Tag Archives: Zdenka Kuncic

university to business

Bringing business to uni

Prime Minister Turnbull coined the catchphrase “collaborate or crumble” in December 2015 as he launched the $5 billion National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA).

The phrase replaced the longstanding “publish or perish” dictum to engage university researchers with NISA’s ambitious goals. Since then, universities have implemented several of the recommendations from the Watt Review, which was tasked with bringing into force changes to university research funding models to incentivise collaboration with business.

NISA simultaneously introduced financial incentives and initiatives to boost the innovation performance of Australian business.

Some of these opportunities can be leveraged within the framework of the business to business (B2B) model. Considerably more could be leveraged from the still relatively unexploited university to business (U2B) model.

Bringing university to business

A key advantage of the university to business model is that universities aren’t driven by the company bottom line. In principle, this should make cooperation and collaboration significantly easier to manage than in the B2B model.

To take advantage of the NISA incentives and initiatives, however, new U2B collaborations need to be established.

This is a challenge, because university research and Australian business have traditionally existed in parallel universes. One practical strategy is universities opening the doors to their own research hubs.

Established as “knowledge transaction spaces”, similar to industry-led Knowledge Hubs, university research hubs are ideal for university to business interactions because they engage researchers from a broad range of disciplines, with diverse skills sets – a veritable smorgasbord of intellectual resources all in one place.

The Charles Perkins Centre Hub at the University of Sydney, for example, is a melting pot of researchers in metabolic disease, and was established deliberately to be highly interdisciplinary and de-shackled from conventional biomedical research approaches.

Indeed, its approach is strongly aligned with the “convergence” strategy advocated by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in their 2016 report, based on an earlier white paper.

The University of Sydney’s newest research hub is the Sydney Nanoscience Hub, part of the Australian Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology. Although STEM-focused, nanoscience and nanotechnology involves diverse disciplines and has broad applications, some of which cannot even be imagined.

While quantum computing is attracting enormous interest from business, some researchers are looking to biology for inspiration to design next-generation nanotechnology devices. Why biology? Because every interaction between molecules in living organisms occurs on nano-scales.

In fact, some proteins are even referred to as “nano-machines” and because they operate so efficiently in such a busy, compact environment, they potentially hold the clue to discovering how to make practical quantum computers work in the real world.

Similarly, bio-inspired nanotechnology devices, designed to emulate brain-like adaptive learning, open up the possibility of neuromorphic “synthetic intelligence” hardware in next-generation autonomous systems.

Such synthetically intelligent robots could be sent to remote, unexplored places, such as the deep ocean or deep space. They could be used in place of real humans without requiring any pre-programming; information processing and critical decision making would occur on the fly, in real time – just as if they were real humans.

Collaborate and accelerate

The benefits of collaboration may seem obvious, but sometimes it is worth stating the obvious from different perspectives. When people interact, they self-organise, forming groups that operate collectively to achieve imperatives as well as unexpected outcomes.

These outcomes would otherwise not be possible at the individual level – the whole is indeed greater than the sum of its parts. We experience this every day now through social media.

In the internet age that we find ourselves in today, it has never been more important to collaborate, simply because of the sheer volume of information we have access to and the increasing rate at which this data is growing.

We cannot feasibly keep up with this as individuals, but as teams, we can.

Knowledge can be gained by individuals much more effectively through interactions with others than by searching the internet or reading a research publication.

That new shared information can be applied more efficiently. This means that through collaboration, researchers and business can accelerate their progress on the path to success, however they each choose to measure it. 

Professor Zdenka Kuncic

Founding Co-Director, Australian Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology, The University of Sydney

Read next: Professor Andrew Rohl, Director of the Curtin Institute for Computation, compares academic collaboration with partnerships that involve industry. 

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Australia’s first nanoscience facility launched

Leading scientific figures, pioneers and representatives from key organisations internationally are visiting Sydney for today’s launch of the Australian Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology (AINST) – and the official opening of its headquarters – the most advanced facility for nanoscience in the region – where design, fabrication and testing of devices can occur under one roof.

Officially opening the new $150 million Sydney Nanoscience Hub will be Australian Academy of Science’s President Andrew Holmes AM. Senior executives from Microsoft in the USA are also visiting to tour the building, and scientists speaking at the launch include one of Israel’s top physicists, Moti Segev – whose centre at the Technion is collaborating on a project with the University of Sydney and the NSW Government.

Nanoscience is expected to be more impactful this century than the industrial revolution in the 19th century. But “the buildings in which we work, rather than our imaginations, are what’s been limiting the science,” says Associate Professor Michael Biercuk, formerly a consultant to the US government organisation the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and now the research leader of a quantum flagship in AINST.

More than six years in the making, the award-winning Sydney Nanoscience Hub was co-funded with $40 million from the federal government, includes teaching spaces alongside publicly available core research facilities that will support  fundamental research as well as the work of startups and established industry.

AINST hosts some of the capabilities of the Australian National Fabrication Facility and of the Australian Microscopy and Microanalysis Research Facility – both co-funded by the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS). Researchers at the Institute contribute to two Australian Council Centres of Excellence:  the Centre for Ultrahigh bandwidth Devices for Optical Systems (CUDOS); and the Centre for Engineered Quantum Systems (EQuS).

Professor Benjamin Eggleton, the Director of CUDOS who also heads the photonics flagship at AINST, says photonics (the study of photons – the building blocks of light) was already delivering real-world solutions: “Photonics is the backbone of the internet and underpins a $7 trillion industry,” Eggleton says.

“Our team has led the world in photonic-based chip processing and we are now working on building a photonic chip – or a lab on a chip – that may one day be compatible with mobile phones, enabling them to sense environmental pollution or be used for testing blood samples to diagnose health issues.”

Vice-Chancellor Dr Michael Spence says the University-wide AINST reached across traditional disciplinary boundaries.

“The Australian Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology continues the University of Sydney’s tradition in addressing multidisciplinary issues in a unique way to ensure that we are ready to solve the great challenges of science, engineering and beyond,” he says.

AINST Director, Professor Thomas Maschmeyer, will also head one of five initiating flagships – in energy and environment – and this month announced an investment valued at $11 million from the United Kingdom into a university nano spin-off.

“There is little doubt that society must progressively transition to non-fossil-based energy,” Maschmeyer says.

Professor David Reilly, research leader of the AINST’s quantum measurement and control flagship, says breakthroughs at the nanoscale hold the key to major advances in areas such as artificial intelligence and security.

“The challenge for us over the next few years is to take the physics results that we have probing the basic phenomena of quantum mechanics and see those results turn into technologies.”

Director of the Sydney Nanoscience Hub building Professor Simon Ringer says new science would be enabled through this purpose-built facility for nanoscience – the first in Australia.

“This is the best building of its kind in our region. It will allow us to operate research instruments that enable us to ask questions at the frontiers of science.”

AINST Director of Community and Research, Professor Zdenka Kuncic says the ‘rules of the game’ in nanoscience were still being worked out.

“Perhaps the most exciting aspect of nanoscience is the potential for new discoveries, including in health and medicine,” she says.

“We have only scratched the surface of the new knowledge that remains to be revealed.”

This article was first published by The University of Sydney on 20 April 2016. Read the original article here.