Tag Archives: CSIRO

Blockchain insights with Data61 researcher Dr Mark Staples

Dr Mark Staples is a blockchain researcher at Data61, which is part of Australia’s federal science organisation, CSIRO. Being both a scientist and a blockchain expert, he has rare insights into how blockchain can propel research.

On my last trip to Brisbane I caught up with Mark for a drink at the Plough Inn and asked him to answer some of science’s most burning blockchain questions.

In this interview, we take a look at the challenges scientists face in managing their data, how blockchain can help, and where we’re at when it comes to issues of confidentiality, scalability, cybersecurity and policy.


First of all Mark, could you tell us a bit about your background?

My background is in computer science, cognitive science, and then eventually I got into formal methods and software engineering. But these days, I’m mostly looking at a lot of work around blockchain. I do blockchain research at Data61 — mainly around software architectures for blockchain-based applications.

And can you tell us what’s happening in Australia on the blockchain front?

Australia is doing quite a lot of work around blockchain. The Commonwealth Bank has had some world firsts around the use of blockchain for the trade and also for bond issuance. Companies like AgriDigital have also had some world firsts for use of blockchain to track the agricultural supply chain. Australia’s leading the standardisation process — the international standardisation work on blockchain and distributed ledger technology. So Australia is quite present in blockchain internationally and leading in some areas.

What areas of blockchain research are Data61 focused on?

The area where we’ve been leading in research has been using blockchain as a way of executing business processes. So, taking business process models and turning them into smart contracts to execute multi-party business processes on blockchain.

We’ve also been thinking about ways to take legal logics to represent contracts or regulation, and turning those into smart contracts. We do some work in the Internet of Things for blockchain as well. And supply chain integrity.

So, there’s a variety of different pieces of research, and then we work with companies; we develop technology, and we participate in the international standardisation of blockchain.

Being a scientist yourself, how do you see blockchain propelling science?

The key thing that blockchain supports is data sharing and data integrity. Both of those are critical for science.

Normal blockchains are not so good for confidentiality, but they’re great for publishing stuff; they’re great for publicity. One of the barriers for the adoption of blockchain in enterprises includes challenges around managing commercial confidentiality. But for a lot of science publications — both low-risk data and papers — they want to be public and blockchain is good for that.

Not only will it be public, but you also get this trail of what’s happened to the data. You get some sort of evidence about the integrity or authenticity of the records that are being created as well, by relying on the cryptographic techniques inherent in blockchain.

So I think that’s the key potential for blockchain for science — better publishing of scientific datasets and publications with better support for integrity.

Is data management a big issue?

Yes, we’re not very good yet at managing data integrity or sharing datasets or getting recognition or citation for datasets that we’ve collected or used. Not only from a professional point of view — scientific impact analysis and the like — but also in understanding data integrity from a scientific validity standpoint.

We need to be able to answer questions like: What operations have been done to your dataset before you start doing your own operations on it? How was the data that you’re working with collected? Has it been cleaned or not? All those questions are important when you’re doing an analysis of the data.

What issues have you observed in your time as a scientist in terms of how the scientific data is managed and applied?

There are a lot of data description challenges. Have you described what are all the important characteristics of a dataset? How do you describe those? There’s a variety of standards for metadata for datasets.

How do you describe the history of the provenance for data? What steps were taken in the collection or the analysis of a dataset and derived datasets? All of those are not really completely solved problems. We don’t have standard solutions for a lot of them, so that’s one challenge.

Do you think blockchain’s support for data integrity might actually help reinstate or build better trust in scientific evidence?

Yes, potentially, it could create more evidence for the trustworthiness of data and more evidence that data has been analysed if we used it in the right way.

And what particular difficulties are there in actually getting these systems adopted by universities or research institutes?

Blockchain is good if you want to make datasets public. But there are certainly a lot of datasets in science that are not public for various reasons — especially in the medical research area. So, they present much more of a challenge; you can’t necessarily just publish those datasets through a blockchain.

You might still be able to use a blockchain and other kinds of digital fingerprinting techniques to provide evidence about the integrity of data that you’re using without compromising official privacy, but it gets complicated to manage that kind of thing. So that would be one of the main challenges.

Could you put metadata or de-identified data on the blockchain as a solution to the confidentiality problem?

If you just have high-level metadata on the blockchain that can be be okay. If you have aggregate statistics in there, then you need to start worrying about the version you’re releasing as well. But a very high-level purely descriptive dataset is less likely to be a problem.

De-identified datasets are difficult. It’s a real challenge to effectively de-identify data. We’ve seen so-called de-identified data sets that have been susceptible to re-identification attacks, so that’s a difficult problem. We have a couple of teams in Data61 looking at private data release and private data analytics.

Are there any particular challenges for scientists on an individual level, when it comes using blockchain-based systems?

One practical challenge is that all the public blockchains and most of the private blockchains rely on public-private cryptography, which means public-private key management. In order to create a transaction to report some data on a public blockchain, you need to be managing a private key to be able to digitally sign the data that you’re transacting with.

There are various bits of software that can help to manage that. There’s wallet software, for example. But still, it’s a new thing scientists will need to do to manage keys and to have good cybersecurity in key management. Because these blockchains allow people to enact things themselves on the blockchain — to directly interact with the blockchain.

Blockchain creates a responsibility for people to be able to manage their cryptographic identities with integrity as well. The integrity of your data can come down to how good you are at cybersecurity and how you protect yourself against cyber-attacks. It requires effective cryptographic key management by people who are not used to doing it. So, that becomes another barrier to using blockchain.

Is scalability still a problem?

That’s an inherent problem with blockchain. Blockchain is meant to be a distributed database where you might have thousands of copies of data all around the world. Big data in terms of big volume is just inherently hard to move over the network. So it’s inherently hard to replicate around the blockchain nodes all around the world.

But I think we already know the solution from a big data point of view. The blockchain-based system is never implemented just with blockchain alone. It’s always implemented with a variety of other auxiliary systems — whether that’s just key management or maybe also user interfaces or off-chain databases for private data or big data. So, I think that’s the solution; just kick the big data off-chain.

Apart from big data, there are other scalability challenges for blockchain in terms of transaction latency. These things are being worked on, so I don’t see them being a huge problem in the medium term.

Are there other ways that blockchain will need to develop before it can support large-scale research?

Another big challenge is governance of blockchain-based systems. So, normal IT governance assumes there’s a single source of authority that’s in control of an IT system, and so the adoption of that control and the evolution of that system can be controlled from the top through that source of authority.

But with many blockchain-based systems there’s no single source of authority. It might be a collective that’s operating it, or the collective might be random groups in the public.

So, how to control the evolution and management of the blockchain-based system can be a difficult problem. Some blockchains are implementing governance features directly on the blockchain, but it’s not clear yet what the best way to go is, and it’s still an active area of innovation.

Is there scope for greater funnelling of clinical data and consumer data back into research?

I think the biggest challenges there are policy challenges, not so much technical challenges.

What does a good security policy model involve for clinical information sharing? Who should be allowed to see what data, for what purpose and when, under what consent model? Even that is not very clear at a policy level at the moment.

So in terms of research ethics applications, there’s a huge variety of different consent models that are supported by specific ethics approvals. You can implement technical controls for any of those, but knowing what you should be implementing is, I think, the hardest part of the challenge. There’s a lot of variability, especially for clinical information.

Have you seen movement towards giving the individual control over their data over the long term?

There are some interesting things happening in that space. Are you familiar with the Consumer Data Right that the government recently announced? The first incarnation of it is something called open banking, where the government creates a right for consumers to direct their bank to share information about their personal accounts with a third-party. The individual has to give consent to the third-party to use their data for a particular purpose, but then they give an authorisation and direction to the bank to authorise the third-party to access their data.

That’s an interesting model for giving consumers more right to direct where their data goes on a case by case basis. It’s quite different to most of the other models I’ve seen for giving consent to share data. Normally, an organisation holds data about a consumer, and the consumer is trying to keep up with all the various consents to access it—derived and delegated consent, emergency accesses and whatever other accesses are made to their information.

But when it comes to clinical information, I think policy is complicated by a lot of different interests. I don’t know if we have a good answer to that.

It’ll be interesting to see how it all unfolds Mark. Stellar insights. Thanks for your time!


To find out more about blockchain research at Data61 and to read their reports on how can be applied to government and industry, click here.

– Elise Roberts

This article was originally published on Frankl Open Science via Medium. Frankl works on solving issues around data sharing and data integrity in science, using blockchain and other technologies.

CSIRO innovation fund

CSIRO Innovation Fund kicks off

Companies developing new ways to diagnose cancer, platforms to connect work and learning, next generation WiFi chips and quantum computing firmware are among the first to receive investment from Main Sequence Ventures, manager of the $200 million CSIRO Innovation Fund.

Acting Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash, says the launch of Main Sequence Ventures is an important step to ensure we can further harness Australian innovation to create new enterprises and the jobs of tomorrow.

“As part of the Turnbull Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda, the CSIRO Innovation Fund is designed to ensure our world-class research can be turned into the jobs and economic growth of the future,” says Minister Cash.

Main Sequence Ventures will support new spin-out and start-up companies, and SMEs engaged in the translation of research generated in the Australian publicly funded research sector.

Main Sequence Ventures’ first investments in Q-Ctrl, Intersective, Morse Micro and Maxwell MRI are expected to create more than 60 new jobs.

CSIRO Chief Executive Larry Marshall says Australia has never been short of great ideas, but the value is rarely captured domestically. Australia’s scientists are world leaders, but investing in science driven innovation is hard – it needs the horsepower of Australia’s national science agency behind it.

“Science can drive change across the economy despite global disruption, improve our nation’s health and sustainability and make business globally competitive.

“This is a team Australia effort, with the Fund investing in the best ideas across the research community. This will help Australia better capture the value of science, deliver impact and drive the jobs and industries of the future,” says Dr Marshall.

Main Sequence Ventures is led by veteran venture capitalist Bill Bartee along with a team of venture capitalists and entrepreneurs with extensive experience in science and technology.

“Our first investments are giving us a great start in backing ambitious entrepreneurs to build important and growing companies,” says Mr Bartee.

“Q-Ctrl has the potential to provide the firmware framework for quantum computers, Morse Micro is building the next generation of WiFi chip, Intersective is using data science to better equip our workers for the future and Maxwell MRI is changing the way we detect and diagnose prostate cancer. 

“This is some of the best and most exciting research from the Australian innovation sector, and we look forward to working with them to realise their potential in the commercial market.

“We at Main Sequence Ventures know that this is only the beginning, and many more high-potential companies will be able to grow from our investments. We look forward to working with Australia’s deep tech founders to build epic companies.”

This information on the CSIRO Innovation Fund was first shared by CSIRO on 30 October 2017. 

Recommended for you: Australian research funding infographic

Industry placements pave the way to success

Industry placements for CRC students have been an integral part of the CRC Programme since it began in 1991. While students contribute to solving real-world problems of industry, industry partners mentor students on the commercial side of their field and help produce industry-ready graduates who can hit the ground running.

Rebecca Athorn did a PhD, supported by the Pork CRC, investigating increased feeding and progesterone in young pigs during their first pregnancy and the effects on embryo survival. Part of her project was conducted in a commercial piggery owned by Australian pork producer Rivalea.

Athorn’s work showed that feeding the first-time mothers more didn’t affect the size of their litters, but did make the mothers healthier and live longer.

As well as delivering a practical improvement to commercial piggery practices, the study put Athorn in the spotlight for potential employers.

“I was approached by Rivalea as to my interest in working for them after I finished my PhD,” says Athorn. Several of her colleagues also partnered with Rivalea for their Honours projects before joining the company as employees.

“Having been known to the company and having positive references from those they worked with definitely helped,” says Athorn.

Even students with previous work experience in the field can benefit from an industry placement, says Tracy Muller. She worked with the CSIRO and the Prairie Swine Centre in Canada on pig welfare before entering the Pork CRC’s Industry Placement Program (IPP) at SunPork Farms and starting a PhD to identify and reduce lameness in pigs.

“The IPP has positively impacted on my ‘entry’ into the industry,” says Muller. “Together with the support of SunPork Farms, it has certainly progressed my career in the past four years, since graduating from university 14 years ago.”

– K J Lee

Read more about Australia’s CRCs in KnowHow 2017

Nimble funding for CRC-Ps

Featured image above: CSIRO, Norwood Industries and Solafast staff inspect a length of printed solar film. Credit: CSIRO

The new, nimble, business-led funding rounds that led to the Cooperative Research Centre Projects (CRC-Ps) are winning praise across industry, government and academia for their fast turnaround time, focus, and appeal to small-to-medium enterprise.

With the second round of successful grants announced in early February 2017, there are now a total of 28 projects granted funds ranging from $425,000 to $3 million through the CRC-P initiative.

CRC Association CEO Tony Peacock says the initiative came out of a recommendation made by the Miles Review for “smaller collaborations operating on short project timelines with simpler governance and administration arrangements and less funding”.

“I think CRC-Ps will probably become more important to the start-up sector because it is a significant amount of money early in a company’s development,” says Peacock.

One such start-up benefiting from CRC-P funding is Solafast who, in partnership with CSIRO and Norwood Industries, received $1.6 million to help develop building materials that integrate flexible, printed solar films.

“The product we’re creating will look much better than standard solar panels on a roof, be quicker and easier to install, and allows for more flexible building design,” says Leesa Blazley, Solafast’s Director of Business Development.

The project brings together CSIRO’s expertise in printed solar films, Norwood’s experience in commercial printing, and Solafast’s roll-formed cladding. It is a partnership that is aiming to deliver a proof-of-concept product within two years.

“By the end of the project we’ll have a working prototype and be close to scaling up for commercial release,” says Blazley.  “Without the funding it would have been very difficult to develop a product that was market ready.”

CSIRO’s Dr Fiona Scholes, who is also working on the Solafast project, says the CRC-P funds are well geared towards the needs of CSIRO’s small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) industry partners.

“What we have found through our interactions with the Australian manufacturing industry is that they’re not short of ideas – they’ve got a real thirst for innovation – but the stumbling block is almost always lacking the funds to make something meaningful happen,” says Scholes, Group Leader in Industrial Innovation at CSIRO Manufacturing.

“Having that requirement to have an SME on these projects is accommodating the Australian manufacturing innovation ecosystem in a relevant way.”

Another CRC-P is using the funding opportunity to significantly advance an important diagnostic test that could help pick up metastatic cancer a lot earlier than is currently possible.

Dr John Deadman, CEO of Chemocopeia, which is leading this CRC-P, says the funding has been essential to moving the diagnostic test from theoretical to practical.

“Chemocopeia and the CSIRO had developed an understanding of the biological side of the project, but we didn’t have the expertise around setting up an assay system to clinical standard in an accredited format that would be able to be used rigorously and robustly,” Deadman says. 

With $582,500 from the CRC-P initiative, they have joined forces with Innoviron and 360biolabs, and are well on their way to developing the diagnostic assay.

“At the end of the year we hope to have a reproducible and robust system that we can start to test clinical samples with,” explains Deadman.

He also says that the set-up of the CRC-P funding is unique in fostering a greater focus among participants. “What’s good is it’s trying to tackle a specific problem rather than just make a particular stage in a bigger project.”

In the pipeline

The first round of CRC-P funding, which was announced in June 2016, funded 11 projects in total:

  • Integrated driver monitoring solution for heavy vehicles
  • Hydrocarbon fuel technology for hypersonic air breathing vehicles
  • Printed solar films for value-added building products for Australia
  • R&D to accelerate sustainable omega-3 production
  • Innovative prefabricated building systems
  • An antibody-based in-vitro diagnostic for metastatic cancer
  • High-performance optical telemetry system for ocean monitoring
  • Combined carbon capture from flue gas streams and mineral carbonation
  • Improving Australia’s radiopharmaceutical
    development capabilities
  • Innovation in advanced multi-storey housing manufacture
  • Future oysters

The second round, announced in February 2017, funded the following projects:

  • Large area perovskite photovoltaic material coating on glass substrate
  • High-power density motors incorporating advanced manufacturing methods
  • New super high oleic bio-based oil
  • Manufacturing of high performance building envelope systems
  • Lightweight automotive carbon
    fibre seats
  • Targeting tropomyosin as anti-cancer therapy
  • Glass technologies and photovoltaics in protected cropping
  • Modelling navigational aids in tidal inlets
  • Field deployable unit for the detection of perfluorinated contaminants
  • Universal solar module inspection and data storage system
  • Targeted therapy for sleep apnoea
  • Enhanced market agility for tea tree industry
  • Tech-enabled care for head trauma
  • Industrialisation of a diagnostic biosensor for bladder cancer
  • Wear life extension via surface engineered laser cladding for mining
  • Graphene supply chain certification
  • Power efficient wastewater treatment

– Bianca Nogrady

Find out more about the CRC Programme 

Read more CRC discovery in KnowHow 2017

disruptors

The Disruptors

Disruption can mean a lot of things. Dictionary definitions include “a forcible separation” or division into parts. More recently it has come to mean a radical change in industry or business. This brings to mind huge technological innovations. But what if it’s as simple as realising that a handheld device for detecting nitrogen could also be used to gauge how much feed there is in a paddock; that drones can be adapted to measure pest infestations; that communities can proactively track the movement of feral animals.

These are just some of the projects that Cooperative Research Centres (CRCs) are working on that have the capacity to change crop and livestock outcomes in Australia, improve our environment and advance our financial systems.

Data and environment

Mapping pest threats

Invasive animals have long been an issue in Australia. But a program developed by the Invasive Animals CRC called FeralScan is taking advantage of the widespread use of smartphones to combat this problem.

The program involves an app that enables landholders to share information about pest animals and the impacts they cause to improve local management programs.

Peter West, FeralScan project coordinator at the NSW Department of Primary Industries, says the team wouldn’t have thought of a photo-sharing app without genuine community consultation.

The project has been running for six years and can record sightings, impacts and control activities for a wide range of pest species in Australia, including rabbits, foxes, feral cats, cane toads and myna birds. West says that it now has 70,000 records and photographs, and more than 14,000 registered users across the country.

Disruptors

“For regional management of high-impacting pest species, such as wild dogs, what we’re providing is a tool that can help farmers and biosecurity stakeholders detect and respond quickly to pest animal threats,” says West.

“It enables them to either reprioritise where they are going to do control work or to sit down and work with other regional partners: catchment groups, local biosecurity authorities and the broader community.”

The app won the Environment and Energy Minister’s award for a Cleaner Environment in the field of Research and Science excellence at the Banksia Foundation 2016 Awards in December. Recent improvements to the app include the ability to monitor rabbit bio-control agents.Plans for the future include upgrading the technology to alert farmers to nearby pest threats, says West.

Find out more at feralscan.org.au

Revising disaster warnings

Also in the information space, the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC (BNHCRC) is investigating reasons we don’t pay attention to or ignore messages that notify us of an impending fire or floods. Researchers are using theories of marketing, crisis communications and advertising to create messaging most likely to assist people to get out of harm’s way.

“The way we personally assess risk has a big impact on how we interpret messages. If I have a higher risk tolerance I will probably underestimate risk,” says Vivienne Tippett, BNHCRC project lead researcher and professor at Queensland University of Technology. “We’ve worked with many emergency services agencies to assist them to reconstruct their messages.”

Instead of an emergency message with a brief heading, followed by the agency name and then a quite technical paragraph about weather conditions and geography, Tippett’s team has worked on moving the key message up to the top and translating it into layperson terms. For example, a message might now say something like: “This is a fast-moving, unpredictable fire in the face of strong winds.”

Tippett’s team is constantly working with emergency services to make sure their findings are made use of as quickly as possible. “The feedback from the community is that yes, they understand it better and they would be more likely to comply” she says.

Find out more at bnhcrc.com.au

AgTech

Measuring plant mass and pests in crops

The Plant Biosecurity CRC is using unmanned aerial systems (UAS or drones) to improve ways to detect pest infestations in vast crops. Project leader Brian McCornack is based at the Kansas State University in the US.

“The driver for using unmanned aerial systems has been in response to a need to improve efficiency [reduce costs and increase time] for surveillance activities over large areas, given limited resources,” says McCornack. “The major game-changer is the affordability of existing UAS technology and sophisticated sensors.”

Disruptors
Unmanned aerial vehicle Credit: Kansas State University

The project is now in its third year and adds an extra layer of data to the current, more traditional system, which relies on a crop consultant making a visual assessment based on a small sample area of land, often from a reduced vantage point.

The international collaboration between the US and the Australian partners at QUT, Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, and the NSW Department of Primary Industries means the project has access to a wide range of data on species of biosecurity importance.

disruptors
Unmanned aerial system (drone) pilots, Trevor Witt (left) and Dr Jon Kok (right) from the Plant Biosecurity CRC project, discuss data collected from a hyperspectral camera. Credit: Brian McCornack, Kansas State University

The CRC for Spatial Information (CRCSI) has also been working on repurposing an existing gadget, in this case to improve the accuracy of estimating pasture biomass. Currently, graziers use techniques such as taking height measurements or eyeballing to determine how much feed is available to livestock in a paddock. However, such techniques can result in huge variability in estimates of pasture biomass, and often underestimate the feed-on-offer.

Professor David Lamb, leader of the Biomass Business project, says graziers underestimate green pasture biomass by around 50%. There could be a huge potential to improve farm productivity by getting these measures right.

Through case studies conducted on commercial farms in Victoria, Meat and Livestock Australia found that improving feed allocation could increase productivity by 11.1%, or up to $96 per hectare on average, for sheep enterprises, and 9.6% ($52 per hectare) for cattle enterprises.

The CRCSI and Meat and Livestock Australia looked at a number of devices that measure NDVI (the normalised difference vegetation index), like the Trimble Green Seeker® and the Holland Crop Circle®. The data collected by these devices can then be entered into the CRCSI app to provide calibrated estimates of green pasture biomass.

Graziers can also create their own calibrations as they come to understand how accurate, or inaccurate, their own estimates have been. These crowd-sourced calibrations can be shared with other graziers to increase the regional coverage of calibrations for a range of pasture types throughout the year.

Find out more at pbcrc.com.au and crcsi.com.au

Using big data on the farm

In July 2016, the federal government announced funding for a partner project “Accelerating precision agriculture to decision agriculture”. The Data to Decisions Cooperative Research Centre (D2D CRC) has partnered with all 15 rural research and development corporations (RDCs) on the project. 

“The goal of the project is to help producers use big data to make informed on-farm decisions to drive profitability,” says D2D CRC lead Andrew Skinner.

He says that while the project may not provide concrete answers to specific data-related questions, it will provide discussion projects for many issues and concerns that cross different rural industries, such as yield optimisation and input efficiencies. 

Collaboration between the 15 RDCs is a first in Australia and has the potential to reveal information that could shape a gamut of agricultural industries. “Having all the RDCs come together in this way is unique,” says Skinner. 

Global markets

The Capital Markets CRC, in conjunction with industry, has developed a system that allows it to issue and circulate many digital currencies, securely and with very fast processing times – and because it is a first mover in this space, has the potential to be a global disruptor.

Digi.cash is a spinoff of the Capital Markets CRC and is specifically designed for centrally issued money, like national currencies. 

“Essentially we have built the printing press for electronic coins and banknotes, directly suited to issuing national currencies in digital form, as individual electronic coins and banknotes that can be held and passed on to others,” says digi.cash founder Andreas Furche.

A currency in digi.cash’s system is more than a balance entry in an accounts database, it is an actual encrypted note or coin. The act of transfer of an electronic note itself becomes the settlement. This is in contrast to legacy systems, where transaction ledgers are created that require settlement in accounts. So there is no settlement or clearing period.

“We have a advantage globally because we were on the topic relatively early and we have a group of people who have built a lot of banking and stock exchange technologies in the past, so we were able to develop a product which held up to the IT securities standards used in banking right away,” says Furche.

Digi.cash is currently operating with a limit of total funds on issue of $10 million. It is looking to partner with industry players and be in a leading position in the development of the next generation financial system, which CMCRC says will be based on digitised assets.

Find out more at digi.cash

Defence

Passive radar, as developed by the Defence Science and Technology Group (DST), has been around for some time, but is being refined and re-engineered in an environment where radiofrequency energy is much more common.  

As recognition of the disruptive capabilities of this technology, the Passive Radar team at DST was recently accepted into the CSIRO’s innovation accelerator program, ON Accelerate.

Active radar works by sending out a very large blast of energy and listening for reflections of that energy, but at the same time it quickly notifies anyone nearby of the transmitter’s whereabouts.

“Passive radar is the same thing, but we don’t transmit any energy – we take advantage of the energy that is already there,” explains passive radar team member James Palmer.

The technology is being positioned as a complement for active radar. It can be used where there are more stringent regulations around radar spectrum – such as the centre of a city as opposed to an isolated rural area. Radio spectrum is also a finite resource and there is now so much commercial demand that the allocation for Defence is diminishing.

Although the idea of passive radar is not a new one – one of the first radar presentations in the 1930s was a passive radar demonstration – the increase in radiofrequency energy from a variety of sources these days means it is more efficient. For example, signals from digital TV are much more suited to passive radar than analogue TV.

“We are at the point where we are seeing some really positive results and we’ve been developing commercial potential for this technology,” Palmer says. “For a potentially risky job like a radar operator the ability to see what’s around you [without revealing your position], that’s very game changing.”

There is also no need to apply for an expensive spectrum licence. The Australian team is also the first in the world to demonstrate that it can use Pay TV satellites as a viable form of background radiofrequency energy. The company name Silentium Defence Pty Ltd has been registered for the commercial use of the technology.

Find out more at silentiumdefence.com.au

– Penny Pryor

For more CRC discovery, read KnowHow 2017.

You might also enjoy Beat the News with digital footprints.

seaweed snack

Building healthy bones

Developed in South Australia by researchers at Flinders University in collaboration with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the lobster shell and seaweed snack aims to be a highly nutritious alternative to dairy products.

Known as SeaNu, it is being created to address the increasing number of children who shun milk products because of cultural or personal reasons. The jelly is aimed for commercial release in Australia in early 2018 with an Asian launch to follow soon after.

Director of the Centre for Marine Bioproducts Development at Flinders University Professor Wei Zhang says SeaNu will target global health markets but is best suited for Asia because of the high regard for Australian marine products.

“In Australia, one in six people avoid diary and that applies to children also,” he says.

“In general, calcium deficiency is a global issue and there is a need for products that have no dairy.

“Many Asian countries also do not typically eat large amounts of dairy products and we are hoping to definitely target there soon after we commercialise the product in Australia.”

SeaNu  is a product of Flinders University technology that reconstitutes biological material to make it suitable for human consumption.

The biorefinery technology takes the seaweed and lobster shell, formulating it into a small jelly for children to take to school in their lunchboxes.

Professor Zhang, who is president of the Australia-NZ Marine Biotechnology Society, says farmed and wild seaweed are widely used in Asian countries and some parts of Europe as vitamin and mineral supplements.

Seaweed is not only rich in trace minerals, calcium and vitamins but is a low-calorie source of protein and fibre, responsible for up to 20 per cent of the Asian diet. The seaweed food ingredients business is worth an estimated US$1 billion dollars. Lobster shell is also high in calcium and protein.

Professor Zhang says while seaweed has a major nutritional benefit in food, the research team is working on developing a range of different products including cosmetics and biofuel.

SeaNu was presented in Melbourne at the end of the CSIRO’s 12-week ON Accelerate Program, which pairs researchers with mentors to help them move their ideas from the lab, out to investors, and then to consumers.

The ON Demo Night in April gave teams the opportunity to pitch their innovations to an audience of industry experts, investors and potential partners for further funding and support for commercialisation.

Seaweed researcher Peng Su and nutritionist Dr Rebecca Perry from Flinders Partners, along with Dr Michael Conlon and Dr Damien Belobrajdic from CSIRO were also part of the SeaNu team.

The seaweed snack is still in its prototype phase but is being refined for taste and texture so it can meet its projected launch date of January 2018.

– Caleb Radford

This article was first published by The Lead. Read the original article here.

Graphene

Graphene innovation lowers cost of production

Graphene is a carbon material that is one atom thick.

Its thin composition and high conductivity means it is used in applications ranging from miniaturised electronics to biomedical devices.

These properties also enable thinner wire connections; providing extensive benefits for computers, solar panels, batteries, sensors and other devices.

Until now, the high cost of graphene production has been the major roadblock in its commercialisation.

Previously, graphene was grown in a highly-controlled environment with explosive compressed gases, requiring long hours of operation at high temperatures and extensive vacuum processing.

CSIRO scientists have developed a novel “GraphAir” technology which eliminates the need for such a highly-controlled environment.

The technology grows graphene film in ambient air with a natural precursor, making its production faster and simpler.

“This ambient-air process for graphene fabrication is fast, simple, safe, potentially scalable, and integration-friendly,” says CSIRO scientist Dr Zhao Jun Han, co-author of the paper published in Nature Communications.

“Our unique technology is expected to reduce the cost of graphene production and improve the uptake in new applications.”

GraphAir transforms soybean oil – a renewable, natural material – into graphene films in a single step.

“Our GraphAir technology results in good and transformable graphene properties, comparable to graphene made by conventional methods,” says CSIRO scientist and co-author of the study Dr Dong Han Seo.

With heat, soybean oil breaks down into a range of carbon building units that are essential for the synthesis of graphene.

The team also transformed other types of renewable and even waste oil, such as those leftover from barbecues or cooking, into graphene films.

“We can now recycle waste oils that would have otherwise been discarded and transform them into something useful,” Seo says.

The potential applications of graphene include water filtration and purification, renewable energy, sensors, personalised healthcare and medicine, to name a few.

Graphene has excellent electronic, mechanical, thermal and optical properties as well.

Its uses range from improving battery performance in energy devices, to cheaper solar panels.

CSIRO are looking to partner with industry to find new uses for graphene.

Researchers from The University of Sydney, University of Technology Sydney and The Queensland University of Technology also contributed to this work.

This article was first published by CSIRO on 31 Jan 2017. Read the original article here.

5 ways to get to Mars

Find the best 5 ways to get to Mars

Featured image above: Could this be your new home? We take a look at the best 5 ways to get to Mars if living on another world is an idea that entices you.

Looking for an escape from planet Earth? We look at the quickest and most likely 5 ways to get to Mars and start your new adventure.

1. Ask a genius

Serial entrepreneur extraordinaire Elon Musk announced earlier this year that Space X has a Mars mission in its sights. In an hour long video, the billionaire founder announced his aim to begin missions to Mars by 2018, and manned flights by 2024. The planned massive vehicles would be capable of carrying 100 passengers and cargo with a ambitious cost of US$200,000 per passenger. He’s joined by other ambitious privately funded projects including Amazon founder Jeff Bezo’s Blue Origin, which describes a reusable rocket booster and separable capsule that parachutes to landing. Meanwhile American inventor and chemical engineer, Guido Fetta has pionered a concept long discussed by the scientific community, electromagnetic propulsion, or EM drive, which creates thrust by bouncing microwave photons back and forth inside a cone-shaped closed metal cavity. Rumours this week from José Rodal from MIT that NASA was ready to release a paper on the process, which would be game-changing for space travel as the concept doesn’t rely on a propellant fuel.

2. Hitch a ride

In November 2016, NASA and CSIRO’s Parkes telescope opened the second of two 34-m dishes that will send and receive data from planned Mars missions, while also listening out for possible alien communications as part of UC-Berkeley-led project called Breakthrough Listen, the largest global project to seek out evidence of alien life. The Southern Hemisphere dish joins others in the US in using signal-processing hardware to sift through radio noise from Proxima b, the closest planet to us outside of the solar system. Whether an alien race would be willing or able to offer humanity a ride off its home planet is another question.

3. Aim high

While they are focused on getting out of the solar system, a team led by Dr. Philip Lubin, Physics Professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara think they could get the travel time to Mars down to just three days (as opposed to six to eight months). Their project, Directed Energy for Relativistic Interstellar Missions, or DEEP-IN, aims initially send “wafer sats”, wafer-scale systems weighing no more than a gram and embedded with optical communications, optical systems and sensors. It’s received funding of US$600,000 to date from NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts, and theoretically could send wafer sats at one-quarter the speed of light – 160 million km an hour – using photonic propulsion. This relies on a laser beam to ‘push’ a incredibly small, thin-sail-like object through space. While it may seem a long shot for passenger travel, the system also has other applications in defence of the Earth from asteroids, comets and other near-earth objects, as well as the exploration of the nearby universe.

deep-laser-sail
Image: An artist’s conception of the laser-led space propulsion. Credit Q. Zhang

4. Volunteer

The Mars One project already has 100 hopeful astronauts selected for its planned one-way trip – out of 202,586 applicants. The project is still at ‘Phase A’ – early concept stage – in terms of actually getting there, but makes the list of the top 5 ways to get to Mars due to the large amount of interest: it has raised US$ 1 million towards developing a practical way to safely land some of these select few on the red Planet.

5. Ask the experts

In 2020, Australia will host the COSPAR scientific assembly, a gathering of 3000 of the world’s top space scientists. The massive conference will no doubt include some of the top minds focussed on this very problem, offering new hope in our long-term quest for planetary travel.

“We come to the table with a bold vision for our nation’s place in science – and through science, our place in space, said Australia’s Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel.

wheat

IP at the root of Australia’s wheat industry

Intellectual property has had a large role to play in moving wheat breeding from being almost entirely publicly funded in the 1990s to being completely funded by the private sector today.

Wheat accounts for more than a quarter of the total value of all crops produced in Australia. In terms of all agricultural commodities produced nationwide, wheat is second only to cattle. In the 2015/16 season, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences forecasted the gross value of wheat to be $7.45 billion, with exports worth $5.8 billion.

Western Australia leads the way in wheat exports, generating half of Australia’s total annual wheat production and sending more than 95 per cent offshore. A major export avenue for Western Australian growers is the wheat used for the production of noodles. One million tonnes of Udon noodle grain is exported to Japan and Korea every year at a value of $350 million.

The Australian wheat industry has gone through significant transformation in the last 20 years and the Australian IP Report 2015 shows innovation in wheat breeding is quite healthy. Over the past decade, Triticum (the scientific genus for wheat) has had the third highest number of plant breeder’s rights (PBR) applications submitted in Australia, behind only Rosa (roses) and Prunus (trees and shrubs).

The Plant Breeder’s Rights Act 1994 (PBR Act) allows an owner of a plant variety the ability to not only sell their variety, but also to collect royalties at any point in its use. This provision led to the introduction of end point royalties (EPR) in the years following the PBR Act’s ratification. For wheat growing, this is a royalty paid on the total grain harvested by the growers of a PBR protected variety.

Kerrie Gleeson of Australian Grains Technologies explains how EPR have invigorated the wheat industry saying, “Prior to the year 2000, 95 per cent of wheat breeding programs were in the public sector, either funded by universities, Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) levies, or state governments.”

Moving ahead to the present day, Australian wheat breeding is now completely funded by the private sector due to the income generated by EPR.

Before EPR, royalties were paid to breeders when they sold their seed to farmers. Tress Walmsley, CEO of InterGrain, estimates that while a new variety of grain costs around $3 million to breed, under the old seed-based royalty system breeders only received around $50 000 per variety. This was a commercially unsustainable system and saw a decline in public investment for developing new varieties.

The EPR system radically changed the commercial value of developing new grain varieties in Australia. By deferring collection of royalties to the time of harvest, the initial cost of purchasing seed is lower.

An example of the EPR system in action is ‘Drysdale’, a wheat variety developed by CSIRO to cope with Australia’s low rainfall. Currently a royalty of $1 is charged to famers for every tonne produced. While this may not seem like much, considering the production of wheat averages around 25 million tonnes per year, the return from EPR really adds up.

Income received from EPR helps support the continuing research into developing new varieties and reduces the reliance on public funding.

The advantage of the EPR system is that plant breeders share the risk with farmers. If a harvest is low, for example during a drought, the farmers will be affected, and as a result the returns to the breeders through the EPR will be down. This gives breeders an incentive to develop varieties that are resilient and high yielding; the more successful the crop is, the bigger the return for both breeders and growers.

THE AUSTRALIAN WHEAT INDUSTRY HAS GONE THROUGH SIGNIFICANT TRANSFORMATION IN THE LAST 20 YEARS.

Wheat breeding in Australia is now a highly competitive industry. The major wheat breeding companies now have access to new technologies and resources through foreign investment and partnerships.

The EPR system in Australia has been dominated by wheat. The first EPR variety was released in 1996. Over 260 EPR varieties are listed for the 2015/16 harvesting season. Of these varieties, over 130 are wheat.

However, implementing the EPR system has seen its share of challenges. “When we first launched back in 1996…we actually had almost two competing systems”, Tress says. “We had one system commence in Western Australia which I was responsible for, and then we also had a company start an end point royalty system on the east coast.”

“Initially each plant breeding company, each state government and each seed company worked independently. We really made the big gains when we came together and worked it out collectively”, she says.

The development of an EPR industry collection system began in 2007 when a number of Australia’s major plant breeding organisations formed the EPR Steering Committee.

“The key component is working with the grain growers and listening to their feedback and making changes to how we collect the EPR so it is actually an easier system for them to utilise”, says Tress. “The industry standard license was one of our first achievements.”

The EPR is ultimately reliant on the honesty of farmers declaring the varieties they are growing. “Our system works in finding ways where the PBR Act gives you the level of protection you need, and you dovetail in contract law where you need some extra assistance”, adds Tress.

The integrity of EPR collection is maintained in various ways, including harvest declaration forms and reports from grain traders and bulk handlers. An industry standard contract has also been developed to simplify the collection process. The competitive nature of the EPR system means farmers are given a choice when deciding on which grain to grow. If they are paying a royalty on seed they are growing, they want to be confident the crop is high yielding, disease resistant and suitable for their region.

Even though research and development into wheat has been growing in recent years, the industry faces ongoing challenges. While Australia has so far avoided the notoriously devastating Ug99, a fungal wheat stem rust which can cause entire crops to be lost, farmers do tackle other varieties of stripe, stem and leaf rusts across the country. Nationwide, 72 per cent of Australia’s wheat growing area is susceptible to at least one rust pathogen.

This highlights the importance of continued investment into the development of new wheat breeds.

“We need the research to create high-yielding, disease and pest resistant agricultural crops,” Professor Philip Pardey says, who was a keynote speaker at the 2015 International Wheat Conference held in Sydney.

The International Year of Pulses aims to raise awareness of the nutritional benefits of pulses as part of sustainable food production. The celebration is an opportunity to encourage connections throughout the food chain – and one Australian team of researchers is ahead of the game.

Murdoch University professor John Howieson is now working on a new licence structure for the upcoming release of lebeckia. This grain, originally from South Africa, is considered the ‘holy grail’ breakthrough to rectify the shortage of summertime feed for livestock.

The new National Innovation and Science Agenda will support further agricultural research both with research funds and through programs that bring together universities, researchers and producers. You can find out more at innovation.gov.au.

This article was originally published by IP Australia in IP – Your Business Edge Issue 1 2016. Read the original article here.

pollination

Honeybee health: a #dataimpact story

Featured image above: Environmental stressors which alter bee pollination, like extreme weather and pesticides, are assessed using large data sets generated by bees from all over the world via fitted micro-sensor ‘backpacks’. Credit: Giorgio Venturieri

Bee colonies are dying out worldwide and nobody is exactly sure why. The most obvious culprit is the Varroa mite which feeds on bees and bee larvae, while also spreading disease. The only country without the Varroa mite is Australia. However, experts believe that there are many factors affecting bee health.

To unravel this, CSIRO is leading the Global Initiative of Honeybee Health (GIHH) in gathering large sets of data on bee hives from all over the world. High-tech micro-sensor ’backpacks’ are fitted to bees to log their movements, similar to an e-tag. The data from individual bees is sent back to a small computer at the hive.

Researchers are able to analyse this data to assess which stressors – such as extreme weather, pesticides or water contamination – affect the movements and pollination of bees.

Maintaining honey bee populations is essential for food security as well securing economic returns from crops. Bee crop pollination is estimated to be worth up to $6 billion to Australian agriculture alone.

Currently 50,000 bees have been tagged and there may be close to one million by the end of 2017. Researchers aim to not only improve the health of honey bees but to increase crop sustainability and productivity through pollination management.

This article was first published by the Australian National Data Service on 10 October 2016. Read the original article here.

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portrait

Degas masterpiece uncovered

Featured image above: (left) False colour reconstruction of Degas’ hidden portrait, created from the X-ray fluorescence microscopy elemental maps produced at the Australian Synchrotron (right) Portrait of a Woman by Edgar Degas (c). 1876–80 . Credit: Australian Synchrotron/National Gallery of Victoria.

An alliance of Australian scientists and conservators have made a quantum leap forward in the analysis of priceless artworks, revealing an earlier painting of a different woman beneath a French Impressionist masterpiece in unprecedented detail, using a technology combination unavailable anywhere else in the world.

Shedding light on a decades-old riddle through a unique technology pipeline, researchers from Australian SynchrotronNational Gallery of Victoria (NGV) and CSIRO published stunning images of what lies beneath Edgar Degas’ Portrait of a Woman (c. 1876-1880) in the journal Scientific Reports overnight, midway through the artwork’s display at NGV International as part of Melbourne Winter Masterpieces exhibition, Degas: A new vision.

Dr Daryl Howard, scientist on the X-ray Fluorescence Microscopy (XFM) beamline at the Australian Synchrotron – the newest addition to the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO)’s world-class line-up of landmark research infrastructure – says the re-creation of the underpainting was achieved by first producing complex metal maps to highlight minerals in the many paint types.

“‘Paint from Degas’ period was primarily composed of ground-up rocks and early synthetic pigments  – with copper creating green and mercury creating red, for example – and he swirled and mixed different paints from different tubes on his palette at different times, as did the restorers who touched up this painting into the early twentieth century.

“Placing the artwork in the path of the Australian Synchrotron beam, which is a million times brighter than the sun, we measured the exact location of different pigment mixtures in every one millimetre square pixel, and fed the vast volumes of data into a computer to reconstruct both the surface and underlying layers.”

Howard says the technique is an ‘order of magnitude’ improvement for non-intrusive art analysis, crucial when handling priceless artworks.

“Eight years ago, a low resolution three-element image, which revealed a face beneath Vincent Van Gogh’s Patch of Grass 1887, inspired us to refine and advance non-destructive imaging using some of the world’s most advanced scientific technology.

“This analysis takes this “hands-off” approach to the next level, producing enormous 31.6 megapixel images – beyond the resolution of most of today’s best digital cameras – while subjecting each part of the artwork to radiation for only a fraction of a second to ensure it is not damaged.”

CSIRO engineer Robin Kirkham says the powerful light of the Australian Synchrotron combined with a highly sensitive detector devised at CSIRO are behind the revolutionary new technique.

“Developed by CSIRO with US project partner Brookhaven National Laboratory over the past few years, the Maia detector can complete complex elemental imaging a hundred times faster than conventional systems.”

“Coupled with the brilliant synchrotron beam, in 33 hours the detector produced images with around 250 times more pixel definition than the far smaller 2008 Van Gogh images that took about two days to produce.”

It’s not the first time the NGV, Australian Synchrotron and CSIRO have joined forces to solve an art mystery. In 2010 similar techniques were used to find a hidden Arthur Streeton self-portrait buried under layers of lead paint and, in 2015, a major project helped uncover hidden secrets in Frederick McCubbin’s The North wind.

Degas: a new vision is exhibiting at NGV until Sunday 18 September.

This article was first published by Australian Synchrotron on 4 August 2016. Read the original article here.

ICT

On the cusp of mass cultural change

The Australian Computer Society has estimated that an additional 100,000 new information and communications technology (ICT) professionals will be needed in Australia over the next five years alone. While this industry continues to grow and impact upon the Australian economy, only 2.8% of females choose ICT as their field.

In my role as head of the School of Computer Science at the University of Adelaide, I hear every year from young women who have been told by someone important in their lives – perhaps a teacher, a family member or a careers counsellor – that computer science is not a job that women do. However, we know that companies with strong gender diversity are more likely to be successful and have higher financial returns. We need to broaden participation in creating and driving technology innovation in our country so that it is reflective of the diverse perspectives and voices that represent our community.

How can we address this gender imbalance within ICT? I believe that the answer lies in our new Australian curriculum and in increasing support for our education system.

Australia is on the verge of a significant change – all Australian students will soon be learning the fundamental concepts of computer science, and will move from being users of technology to creators of their own technology. This is an incredible opportunity for us as a nation to change our culture for women in technology, and more broadly, women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

Changing stereotypes in STEM on screen

Children start forming their views on what careers are, and whether they are for a man or a woman, from an early age. These views are reinforced by messages from all directions. Very few family films show women in positions of power, or with active careers; only 45% of females in family films are shown to have careers, while STEM male roles outnumber STEM female roles by five to one.

These unconscious biases impact how we, and our children, develop our understanding of who we are, and who we can be. We urgently need to address this if we are to see the diverse technology community that we need.

Connecting STEM professionals with schools

Australian teachers need ongoing support from our industry and university sectors. We need to collectively engage with our schools to help teachers understand and guide technology creation.

Programs such as CSIRO’s Scientists and Mathematicians in Schools program, FIRST Australia and Code Club Australia, among others, provide valuable opportunities to volunteer and support your local communities in understanding STEM. These programs help explore the amazing ability of technology to solve community problems, and work to engage our students. All of our students.

Associate Professor Katrina Falkner

Head of School of Computer Science, University of Adelaide

Read next: The University of Newcastle’s Dr Nikola Bowden addresses misconceptions about the biggest issues for women in STEM.

People and careers: Meet women who’ve paved brilliant careers in STEM here, find further success stories here and explore your own career options at postgradfutures.com.

Spread the word: Help Australian women achieve successful careers in STEM! Share this piece on women in ICT using the social media buttons below.

More Thought Leaders: Click here to go back to the Thought Leadership Series homepage, or start reading the Graduate Futures Thought Leadership Series here.

eureka prize 2016

Eureka Prize Winners of 2016

Featured image above: Winners of the 2016 UNSW Eureka Prize for Scientific Research, Melissa Little and Minoru Takasato from the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute. Credit: Australian Museum

Regenerating kidneys, smart plastics, artificial memory cells and a citizen science network that tracks falling meteors. These and many other pioneering scientific endeavours have been recognised in the 2016 annual Australian Museum Eureka Prizes, awarded at a gala dinner in Sydney.

Having trouble with a kidney? It may not be long before you can simply grow a new one. This is the ultimate ambition behind the research of the 2016 UNSW Eureka Prize for Scientific Research winners, which was awarded to Melissa Little and Minoru Takasato from the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute.

They have developed a method of growing kidney tissue from stem cells, and their kidney “organoids” develop all the different types of cells that are needed for kidney function. The kidney tissue is currently used in the lab to model kidney disease and to test new drugs, but one day the technique could be developed to regrow replacement kidneys for transplant.

For his work using the latest in 3D printing and materials technology develop a world centre for electromaterials science, Gordon Wallace, from the University of Wollongong, received the 2016 CSIRO Eureka Prize for Leadership in Innovation and Science.

Some of the materials he and his team are developing include structures that are biocompatible, meaning they can be used inside the body without causing an adverse reaction. These structures can be used to promote muscle and nerve cell growth. Other cells include artificial muscles using carbon nanotubes.

The CSIRO’s Lisa Harvey-Smith has been one of the most vocal and energetic proponents of science in the media and the general public, especially amongst Indigenous communities. It is for her work as the face of the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) and communicating astronomy to the public that Harvey-Smith was awarded the 2016 Department of Industry, Innovation and Science Eureka Prize for Promoting Understanding of Australian Science.

Have you ever seen a meteor streak across the sky and wondered where it landed? Phil Bland, from Curtin University, certainly hopes you have. He and his team set up the Desert Fireball Network, which allows members of the public to track meteors as they fall, helping them to identify where they land, and where they came from.

For this, Bland and his team were awarded the 2016 Department of Industry, Innovation and Science Eureka Prize for Innovation in Citizen Science.

But not all the awards went to seasoned researchers. Some were reserved for the next generation of scientific pioneers.

Hayden Ingle, a Grade 6 student from Banksmeadow Primary School in Botany, received the 2016 Sleek Geeks Science Eureka Prize for Primary Schools for his video production, The Bluebottle and the Glaucus. It tells the remarkable tale of a little known sea predator, the tiny sea lizard, or glacus atlantica, and its fascinating relationship with the bluebottle.

Speaking of predators, a video by Claire Galvin and Anna Hardy, Year 10 students at St Monica’s College, Cairns, won the 2016 Sleek Geeks Science Eureka Prize for Secondary Schools for exploring the eating habits of the Barn Owl.

They examined “owl pellets”, which contain the indigestible components of the owl’s last meal, and used them to identify its prey.

Other winners of the 2016 Eureka Prize

Ewa Goldys from Macquarie University and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics and Martin Gosnell from Quantitative Pty Ltd have been awarded the ANSTO Eureka Prize for Innovative Use of Technology for their development of hyperspectral imaging technology, which enables the colour of cells and tissues to be used as a non-invasive medical diagnostic tool.

For his discovery and development of novel treatments for serious brain disorders, Michael Bowen, from the University of Sydney, is the winner of the Macquarie University Eureka prize for Outstanding Early Career Researcher. His research has established oxytocin and novel molecules that target the brain’s oxytocin system as prime candidates to fill the void left by the lack of effective treatments for alcohol-use disorders and social disorders.

For developing a new generation of armoured vehicles to keep Australian soldiers safe in war zones, Thales Australia and Mark Brennan have won the 2016 Defence Science and Technology Eureka Prize for Outstanding Science in Safeguarding Australia.

Davidson Patricia Davidson is Dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing in Maryland, and has mentored more than 35 doctoral and postdoctoral researchers, working tirelessly and with passion to build the capacity of early career researchers, an achievement that has won her the 2016 University of Technology Sydney Eureka Prize for Outstanding Mentor of Young Researchers.

For taking basic Australian research discoveries and developing them into a new cancer therapy that was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in April this year, David Huang and his team from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research has win the 2016 Johnson & Johnson Eureka Prize for Innovation in Medical Research. The drug, venetoclax, was approved for a high-risk sub-group of patients with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia and is now marketed in the US.

For creating a three part documentary that portrayed both the good and the evil of uranium in a series seen around the world, Twisting the Dragon’s Tail, Sonya Pemberton, Wain Fimeri and Derek Muller, won the 2016 Department of Industry, Innovation and Science Eureka Prize for Science Journalism.

Sharath Sriram, Deputy Director of the A$30 million Micro Nano Research Facility at RMIT University, has won the 2016 3M Eureka Prize for Emerging Leader in Science for his extraordinary career – during which he and his team have developed the world’s first artificial memory cell that mimics the way the brain stores long term memory.

For bringing together a team with skills ranging from mathematical modelling to cell biology and biochemistry, Leann Tilley and her team from the University of Melbourne have won the 2016 Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre Eureka Prize for Infectious Disease Research. They have uncovered an important life saving mechanism by which the malaria parasite has developed resistance to what has been previously a widely used and successful malarial treatment.

For recruiting an international team of scientists to measure trace elements in the oceans from 3.5 billion years ago to the present day to understand the events that led to the evolution of life and extinction of life in the oceans, Ross Large from the University of Tasmania and researchers from as far as Russia and the US have won the 2016 Eureka Prize for Excellence in Interdisciplinary Research.

For conducting the world’s first survey of plastic pollutants which has given us a confronting snapshot of the impacts on marine wildlife of the 8.4 million tones of plastic that enters the oceans each year, Denise Hardesty, Chris Wilcox, Tonya Van Der Velde, TJ Lawson, Matt Landell and David Milton from CSIRO in Tasmania and Queensland have won the 2016 NSW Office of Environment and Heritage Eureka Prize for Environmental Research.

The Functional Annotation of the Mammalian Genome (FANTOM5) project produced a map that is being used to interpret genetic diseases and to engineer new cells for therapeutic use. The team led by Alistair Forrest from the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research has won the 2016 Scopus Eureka Excellence in International Scientific Collaboration Prize.

– Tim Dean

This article on the Eureka Prize 2016 winners was first published by The Conversation on 31 August 2016. Read the original article here.

tourism research

Tasmania boosts tourism research

Featured image above: A bright future for Tasmania through tourism research

Visitors to Tasmania are being asked to carry tracking devices to help researchers learn more about where they go and what they do when visiting the island.

The Sense-T Sensing Tourist Travel Project, based at the University  of Tasmania (UTAS), uses real-time data to follow the movements of holidaymakers and answer key questions about their travel behaviour. Using a bespoke app pre-loaded onto a smartphone, researchers can find out exactly how long different cohorts spend walking the coast, looking at art or shopping –  gold-plated data for the state’s booming tourism industry.

The project’s primary focus is on two types of visitors: Australian interstate travellers and tourists from China. Volunteer participants are recruited at the island’s three main entry points – Launceston and Hobart airports and the Spirit of Tasmania – and tracked for up to  10 days.

With tourism accounting for over 8% of the state’s economy, an intelligent and robust understanding of visitor behaviour is crucial to the continued growth of the sector in Tasmania.

The project is being jointly led by two researchers from UTAS, Dr Anne Hardy and Professor Richard Eccleston.

“The project will provide a proof of concept that app-based tracking can replace more traditional surveys of visitor experiences,” says Hardy. “It was designed in conjunction with the Tourism Industry Council of Tasmania, Federal Hotels and Tourism Tasmania, and a wide range of  industry stakeholders have been consulted as part of the project’s design.”

The Sense-T partnership is a collaboration between UTAS, CSIRO and the Tasmanian Government, with funding also contributed by the Federal Government. In addition to the tourism project, it runs sensor-based research on health, agriculture, finance and other key drivers of the Tasmanian economy, with  the aim of “creating a digital view of Tasmania”.

Over 330 tourists took part in the Sensing Tourist Travel Project. The tourism research data collection ended in May 2016 and results are expected by September.

This article was first published by the Australian National Data Service in May 2016. Read the original article here.

research startups

Research startups accelerate CSIRO science

Featured image above: Research startups pitch at the ON Accelerate demo night. Hovermap have developed intelligent software that will allow drones to map indoor environments.

There are now over 30 accelerator and incubator programs in Australia, but CSIRO’s ON accelerator is the only one focused on equipping research startups with the tools they need to grow.

“It’s the first time a program of this sort has been offered for the research community on this scale,” says Elizabeth Eastland, the General Manager for Strategy, Market Vision and Innovation at CSIRO.

Just six months ago, Eastland was the Director of the University of Wollongong’s iAccelerate program, but moved to CSIRO having been “blown away by what this program can offer researchers”.

At the ON Accelerate Demo event held on Thursday 7 July, Eastland introduced 11 research startups who pitched their products to Sydney’s venture capital investors. In contrast to the young faces that dominate many of Australia’s accelerators, last night’s ON cohort were led by experienced researchers, engineers, developers and entrepreneurs.

Two of the research startups revealed big plans for the agriculture industry. A group called Future Feed is selling seaweed supplements that aim to reduce livestock greenhouse gas emissions by 80%. Another team has created wireless trapping technology to help farmers detect fruit fly infestations.

Fruit Fly costs farmers US$30 billion in fruit and vegetable production around the world, but this isn’t the only global challenge that the ON research startups have been tackling. The presenter from Modular Photonics pointed out last night that the world’s internet demand is about to outstrip its fibre capacity.

His group is commercialising new photonics hardware compatible with both old internet fibre and the new fibre being developed by the top telecommunications providers.

On the health front, another of the research startups, ePAT unveiled new facial recognition software to detect pain levels in people who cannot speak, such as children and elderly people with moderate to severe dementia. Their vision is that “no patient who cannot speak will suffer in silence in pain”.

ON Accelerate had major success earlier this year when a German company launched a gluten free beer brewed from barley commercialised by a startup from last year’s ON cohort. That startup, known as Kebari, is in now the process of developing another form of gluten free grain for use in food.

Kebari co-founder and scientist Dr Phil Larkin spoke at yesterday’s research startups event, saying ON Accelerate had taught him about ‘flearning’ – learning from failure – and the importance of interrogating the entire delivery chain to validate the value of a solution.

CSIRO Principal Research Scientist and RapidAIM team leader Dr Nancy Shellhorn said that the program had given her much faster access to the market and much better insight into customer needs.

“It’s given me and the RapidAIM team a runway to the science of the future that will be truly impactful,” said Shellhorn.

Program Mentor Martin Duursma also spoke at the research startups event, saying that startup skills are very transferable to research teams because they are all about trying something, gathering feedback, making improvements and repeating the process.

“Startup skills are really just a variant of the scientific method,” said Duursma.

And scientists will have greater access to the ON research startups program next year, with a dramatic increase in the interest of universities. Eastland says that 21 of Australia’s 40 universities have now signed on to be ON partners. Macquarie University and Curtin University led the pack with their involvement this year. UNSW Australia, the University of Technology Sydney and Monash University are among those jumping on board for the next round.

– Elise Roberts


ON Accelerate Research Startups

The below information was first shared by CSIRO. Read the original list and team members here.

1. Hovermap

The future of asset inspection.

“Every year, Australia loses billions of dollars due to infrastructure failures, spends billions of dollars on inspecting its aging assets and loses some of its bravest men and women who take the risk to do this dull and dangerous job. Utility companies and governments are turning to Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to reduce costs and improve safety. However, current UAVs are ‘dumb and blind’ so require expert pilots and can’t fly in many places.

Our solution is an intelligent UAV with advanced collision avoidance, non-GPS flight and accurate 3D mapping capabilities – all tailored to suit industrial inspection requirements. Hovermap is the ultimate inspection tool of the future that can be used to safely and efficiently inspect hard-to-reach assets and collect extremely high fidelity data in previously unreachable places. It is suitable for inspecting telecommunication towers, bridges, power line assets and smoke stacks. This innovative technology will reduce risks, improve safety and efficiency and lower costs, all of which benefit customers and businesses.”

2. Suricle

Changing the face of polymers.

“We change the face of polymers by embedding functional particles into the surface to give them new and useful properties. Our patented technology paves the way for development of many new, innovative materials and products.

An immediate area of application is to protect high-value marine sensors from biofouling. The unwanted growth of marine organisms causes signal attenuation, sensor malfunction, increased weight and unwanted drag due to ocean currents. There are many thousands of marine sensors deployed globally, costing up to $120K each, which require frequent cleaning to keep them in service.

Suricle are focusing on treating adhesive polymer films with antifouling properties for attachment to sensors to mitigate biofouling. Kits containing this film will be sold via our e-commerce store for application in the field by the end-users, offering savings of thousands of dollars per year in reduced maintenance costs.”

3. RapidAIM

Supporting and growing global fruit and vegetable export markets

“Fruit Fly are the number one biosecurity issue in fruit and vegetable production. Globally US$30b worth of fruit and vegetable production is lost due to fruit fly, and $US18b in global trade is threatened by the pest.

Millions of fruit fly traps across the globe are checked manually, causing delay and risking outbreaks. This can close markets!

RapidAIM is a new era in biosecurity. We provide a service of real-time alerts for the presence and location of fruit fly using wireless trapping technology. This immediate data-driven decision service allows biosecurity agencies, growers and agronomists to respond rapidly to fruit fly detection to control the pest.

This allows for targeted workflow, the protection of existing markets and supports the development of new trading opportunities.”

4. ExByte

Predictive data analytics for preventative maintenance of infrastructure assets including water 

“Each year 7,000 critical water main breaks occur in Australia resulting in billions of dollars in rectification and consequence cost. In contrast, the cost of preventative maintenance is only 10 per cent of the reactive repair cost. The ExByte team has developed a disruptive technology that uses data analytic techniques to predict failure probability based on learned patterns, offering a solution to accurately predict water pipe failures resulting in effective preventative maintenance and a reduction in customer interruptions.”

5. Future Feed

A natural feed additive from seaweed that dramatically reduces livestock methane and increases production.

“The world is under increasing pressure to produce more food and producing more food is contributing to climate change. Livestock feed supplementation with FutureFeed is the solution. It can improve farm profitability and tackles climate change. FutureFeed can also provide farmers access to other income streams through carbon markets and provide access to premium niche markets through a low carbon footprint and environmentally friendly product.”

6. elumin8

An energy efficiency product that empowers households to understand and reduce their energy consumption.

“It is very difficult for households to improve their energy efficiency and transition to a sustainable future as current solutions are boring, costly and confusing. Elumin8 solves this problem by providing tailored energy information via a unique communication channel, allowing homeowners to directly engage with their home in a human and personable way as though it was another member of the family. Elumin8 also guides the household step by step along the journey to energy independence by improving energy efficiency and taking the risk and confusion out of installing solar and batteries.

We do this by collecting electricity data from a single sensor and use unique algorithms to disaggregate the data and determine appliance level consumption. Social media applications and advanced analytics are then utilised to connect the homeowner with their home allowing instant and humanised communication to ensure they are engaged with their energy use.”

7. Coviu

An online face-to-face business transaction platform.

“The way we work is changing. We need tools to enable those changes.

Traditional video conferencing tools are clunky and do not support experts like coaches, clinicians or lawyers in delivering and charging for their professional services online.

Coviu is the solution. Professionals get a frictionless and easy-to-use solution for setting up online consulting rooms and invite clients to rich interactive consults. One click and your client is talking to you in their browser – no software installations, no complicated call setup.

Coviu is a groundbreaking new video and data conferencing technology that works peer-to-peer allowing for massive scalability, speed and affordability.”

8. Reflexivity

A process that helps mining companies proactively manage community sentiment before conflict occurs.

“When resources companies lose the trust of the communities they work alongside, conflict occurs. Projects take twice as long to develop as they did a decade ago and cost 30 per cent more than they should because of social conflict. Companies don’t have the tools to systematically understand what their communities think about them, and communities have few constructive ways to feel heard.

Reflexivity has solved this problem by providing our customers with a sophisticated data analytic engine that translates community survey data we collect into prioritised opportunities for trust building and risk mitigation strategies. Our analytics identify those factors that build and degrade trust in a company, in the minds of community members; our customers are then able to invest resources and energy into the issues that matter most. Using mobile technology, our data streams to our customers in real time via a subscription model.

We have engaged over 14,000 community members in eight countries, and generated $1.5m in revenue in the last three years. And while we started in mining, our process is valuable wherever these relationships are important. We are building a service delivery platform to scale up our process and we are seeking support and advice to turn our successful global research program into a successful global business.”

9. Meals by Design

Healthy convenience never tasted so good!

“Ready-to-eat convenience doesn’t have to result in dissatisfaction and guilt. By bringing together the latest innovations in food manufacturing, including High Pressure Thermal processing, and an understanding of the nutritional needs of a diverse population, cuisine favourites can be prepared in a convenient format without compromising eating satisfaction or, importantly, nutrition.

Meals by Design develops premium and customisable meal solutions that cater to nutritional and functional needs, offering healthy convenience without compromise.”

10. ePAT

Real-time pain assessment through facial recognition technology for patients that cannot verbally communicate.

“Imagine you are in excruciating pain, but you can’t tell anyone. This is the reality for millions of non-communicative people world-wide, such as those with moderate to severe dementia. ePAT’s point of care apps utilise facial recognition technology to detect facial micro-expressions which are indicative of pain, to provide these people with a voice.”

11. Modular Photonics: big fast data

Passive fibre-optic technology that significantly increases data transmission capacity.

“Modular Photonics uses a novel integrated photonic chip to enhance the data rate across existing multimode fibre links by 10x and more. The technology enables multiple data channels in parallel without the length restrictions imposed by conventional multimode fibre links.”

Australian research funding

Australian research funding infographic

Featured image above: CSIRO has received significant budget cuts in recent years. Credit: David McClenaghan

The election is rapidly approaching, and all major parties – Liberal, Labor and Greens – have now made announcements about their policies to support science and research.

But how are we doing so far? Here we look at the state of science and research funding in Australia so you can better appreciate the policies each party has announced.

The latest OECD figures show that Australia does not fare well compared with other OECD countries on federal government funding research and development.

As a percentage of GDP, the government only spends 0.4% on research and development. This is less than comparable nations.

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But looking at total country spending on research and development, including funding by state governments and the private sector, the picture is not so bleak: here Australia sits in the middle among OECD countries.

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Over the years, there have been hundreds of announcements and new initiatives but this graph indicates that, in general, it has been a matter of rearranging the deck chairs rather than committing to strategic investments in research.

The Paul Keating Labor government made some investments. During the John Howard Liberal government’s years, there were ups and downs. The Kevin Rudd/Julia Gillard Labor governments were mostly up. And in Tony Abbott’s Liberal government, the graph suggests that it was mostly down with science.

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Over the past decade, there have been some minor changes in funding to various areas, although energy has received the greatest proportional increase.

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This pie chart reminds us that the higher education sector is a major provider of research and is highly dependent on government funding. It also tells us that business also conducts a great deal of research.

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The timeline below shows that the government does listen and respond when issues arise. It has recognised the importance of the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Scheme (NCRIS), the Australian Synchrotron and sustainable medical research funding by different initiatives.

But, sadly, one must remember that funding is effectively being shifted from one domain to another, and it has seldom been the case that significantly new commitments are made. The balance of red and blue shows how one hand gives while the other takes funding away.

CC BY-SA

This useful graph highlights the fact that Australian Research Council (ARC) funding now amounts to little more than the National Health and Medical Research Council’s funding.

This is remarkable, given that the ARC funds all disciplines, including sciences, humanities and social sciences, while the NHMRC essentially focuses on human biology and health.

CC BY-SA

This graphic also highlights the lack of any sustained funding strategy. The only clear trend is that the investment in the ARC has gradually declined and the NHMRC has grown.

This, in part, reflects the undeniable importance of health research. But it is also indicative of effective and coherent organisation and communication by health researchers. This has been more difficult to achieve in the ARC space with researchers coming from a vast array of disciplines.

– Merlin Crossley, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Education and Professor of Molecular Biology, UNSW Australia
– Les Field, Secretary for Science Policy at the Australian Academy of Science, and Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor, UNSW Australia
This article was first published by The Conversation on June 22 2016. Read the original article here.
chatbots

Chatting with chatbots

Human communication goes beyond words. It is complex, rich in nuances and frequently includes non-verbal signs. Yet despite our technological limitations it is not impossible for some aspects of communication to be emulated by a machine with surprising effect.

This has been part of the challenge in developing Harlie (Human and Robot Language Interaction Experiment), a smartphone chatbot app developed by researchers from the CSIRO’s e-health research program and the University of Queensland.

It’s primarily aimed at people who may have trouble conversing including those with neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and dementia, or even autism.

The following dialog excerpt took place between a human who has autism, let’s call him Chris (pseudonym), and Harlie.

Harlie: Are you part of a community group?

Chris: Um, yes I am.

Harlie: I see. I hear that community groups often offer the opportunity to craft and build things. Is that something you enjoy doing?

Chris: Oh yes I do. This is really exciting.

Harlie: I see. What kind of things do you wish you could make one day?

Chris: Wooden train.

Harlie: That sounds like a great thing to aspire to. What project would recommended to a beginner like me?

Chris: Uh huh a bird feeder.

Harlie: Thanks. I will add that to my list. What supplies would I need to buy for my toolkit?

Chris: Ah hammer, nails, good supply of wood.

But Harlie, like all other artificial intelligent (AI) programs, has no concept of community groups, woodwork or anything else for that matter. That is to say it has no sentience.

And alas, sentient chatbots are seemingly light years beyond our reach. But is sentience needed to convey ideas, feelings and activities?

To some degree, no.

Chatbot programmers, or botmasters, develop and maintain a large repository of responses to the plethora of input statements that could be made by the user.

The way most modern chatbots operate is illustrated in this figure.

image-20160511-18128-mxft6n
The typical chatbot brain is a tree-like structure. Credit: David Ireland

Phrases that could be uttered by a human are grouped together to form branches. At the end of the branch, is the leaf, or a piece of code that is executed by the machine.

This code could simply be “respond with ‘Hi human'” or it could be a machine learning algorithm determining the appropriate response based on current semantics and context.

This is where the exciting research is happening.

New branches are added continuously through conversations and feedback with potential customers, as is the case with Harlie, or through self-learning as was seen in the disastrous example of Microsoft’s social media chatbot Tay, which was shut down within a day of going live earlier this year after declaring, among other controversial tweets, that “Hitler was right”.

A more successful use of AI was revealed earlier this month in the USA. Students studying artificial intelligence at the Georgia Institute of Technology discovered that “Jill”, one of the teaching assistants responding to their emails regarding a course, was actually a computer powered by IBM’s Watson analytics system.

Jill’s responses were simply based on the answers to questions that previous students had asked about the course. As the college points out, students tend to ask the same questions over and over and after some initial tinkering, Jill was able to answer students with about 97% certainty.

The ELIZA effect

Attempts to create a convincing conversation with a machine have been going on for decades.

The first chatbot was called ELIZA. Developed in 1966, the program was created by Joseph Weizenbaum at MIT. This program was unparalleled because for the first time a machine could seemingly converse with a human.

ELIZA emulated a psychotherapist’s responses to would-be patients in replies generated for typed, text-only conversations.

By identifying key words and phrases, ELIZA was able to respond with surprising intelligibility and insight. In fact, it was so highly personified by some users that they would spend hours conversing and refused to share conversation records with researchers.

This phenomenon become known as the ELIZA effect. An excerpt of a famous ELIZA transcript that was published in 1966 between ELIZA and a young woman is given below.

Human: Well, my boyfriend made me come here.

ELIZA: Your boyfriend made you come here?

Human: He says I’m depressed much of the time.

ELIZA: I am sorry to hear you are depressed.

Human: It’s true. I am unhappy.

ELIZA: Do you think coming here will help you not to be unhappy?

Human: I need some help, that much seems certain.

ELIZA: What would it mean to you if you got some help?

Human: Perhaps I could learn to get along with my mother.

ELIZA: Tell me more about your family.

Modern day

Since ELIZA, computer power has increased at an exponential rate, but how far have we come towards a next generation of chatbots? Voice recognition is now an accepted part of smartphone technology with Google Now and Apple’s Siri. But what about developments in actual conversations with AI?

An annual AI competition is held where human judges speak to different chatbots whose developers are seeking the coveted Loebner prize and the deadline for entries this year is 1 July. The winner is decided by judges who determine the most human-like chatbot.

A prominent entry and winner in 2013 was the Mitsuku chatbot, which was designed for more general typed conversation.

The Mitsuku website provides a Turing test to gauge humans perceptions of the chatbot.

The human user is either connected to a real human or Mitsuku. Results show that on average, 12% of people thought they were talking to a human when in fact they were talking to a machine.

Here is a dialog excerpt from Mitsuku showing her apparent wit:

Human: What’s the difference between a man and a woman?

Mitsuku: A man – a male human being. A woman is a man built to more complete specifications.

Human: That’s not what I meant.

Mitsuku: Oh sorry, what do you mean?

Human: What does a man have a woman doesn’t?

Mitsuku: A well paid job?

Last year’s winner of the Loebner prize was called Rose and it is possible to have a spoken conversation with the chatbot on some web browsers. She too can be quite witty, and talkative too.

The future

Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella said at an event in March that chatbots will have, “as profound an impact as previous shifts we’ve had”. Much like the shift that occurred with the introduction of the graphical user interface, the web browser or touchscreen.

But there are numerous challenges ahead and building a convincing chatbot requires enormous amounts of data and time.

Microsoft’s Tay showed us the dangers of using shortcuts by crowd-sourcing unchecked new branches into Tay’s brain.

In contrast, the Mitsuku developer has taken the long road and constantly refined Mitsuku’s digital brain since 2004.

Nevertheless, the possibility of Harlie helping users who struggle with communication, or of Mitsuku providing a convincing partner, suggests talking machines may go beyond current smartphone use in making hotel bookings and providing directions, and become something much more in the next generation.

– Dr David Ireland, Dr Christina Atay and Dr Jacki Liddle

This article was first published by The Conversation on 18 May 2016. Read the original article here.

Innovating Australia

Australia faces a challenging period in shifting towards an ‘innovation economy’, with a drive towards greater participation in science and technology; an increased focus on commercialisation success; and partnering research with industry. But how will we get there?

In this unique series, leaders from government, industry and academia share their vision for Australia’s innovation future, including Australia’s Chief Scientist Alan Finkel, Telstra’s CTO Vish Nandlall, CEO of AusBiotech Anna Lavelle, entrepreneur, surgeon and inventor Fiona Woods, Chief Defence Scientist Alex Zelinksy, and the Vice Chancellors from QUT, Peter Coaldrake, and Western Sydney Uni Barney Glover, and many more.

Read the Thought Leadership Series: Australia’s Innovation Future, here. Commentaries will be published throughout the week.

The path forward

There is no doubt that Australian R&D often punches far above its weight for the size of the nation’s population. But for too long Australian invention has stalled at the crucial points in moving research from lab to marketplace. From a nation of thinkers, there has been too little product. Buoyed by the rich resources in the landscape, we have rested on our laurels, riding the sheep’s back or relying on our mineral wealth.

There are notable exceptions. Most Australians, for example, are familiar with the success of the cochlear implant, invented by Professor Graeme Clark and pioneered with a team of surgeons at Melbourne’s Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital. This clever little device is now distributed in over 120 countries and has helped over 320,000 hearing-impaired patients. In the inaugural 2016 Top 25 Science Meets Business R&D spin-off list, this and other less familiar success stories – including companies just starting to make their mark – were noted and celebrated.

In December 2015, the Turnbull government pushed an agenda on innovation – the so-called #ideas boom. The innovation agenda clearly indicates that Australia must move from a resource-based economy to a knowledge-based economy. It highlights the poor track record of research commercialisation, and low rates of collaboration between industry and research organisations. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development rates Australia as last or second last on the level of collaboration against other developed nations. So how much further forward does the ideas boom push us, and what more can be done?

The December 2015 agenda throws $1.1 billion towards steps to address stagnation in research commercialisation and business growth in STEM. This includes $200 million industry incentive to work with the CSIRO and Australian universities, and a 20% non-refundable tax offset for early stage investors. There’s also money for Australian businesses looking to relocate overseas, bonuses for universities collaborating and resources allocated towards raising awareness of the importance of STEM in education.

While the money sounds great, transitioning towards a knowledge economy is more than just a fiscal move – it requires a fundamental shift in the notion of what it is to be Australian. The pathway towards this mental reimagining is far from clear, and will involve people in business, education, research and communication industries to change their thinking, develop ideas and set in motion a totally different model of achievement.

In this thought leadership series, those stepping up to deliver on this challenge describe their vision of science, technology, engineering, maths, and medicine – in the way we do the research and in how we benefit from these fields – to describe their first step towards this brave new world. – Heather Catchpole

Read the Thought Leadership Series: Australian Innovation Future, here.

Contributors

Dr Alan Finkel AO, Chief Scientist of Australia

Dr Anna Lavelle, CEO and Executive Director of AusBiotech

Professor Peter Coaldrake AO, Vice-Chancellor of QUT

Dr Krystal Evans, CEO of the BioMelbourne Network

Professor Peter Klinken, Chief Scientist of Western Australia

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

Dr Cathy Foley, Chief of CSIRO’s Division of Materials Science and Engineering

Dr Alex Zelinsky, Chief Defence Scientist and Head of the Defence Science and Technology Group

Vish Nandlall, Chief Technology Officer of Telstra

Professor Fiona M Wood, FRACS AM, Director of the Burns Service of Western Australia and the Burn Injury Research Unit at the University of Western Australia

Everyday this week

John Pollaers, Chairman of the Australian Advanced Manufacturing Council

Robert Hillard, Managing Partner of Deloitte Consulting

Kim McKay AO, CEO and Executive Director of the Australian Museum

Philip Livingston, Founder and Managing Director of Redback Technologies

science literacy

Path to a ‘right-skilled’ workforce

The world is changing and changing fast! Several studies, such as Australia’s Future Workforce released by CEDA last year, tell us that 40% of the jobs we know today will not exist in 15 years. So what do we need to do be ready for this? Here is my four-step plan:

1. Need for basic science literacy

The need of a base level of science literacy is growing as our society becomes increasingly dependent on technology and science to support our daily lives[1]. However, the number of school children undertaking science and mathematics in their final years at high school is dropping at alarming rates.

Those who can use devices and engage with new technology are able to participate better in the modern world. Those unable to are left behind.

Because Australia has high labour costs, and as robotics and other automated technologies replace many jobs, school education needs to inspire young Australians to realise that science is both a highly creative endeavour, and a pathway to entrepreneurial and financial success.

We need to inspire a wider range of personality types to consider post-school science and engineering training and education as a pathway to build new businesses.

2. Need to broaden the scope of university education

Currently Australian universities are highly motivated to direct research and teaching activities towards academic excellence, as this is the recognised measure of university performance.

Industry experience and methods of solving industrial problems are not generally seen as components of the metrics of academic excellence.

We need to increase the focus on developing entrepreneurial skills and industry exposure and engagement during university education.


“If we are to achieve improvements in economic stimulus by R&D investment, it will be necessary to lift the skills base and the absorptive capacity of Australian companies.”


3. Need to lift industry skills

It is essential that businesses and technologists better understand people’s needs and wants, so they can be more successful in designing and producing products and services that increase their competitiveness locally, and allow them to enter the global market. They can do this by using the opportunities that digital-, agile-, e- and i-commerce can offer.

If we are to achieve improvements in economic stimulus by R&D investment, it will be necessary to lift the skills base and the absorptive capacity of Australian companies.

Recent statistics demonstrate that Australian manufacturing is characterised by a high vocational education and training (VET) to university-educated workforce ratio. If we are to move to a more advanced industry focus in Australia, this ratio needs to change – not necessarily by reducing the number of VET-qualified employees, but through the development of higher-value positions that necessitate a university science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) educated workforce.

In industrial settings, complexities occur where the adoption of design-led innovation principles can make a difference. Recent research has indicated that the application of design-led innovation by Australian companies can be the forerunner of future success.

4. Embracing the full human potential

As future capacity builds through the initiatives mentioned above, there is a need to engage the full spectrum of capability that is already trained in STEM.

There is latent capability there for the taking if we capitalise on the opportunities that a diverse workforce has to offer.

Development of approaches to attract and retain women, people of different cultures, broader age groups including the young and the old, and all socioeconomic classes, has the potential to lift our workforce skill set.

Time is running out. We need to act now.

Dr Cathy Foley

Deputy Director and Science Director, CSIRO Manufacturing Flagship

Read next: Dr Alex Zelinsky, Chief Defence Scientist and Head of the Defence Science and Technology Group on how National security relies on STEM.

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!

[1] Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics: Australia’s Future, A Report from the Office of the Chief Scientist, September 2014.

carbon industry

The new carbon industry

The Paris 2015 agreement presented cities with a global challenge. “Buildings and cities contribute upwards of 40% of global carbon emissions,” says Professor Deo Prasad, CEO of the Low Carbon Living CRC (CRCLCL).

Leveraging the knowledge of researchers from the CSIRO and five of Australia’s top universities, as well as experts in the field, the CRCLCL is heading up efforts to deliver a low carbon built environment in Australia. Its ambitious aim is to cut residential and commercial carbon emissions by 10 megatonnes by 2020.

“The CRCLCL is at the forefront of driving technological and social innovation in the built environment to reduce carbon emissions,” says Prasad.

Recognised as a world-leading research organisation by the United Nations Environment Programme, the CRCLCL collaborates with industry partners like AECOM and BlueScope, and universities and governments.

“We’re looking to bring emissions down, and in the process we want to ensure global competitiveness for Australian industry by helping to develop the next generation of products, technologies, advanced manufacturing and consulting services,” says Prasad.

CRCLCL activities range from urban sustainable design and solar energy to software and community engagement.

“By working effectively with government, researchers and industry, we employ an ‘end-user’ driven approach to research that maximises uptake and utilisation,” says Prasad.

– Carl Williams

lowcarbonlivingcrc.com.au

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

Science and business are centre stage

Science and business are centre stage

Science and innovation take centre stage today at the government’s launch of its National Science and Innovation Agenda.

High on the list of priorities is the focus on connecting the brightest minds in science and business to drive novel solutions and employment-boosting enterprises.

Refraction Media, publisher of the Science Meets Business website, welcomes the focus on collaborative partnerships between research and industry – connecting science and business.

“Australian scientists are producing world-class research within academia, research institutes and industry,” says Karen Taylor-Brown, Publisher at Refraction Media.

Taylor-Brown cites Australia’s development of the bionic ear and CSIRO’s pioneering wi-fi work as high profile examples of Australian innovation.

Lesser known is the 3D-absorbent fabric developed by CSIRO and Textor Technologies, which is being used in the next generation nappy by global brand Huggies; Vision CRC’s ongoing work in contact lens technology worn by millions worldwide; and the Total Channel Control System to rejuvenate outdated irrigation systems. Total Channel Control is now used around the world, and was jointly developed by the former CRC for Sensor Signal and Information Processing, and Rubicon Water.

“The opportunity lies in opening the doors of science to a dynamic and responsive business community.”

Businesses that work hand in hand with research organisations to innovate are three times more likely to prosper and grow.

– Karen Taylor-Brown

Science Meets Business is an independent news hub that celebrates and shares stories of Australian innovation while connecting the worlds of science and business.

“We need to link problems with skills, and the National Science and Innovation Agenda is certainly a step in the right direction,’ says Taylor-Brown.

Science Meets Business The New Class, how Australian innovation is making an impact on the world stage as businesses and researchers forge ahead into foreign markets

http://sciencemeetsbusiness.com.au/the-new-class/

For more information, contact Refraction Media, Karen@refractionmedia.com.au

Beneath the surface

CSIRO scientists have revealed how much water lies beneath the surface of the parched Pilbara landscape in a study to help safeguard the resource as mining and agriculture expands in the region and the climate changes.

The $3.5 m Pilbara Water Resource Assessment project found the area’s extreme heat evaporates up to 14 times more water than falls as rain – highlighting the region’s dependence on groundwater.

The work also revealed 8–30 mm of rainfall is required to make the rivers and streams flow, and that the region is getting hotter and drier in some areas and wetter in others.

CSIRO hydrologist and study leader Dr Don McFarlane says researchers now have a framework to study the impacts of mining and better manage local water use.

The mining industry abstracts about 550 gigalitres of water a year in the area and half of that is used for ore processing, dust suppression and consumption.

Beneath the surface
Iron ore being transported by rail in the Pilbara. Credit: CSIRO

One gigalitre is the equivalent of Subiaco Oval, a stadium in Western Australia, filled to the brim. This figure is expected to double by 2042.

“Mine sites are often separate enough from each other not to interact… however current mining and new mines are increasingly below the water table requiring very large volumes to be extracted and there are several areas where multiple mines are interacting with each other,” Dr McFarlane says.

The Pilbara is a land of extremes, suffering through some of the hottest temperatures in the country, while its unpredictable rainfall comes mostly from summer thunderstorms and cyclones.

“It [the study] puts streamflow and recharge volumes into relative perspective,” he says.

“Nine aquifer types were identified and they interact in complex ways with each other and especially with streamflow.”

Beneath the surface
The pipeline that takes water to the West Pilbara Water Supply Scheme. Credit: CSIRO

In addition, the WA Government is investing $40 million to expand irrigated agriculture and enlarge the Pilbara’s grazing industry.

The research, which was funded by industry and government, analysed climate data since 1910, the relationship between rainfall and runoff since 1961 and how that impacts groundwater levels over an area of 300,000 km– an area which is slightly larger than New Zealand.

The researchers say streamflow leaks through riverbeds and is the main source of aquifer replenishment.

According to the three-year study, groundwater-dependent ecosystems expanded and contracted with the weather but the number has remained stable during the past 23 years.

Dr McFarlane says analysis of satellite remote sensing images could play a role in monitoring the future impacts of climate, grazing, fire, feral animals and mining on groundwater-dependent ecosystems and vegetation.

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This article was first published by Science Network Western Australia. Read the original article here.