All posts by Elise

R&D

R&D tax investment takes a hit

The biggest loser appears to be the R&D tax measures for business, reducing from $2.8b to $2.3b, a fall approaching 18%. Some care needs to be exercised as the comparisons given are not final figures; they are the estimated actual figures for 2017-18 and the budget estimate figures for 2018-19. Furthermore, the R&D tax measures are not actually government spending but are revenue foregone by the government, which is perhaps more difficult to estimate.

The full impact of changes to the R&D tax measures are yet to play out. The Ferris, Finkel, Fraser Review of the system was announced as part of the NISA statement in December 2015. The reviewers were asked to “identify opportunities to improve the effectiveness and integrity of the R&D Tax Incentive, including by sharpening its focus on encouraging additional R&D spending”.

The review panel found that the R&D tax measures fell short of meeting their objectives of additionality and spillovers. They recommended six changes, which have been the subject of considerable debate since the public release of the report in September 2016. A “collaboration bonus” recommendation was not taken up, although a number of advocacy groups have continued to press the case. On budget night this year, the government announced a range of measures to “refocus” the R&D tax measures. The refocusing included a crack down on R&D tax claims that push the boundaries of the arrangements, with enhanced integrity, enforcement and transparency arrangements. A consultation process closed 26 July and the final form of the legislation is expected to come before the current parliament.

What we currently know is that the government expects a significant reduction in the total cost of the R&D tax measures from 2017/18 to 2018/19. What we don’t know is how much the reduced expenditure is due to actual reduced R&D spending by companies or whether savings from the crack down and enhanced enforcement are having a great impact. While one still hears horror stories of tax claims for “R&D” that looks far more like business as usual, most of the stories haven’t changed that much from the last big reforms in 2010. Obviously no government wants to provide incentives to companies to simply do what they would have done regardless. Getting that balance right is the key to tax measures for R&D and it will remain a closely watched space over the coming year.

While indirect R&D support to business may be reducing, the direct mechanism through the CRC Program is doing relatively well. Budget figures show an increase of over $30M in the annual allocation to the program over the forward estimates, rising to $192M in 2021-22. The increase is much needed, as it brings the program back toward the level it enjoyed a decade ago. The introduction of the extremely popular CRC-Projects comes from the same budget and they continue to build momentum with business. Demand for CRC-Ps is growing substantially and companies enjoy the simplicity of the grants which foster collaboration between businesses and between business and public research organisations.

The Science, Research and Innovation Budget tables can be viewed here.

– Tony Peacock

Originally published by the Cooperative Research Centres Association.

medical imaging banner

ANSTO breast cancer detection breakthrough on the horizon

Image: Synchrotron radiation is emitted by a synchrotron, an extremely powerful particle accelerator.

A new and innovative application of an advanced medical imaging technique is being prepared for clinical application by Australian researchers at ANSTO’s Australian Synchrotron to improve breast cancer detection and diagnosis.

The research, made possible by the Coalition Government’s $520 million investment in the facility in 2016 as part of the National Innovation and Science Agenda, will provide better patient outcomes.

The research is being conducted by a group of imaging scientists led by Professor Patrick Brennan of the University of Sydney and Dr Tim Gureyev of the University of Melbourne and uses the Imaging and Medical Beamline at the Australian Synchrotron with the support of Instrument scientist Dr Daniel Häusermann.

The technique, called in-line phase-contrast computed tomography (PCT), is due to be used on the first patients by 2020 and is being developed because of the high error rate that still exists with current medical imaging screening techniques.

The method, which used convention X-rays, was pioneered by Melbourne researchers in the late 1990s, including Professor Keith Nugent the late Dr Stephen Wilkins.

Approximately 30 per cent of cancers are still missed by radiologists and for patients with high breast density the missed cancer rate is over 50 per cent. This can lead to late detection of the cancer, and regrettably, often fatal outcomes from metastasis.

Speaking at ANSTO’s Australian Synchrotron campus to mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, the Hon Karen Andrews MP, said the research was vitally important for women throughout Australia.

“Breast cancer is the most common cancer that affects women. There are currently over 800,000 mammograms performed in Australia each year,” Minister Andrews said.

 “As many women will know, the experience of getting a mammogram can be uncomfortable and in too many cases the existing technology means cancers are missed.

 “This research will mean better image quality, a more accurate diagnosis, and a smaller radiation dose. Importantly, there will be no discomfort for patients as the breast compression process will no longer be necessary.”

The work is being supported by ANSTO and an NHMRC grant of $687,000 over three years, to ready the technique for use with the first patients by 2020.

“This investment highlights the Federal Government’s commitment to supporting world-leading research, which has real world benefits for the community.”

Professor Andrew Peele, Director of the Australian Synchrotron, ANSTO said, “This vitally important research, enabled by lead researchers using ANSTO’s world-class Synchrotron and our scientists, highlights the very real benefits that science and technology can deliver to the community,” Professor Peele said.

“This is the first application of the technique using synchrotron radiation in human patients, so there is a great deal of preparation and many things that have to take place before its use. Nonetheless we are greatly encouraged by findings so far.”

A 3D animation of the medical imaging screening process can be found here.

 This article was originally published on ANSTO.gov.au. ANSTO is the home of Australia’s most significant landmark and national infrastructure for research. Thousands of scientists from industry and academia benefit from gaining access to state-of-the-art instruments every year.

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.

Google CwC STEM cropped

Careers with STEM: Code celebrates fifth birthday

Image credit: Google professionals Tina, Fontaine, Deepa and Joël (Lauren Trompp, 2018).

The upcoming magazine is set to be one of the most diverse representations of STEM careers yet.

It showcases real-life pathways to technology careers, promotes diversity and celebrates people in STEM doing exciting things, all to encourage Australian students to get into STEM.

From October 15, a box of the glossy Careers with STEM magazines will be sent out to every Australian high school –  a collaboration between two of Australia’s biggest STEM employers (Google and the Commonwealth Bank of Australia), the Government and agile STEM startup, publisher Refraction Media.

75% of the fastest growing jobs will require skills in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) and yet only 16% of university students graduate with a STEM degree, according to a PwC report. “We can’t say what the careers of the future will be, but we know that technology and STEM skills will underpin all careers,” says Heather Catchpole, co-founder and Head of Content at Refraction.

Careers with STEM: Code  is one of a quarterly series of print magazines and accompanies the online hub CareerswithSTEM.com, which features the most in-demand STEM careers, inspirational profiles and study resources for students and teachers. Refraction co-founder and CEO Karen Taylor-Brown explains that the magazines and e-portal were created to close the gap between students’ perception of STEM careers and the reality. “Careers with STEM is about smashing stereotypes around careers, driving diversity and celebrating Australia’s STEM-stars.”

This year, Careers with STEM: Code focuses on the most in-demand Computer Science (CS) jobs and the versatility of digital literacy for any career. With tips on how to design a CS career, diversity in tech and a Cybersecurity special, students will be well-equipped to map out their own unique pathway to a tech career that suits them.

Students can check out the profiles of several Australian STEM professionals from Google, CBA and more to find out  how they got to where they are now. “Technology and CS are at the heart of innovation in every industry,” says Sally-Ann Williams, Google’s Engineering Outreach Manager.  “New jobs and industries will continue to emerge as technology evolves…My hope is that in the pages of Careers with STEM: Code [students] will be inspired and challenged by the people who are working in these fields.”

Cybersecurity has been named one of the top 5 in-demand jobs right now (LinkedIn Emerging Jobs Report 2017) and another 11,000 cybersecurity specialists are needed over the next decade in Australia alone (CSCGN 2017 Report). The latest issue of Careers with STEM: Code includes a special Cybersecurity addition including  tips from CBA cyber-experts on how to break into the industry.

“Every day, we are faced with new cyber threats, challenges and opportunities, which is why we are constantly seeking talented, passionate and creative people to join the cybersecurity sector,” says Kate Ingwersen, General Manager of CISTO (Chief Information Security & Trust Officer) at CBA. “There is a world of opportunity for young people to become our cyber superstars of tomorrow.”

“We’re thrilled to work with so many industry, government and education leaders to bring together Careers with STEM, four times a year, for the last five years”, says Taylor-Brown. “This is a product that can address, at scale, some of the key barriers to careers in STEM, including narrow career vision, real-life relevance and pervasive stereotypes around who works in STEM and what the jobs are.”

“It’s a fantastic magazine…students really enjoy reading about their potential future pathways”, says Matthew Purcell, Head of Digital Innovation at Canberra Grammar School.

Students and teachers are able to pre-order copies of the print magazine now and the e-zine will be available from October 15.

nanoparticles banner

Green mango peel nanoparticles: a slick solution

For the petroleum industry remediating oil sludge is a costly and an ongoing challenge, particularly when 3-7 per cent of oil processing activities are irreversibly lost as oily or sludge waste.

Lead researcher, UniSA’s Dr Biruck Desalegn says without treatment oil contaminated soil presents a massive risk to ecosystems and the environment.

“Last year, global oil production reached a new record of 92.6 million barrels per day, but despite improvements in control technologies, oil refineries unavoidably continue to generate large volumes of oil sludge,” Dr Desalegn says.

“Oil contamination can present cytotoxic, mutagenic and potentially carcinogenic conditions for all living things, including people

“What’s more, the toxicity and physical properties of oil change over time, which means the process of weathering can expose new, and evolved toxins.”

The new nanoparticles, synthesized from green mango peel extract and iron chloride, provide a novel and effective treatment for oil contaminated soil. They work by breaking down toxins in oil sludge through chemical oxidation, leaving behind only the decontaminated materials and dissolved iron.

Dr Desalegn says the new plant-based nanoparticles can successfully decontaminate oil-polluted soil, removing more than 90 per cent of toxins.

“Plant extracts are increasingly used to create nanomaterials,” Dr Desalegn says.

“In this study, we experimented with mango peel to create zerovalent iron nanoparticles which have the ability to breakdown various organic contaminants.

“With mango peel being such a rich source of bioactive compounds, it made sense that zerovalent iron made from mango peel might be more potent in the oxidation process.

“As we discovered, the mango peel iron nanoparticles worked extremely well, even outperforming a chemically synthesized counterpart by removing more of contaminants in the oil sludge.”

Dr Desalegn says this discovery presents a sustainable, green solution to address the significant pollution generated by the world’s oil production.

“Ever since the devastation of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the petroleum industry has been acutely aware of their responsibilities for safe and sustainable production processes,” Dr Desalegn says.

“Our research uses the waste part of the mango – the peel – to present an affordable, sustainable and environmentally friendly treatment solution for oil sludge.

“And while the world continues to be economically and politically reliant on oil industries as a source of energy working to remediate the impact of oil pollution will remain a serious and persistent issue.”

Source: University of South Australia

space roadmap banner

Space roadmap unlocks future growth opportunities for Australia

Space: A Roadmap for unlocking future growth opportunities for Australia, was launched by the Hon Karen Andrews MP at the 18th Australian Space Research Conference on the Gold Coast, held on September 24-26, 2018.

Australian space industries already contribute $3.9 billion a year to the economy and  the business opportunities and jobs growth potential is significant, said Minister Andrews.

Once dominated by billion-dollar government programs, the industry landscape of global space activity and space exploration is now composed of SMEs which provide an array of technology and services. “The benefits from a growing space industry are very local”, said Minister Andrews, highlighting Gold Coast rocket business Gilmour Space Technologies and Opaque Space, a Melbourne-based VR company  working with NASA on an astronaut training simulator.

“We have what it takes to gain a greater share of the market and build a new industry for our nation.”

The industry roadmap report was developed by CSIRO Futures, the strategy advisory arm of Australia’s national space agency. It highlights three key areas for potential development: space exploration and utilisation, space-derived services and space object tracking.  

  1.    The reports recommends that Australia leverage our nation’s industrial and research strengths across astronomy, mining, manufacturing, medicine, agriculture and robotics, and apply these skills to support robotic and human space exploration missions. This will include the development of innovative systems for long-term settlement in space, including habitation and life support.
  2.    Earth observation technology, including satellite communications and positioning, navigation and timing data, can aid in developing businesses which address disaster and water management.
  3.    Australia can take advantage of our geographic position in the Southern Hemisphere to further our work with international programs to track and manage space debris and enable deep space communication.

Key technologies to focus on include power and propulsion systems, autonomous systems and robotics to make missions safer, habitat and life support (including food, protective clothing and housing) and in-situ resource utilisation. The report also emphasises the broader benefits of growing the Australian space industry, as a valuable source of innovation for Earth-based industries, such as communications, agriculture, mining and transport.  

The Australian Space Agency (ACA) was established by the Government with the mandate to triple the size of our domestic space industry up to $12 billion by 2030 and generate 20,000 new jobs.

“Our purpose is to transform and grow a globally respected Australian space industry that inspires Australia”, said Dr Megan Clark AC, the head of the ACA.

Dr Larry Marshall, CSIRO Chief Executive, said that he looks forward to the partnership opening up Australian markets, improving productivity, creating new jobs, and securing our STEM talent pipeline into the future. “We are here to help Australia secure our footprint in the space ecosystem,” he said.

In 2017, CSIRO secured access to one of the world’s most advanced high-performance satellites, the NovaSAR satellite. The Satellite was launched on 17 September 2018 and the CSIRO holds a 10% share of tasking and acquisition time over the next seven years. This gives Australian scientists control over the satellite’s data collection over our region and will extend Australian Earth Observation capabilities.

A selection of the research projects associated with NovaSaR include disaster identification and monitoring, improved infrastructure and agriculture mapping, biomass monitoring, flood risk assessment and detection of illegal deforestation and shipping activities.

“A new space agency is not just about industry. It is about creating aspirations about exploring the universe,” said Minister Andrews. “Our space agency will help promote opportunities for our young people and give them the chance to aspire to something they many not even have thought about…Growing our space industry is about growing our future prosperity as a nation.”

– Larissa Fedunik

space

La Trobe and German Aerospace Agency launch Earth observation camera

The DLR Earth Sensing Imaging Spectrometer (DESIS) was created with assistance from the engineering talent of the La Trobe University Engineering department and the imagery will be used to monitor natural disasters and environmental changes. Thousands witnessed the camera launch from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, attached to Elon Musk’s Space-X Falcon 9 rocket, on 30 June 2018.

La Trobe Engineering Senior Lecturer and Entrepreneur in Residence, Dr Peter Moar, says the collaboration came about because of the La Trobe TIGER (Digital Radar and Radio Systems) radar team’s unique skills and experience designing hardware and software systems for hazardous environments.  “La Trobe University is very much at the forefront of space technology,” Dr Moar said.

“The unique feature of this camera – that no other system can do – is its ability to capture imagery at varying angles as it’s passing overhead, from some 400 kilometres in outer space,” explains Dr Moar. “With sophisticated on-board processing, it enables us to capture features of the Earth’s surface that have never been achieved before.”

“Typically, a system like this would be launched on a stand-alone satellite. This would make designing, launching and building incredibly expensive,” says Dr Moar. Installing the DESIS on the ISS removes the need for an expensive, stand-alone system. “This is the first time this has been trialled – it’s a very exciting project.”

DESIS has been integrated onto the ISS imaging platform named MUSES (Multi-User System for Earch Sensing) and the images will be used by research organisations and commercial users.

These high quality images will be of key benefit for environmental monitoring. La Trobe’s Securing Food, Water and the Environment Research Group plan to use the data to monitor the health of the Earth’s ecosystem, which includes tracking vegetation cover and water quality.

DESIS will also be a boon for disaster management, such as the control and monitoring of bush fires, floods, ash clouds, storms and drought. The School of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences at La Trobe and Melbourne-based company ESS Weathertech will use the data for the Firebird fire detection satellite project.  The program will provide more timely fire maps to emergency services to help save lives and minimise damage to property.

Dr Moar says that the La Trobe engineers are uniquely qualified to work on DESIS because of their experience developing radar systems for extremely hazardous environments, such as in La Trobe’s TIGER projects.

“Our involvement with the DESIS program highlights the three decades of expertise in La Trobe’s engineering department. It’s a world-first, cutting edge project”, says Dr Moar.

Earth observation is a key priority for the recently established Australian Space Agency, which aims to position Australia as an international leader in specialised space capabilities. The DESIS is currently in its commissioning phase on the ISS.

space industry

Australia, France join to build space industry capability

Both agencies have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to develop their respective space programs. The Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, Karen Andrews, welcomed the agreement signed on 1 September by the Head of the Australian Space Agency, Dr Megan Clark AC, and Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES) President, Dr Jean-Yves Le Gall.

The agreement will help both countries join forces to develop their space capabilities, particularly in the areas of space operations, space science, Earth observation, positioning system and communications.

“This strategic association between the Australian and French governments’ space agencies will help our nations’ universities, research institutions, businesses and communities work together across a range of fields,” Minister Andrews said.

“It builds on an existing track record of cooperation between CNES and Australia, and allows both countries to embark on an ambitious partnership,” she said.

The first steps are already underway, with CNES partnering with UNSW Canberra Space for the development of the Australian National Concurrent Design Facility (ANCDF) for the development of world class space missions, and for studies towards the development of satellite technologies with advanced sensors and on-board processing and intelligence.

This facility will fast-track Australia’s ability to deliver world-class space technology, provide a boost to economic growth and jobs in Australia, and support future joint missions.

Dr Clark said the signing of the agreement represented the start of the Australian Space Agency’s journey with fellow spacefaring nations.

“Civil space engagement initiatives like this with the French Space Agency will explore advanced space technology and applications used in earth observation and remote sensing with high-altitude balloons and satellites, space operations and joint missions,” Dr Clark said.

CNES President Jean-Yves Le Gall also welcomed the agreement.

“Today CNES proudly becomes the Australian Space Agency’s very first international partner. Australia’s amazing ramp-up shows the now crucial importance of space for our economies. The joint projects coming out of today’s agreement will ultimately bring growth and jobs both in Australia and in France.”

Media release from the Hon Karen Andrews MP.

hydrogen

Boosting renewable hydrogen research

On behalf of the Australian Government, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) announced on 6 September it has awarded $22.1 million in funding to 16 research projects to propel innovation in exporting renewable hydrogen to the world.
 
The funding has been offered to research teams from nine Australian universities and research organisations including the Australian National University, Macquarie University, Monash University, Queensland University of Technology, RMIT University, The University of Melbourne, University of New South Wales, The University of Western Australia and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).
 
In December 2017, ARENA announced the funding round into hydrogen R&D. It is the first time ARENA had sought to fund research into the hydrogen energy supply chain. 
 
The early stage research projects cover a diverse range of renewable solutions, with at least one project from each point in the supply chain – production, hydrogen carrier and end use. The projects include the development of a wide range of hydrogen-related technologies including concentrating solar thermal, electrolysis, biotechnology, carrier synthesis, thermochemical processes, fuel cell development and energy generation. 
 
Hydrogen – or carriers like ammonia – are potentially ways for Australia to export renewable energy. Electrical energy can readily be converted into hydrogen via electrolysis. Renewable or green hydrogen involves producing hydrogen from renewable sources for example via electrolysers powered by solar and wind. 
 
Hydrogen is poised to play a larger role, as the world moves to a low carbon economy. Hydrogen can potentially be used as a way for Australia to export renewable energy to other countries, particularly in Asia with demand expected to increase. 
 
Earlier this month, ARENA also released a report that identified opportunities for Australia to export hydrogen as global demand for hydrogen increases in the next decade. 
 
The report, prepared by ACIL Allen Consulting for ARENA, found there could be a significant increase in demand globally for hydrogen exports as other countries – such as Japan and the Republic of Korea – looked to transition to renewable energy. With the right conditions, hydrogen exports could be worth $1.7 billion annually and could generate 2,800 jobs in Australia by 2030. 
 
ARENA is also part of the Hydrogen Strategy Group, led by Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel AO, which prepared a briefing paper on hydrogen for the COAG Energy Council.
 
ARENA CEO Darren Miller said the $22.1 million funding boost would help to maximise Australia’s opportunities in developing a cost-effective hydrogen export supply chain.
 
“Exporting renewable energy, such as by the use of hydrogen, involves developing and integrating emerging technologies. This funding will help bolster the research efforts of Australian scientists to drive innovation for what could become the next big export industry.
 
“Hydrogen is poised to play a big role in the world’s low carbon economy. Already, Japan and South Korea have committed to becoming major import markets for renewable hydrogen but as yet there are no exporters,” Mr Miller said.
 
“With its abundance of sun and wind, and experience as one of the world’s largest LNG exporters, Australia is ideally placed to become a global superpower in exporting renewable energy, and this work will help position us as leaders in this field,” he said.
Media release from ARENA. For more information, head to https://bit.ly/2M0juka.
Flurosat agtech

Agtech startup FluroSat infuses data for food security

Agtech startup FluroSat, headed by aeronautical engineer Anastasia Volkova, had its origins through the University of Sydney’s Inventing the Future entrepreneurial program. Since its inception two years ago, it has already captured the attention of investors and is now about to launch its new online platform to the Australian market.

Volkova sums up one of the problems the agricultural industry is currently facing in a nutshell: “Farms are large and farmers are busy. The opportunity for different applications of remote sensing technology [to be converted] into crop stress indicators has found resonance in the farming and agricultural community. We’re turning this data into insights.”

Flurosat uses remote sensing images (captured by multi-/ and hyperspectral cameras on board satellites, airplanes and drones) to capture early indicators of crop stress. The team have developed a subscription-based platform (FluroSense™) to infuse this data into a smart solution for precision farming. Agronomists can use the platform to spot crop stress indicators and verify the exact locations at risk. They can then consult with farmers on how to best target the areas which need attention.

Unlimited satellite data is available on the platform, additional aircraft-obtained data can be ordered and users can even upload their own drone data. Volkova explains the critical requirements for data connectivity, from locational identification of the crop stressors through to quantification, analysis and interpretation. “We’re making the remote sensing work for precision agriculture and [extracting] insights from crop stress indicators that crop stress models help us look for. It’s a two-step approach that very few other [agtech] companies are using.”

The agtech startup has three main pillars: agriculture, remote sensing and data science/machine learning. The diverse and international team bring together their expertise in agtech, aerospace, software development and data analytics and are based at FluroSat’s head offices in Sydney and Kiev. “Flurosat was born out of a desire to make an impact”, says Volkova. She explains that she examined the unique value proposition of her skills and how she could apply them to a global problem. “It’s important to have a purpose to wake up every morning to.”

Volkova speaks proudly about the startup and her colleagues: “It’s harnessing people’s superpowers and skills for a great purpose.” She says that one of their biggest successes so far has been convincing clients of the usefulness of the data and that it’s possible to get the full benefits to visit the field in person. “We’ve proven that you don’t need a person on the ground to provide customer service.”

FluroSat is gearing up to conduct the company’s third season of monitoring of primarily cotton crop in Australia this summer and expand its reach globally, particularly to the North and South American markets. “We’re looking at driving the value of the insights on the large scale.”

– Larissa Fedunik

education report

Education report urges greater connections between schools and industry

The latest education report released by the Mitchell Institute at Victoria University has found that a lack of industry and community engagement in schools means that students are not being adequately prepared for the world of work.

The education report found that effective school-industry partnerships could smooth the transition from school to workplace in light of changing demands due to technology advances. Declining numbers of school-industry partnerships mean that school students may be missing out on these opportunities.

School-industry partnerships offer a range of activities to students, including real world learning projects, mentoring programs and career-taster days. Mitchell Institute Director, Megan O’Connell explains that the importance of these activities is increasing as workplaces change and evolve.

“Schools alone can’t foster the many skills and capabilities students need to thrive in the digital age,” Ms O’Connell explained. “Partnerships between schools and industry is one of the best ways to make sure students understand and develop the skills they need for their future careers, so this needs to be a priority for all Australian schools.”

The changing future of work

The report was commissioned to address the changing face of employment across all Australian industries due to emerging smart technologies such as AI, robotics, Internet of Things and big data analytics. To drive future growth and innovation, the report highlighted the need for young people to develop three areas of critical knowledge, skills and capabilities. These include:

  •         STEM skills, which have been estimated to add $57.4 billion to GDP over the next 20 years
  •         Digital skills, including data analysis, building digital platforms and developing software
  •         Transferable skills and capabilities, such as using critical thinking, problem solving, analytic and judgement capabilities to perform non-routine tasks

The report found that the real world learning opportunities providing by school-industry partnerships improved learning outcomes in all three of these key areas.

It examined several studies on the impact of school-employer engagement programs on student outcomes. Programs such as giving students careers-related tasks in mathematics classes were found to increase student opinion of the task’s relevance and boost their test scores. Greater employer exposure during schooling was also linked to greater earning potential after graduation.

Ms O’Connell says that many students lack the opportunities to experience the world of work first-hand.  “We need to make sure every student can access meaningful experiences that provide connections with people outside of usual school and family networks. All students should be able to think about how the world of work aligns with their passions and interests at school.”

Increasing engagement

The report recommended that schools prioritise school-industry partnerships by investing more time and resources into these activities. To address the barriers preventing these partnerships, it was recommended that schools work with the government to alleviate regulatory issues and equity barriers.  

“Currently there are complex administrative requirements getting in the way of partnerships working – we need to do more to simplify these across the country,” Ms O’Connell said.                                                     

“To achieve the benefits, we need a system that supports industry partnerships alongside the curriculum in all Australian schools.”

One school-industry partnership already enjoying success is the Schools Plus program, which is running in three Perth schools. Students participate in weekly STEM-themed robotics classes, supported by Google. The partnership was facilitated by Australian Schools Plus, a not-for-profit organisation. Google provides funding, expertise and time for its staff, including engineers.

Extra resources for teachers

The report highlighted that teachers often lack resources which showcase the applicability of the curriculum to real-world careers. To help them bring classroom material to life, teachers can use resources such as Careers with STEM, a print and digital careers platform for students, teachers and parents.

Both the magazine and online platform feature study tips, quizzes, articles about the STEM careers of the future, a comprehensive tertiary study directory and inspiring profiles. Careers with STEM showcases relatable people from diverse backgrounds, who are often using their STEM skills in unexpected ways. Students are also alerted to upcoming STEM-related competitions and extra-curricular programs, such as the FIRST robotics competition and the Questacon invention convention.

Careers with STEM, published by Refraction Media,  includes a quarterly magazine, which is distributed free of charge to every Australian secondary school, and a digital hub at CareerswithSTEM.com.au.

The Mitchell Institute report, Connecting the worlds of learning and work, is available at www.mitchellinstitute.org.au.

Artificial intelligence links eyes to personality

It’s often been said that the eyes are the window to the soul, revealing what we think and how we feel. Now, new research reveals that your eyes may also be an indicator of your personality type, simply by the way they move.

Developed by the University of South Australia in partnership with the University of Stuttgart, Flinders University and the Max Planck Institute for Informatics in Germany, the research uses state-of-the-art machine-learning algorithms to demonstrate a link between personality and eye movements.

Findings show that people’s eye movements reveal whether they are sociable, conscientious or curious, with the algorithm software reliably recognising four of the Big Five personality traits: neuroticism, extroversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness.

Researchers tracked the eye movements of 42 participants as they undertook everyday tasks around a university campus, and subsequently assessed their personality traits using well-established questionnaires.

UniSA’s Dr Tobias Loetscher says the study provides new links between previously under-investigated eye movements and personality traits and delivers important insights for emerging fields of social signal processing and social robotics.

“There’s certainly the potential for these findings to improve human-machine interactions,” Dr Loetscher says.

“People are always looking for improved, personalised services. However, today’s robots and computers are not socially aware, so they cannot adapt to non-verbal cues.

“This research provides opportunities to develop robots and computers so that they can become more natural, and better at interpreting human social signals.”

Dr Loetscher says the findings also provide an important bridge between tightly controlled laboratory studies and the study of natural eye movements in real-world environments.

“This research has tracked and measured the visual behaviour of people going about their everyday tasks, providing more natural responses than if they were in a lab.

“And thanks to our machine-learning approach, we not only validate the role of personality in explaining eye movement in everyday life, but also reveal new eye movement characteristics as predictors of personality traits.”

First published by UniSA

The need for science to focus on data sharing

The USA’s National Academies of Sciences (NAS) has released a new study that sheds light on the state of open science around the world. The report, Open Science by Design: Realizing a Vision for 21st Century Research, says different scientific disciplines are facing different issues, but all of them need to focus on data as much as publications.

Career advancement should reflect excellence in data sharing

According to the study, a lack of incentives for sharing data alongside publications is one of the primary issues holding back open science efforts. To combat this, NAS proposes that a scientist’s career incentives should place just as much emphasis on how openly available they make their data and methods, as they do on the scholarly articles they publish.

“Universities and other research institutions should move toward evaluating published data and other research products in addition to published articles as part of the promotion and tenure process.

“Archived data should be valued, just as the publications that result from them are valued.”

NAS points out that as the distribution models of science evolve, so too will the focus of research outputs.

“The past several decades have seen the printed journal eclipsed by online distribution of research results. Datasets and other non-article research products will be increasingly valued and become a more significant focus of dissemination efforts.”

This prediction comes in the wake of several recent developments in services facilitating open access to research objects – many of them emerging from the blockchain community.

In February this year, the UK’s Data Management Hub released a test network for scientists to track the workflow of research data. In March, Boston-based group ARTiFACTS launched their own platform for tracking all scholarly ‘artifacts’ from the beginning of a study through to publication. At the same time, Australian startup Frankl Open Science created a new model to incentivize scientific data sharing using a dedicated cryptocurrency.

Several other projects have emerged to enhance the peer review process – another area of the scientific workflow that NAS identifies as too heavily focused on scholarly articles.

“Although the scientific community has a long tradition of peer review of journal articles, there is no culture for peer review of other digital research objects, such as metadata for experimental datasets.

“The success of open science will require new mechanisms to extend peer review to all products of scientific research.”

Physics and medicine are leading the way in open science

The Academies’ new report also shows significant variation in the state of open science among different areas of science. Quoting a study published in 2018 by open science advocate Heather Piwowar and colleagues, The State of OA: A large-scale analysis of the prevalence and impact of Open Access Articles, NAS highlights physics, medical science and astronomy as disciplines that have made significant progress in achieving open access to research – suggesting other fields could learn from their success.

“Over 80 percent of publications in astronomy and astrophysics, fertility, and tropical medicine were open. On the other hand, more than 90 percent of publications are hidden behind a paywall in pharmacy, inorganic and nuclear chemistry, and chemical engineering.”

Although part of this comes down to culture, NAS reports that culture itself depends on the nature of the science and the type of data it produces.

“Different fields of science have different cultures, and common issues are availability of infrastructures, policies and standards, and culture.

“Astronomy has had a culture of sharing, for example, in part because of limited access to the equipment to conduct observations and experiments.”

While this need for equipment encourages open access in some disciplines, others are hampered by issues of data privacy and security, size and complexity of data, or fears that data insights might be ‘scooped’ by other researchers. According to NAS, this last obstacle is particularly evident in areas where the data are difficult to collect.

“In some fields and disciplines, particularly those where acquiring data involves considerable effort or expense, such as collecting specimens from remote areas, or undertaking epidemiological studies that require a number of complicated steps, delays in sharing data underlying the first publications may be an accepted practice.”

Open science needs to be FAIR

Changes in incentives and culture are the first of five key recommendations NAS makes in their report, all of which are aimed at research institutions and funding bodies.

“Research institutions should work to create a culture that actively supports Open Science by Design by better rewarding and supporting researchers engaged in open science practices.

“Research funders should provide explicit and consistent support for practices and approaches that facilitate this shift in culture and incentives.”

Better open science training, long-term data preservation resources and the development of research archives were other focal points of the Academies’ final recommendations.

All recommendations were aimed at bringing about “Open Science by Design”, which NAS defines as “a set of principles and practices that fosters openness throughout the entire research cycle” (rather than at the completion of a study).

Similarly, the Academies endorse that all research should be shared in accordance with ‘FAIR principles’ – ‘FAIR’ being an acronym for ‘Findable-Accessible-Interoperable-Reusable’.

– Elise Roberts, Frankl Open Science

STEM education banner

Invest in qualified teachers for STEM education

CEO of Science & Technology Australia (STA), Ms Kylie Walker, said two decades of declines in high school maths and science results and enrolments were a significant risk to Australia’s future capability and prosperity.

“Intermediate and advanced maths enrolments are most worrying, with declines from 54 per cent in 1992, to 36 per cent in 2012,” Ms Walker said.

“We already have skilled workforce deficits in some areas of technology, and we know the major growth in future jobs will be in science, technology, engineering and maths: we need to support teachers with the right skills to prepare our students for the jobs of tomorrow.

“We hope Minister Birmingham’s commitment to developing teacher skills extends to encouraging and incentivising universities to attract more students to undergraduate science and maths degrees.”

Minister for Education and Training, Senator Simon Birmingham, this morning said around 20% of STEM teachers are teaching outside of their area expertise, noting that the Government wanted to ensure that universities are training future secondary teachers in science and mathematics.

“Many of our member organisations have been calling for urgent action to address the decline for some time,” Ms Walker said.

“Unfortunately, though, current caps on funding for undergraduate degrees pose significant challenges to building a STEM-qualified education workforce.

“STEM degrees are important to securing Australia’s prosperity, and though they are costly to deliver, they will pay dividends,” she said.

“The solution is twofold: have skilled teachers inspire students to develop a passion for STEM from an early age, and invest in universities to attract these students to pursue a degree in STEM.”

First published by Science & Technology Australia
CSIRO energise banner

CSIRO Energise app to map Australian energy usage

Users of the CSIRO Energise app (available on Google Play and on the Apple App Store) share their energy costs and usage patterns through a range of ‘micro-surveys’, which will be used by the CSIRO to understand changing energy demands. The data will be shared with consumers, government and industry and could lead to improvements in the Australian energy network.

The app is a key component of CSIRO’s Energy Use Data Model project, which is collating and centralising various streams of energy data. “It’s designed to help us understand the changing world of energy”, explains Project Leader Dr Adam Berry. “Over the past years, we’ve seen huge changes in the energy sector, such as an increased uptake of renewables. This app aims to find out what this means for the average consumer.”

The micro-surveys cover topics such as household characteristics, power costs, energy-usage patterns, appliances and uptake of renewables, such as solar PV. CSIRO Energise has been designed as a two-way communication channel, so users will receive insights including tips for improving household energy efficiency and cutting-edge research updates as the energy data is analysed.

Dr Berry says that there is a current lack of data on how Australian households interact with energy. “We need to get better at forecasting energy demand if we want to create a more reliable and cheaper energy system. The app will help answer the big energy questions, such as who is paying the most for electricity and what’s driving peak demand.”

CSIRO Energise is the first of its kind. Unlike paper surveys, the app is able to follow users’ responses over time. It can ask questions in response to specific events, such as how heating is used on cold days, improving our understanding and management of peak energy consumption. “It’s the first time we’ve had the opportunity for longitudinal, long-term data collection”, says Dr Berry.

Dr Berry believes that this data collection platform will benefit researchers, government, industry and consumers.  “The results of the data analysis will be shared publicly and the plan is to work with industry and other bodies. This will be really valuable for the residential sector and will go a long way to lowering energy bills. It could also help certain sectors, such as city councils, find out how effective their energy policies are.”

Dr Berry is working hard to spread the word about CSIRO Energise to maximise the number of engaged users. “I genuinely believe that this will help us build an understanding of what modern energy use looks like across Australia.”

“That understanding is critical for developing the right research to deliver the most value possible to real Australian households.”

CSIRO Energise is available for download for free on Google Play and on the Apple App Store.

Source: CSIRO

OrbIT group pic resized assistive technology

Game on – assistive tech for Parkinson’s disease

A gaming system called ‘OrbIT’ is being trialled to improve health outcomes for individuals with Parkinson’s disease, thanks to a collaboration between Flinders University, the University of Adelaide and Parkinson’s South Australia.

The three-year study, funded by the Estate of the late Olga Mabel Woolger, will trial the assistive technology as a cognitive training device to improve outcomes and delay the onset of dementia for people with Parkinson’s disease. The research project is led by Flinders University Rehabilitation Engineer David Hobbs and University of Adelaide neuroscientist Dr Lyndsey Collins-Praino, in partnership with Parkinson’s South Australia.

The OrbIT system is a fun and easy to use computer gaming system designed to engage the player in targeted, cognitively challenging activities. It features a novel controller which does not require a strong grip or fine motor control. This makes it highly suitable for individuals with Parkinson’s disease, who may otherwise struggle to use traditional gaming consoles.

There are over 82, 000 Australians living with Parkinson’s today, making it the most common major movement disorder and second most prevalent neurodegenerative condition. There is currently no cure.

“Within 15 to 20 years, 80% of people with Parkinson’s will go on to develop dementia”, explains Dr Collins-Praino. “Using the OrbIT system as a cognitive training device may help to slow down and prevent this.”

OrbIT was originally developed for children with cerebral palsy and has also been trialled for people undergoing stroke rehabilitation. The current collaboration came about through a chance meeting when Dr Collins-Praino attended a presentation by OrbIT lead developer Mr Hobbs and suggested the potential for OrbIT to help people with Parkinson’s.  

“Sometimes the best collaborations come about by chance”, says Dr Collins-Praino, who is looking forward to using OrbIT in a clinical setting. “It’s really exciting to have a potential tool that can make cognitive training accessible.”

The trials will take place through Parkinson’s SA’s new Brain x Body Fitness Studio, a studio which focuses on movement and flexibility, whilst also being a social hub for over 50’s. As well as traditional gym facilities, Brain x Body provides programs and assistive technologies which have been clinically proven to improve neuroplasticity,

Chief Executive Officer of Parkinson’s SA, Olivia Nassaris, has always been on the lookout for assistive technologies and was highly impressed by OrbIT when she first visited Mr Hobbs’ Flinders University laboratory last year. She describes OrbIT as the perfect project. “It happened completely organically. Dr Collins-Praino saw the potential for the benefits of OrbIT to be translated to Parkinson’s research and the collaboration has worked out perfectly between the three groups.”

“Assistive technology such as OrbIT improve quality of life by maximising independence and self-management”, says Ms Nassaris. This research trial will be an important step in improving the health outcomes for individuals with Parkinson’s disease.  

Source: University of Adelaide, Parkinson’s SA

Image: Lyn Paunovic (centre), who has Parkinson’s disease, holds the OrbIT game controller. Left to right: Lyn’s husband Tolley Paunovic, Dr Lyndsey Collins-Praino, Lyn Paunovic, Olivia Nassaris and David Hobbs.

Nano-science device produces ‘clean’ super-strength carbons

The remarkable and versatile Vortex Fluidic Device (VFD), capable of producing high quality graphene and specific length carbon nanotubes without using harsh or toxic chemicals, will be manufactured for commercial sales as part of a collaboration by new nano-science company 2D Fluidics.

2D Fluidics has been formed through a collaboration between ASX-listed company First Graphene Ltd and the Flinders Institute for NanoScale Science and Technology.

2D Fluidics will commercialise the Vortex Fluidic Device (VFD), invented in collaboration with the Flinders Institute for NanoScale Science and Technology’s Professor Colin Raston. The VFD enables new approaches to producing a wide range of materials such as graphene and sliced carbon nanotubes, with the bonus of not needing to use harsh or toxic chemicals in the manufacturing process (which is required for conventional graphene and shortened carbon nanotube production).

This clean processing breakthrough will also greatly reduce the cost and improve the efficiency of manufacturing these new high quality super-strength carbon materials.

The key intellectual property used by 2D Fluidics comprises two patents around the production of carbon nanomaterials, assigned by Flinders University.

2D Fluidics will use the VFD to prepare these materials for commercial sales, which will be used in the plastics industry for applications requiring new composite materials, and by the electronics industry for circuits, supercapacitors and batteries. They will also be used by research laboratories around the world.

2D Fluidics will also manufacture the VFD, which is expected to become an in-demand state-of-the-art research and teaching tool for thousands of universities world-wide, and should be a strong revenue source for the new company.

“The VFD is a game changer for many applications across the sciences, engineering and medicine, and the commercialisation of the device will have a big impact in the research and teaching arena,” says Professor Raston.

“Nano-carbon materials can replace metals in many products, as a new paradigm in manufacturing, and the commercial availability of such materials by 2D Fludics will make a big impact. It also has exciting possibilities in industry for low cost production where the processing is under continuous flow, which addresses scaling up – often a bottleneck issue in translating processes into industry.”

First Graphene’s Managing Director, Craig McGuckin, says working with Professor Raston and his team over the past 12 months has resulted in decisive steps towards the commercialisation of nano-carbon materials, which is the focus of First Graphene’s board and management.

The creation of 2D Fluidics also pulls focus on the newly-named Institute, which continues the pivotal nanoscale science research work that the former Flinders Centre for NanoScale Science and Technology has been conducting for the previous eight years. Institute Director David Lewis says the decision to form an Institute underlines Flinders’ strong cohort of more than 120 high performing researchers in this field, strong external partnerships and increasing international reputation.

Source: Flinders University

Image: Professor Colin Raston and research associate,Dr Kasturi Vimalanathan from Raston Lab use a carbon nanotube model to illustrate how the Vortex Fluidic Device can cut the super-hard nano-material using laser light and water or non-toxic liquids under continuous flow.

Commercialising quantum computing technology

Archer Exploration Limited (ASX:AXE) has entered into exclusive negotiations with The University of Sydney Commercial Development and Industry Partnerships (CDIP) for exclusive rights to develop and commercialise, possibly one of the most important technological breakthroughs in quantum computing technology to date.

Though in the very early stages of development, quantum computers are extremely powerful and have the potential to solve complex calculations. Quantum computing technology could revolutionise multiple sectors including pharmaceuticals, energy, transport, finance and security, with an estimated market size of $5bn, expected to grow exponentially over the next decade.

One of the main barriers to the introduction of quantum computers in our everyday lives is that they currently operate at extremely low temperatures, below zero, to work effectively, and also need to be made of conducting components in order to integrate into electronic circuitry. Quantum computers use qubits, as opposed to binary bits (0s and 1s) to hold quantum information. Qubits can be stored in materials that are nanometres in size, making information retention very delicate to changes in the environment including molecule scale vibrations caused by heat.

Dr Mohammad Choucair is believed to have solved the materials dichotomy of operating qubits at room temperature in a conducting material through findings of a collaborative research project he co-led involving the University of Sydney (University) and École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne) while employed at the University. Dr Choucair was also the first person in the world to directly synthesise graphene and has spent the last decade developing graphene and carbon-based nanotechnology. These materials have been produced simply using common laboratory reagents, and have been published in leading scientific journals.

In late October 2017, Archer announced the acquisition of Australian graphene production innovator Carbon Allotropes Pty. Limited, and the appointment of its founder, Dr Mohammad Choucair, as Chief Executive Officer of Archer Exploration. Dr Choucair’s achievements have landed him the coveted Cornforth Medal from the Royal Australian Chemical Institute Inc., a seat on the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council for Advanced Materials, and recognition by Virgin Australia as one of the Top Australian Stars of 2016.

Commenting on the opportunity, Archer CEO, Dr Mohammad Choucair said: “Negotiations with CDIP will allow Archer to leverage our materials assets, and recent acquisitions, as high value, materials-centric, end-to-end solutions to solve one of the most challenging problems in our technological age.”

“Archer is in a strong position to develop and commercialise strategically relevant IP for long-term company success and business development,” added Dr. Choucair.

Quantum computing devices form a strongly growing part of the existing, mature semiconductor and electronic parts manufacturing industry worth an estimated $540bn. This is because a number of existing and novel materials are at the heart of some of the biggest technical and operational challenges in a quantum computing market, estimated to be worth $5bn and predicted to grow exponentially over the next decade to exceed $29bn, as technological advancements shift from theoretical foundations to prototype development. This shift includes both hardware (devices) and software, potentially affecting sectors dependent on computational power, including pharmaceuticals, energy, transport, finance and security.

The negotiations with the University will centre on Archer’s exclusive right to develop and commercialise the IP described in a patent cooperation treaty (PCT) application that was filed by the University in the names of the University and École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL).

Archer’s participation in the development of materials for use in quantum computing technology will provide future opportunities and new markets to underpin further development of Archer’s substantial materials resources that include graphite, graphene and materials in the Carbon Allotropes inventory.

“The IP potentially reduces many of the technological barriers to realising practical quantum computing using solid-state materials, which would allow Archer the opportunity to develop and commercialise a first of its kind practical quantum computing chip (device), while doing so quickly and with significantly reduced costs compared to current approaches employing component materials requiring established trade-offs in operation, infrastructure, and cost,” added Dr. Choucair.

 

Australian government invests in science and technology

Science and technology has been given a much-needed boost in the Federal Budget handed down today.

The peak body for Australian science, technology, engineering and mathematics – Science & Technology Australia (STA) – has welcomed the support at a time where Australian science and technology is at a crossroads.

Significant funding boosts for crucial scientific research infrastructure has been complemented by major new investments in medical research, and technology infrastructure.

STA CEO Kylie Walker said the 2018 Budget indicates the Government has moved towards positioning Australia as a leader in global science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) research and innovation.

 “The new commitment to $1.9 billion ($1 billion over the forward estimates) in research infrastructure following the National Research Infrastructure Roadmap is very welcome,” Ms Walker said.

“And major commitments to technology infrastructure, medical research ($1.3 billion), the Great Barrier Reef, and space science ($50 million) further strengthen the positive investment for the future of Australia’s STEM sector,” Ms Walker said.

“A return to keeping pace with CPI is very welcome for the Australian Research Council and other research agencies like the CSIRO. We’re also pleased to see specific measures to support greater participation by girls and women in STEM, and ongoing investment in inspiring all Australians to engage with science.

“A refocus of funding for the Research and Development Tax Incentive is another important step in supporting Australia’s innovation future.”

Ms Walker said the investment in science and technology would bolster the capacity for Australian science to support a healthy population, environment, and economy.

“The return on investment for science and technology is solid, and internationally it has been proven to be an effective means of securing and shoring up the economy,” she said.

STEM highlights in the 2018/19 Budget include:
  • $1.9 billion for a national research infrastructure investment plan over 12 years ($1 billion committed for first 4 years);
  • $1.3 billion for medical research through MRFF including $500m for genomics, $240m for frontier medical research, $125m for mental health;
  • $536 million (about $150 million for research) for the Great Barrier Reef
Other measures:
  • Return to indexation for the Australian Research Council and other research agencies like the CSIRO
  • $70 million for the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre
  • $50 million for the Australian Space Agency
  • $29.9 million for Artificial Intelligence capabilities
  • $260 million for satellite positioning infrastructure and imaging
  • $4.5 million over four years for Women in STEM initiatives
  • Ms Walker said it wasn’t all good news though, with STEM graduate rates threatened by continued capping of commonwealth support for undergraduate places at Australian universities.

“Universities will need to find ways to meet growing demand, while dealing with stagnant funding in the years to come. As STEM degrees are some of the most expensive to run, we don’t expect universities will have the capacity to increase the number of STEM skilled graduates,” Ms Walker said.

“Australia will need many more people equipped with STEM skills in our workforce to compete internationally. This short-term saving will be a loss for future generations.”
First published by Science & Technology Australia

From petri dish to market place

One of the greatest strengths of Australia’s CRC Program, now in its 28th year, is how it brings together research and commerce — bridging the gap between discovery research and industry-ready innovation — in the form of an innovative product. Here are three recent CRC-driven Australian innovative product success stories.

New cancer drug

A promising new cancer drug developed by Cancer Therapeutics CRC (CTx) has been licensed to Merck Sharp and Dohme Australia (MSD) in one of the largest preclinical deals in Australia’s medical history.

The drug offers hope for the treatment of a wide range of cancers, including lung and breast. The licensing deal is worth up to $700 million and 70% of payments will return to CTx — which includes CSIRO, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Monash University, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Children’s Cancer Institute and Griffith University.

The drug is a PRMT5 inhibitor, with potential to treat both cancer and non-cancer blood disorders. PRMT5 (protein arginine methyltransferase 5) is an enzyme that protects against cancer-causing mutations. Abnormality in PRMT5 is linked to many cancers. MSD is not just developing and commercialising the PRMT5 inhibitors, but also funding an ongoing collaboration with CTx.

“What MSD realised was the background science here in Australia was such high quality, they continued to support it to help advance the development,” says Dr Warwick Tong, CEO of CTx.

One key to the success of the project was how CTx managed their intellectual property, says Tong. “It’s almost a cliché, but if you don’t own it you can’t sell it,” he explains.

Tong also believes it’s important to share the rewards. “We do lots of drug discovery projects and many of them will fail,” he says. “To benefit from commercial return, researchers need to have contributed to the CRC but not necessarily to the successful project.”

Australia’s first electric bus

The first Australian-designed and manufactured electric bus is now part of a Transit South Australia trial. The result of a partnership between the Automotive Australia CRC (Auto-CRC), Swinburne University of Technology and Bustec, the electric bus can travel at 80 km per hour and has batteries that can be charged to 80% in 10 minutes.

The ultra-modern interior includes electronics that report their own faults, as well as integrated electronics, making it possible to know where the bus is, how the driver is driving it and if anything is wrong during the trip.

This information can be used to improve the efficiency of the bus network and user experience, such as reporting traffic jams and advising users to take an alternative bus. The results from this trial are expected by the end of the year.

With Auto-CRC’s funding term completed, the Electric Vehicle (EV) Laboratory at Swinburne University is continuing the research, and is now developing an electric harvester in conjunction with the Malaysian Automotive Institute.

“We are also looking at linking with Indian manufacturers to use
the electric technology in India for harvesters, buses and cars,” says Professor Ajay Kapoor, Swinburne’s Pro Vice Chancellor for International Research Engagement and leader of the EV Laboratory.

Kapoor believes the whole innovative product development process should involve learning more about consumer needs.

“There is a big disconnect between what experts tell us consumers would like and what they actually would like,” he says.

Healthy teeth

One in four Australian children have tooth decay, while one in 25 Australians over 15 have no natural teeth at all. In 2012–2013, $8.7 billion was spent on dental care in Australia. Tooth decay occurs when bacteria attach to sugars from foods to make acid that softens and eats away tooth enamel. But now we can prevent it.

Your regular dentist-applied fluoride treatment is likely the result of breakthrough research by an Australian team who developed and commercialised ‘Tooth Mousse Plus’ through the Oral Health CRC (OH-CRC). This discovery helps reverse the damage decay can cause to teeth, by improving the absorption of fluoride.

The innovative product is based on a component found in dairy milk that hardens teeth — another Australian find and one that’s responsible for protecting the oral health of millions. The potential savings are estimated to be more than $12 billion in dental work to date worldwide.

Thirty years ago CEO of OH-CRC, Professor Eric Reynolds and his team at Melbourne University indentified that casein peptide complex (casein phosphopeptide amorphous calcium phosphate) found in dairy milk can strengthen and remineralise teeth.

The milk extract was developed into an innovative product called Recaldent, which is used in sugar-free gum and the Tooth Mousse product. “Recaldent took many years of research and support to develop but it is now in a range of products that benefit millions around the world,” says Reynolds.

Recaldent is patented by OH-CRC and is produced in Melbourne using Australian milk by GC Corporation, a Japanese company and OH-CRC partner. For his tireless work in inventing and commercialising Recaldent, Reynolds was awarded the 2017 Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation.

The OH-CRC has also developed a vaccine for gum disease and is now working on its commercialision.

 

-Rebecca Blackburn

agricultural science

Northern Australia’s innovation frontier

Sally Leigo creates tools for efficient farm management. Whenever a farmer logs into the Cloud and discovers cattle that are 100 km away are at a good weight to sell, Sally Leigo smiles because her research in agricultural science helped to make it possible.

Helping farmers manage their properties efficiently and sustainably drives this agricultural science researcher, who was recently appointed as Project Manager for the CRC for Developing Northern Australia.

Growing up on a property in western NSW, it was a given that Leigo would end up in farming on some level. After completing an agricultural science degree at the University of Sydney, she started work in artificial insemination. For 13 years Leigo managed research projects for the beef industry, including developing a tool to help farmers know when to sell stock and which pasture is suitable for grazing.

The tool captures cattle weight when stock walk over a weighbridge on their way to watering yards and sends the data via satellite to famers. Satellites also record the greenness of pastures — if cattle are losing weight, it indicates poor pasture. Farmers can then decide when (and whether) to sell, to move cattle to another pasture or to use feed supplements.

Previously farmers only weighed cattle at sale because properties in remote Australia can be thousands of square kilometres in area — comparable to small European countries. “To weigh your cattle on a regular basis is a big undertaking,” says Sally.

In her new role at the CRC Northern Australia, Sally hopes to use her experience in agricultural science to improve opportunities in the agriculture sector.

She is also looking forward to moving into new areas such as traditional owner business-led development.

Rebecca Blackburn

GPS

Why can’t my Uber find me?

It’s dizzying to contemplate: in the past decade, everything on our maps has moved by more than 1m, as Australia’s continental tectonic plate slides inexorably north at a rate of 7 cm a year.

“Geoscience Australia defines latitude and longitude for the country through the national Geocentric Datum, and last year we adjusted that by 1.5 m based on projections to 2020,” says Dr John Dawson, a geodetics expert who is the program manager of the CRC for Spatial Information (CRCSI) Positioning Program.

If you use the Uber ride-sharing app, you may have noticed its location accuracy is improving. Over the next few years, there will be a significant increase in this kind of precision.

Updating our latitude and longitude is just one stage of an overhaul of Australia’s mapping and positioning systems, which currently rely heavily on overseas-run spatial infrastructure.

“Precision in latitude and longitude is becoming very important as new positioning technologies with finer accuracy come online,” says Dawson. “For example, if I measure the location of a pipe using a device with 10 cm accuracy, then come back a year later to dig in that location, then relative to latitude and longitude, it would look like that pipe had moved.”

Currently, positioning in Australia has accuracy between 5m and 10m. Trials are now underway on satellite technology with the potential to upgrade that location accuracy to less than 10 cm.

“With applications such as self-driving cars, 5 m of accuracy can put your vehicle on the wrong side of the road,” explains Dawson.

Cross sector and cross-ditch collaboration

Satellite positioning technology has revolutionised our lives, influencing everything from air transport to agriculture, and real estate to retail.

All of these are set to change dramatically in coming years as improved precision makes so many more applications possible.

The CRCSI’s Positioning Program research stream is part of the next era in satellite positioning, trialling three new technologies that will all potentially contribute to a Satellite-Based Augmentation System (SBAS) for the Australasian region.

The trials involve cross-industry collaboration with more than 30 organisations. They are funded by a $12 million contribution from the Australian Government, plus another NZ$2 million from the New Zealand government, and aim to establish a nationwide, high-accuracy, real-time positioning infrastructure.

The CRCSI estimates that updating our national positioning infrastructure will add an estimated 1.1–2.1% to Australia’s GDP by 2030, through productivity gains in mining, construction and agriculture. Benefits will also be widespread across tourism, transport and emergency services.

“We’ve taken GPS for granted in Australia as something provided as a global public infrastructure by the US, and we’ve accrued value as positioning improves efficiency and drives new products and services,” says Dawson.

The new technologies being trialled will enable precise positioning for a fraction of the cost of currently available commercial services. Providing it as public infrastructure will also reap productivity benefits dwarfing the initial investment.

Three technologies under trial

The Global Positioning System (GPS) is the world’s best known satellite-based navigation system and comprises a ‘constellation’ of 24 communications craft orbiting Earth.

Designed in the 1970s for military applications and funded by the US government, GPS is now accessed by billions of devices worldwide.

In 2020, Europe’s Galileo system, supported by 30 satellites, will become fully operational, improving location accuracy for applications across the planet.

While most of Australia’s satellite positioning currently relies on GPS, users in the USA, Europe, China, Russia, India and Japan are already using the more precise first-generation SBAS technology on a daily basis.

Geoscience Australia has partnered with global technology companies GMV, Inmarsat and Lockheed Martin to trial satellite technologies, and CRCSI is managing a range of industry projects trialling sector-based applications.

Under trial are first-generation SBAS, switched on in June 2017; second-generation SBAS, which came online in September 2017; and Precise Point Positioning, turned on in October 2017. These technologies combine satellite signals with ground stations.

Australia was the first country to transmit second-generation SBAS signals, and the first to trial Precise Point Positioning corrections integrated into an SBAS service.

Fran Molloy

collaboration

Collaboration works

The proverb that “two heads are better than one” has been in use since at least medieval times.  James Surowiecki’s 2005 book The Wisdom of Crowds showed how aggregating the decision of a group of individuals generally leads to better decision-making than any single member of the group.  When companies collaborate, they make more money. Governments have recognised this and are encouraging more collaboration in industry and science programs.

One of my standard slides when I’m presenting just says “2 + 2 = 5”. I use it when I’m talking about the power of collaboration to illustrate that whole is greater than the sum of the parts. I’ve got no doubt it is true. But is it always true? Is it possible that collaboration can be taken for granted?

We’ve all been in situations where a ‘team’ is thrown together for a task or project but just doesn’t work that well. Just because better choices can be made through a group doesn’t necessarily mean using a group is always the best way forward. There is growing evidence that when creativity is involved, individuals will often outperform a group.

Professor Leigh Thompson of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University argues that there are tools and methods to lead to better collaboration. She goes further, providing evidence that creativity is stifled in teams that don’t introduce some formalised methods to collaborate well. For example, Thompson argues that brainwriting, where individuals writing down their own ideas for 10 minutes will yield many more ideas than a similar amount of time of group brainstorming.

Dr Mark Elliott of Melbourne company Collabforge says that collaboration is a way of working that you can learn. His company provides services to teach teams and organisations when and how to collaborate.

When Government offer to pay for collaboration, such as in the CRC Program, they encourage more of it. The financial leverage of requiring industry to match government dollars is a great way to ensure the resulting collaboration has a strong purpose. Just how a sector collaborates to bid and then run a Cooperative Research Centre is largely up to them. We know some do it better than others.

I argue that once a funding round is announced, it is almost too late to concentrate on the quality of collaboration. Deadlines loom; there is a tonne of work to be done. Rounding up resources becomes the priority. That’s why it is so good to see major CRC and CRC-P proposals taking a longer time to really develop the quality of their collaborations well ahead of a funding announcement. The CRC Association is trying to assist this process by teaming up with Collabforge to run workshops on Collaboration for Industry Impact. We try to provide ways of enhancing the creativity of collaboration, while not forgetting that there are lots of practical issues that must be addressed in a CRC or CRC-P bid.

Whether you can participate in one of our workshops or not, don’t assume that all collaboration is good, all of the time. Taking the time and effort to think through collaboration itself will help increase its ultimate impact.

 

health app

The Digital Health Revolution

Worldwide Healthcare systems are under pressure from ageing populations and rising rates of chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes and depression. Governments are increasingly having to deliver more with fewer resources, which is why new digital healthcare solutions may be the key to keeping up with demand for medical attention.

Innovative digital solutions across a range of medical domains will allow patients to be given timely health information about chronic disease management, or grant them access to timely and appropriate medical expertise in a highly cost-effective way.

Using these new tools, more people will be able to access preventative care, with alerts prompting interventions before an emergency occurs. Hopefully this will reduce hospitalisation rates and provide researchers with access to privacy protected health data at a population level, delivering a wealth of new data for research.

$200M digital health initiative 

The new, $200 million Digital Health CRC, announced in April 2018, will operate collaborative programs across health, aged care and disability sectors in partnership with 16 universities, 40 commercial and government organisations and 24 start-ups.

“Industry is looking for digital solutions to be developed and validated through provision of access to ‘test-beds’ and for pathways to market,” says CEO David Jonas. “Australia has pioneered many health advances. If we act now, the Australian health industry can be pioneers in digital health transformation and leaders in digital health technology.” Analysts predict the global digital health market to reach $349 billion by 2024.

Emergency flow

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reports that during 2016–2017, more than a quarter of the patients making up the 7.8 million presentations to 287 public hospital emergency departments nationally did not receive treatment within an appropriate time.  

The new Emergency Waiting Times health app developed by the Data to Decisions (D2D) CRC will help South Australian patients get quicker medical attention while also reducing the burden on metropolitan emergency departments.

The health app combines data about a patient’s location, current emergency waiting times for all South Australian metropolitan hospitals and travel information from Google Maps to show the best treatment option according to wait and travel time.

Key stakeholder SA Health gave guidance to developers, and the health app was funded by the South Australia Department of State Development.

Dennis Horton, innovation exchange lead at D2D CRC, believes the health app will become a go-to tool for any medical emergency.

“It will eventually guide the user to the most appropriate service. For example, someone with a minor cut may be able to access a nearby super clinic instead of an emergency department, which will reduce the burden on hospitals. If uptake is large enough, general medical advice could be directed to users as well.”

Mental health care goes digital

Another area set to benefit from new digital technologies is the treatment of chronic mental health disorders, which about 600,000 people live with in Australia. Many consider current methods of monitoring and treating chronic mental illnesses unsatisfactory.

A new mental health app launched by D2D CRC in collaboration with Flinders University called AI2 (Actionable Intime Insights) has the potential to greatly improve treatment response times by offering real-time digital updates on patient status to clinicians.

Horton says expensive mental health readmissions can be avoided with suitable out-of-hospital care, but most clinicians do not have the resources to keep track of every patient.

“AI2 offers an effective digital alternative to monitoring patients, delivering data in real time and reducing the burden of readmissions on the healthcare system,” he explains.

Patient information is linked from several sources, such as the Medicare Benefits Schedule and Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme data, and behavioural patterns are analysed over time using machine-learning algorithms.

Alerts can be triggered when patient medications or appointments aren’t on track, helping patients access care in the community when needed, preventing costly hospitalisations.

The AI2 project has been partly funded by the South Australia Department of State Development.

Spatial modelling to help COPD patients

New Zealanders have the highest rates of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) among the 35 member states of the OECD.

A research project by the CRC for Spatial Information (CRCSI) aims to understand how air quality affects COPD patients, ultimately helping them better manage the disease.

Using embedded sensors in physical infrastructure in cities in New Zealand and Sweden to collect environmental information, the project will develop predictive geospaital algorithms for the early indication of COPD symptoms from patients.

Along with the potential for rapid intervention through these predictive algorithms, the project will also develop new models combining real-time patient data about their symptoms and medication use with environmental data such as pollution levels, ambient temperature and humidity.

Big Data to illuminate national outcomes of cardiovascular care

More than 500,000 people are hospitalised each year in Australia for urgent and elective heart care, but there’s little analysis on what happens to them post-treatment.

In an Australian first, a team of cardiologists from the Central Adelaide Local Health Network have collaborated with D2D CRC to deliver a study using over 100 million healthcare records from more than 1000 hospitals. Named ORION, it stands for Observing Recurrent Incidence of adverse Outcomes following hospitalisations.

Horton says heart-related conditions are often very serious, complex and costly, yet little is known about the outcomes for patients once they leave hospital.

“We don’t know if they were readmitted, had complications or even if they survived following treatment,” he says. “With this study, we can assess patient outcomes, leading to improvements in hospital procedures and resources, and ultimately, improvements in patient care.”

The study investigates hospital care nationally for the five conditions that make up about 90% of all acute hospitalisations for cardiovascular disease: heart attacks, heart failure, strokes, atrial fibrillation and peripheral vascular disease.

Horton says the results of this project will have an immense impact on improving cardiac hospitalisation and procedures in Australia, while still protecting patient privacy and the security of their data.

“By applying Big Data analytic techniques, we have uncovered some very interesting facts such as how variable patient outcomes compare between hospitals. This suggests variation in care quality and processes at individual hospitals.”

This project is funded by the South Australia Department of State Development, University of Adelaide and the Hospital Research Foundation.

 

Brendan Fitzpatrick