology in the 1960s. I think we are now in the process of another revolution,” Li adds, undoubtedly excited by his work.

“The meaning of life can be described by three words beginning with ‘F’ – family, friends and fun,” he says. “And for me, work falls in the fun part.”

Clare Pain

Celebrating Australian succcess

Success lay with the University of Melbourne, which won Best Commercial Deal for the largest biotech start-up in 2014; the Melbourne office of the Defence Science and Technology Group, which won Best Creative Engagement Strategy for its ‘reducing red tape’ framework; and Swinburne University for the People’s Choice Award.

“These awards recognise research organisations’ success in creatively transferring knowledge and research outcomes into the broader community,” said KCA Executive Officer, Melissa Geue.

“They also help raise the profile of research organisations’ contribution to the development of new products and services which benefit wider society and sometimes even enable companies to grow new industries in Australia.”

Details of the winners are as follows:

The Best Commercial deal is for any form of commercialisation in its approach, provides value-add to the research institution and has significant long term social and economic impact:

University of Melbourne – Largest bio tech start-up for 2014

This was for Australia’s largest biotechnology deal in 2014 which was Shire Plc’s purchase of Fibrotech Therapeutics P/L – a University of Melbourne start-up – for US$75 million upfront and up to US$472m in following payments. Fibrotech develops novel drugs to treat scarring prevalent in chronic conditions like diabetic kidney disease and chronic kidney disease. This is based on research by Professor Darren Kelly (Department of Medicine St. Vincent’s Hospital).

Shire are progressing Fibrotech’s lead technology through to clinical stages for Focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, which is known to affect children and teenagers with kidney disease. The original Fibrotech team continues to develop the unlicensed IP for eye indications in a new start-up OccuRx P/L.

Best Creative Engagement Strategy showcases some of the creative strategies research organisations are using to engage with industry partner/s to share and create new knowledge:

Defence Science and Technology Group –Defence Science Partnerships (DSP) reducing red tape with a standardised framework

The DSP has reduced transaction times from months to weeks with over 300 agreements signed totalling over $16m in 2014-15. The DSP is a partnering framework between the Defence Science Technology Group of the Department of Defence and more than 65% of Australian universities. The framework includes standard agreement templates for collaborative research, sharing of infrastructure, scholarships and staff exchanges, simplified Intellectual Property regimes and a common framework for costing research. The DSP was developed with the university sector in a novel collaborative consultative approach.

The People’s Choice Awards is open to the wider public to vote on which commercial deal or creative engagement strategy project deserves to win. The winner this year, who also nabbed last years’ award is:

Swinburne University of Technology – Optical data storage breakthrough leads the way to next generation DVD technology – see DVDs are the new cool tech

Using nanotechnology, Swinburne Laureate Fellowship project researchers Professor Min Gu, Dr Xiangping Li and Dr Yaoyu Cao achieved a breakthrough in data storage technology and increased the capacity of a DVD from a measly 4.7 GB to 1,000 TB. This discovery established the cornerstone of a patent pending technique providing solutions to the big data era. In 2014, start-up company, Optical Archive Inc. licensed this technology. In May 2015, Sony Corporation of America purchased the start-up, with knowledge of them not having any public customers or a final product in the market. This achievement was due to the people, the current state of development and the intellectual property within the company.

This article was shared by Knowledge Commercialisation Australia on 11 September 2015. 

New biosecurity centre to stop fruit flies

Upgraded bio-security measures to combat fruit fly will be introduced in Australia, bringing added confidence to international trade markets.

South Australia is the only mainland state in Australia that is free from fruit flies – a critical component of the horticultural industries’ successful and expanding international export market.

A new national Sterile Insect Technology facility in Port Augusta, located in the north of South Australia, will produce billions of sterile male fruit flies – at the rate of 50 million a week – to help prevent the threat of fruit fly invading the state.

The new measures will help secure producers’ access to important citrus and almond export markets including the United States, New Zealand and Japan, worth more than $800 million this year.

The Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) introduces sterile flies into the environment that then mate with the wild population, ensuring offspring are not produced.

Macquarie University Associate Professor Phil Taylor says the fly, know as Qfly because they come from Queensland, presents the most difficult and costly biosecurity challenge to market access for most Australian fruit producers.

“Fruit flies, especially the Queensland fruity fly, present a truly monumental challenge to horticultural production in Australia,” he says.

“For generations, Australia has relied on synthetic insecticides to protect crops, but these are now banned for many uses. Environmentally benign alternatives are needed urgently – this is our goal.

The impetus behind this initiative is to secure and improve trade access both internationally and nationally for South Australia.

It will increase the confidence of overseas buyers in the Australian product and make Australia a more reliable supplier. Uncertainty or variation of quality of produce would obviously be a concern for our trading partners.”

South Australia’s Agriculture Minister Leon Bignell says the $3.8 million centre would produce up to 50 million sterile male Qflies each week.

“The State Government has invested $3 million and Horticulture Innovation Australia Ltd (HIA) has contributed $800,000 in this project and construction is expected to take 10 months,” Bignell says.

“While fruit fly is a major problem with horticultural crops in Australia’s other mainland states, South Australia remains fruit fly free, but we are still at risk of outbreak.”

“Producing male-only sterile Qflies has never been done before on this scale and this facility will have an enormous impact on the way in which we deal with outbreaks.”

Fruit fly management protects the commercial production of fruit and vegetables, including wine grapes and almonds, with an estimated farm-gate value of $851 million.

South Australia is also the only mainland state which has a moratorium on growing GM food crops and is one of the few places in the world free of the vine-destroying pest phylloxera.

“Because of these attributes, South Australian products stand out in the competitive global market, which is increasingly seeking clean and safe food and wine,” Bignell says.

The research partner consortium, SITplus, intends to invest about $50 million during the next five years to support the national fruit fly management program.

The consortium is a research group with experts from Macquarie University, Primary Industries and Regions SA’s Biosecurity SA and South Australian Research and Development Institute divisions, HIA, the CSIRO Health and Biosecurity Flagship, Plant & Food Research Australia, and the NSW Department of Primary Industries.

– John Merriman

This article was first published by The Lead South Australia on 2 September 2015. Read the original article here.

Building power by concentrating light

South Australian company HeliostatSA has partnered with Indian company Global Wind Power Limited to develop a portfolio of projects in India and Australia over the next four years. It will begin with an initial 150 megawatts in Concentrated Solar Powered (CSP) electricity in Rajashtan, Indian using a solar array.

The projects are valued at $2.5 billion and will further cement HeliostatSA as a leader in the global renewable energy sector.

Heliostat CEO Jason May says India had made a commitment to reaching an investment target of USD $100 billion of renewable energy by 2019 and has already secured $20 billion.

“India is looking for credible, renewable energy partners for utility scale projects,’’ says May.

“We bring everything to the table that they require such as size, project development experience, capital funding, field design capability, the latest technology, precision manufacturing and expertise.’’

Each solar array is made of thousands of heliostats, which are mirrors that track and reflect the suns thermal energy on to a central receiver. The energy is then converted into electricity. Each HeliostatSA mirror is 3.21 x 2.22 metres with optical efficiency believed to be the most accurate in the world. This reduces the number of mirrors required, reducing the overall cost of CSP while still delivering the same 24-hour electricity outputs.

The heliostats and their high tech components are fabricated using laser mapping and steel cutting technology.

The mirrors are slightly parabolic and components need to be cut and measured to exact requirements to achieve the strict operational performance.

“There is strong global interest in CSP with thermal storage for 24-hour power. At the moment large-scale batteries which also store electricity are very expensive. Constant advances in CSP storage technology over the next 10 years will only add to the competitive advantage,’’ says May.

– John Merriman

This article was first published by The Lead South Australia on 25 August 2015. Read the original article here.

Work on barren soil may bear fruit

Australian and Chinese scientists have made significant progress in determining what causes soil acidification – a discovery that could assist in turning back the clock on degraded croplands.

James Cook University’s Associate Professor Paul Nelson says the Chinese Academy of Sciences sought out the Australian researchers because of work they had done in Australia and Papua New Guinea on the relationship between soil pH levels and the management practices that cause acidification.

Professor Paul Nelson at work.
Professor Paul Nelson at work.

Building on the JCU work, scientists examined a massive 3600 km transect of land in China, stretching from the country’s sub-arctic north to its central deserts. The work yielded a new advance that describes the mechanisms involved in soils becoming acidified.

Nelson says soil degradation is a critical problem confronting humanity, particularly in parts of the world such as the tropics where land use pressure is increasing and the climate is changing. “We can now quantify the effect of, for instance, shutting down a factory that contributes to the production of acid rain,” he says.

Nelson says the research found different drivers of soil acidification processes in different types of soil across northern China. “This information is vital for designing strategies that prevent or reverse soil acidification and to help land managers tailor their practices to maintain or improve soil quality,” he says.

The Patron of Soil Science Australia, former Australian Ambassador to the United Nations and for the Environment, The Honourable Penny Wensley AC, welcomed news of the advance.

“With 2015 designated by the United Nations as the International Year of Soils, this is a very important year for soil scientists around the world. We need to promote greater awareness of the importance of soils and soil health and the role soil science has to play in addressing national and global challenges.”

In the context of the International Year of Soils, Wensley says: “We want to encourage greater cooperation and exchanges between soil scientists, to accelerate progress in research and achieve outcomes that will deliver practical benefits to farmers and land managers, working in diverse environments.

“This research project, drawing on the shared expertise of soil scientists from Australia’s James Cook University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, is an exciting illustration of what can be achieved through greater collaboration,” she says.

Acidification is one of the main soil degradation issues worldwide, accelerated by water leaching through the soil. It is related mostly to climate, and the overuse of nitrogen-based fertiliser.

“The greater understanding of soil acidification causes this study has delivered could help improve soil management practices, not only in Australia and China, but around the world,” says Wensley.

The study has been published in the journal, Biogeosciences.

This article was first published by James Cook University on 19 August 2015. Read the original article here.

Making mineral exploration easy

LANDTEM, an Australian invention that creates a 3D map of underground ore bodies has uncovered deposits worth A$4 billion in Australia and A$10 billion globally. The technology development was led by CSIRO scientist Dr Cathy Foley and is a great example of the commercial application of scientific research.

In some ways it was a stroke of good fortune that set Dr Cathy Foley and her colleagues on the path to inventing LANDTEM, a device that has revolutionised the way mining companies detect ore underground and uncovered deposits worth billions of dollars around the world.

The invention won Foley, the deputy director and science director of manufacturing in Australia’s national science agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the prestigious Clunies Ross award for innovation and commercialisation.

Dr Cathy Foley
Dr Cathy Foley

The story of the invention begins in the mid-1980s, when the discovery of high temperature superconductors opened the way for superconductivity to be used in everyday applications instead of only at extremely low temperatures.

The discovery provoked huge excitement around the world among scientists and engineers who set about seeking practical applications, no less so in Australia.


The CSIRO pulled together a team to collaborate on potential applications with industry: with Amalgamated Wireless Australasia (AWA) on electronics and communications; Nucleus Network and now Cochlear on medical devices; and BHP Billiton on improving the quality of steel fabrication by measuring extremely subtle magnetic fields.

BHP Billiton held an internal meeting about the technology and it was there that some of the company’s geologists said that measuring subtle magnetic fields would be very valuable to them, providing the spark of the idea for LANDTEM.

Foley describes the moment as “serendipitous”, but says it’s also a reflection of the way CSIRO interacts with industry.

“Quite often when you’ve got something which is a platform technology that can be used in a lot of different ways, you start off thinking in a very diverse way or very open ended way so you’re not really sure where you’re going. And that’s why one of the things that differentiates the CSIRO from any other research organisations and particularly universities: we talk to industry a lot and get guidance from them,” she says.

“We might come up with the original science but then we engage with industry to say, ‘we’ve got this great idea, we think it could be useful there’. And they’ll say, ‘well, actually no, we think it could be useful over here’.”


LANDTEM consists of a big coil of wire placed on the ground above a potential ore deposit. It pulses a large changing current through the wire to create a magnetic field, and this in turn creates what’s known as an Eddy current in any conducting material nearby, such as an ore body underground.

intext2

Then the current is turned off, but an ore body’s current lingers for a tiny fraction of a second longer and by measuring this, LANDTEM can determine if there is an ore body and where it is. Crucially, it  can discriminate between an actual ore body and the conducting soil that is so prevalent in Australia and that in the past would have led to muddled results.
Foley says the invention has helped mining companies find things they wouldn’t have found otherwise and find deeper ore bodies. It can also tell them whether it is worth the expense of putting a bore hole down to analyse the quality of the ore and where to put it.

Not all ore bodies are conducting, so LANDTEM is mainly used for finding silver, nickel and gold.

It’s one of a series of tools geologists use to find an ore body, and Foley says it has allowed many mining companies to cut out several of the steps needed in mineral exploration.

For instance, in Canada, Xstrata Nickel has bought three LANDTEM systems and is so confident about the technology that once it has located an ore body they don’t do much drilling at all and move straight on to mining instead.

When recognising the work of Foley and her colleague CSIRO engineer Keith Leslie at the Clunies Ross awards, the chair of the awards’ organising committee Professor Mike Hood said: “Their story demonstrates the importance of unwavering dedication in bringing a scientific discovery to market. Over the coming years LANDTEM will continue to play a major role in the worldwide discovery of new mineral deposits.”


Foley studied physics and education at Sydney’s Macquarie University with the intention of becoming a high school science teacher. “But I fell in love with research and I did my PhD in nitride semiconductors and did a smidgen of the early work that led to the white LED,” she says.

Having decided to pursue a career in research, Foley joined CSIRO as a post-doctoral fellow working in magnetics and was asked to join the team working on applications for the new high temperature superconductors.

Along with taking the new technology to industry to see how it could be used, another factor in the successful development and commercialisation of the LANDTEM is CSIRO’s ability to pull together a multidisciplinary team when an opportunity arises, in this case researchers in mineral resources, electrical engineering, devices, materials and cryogenics, and finally at the end, lawyers and business people.

“In order to be a survivor and also to really be profitable and commercially successful, you’ve got to recognise just how the world is changing and that you’ve got to be innovative, not just in your products but also in your business model and how you see yourself getting into the manufacturing world,” she says.

“Australia is at a really interesting point where the current Government has recognised this and I think got a whole lot of things in place.”


Foley says the Federal Government’s recently-announced Industry Growth Centres, which aim to forge better links between industry and Australia’s top researchers, are a promising start.

She sees potential in agile manufacturing, where the manufacturers make small numbers of specialised and customised products and can quickly re-conform to make another product.

“Instead of being a manufacturer who has a big factory, you actually buy time in a factory to do a certain thing, part of it, and then you might even ship it to somewhere else to get another bit done where there’s a specialist and so you end up with products which are done more in smaller batches rather than mass market because they’re more customised,” she says. “These days successful societies have to keep reinventing themselves and recognising where you can you use intellectual approaches rather than just brute labour.”

As a senior CSIRO executive, Foley is less involved in hands-on research than she used to be, but still finds it an exciting environment.

“It’s pretty exciting to think that the work you do actually has an enormous impact and can make a difference. And I think if you ask people I work with, they all say that’s what they love about working at CSIRO. We  do things that actually change the world and I think that’s a nice thing to do,” she says.

– Christopher Niesche

This article was first published by Australia Unlimited on 20 August 2015. Read the original article here.

Design innovations are blowing in the wind

RMIT researchers are using state-of-the-art modelling techniques to study the effects of wind on cities, paving the way for design innovations in building, energy harvesting and drone technology.

The turbulence modelling studies will allow engineers to optimise the shape of buildings, as well as identify areas of rapid airflow within cities that could be used to harvest energy.

Researchers also hope to use the airflow studies to develop more energy efficient drones that use the power of updrafts during flight.

Dr Abdulghani Mohamed, from RMIT’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems research group, said simulations developed by the research team can visualise the shape of updrafts as they developed over buildings and show their variation over time.

“By analysing the interaction of wind with buildings, our research opens new possibilities for improving designs to take better advantage of nature,” he says.

“Buildings can be built to enhance airflow at street level and ventilation, while wind turbines can be precisely positioned in high-speed airflow areas for urban energy harvesting – providing free power for low-energy electronics.

“The airflow simulations will also help us further our work on energy harvesting for micro-sized drones, developing technology that can help them use updrafts to gain height quicker and fly for longer, without using extra energy.”

Scientists and engineers have traditionally relied on building small-scale city replicas and testing them in wind tunnels to make detailed airflow predictions.

This time-consuming and expensive process is being gradually replaced with numerical flow simulations, also known as Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD).

The researchers – Mohamed, Professor Simon Watkins (RMIT), Dr Robert Carrese (LEAP Australia) and Professor David Fletcher (University of Sydney) – created a CFD model to accurately predict the highly complex and dynamic airflow field around buildings at RMIT’s Bundoora campus west, in Melbourne’s north.

The simulation was validated using a series of full and model-scale experiments, with the results published in the prestigious Journal of Wind Engineering and Industrial Aerodynamics.

The next stage in the research will involve an extensive flight test campaign to further prove the feasibility of the concept of long endurance micro-sized drones, for use in a number of industries including structural monitoring, land surveying, mobile temporary networks and pollution tracking.

This article was first published by RMIT University on 9 August 2015. Read the original article here.

Australia could lead in cybersecurity research

This article is part of The Conversation’s series on the Science and Research Priorities recently announced by the Federal Government. You can read the introduction to the series by Australia’s Chief Scientist, Ian Chubb, here.


Alex Zelinsky

Chief Defence Scientist, Defence Science and Technology

The national science and research priorities have been developed with the goal of maximising the national benefit from research expenditure, while strengthening our capacity to excel in science and technology.

Cybersecurity has been identified as a research priority due to Australia’s increasing dependence on cyberspace for national well-being and security. Cyberspace underpins both commercial and government business; it is globally accessible, has no national boundaries and is vulnerable to malicious exploitation by individuals, organised groups and state actors.

Cybersecurity requires application of research to anticipate vulnerabilities, strengthen cyber systems to ward off attacks, and enhance national capability to respond to, recover from, and continue to operate in the face of a cyber-attack.

Cyberspace is a complex, rapidly changing environment that is progressed and shaped by technology and by how the global community adopts, adapts and uses this technology. Success in cyberspace will depend upon our ability to “stay ahead of the curve”.

Research will support the development of new capability to strengthen the information and communications systems in our utilities, business and government agencies against attack or damage. Investment will deliver cybersecurity enhancements, infrastructure for prototype assessment and a technologically skilled workforce.

Accordingly, priority should be given to research that will lead to:

  1. Highly secure and resilient communications and data acquisition, storage, retention and analysis for government, defence, business, transport systems, emergency and health services
  2. Secure, trustworthy and fault-tolerant technologies for software applications, mobile devices, cloud computing and critical infrastructure
  3. New technologies for detection and monitoring of vulnerabilities and intrusions in cyber infrastructure, and for managing recovery from failure. Alex Zelinsky is Chief Defence Scientist at Defence Science and Technology Organisation.
Cybersecurity is becoming an increasingly important area for research in Australia.
Cybersecurity is becoming an increasingly important area for research in Australia.

Andrew Goldsmith
Director of the Centre for Crime Policy and Research, Flinders University

Sensible science and research on cybersecurity must be premised upon informed, rather than speculative, “what if”, analysis. Researchers should not be beholden to institutional self-interest from whichever sector: government; business; universities; or security/defence agencies.

We need to be clear about what the cybersecurity threat landscape looks like. It is a variable terrain. Terms such as “cyber-terrorism” tend to get used loosely and given meanings as diverse as the Stuxnet attack and the use of the internet by disenchanted converts to learn how to build a pipe bomb.

We need to ask and answer the question: who has the interest and the capability to attack us and why?

References to “warfare” can be misleading. A lot of what we face is not “war” but espionage, crime and political protest. More than two decades into the lifecycle of the internet, we have not yet had an electronic Pearl Harbour event.

Cybersecurity depends upon human and social factors, not just technical defences. We need to know our “enemies” as well as ourselves better, in addition to addressing technical vulnerabilities.

We should be sceptical about magic bullet solutions of any kind. Good defences and secure environments depend upon cooperation across units, a degree of decentralisation, and built-in redundancy.

Andrew Goldsmith is Strategic Professor of Criminology at Flinders University.


Jodi Steel
Director, Security Business Team at NICTA

Cybersecurity is an essential underpinning to success in our modern economies.

It’s a complex area and there are no magic bullet solutions: success requires a range of approaches. The national research priorities for cybersecurity highlight key areas of need and opportunity.

The technologies we depend on in cyberspace are often not worthy of our trust. Securing them appropriately is complex and often creates friction for users and processes. Creation of secure, trustworthy and fault-tolerant technologies – security by design – can remove or reduce security friction, improving overall security posture.

Australia has some key capabilities in this area, including cross-disciplinary efforts.

The ability to detect and monitor vulnerabilities and intrusions and to recover from failure is critical, yet industry reports indicate that the average time to detect malicious or criminal attack is around six months. New approaches are needed, including improved technological approaches as well as collaboration and information sharing.

Success in translating research outcomes to application – for local needs and for export – will be greater if we are also able to create an ecosystem of collaboration and information sharing, especially in the fast-moving cybersecurity landscape.

Jodi Steel is Director, Security Business Team at NICTA.


Vijay Varadharajan
Director, Advanced Cyber Security Research Centre at Macquarie University

Cyberspace is transforming the way we live and do business. Securing cyberspace from attacks has become a critical need in the 21st century to enable people, enterprises and governments to interact and conduct their business. Cybersecurity is a key enabling technology affecting every part of the information-based society and economy.

The key technological challenges in cybersecurity arise from increased security attacks and threat velocity, securing large scale distributed systems, especially “systems of systems”, large scale secure and trusted data driven decision making, secure ubiquitous computing and pervasive networking and global participation.

In particular, numerous challenges and opportunities exist in the emerging areas of cloud computing, Internet of Things and Big Data. New services and technologies of the future are emerging and likely to emerge in the future in the intersection of these areas. Security, privacy and trust are critical for these new technologies and services.

For Australia to be a leader, it is in these strategic areas of cybersecurity that it needs to invest in research and development leading to new secure, trusted and dependable technologies and services as well as building capacity and skills and thought leadership in cybersecurity of the future.

Vijay Varadharajan is Director: Advanced Cyber Security Research Centre at Macquarie University.

Cybercrime is a growing problem, and it'll take concerted efforts to prevent it escalating further. Brian Klug/Flickr, CC-BY NC
Cybercrime is a growing problem, and it’ll take concerted efforts to prevent it escalating further. Brian Klug/Flickr, CC-BY NC

Craig Valli
Director of Security Research Institute at Edith Cowan University

ICT is in every supply chain or critical infrastructure we now run for our existence on the planet. The removal or sustained disruption of ICT as a result of lax cybersecurity is something we can no longer overlook or ignore.

The edge between cyberspace and our physical world is blurring with destructive attacks on physical infrastructure already occurring. The notion of the nation state, and its powers and its abilities to cope with these disruptions, are also significantly being challenged.

The ransacking of countries’ intellectual property by cyber-enabled actors is continuing unabated, robbing us of our collective futures. These are some of the strong indicators that currently we are getting it largely wrong in addressing cybersecurity issues. We cannot persist in developing linear solutions to network/neural security issues presented to us by cyberspace. We need change.

The asymmetry of cyberspace allows a relatively small nation state to have significant advantage in cybersecurity, Israel being one strong example. Australia could be the next nation, but not without significant, serious, long-term, collaborative investments by government, industry, academy and community in growing the necessary human capital. This initiative is hopefully the epoch of that journey.

Craig Valli is Director of Security Research Institute at Edith Cowan University.


Liz Sonenberg
Professor of Computing and Information Systems, and Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research Collaboration and Infrastructure) at University of Melbourne

There are more than two million actively trading businesses in Australia and more than 95% have fewer than 20 employees. Such businesses surely have no need for full-time cybersecurity workers, but all must have someone responsible to make decisions about which IT and security products and services to acquire.

At least historically, new technologies have been developed and deployed without sufficient attention to the security implications. So bad actors have found ways to exploit the resulting vulnerabilities.

More research into software design and development from a security perspective, and research into better tools for security alerts and detection is essential. But such techniques will never be perfect. Research is also needed into ways of better supporting human cyberanalysts – those who work with massive data flows to identify anomalies and intrusions.

New techniques are needed to enable the separation of relevant from irrelevant data about seemingly unconnected events, and to integrate perspectives from multiple experts. Improving technological assistance for humans requires a deep understanding of human cognition in the complex, mutable and ephemeral environment of cyberspace.

The cybersecurity research agenda is thus only partly a technical matter: disciplines such as decision sciences, organisational behaviour and international law all must play a part.

Liz Sonenberg is Professor, Computing and Information Systems, and Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research Collaboration and Infrastructure) at University of Melbourne.


Sven Rogge
Professor of Physics and Program Manager at the Centre for Quantum Computation & Communication Technology at UNSW

Cybersecurity is essential for our future in a society that needs to safeguard information as much as possible for secure banking, safe transportation, and protected power grids.

Quantum information technology will transform data communication and processing. Here, quantum physics is exploited for new technologies to protect, transmit and process information. Classical cryptography relies on mathematically hard problems such as factoring which are so difficult to solve that classical computers can take decades. Quantum information technology allows for an alternative approach to this problem that will lead to a solution on a meaningful timescale, such as minutes in contrast to years. Quantum information technology allows for secure encoding and decoding governed by fundamental physics which is inherently unbreakable, not just hard to break.

Internationally, quantum information is taking off rapidly underlined by large government initiatives. At the same time there are commercial investments from companies such as Google, IBM, Microsoft and Lockheed Martin.

Due to long term strategic investments in leading academic groups Australia remains at the forefront globally and enjoys a national competitive advantage in quantum computing and cybersecurity. We should utilise the fact that Australia is a world leader and global player in quantum information science to provide many new high technology industries for its future.

Sven Rogge is Professor of Physics at UNSW Australia.

This article was originally published on The Conversation and shared by Edith Cowan University on 10 July 2015. Read the original article here.


Read more in The Conversation Science and Research Priorities series.

The future of manufacturing in Australia is smart, agile and green

On the road: research can improve transport across Australia

Research priority: make Australia’s health system efficient, equitable and integratedThe Conversation

Pig and poultry welfare research receives $1 million grant

A $1 million grant from the South Australian government will go towards expanding the animal welfare research facilities at the University of Adelaide’s Roseworthy campus.

Roseworthy is home to one of Australia’s leading free-range pig and poultry research facilities, as well as the headquarters of the Pork Cooperative Research Centre.

The grant comes during renewed scrutiny in to pig farming practices, including the use of sow stalls or ‘gestation crates’. The practice is being banned in certain states and consumer demand is driving better welfare practices for farmed animals.

The money will be used to develop a remote animal behaviour monitoring system, an improved climate control system, and upgrades of the free-range poultry facility.

Professor Wayne Hein, Dean of Roseworthy campus, welcomed the grant.

“We have an outstanding collaborative hub at Roseworthy with some of the best animal science researchers in the country working at this site,” says Hein.

“Roseworthy is also the headquarters of the Pork Cooperative Research Centre. The strong alignment with the CRC on campus means that industry engagement in the research undertaken on the campus is seamless and beneficial to all parties.

“This funding will help establish the highest standards of animal welfare in animal production systems.”

This article was first published on The Lead on 30 July 2015. Read the original article here.

A new sunscreen made from fish slime and algae

Researchers have developed a new UV blocking material out of naturally occurring molecules found in algae and fish slime that can be used to make more effective sunscreen, bandages and contact lenses.

Organisms like algae and cyanobacteria have evolved to synthesise their own UV screening compounds, such as mycosporine-like amino acids (MAAs).

MAAs are commonly found in the creatures that eat algae and cyanobacteria as well – tropical fish like those found on the Great Barrier Reef accrue the material in their slime and eyes to protect themselves from harmful UV radiation.

“Mycosporines are present a little bit everywhere, in many types of organisms,” says Professor Vincent Bulone, co-author of the research paper and Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Cell Walls at the University of Adelaide.

“We have attached these small UV absorbing molecules in a non-reversible manner to a polymer called chitosan, that you can extract from the shells of shrimp or crabs.”

The result is an all-natural UVA and UVB screening material. Thanks to the versatility of chitosan, it can be used in a cream for topical application, a transparent film for use in materials like bandages, or coated on objects like textiles and outdoor furniture to protect them from UV damage.

Current sunscreen formulas use a combination of materials in order to screen both UVA and UVB radiation, including some that can have a negative effect on health in the long-term, such as titanium dioxide.

“It outperforms some of the compounds that are already used on the market in terms of the UV absorption capacity. The good thing is that it’s completely natural. We’ve also tested them on cell cultures and know they are not toxic,”says Bulone.

“We know, under laboratory conditions, the MAAs have no harmful effects. So they can be used for wound healing dressings for instance. You don’t need to change that dressing as often and it facilitates the healing of the skin.”

The compound is also highly stable, even under high temperatures.

While chitosan is already widely used for many applications and easily extracted from crustacean waste products such as prawn shells, MAAs are more difficult to produce.

“Extracting it from algae would be a very expensive process, but it is possible to produce them by engineering bacteria. This has been since the early 90s. It’s not a cheap process, but it can be done.”

Bulone was recently installed as Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Cell Walls at the University of Adelaide in South Australia.

“I’ve only started recently in South Australia. This work was done in my lab in Sweden. I still split my time, 70% in Adelaide and 30% in Sweden.”

Published in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, the research was undertaken with colleagues at Sweden’s Royal Institute of Technology. It also involved close collaboration with partners in Spain.

Bulone is actively developing new collaborations within Australia and internationally to develop new concepts leading to increased crop production and quality for nutrition as well as protection of crops against devastating fungal pathogens. These developments rely on his long-standing expertise in the biochemistry of carbohydrates from plant and fungal cell walls.

This article was first published by The Lead on 29 July 2015. Read the original article here.

Growth Centre gets tick of approval

The Minister for Industry and Science, Ian Macfarlane, has approved the Food and Agribusiness Growth Centre which is part of the $225 million Industry Growth Centre Initiative. The Growth Centre headquarters will be located at the CSIRO’s Food Innovation Centre in Werribee, Victoria.

The four main areas the Growth Centre will be focusing on will be reducing regulatory burden, commercialising new products and services, engaging with global markets and supply chains, and improving workforce skills. Food Innovation Australia Ltd (FIAL) will receive $15.4 million from the Australian Government for the first four years of its operation as a Growth Centre, and look to increase this investment from industry and other sources.

The new Growth Centre board met for the first time on 29 June 2015, and various strategic issues relating to the food and agribusiness sector were discussed. Details about the forthcoming sectoral strategy that will be used to align the Growth Centre activities will be shared over the coming year.

This information was shared by the CRC Association Newsletter on 29 July 2015. Read the newsletter here.