All posts by Heather Catchpole

Australian University Science: university science, universal impact

Australian universities have a critical role in research innovation and technological change. A new publication reveals the impact of university science on innovation, entrepreneurship and employment in future energy technologies.The bi-annual publication is published by Refraction Media on behalf of the Australian Council of Deans of Science (ACDS).

The first issue, launching on 9 September 2019, focusses on the hydrogen economy. The first hydrogen fuel exports to Japan (through Queensland University of Technology’s Redlands Facility) left Australia in March this year. It’s just one of the ways that universities are delivering on this potential multi-billion dollar economy. Australia is also well positioned to become a net exporter of hydrogen, an opportunity expected to create 16,000 new Australian jobs by 2040.

“University science is a fundamental source of disruptive ideas, and a partner for their translation into innovation,” says Executive Director of the ACDS, Professor John Rice. “The emerging hydrogen economy and energy futures are a great example.”

“Australian University Science provides a critical insight into how university science informs, partners and drives innovation domestically and internationally,” says Professor Rice.

The publication highlights a multitude of collaborations with other research institutions and government, CRC partnerships, the CSIRO and private corporations. Some of the hydrogen technologies showcased include artificial photosynthesis (Australian National University), hydrogen-producing bacteria (Macquarie University) and crystal catalysts for solar-produced hydrogen (Curtin University). 

“University science now engages at every stage of the cycle in which knowledge is turned into new and better ways of doing things,” says Australia’s past Chief Scientist, Professor Ian Chubb. 

“University scientists and students do more than explore, uncover and discover. They also use their knowledge to work closely with the people who produce the new technologies and practices that a changing world needs,” he says.

“Whenever there is a great new kind of technology, advances in clean energy, or smarter ways to diagnose and treat disease, you can be sure that university science lies somewhere behind it.”

The publication is free to order and download here.

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smart materials

Supercharging the next generation

ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials scientists (l to r): Associate Professor Jenny Pringle, Dr Danah Al-Masri, Dr Mega Kar and Professor Douglas Macfarlane.

The ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials is taking teamwork to new levels.

The ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES) is an impressive knowledge hub that has significant runs on the board, including the creation of spin-off company AquaHydrex. Set up in Wollongong in 2012, the now Colorado-based energy company utilises fundamental science research outcomes to commercialise an innovative and cheaper way of producing hydrogen.

But talk to the teams that conduct research at ACES and the passion for knowledge translation, training and entrepreneurship are just part of the story. What comes through most clearly is that it’s simply a great place to work.

The ACES focus is on training the next generation of research leaders and providing manufacturing and industry opportunities across health, energy and smart materials. There are five international partners and seven Australian universities on board: the University of Wollongong, Deakin University, Monash University, the University of Tasmania, Australian National University, University of Melbourne and Swinburne University of Technology.

Deakin University Associate Professor Jenny Pringle says it’s a “strong, tight-knit community”. “Students get to hear about everything, it’s really diverse.”

Collaboration is facilitated through weekly dial-in meetings, and twice yearly national and international symposia. Students regularly present at workshops, and training in entrepreneurship and communications is prioritised.

A/Prof Pringle is project leader for thermal energy storage and battery materials, and a chief investigator at the Institute for Frontier Materials, an ACES collaboration partner, where she works with PhD graduate Dr Danah Al-Masri. With colleagues ACES Energy Theme leader Professor Douglas MacFarlane and Laureate Research Fellow Dr Mega Kar, their métier is creating cheaper, safer energy harvesting and storage systems. Dr Kar’s focus is on new battery materials to improve or replace lithium ion batteries, which are widely used in laptops and phones and can be expensive and, rarely, but catastrophically, unstable.

Dr Al-Masri is one of around 70 PhD students at ACES, more than three-quarters of whom come from overseas. “Efficient energy storage is such a complex problem — you have to collaborate and some of the best people are working across the world,” she says. “ACES’s strong international reputation allows us to come together.” 

The centre draws in physicists, chemists, biologists and engineers, with the recognition that basic science is critical. “Exceptional science is at the core of everything the centre does,” says

A/Prof Pringle. The team works across the innovation system, from designing electrolytes — materials with an electric charge — to prototyping batteries that are tested in electric cars, laptops and mobile phones, always seeking energy storage’s holy grail: inexpensive materials that need to be charged less often, but hold their charge for longer. 

“The critical outcome of our research shows we can outperform some of the lithium batteries out there, which has led to some patents and interest from industry,” says Dr Kar. 

“Within ACES, we have a good gender balance and we encourage students from all backgrounds to focus on climate change and global warming. Storage is a hot topic right now and we need the best of the best to be involved,” she says.

Professor MacFarlane says that while it’s exciting to see the application of fundamental science come to fruition, the outcome from ACES is more than great basic science.

“One of our top priorities and our chief outcome is our bright young scientists – that’s what we produce mostly, and the science is the vehicle for that training. If we can produce exceptional science as well, that’s a bonus.”

Heather Catchpole

This article appears in Australian University Science Issue 1.

CSIRO energy

Chemistry expertise led to CSIRO legacy of lowering emissions

University science collaborations have geared CSIRO research director Dr David Harris to uncover ways to move to a sustainable global energy system.

Dr David Harris is a scientist who leads CSIRO’s Low Emissions Technologies Program, a research team exploring ways to lower carbon emissions from renewable and coal-based systems.

His research during the past 30 years has focused on improving the efficiency of systems that generate electricity and power.

As the son of a mechanic and an artist growing up in rural New South Wales, Harris credits his BSc in Industrial Chemistry, from the University of NSW, for giving him the practical foundation for understanding big processes such as steel and glass manufacturing and the use of chemistry and physics in industry. 

For his PhD, Harris worked with BHP’s Newcastle steelworks researching the processes of degradation of metallurgical coke in high-temperature blast furnaces.

“We identified some really interesting chemical and physical processes that you wouldn’t normally associate with steelmaking,” he explains. 

In collaboration with the University of Queensland, University of Newcastle and University of NSW, as well as coal industry partners, these findings led Harris to investigate combustion, mass-transformation and, ultimately, gasification in advanced power generation technologies.

“Not many of these advanced coal technologies were installed in Australia, but those processes led to the technology we are now developing for conversion of ammonia to hydrogen and then separation of hydrogen for other uses,” he says, referring to CSIRO’s ammonia-to-hydrogen fuelling technologies, which range from synthesis gas to new industries for renewable energy exports.

“Now we’re looking at hydrogen-based energy systems, with that hydrogen coming from coal, gas, renewable energy such as biomass, industrial and municipal waste streams, solar or wind,” says Harris.

He says Australia’s high solar coverage gives a real advantage when combined with clever technology to produce hydrogen from solar energy, which could be exported to remove emissions from motor vehicles and energy systems worldwide.

Brendan Fitzpatrick


>> Bachelor of Science, UNSW

>> PhD (Industrial Chemistry), UNSW

>> Technical Officer, School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW

>> Program Manager, CRC for Black Coal Utilisation

>> Interim CEO, Centre for Low Emissions Technology

>> Research Director, Low Emissions Technologies, CSIRO

This article appears in Australian University Science Issue 1.

hydrogen economy

The future Hydrogen Economy is scaffolded by universities

The world faces a huge challenge in sustainably delivering our energy needs. Hydrogen promises to become a major clean energy contributor, yet currently most of the world’s 70 million tonnes of hydrogen produced each year comes from hydrocarbon/coal processes such as coal gasification, with only around four per cent from ‘clean’ processes involving electrolysis (converting water into hydrogen and oxygen).

Australian university science provides the basis on which the hydrogen industry has evolved and continues to innovate, playing an essential role as a partner in establishing innovation and technological change. This research is coming from surprising places, including centres of biology, chemistry and geology.

Plant science key to unlimited clean fuels 

Using electrolysis to convert water into hydrogen — with a by-product of oxygen — is costly because it must use continuous grid power. At present, these energy-hungry and inefficient processes defeat the purpose of creating hydrogen as an energy source.  

At the Australian National University, chemistry professors Ron Pace and Rob Stranger have taken a leaf from nature, uncovering the process used by all photosynthetic organisms to use the sun’s energy to convert water into hydrogen and oxygen. This natural electrolysis is the most efficient method known and relies on a ‘chemical spark plug’ called the water oxidising complex.

For decades, debate has raged about how the atoms that comprise water are used in this photosynthesis process. Profs Pace and Stranger used Australia’s fastest supercomputer at the ANU’s National Computational Infrastructure facility to model the chemical structure of the manganese atoms involved in this process and to decode the reasons behind its efficiency.

Their discovery has opened up opportunities to develop ‘artificial leaf’ technology with the capacity for potential unlimited future hydrogen production.

Professor Pace now heads a $1.77 million project in partnership with Dr Gerry Swiegers and Dr Pawel Wagner at the University of Wollongong, which uses specially designed electrodes, made of Gor-Tex, to mimic natural surfaces. The materials will help the formation of hydrogen and oxygen gas bubbles to operate more efficiently and also allow them to use fluctuating power sources such as wind and solar energy. 

Hydrogen pilot plant delivers first shipment 

Potential demand for imported hydrogen in China, Japan, South Korea and Singapore could reach 3.8 million tonnes by 2030. The QUT Redlands Research Facility is already geared up to generate hydrogen gas from seawater using solar power generated by its concentrated solar array.

The project received funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency to develop next-generation technologies in electrolysis, energy storage and chemical sensing to produce hydrogen without any carbon dioxide emissions. 

The facility is led by Professor Ian Mackinnon, who possesses deep science expertise in geology and chemistry, and also heads QUT’s Institute for Future Environments. The first shipment of green hydrogen was exported from the facility, to Japan, in March 2019 as part of a collaboration between QUT and the University of Tokyo, which uses proprietary technology owned by JXTG, Japan’s largest petroleum conglomerate. It’s just one of the ways in which Australian science expertise, led by universities, is driving a new economy forward.

Fran Molloy

University science delivering key outcomes to hydrogen and energy futures

  • New material splits water into hydrogen cheaply: Professor Chuan Zhao and UNSW chemists invented a new nano-framework of non-precious metals, making it cheaper to create hydrogen fuel by splitting water atoms.

  • Molecular breakthrough helps solar cells tolerate humidity: Nanomaterials scientists at Griffith University, under Professor Huijun Zhao, invented a way to make cheap solar-cell technology more tolerant of moisture and humidity.

  • A spoonful of sugar generates enough hydrogen energy to power a mobile phone: Genetically engineered bacteria that turn sugar into hydrogen have been developed by a team of molecular chemists at Macquarie University who are looking to scale the technology.

  • Solar crystals are non-toxic: Under Dr Guohua Jia, molecular scientists at Curtin University have invented tiny crystals that don’t contain toxic metals but can be used as catalysts to convert solar energy into hydrogen.

  • Green chemistry breakthrough makes hydrogen generation cheaper: Electromaterials scientists at Monash University, led by Dr Alexandr Simonov, have found a solution to metal corrosion caused by water splitting to create hydrogen.

  • Gelion revolutionary battery technology: A University of Sydney chemistry team, led by Professor Thomas Maschmeyer, created low-cost, safe, scalable zinc bromide battery technology for remote and renewable energy storage.

  • Ocean mapping finds prime-tide for energy: University of Tasmania Associate Professor Irene Penesis is using hydrodynamics and mathematics to assess Bass Strait’s tidal energy resources to stimulate investment in this sector.

  • New catalyst helps turn CO2 into renewable fuel: CSIRO materials chemist Dr Danielle Kennedy, with University of Adelaide scientists, created porous crystals that help convert carbon dioxide from air into synthetic natural gas using solar energy.

This article appears in Australian University Science Issue 1.


Australian University Science: Knowledge and impact

University science has long been recognised for the stream of fundamental discoveries that stem from its research: from the origins of the cosmos and the causes of climate change to the most intrinsic parts of the atom. But university science is now much more than a catalyst for discovery. 

Through a multitude of collaborations — including with other research institutions and government, in Co-operative Research Centre partnerships, with the CSIRO, or directly with companies large and small — university science now engages at every stage of the cycle in which knowledge is turned into new and better ways of doing things. 

In the modern world, university scientists and students do more than explore, uncover and discover. They also use their knowledge to work closely with the people who produce the new technologies and practices that a changing world needs.

Materials and processes we use every day stem from science. They are so common that many of us simply take them for granted. But whenever there is a great new kind of technology, advances in clean energy, or smarter ways to diagnose and treat disease, you can be sure that university science lies somewhere behind it. 

University teaching is also critical. It develops the science graduates who are an important part of the workforce and possess the finely honed skills to understand, manage and develop new technologies from cutting-edge science. As we endeavour to front the challenges of tomorrow, university science will deliver the tools and people we need to create a better future.

Professor Ian Chubb AC

This article is published in Australian University Science Issue 1.

solar energy entrepreneur

Solar energy entrepreneur gets her start in university science

Residential rooftop photovoltaics (PV) remains one of Australia’s hottest energy options, with the Clean Energy Council reporting, in December 2018, that two million Australian households had installed solar panels on their homes. 

The energy market is a complex sector, which needs to be dynamic to meet fast-changing consumer requirements and global pressures. In Australia, energy is also a politically delicate area, ripe for disruption.

Solar entrepreneur Emma Jenkin, co-founder of DC Power Co, is uniquely qualified to be part of a revolutionary change in Australia’s energy sector thanks to her strong insight into data analytics and her merged commerce/science background.      

Jenkin completed a Bachelor of Science at the University of Melbourne then worked in industry before co-founding DC Power Co, an Australian solar energy retail start-up that has completed the world’s most popular equity crowdfunding campaign to date — raising $2.5 million from more than 17,500 investors.

Jenkin is a self-confessed ‘maths geek’ who completed first-year university maths while still in high school, then started an engineering degree before moving to a combined Bachelor of Science and Commerce degree, where she majored in maths and statistics.

“Our research revealed an appetite across Australia to have more energy independence in the face of distrust around the electricity sector,” she says.

“PV solar is driven by people’s desire to take on renewables for cost savings, for self-sufficiency and for the environment.”

Jenkin’s co-founders — Nic Frances Gilley, Monique Conheady and Nick Brass — have all worked in environmental, energy or carbon trading markets, she says. Their aim is to drive mass efficiency and buying power for member households. Research shows that nearly

20 per cent of rooftop solar systems don’t function properly, and DC Power Co uses analytics to identify non-performance and is the only company that alerts customers when their systems don’t work. 

“We spotted a need for an energy company that focused on solar households,” she explains.

Brendan Fitzpatrick


>Bachelor of Science/Commerce, University of Melbourne

>Executive Director, UBS commodity index training

> Project Manager, Carbon Bridge Ltd

> Executive, Cool nrg International

>Director, FIIG Securities

> Co-Founder and CFO, DC Power Co

This article appears in Australian University Science Issue 1.

energy trading

CRC energy trading research leads to career success

The inspiration for Power Ledger stemmed from co-founder Jemma Green’s PhD on electricity market democratisation. Funded by the CRC for Low Carbon Living (CRCLCL), Dr Green designed a solar and battery system for apartments (the first of its kind in Australia) and an energy trading platform to allow peer-to-peer trading using blockchain.

This foray into destructive innovation led Dr Green to co-found Power Ledger, a platform designed to ease the global transition to low-carbon energy by decentralising energy and allowing ordinary people to become investors in renewable energy assets.

“Our technology uses blockchain to enable energy trading, energy asset financing and carbon markets,” explains Dr Green. “Our corporate mission is the democratisation of power and the delivery of low cost and low carbon energy markets.”

Main image: Chair & co-founder Dr Jemma Green in the PowerLedger office in Perth.

Power Ledger allows consumers to sell and trade electricity from a residential energy generation system using a blockchain environment. Renewable energy assets are tokenized so they become tradeable on the secondary market. “Everyday people can invest in and co-own these assets, whereas previously it had been the domain of institutional investors,” says Dr Green. 

This year, Power Ledger will launch their energy product: a grid connected battery and commercial solar farm. The company is also involved in issuing and trading on carbon credit and is currently working across four countries to tokenize carbon credit so it can be traded on the exchange.

Last year, Power Ledger was the winner of the Extreme Tech Challenge, and the team travelled to Las Vegas and Richard Branson’s Necker Island to pitch their business concept. Dr Green says the original CRC funding was a life-changing opportunity. “I’m enormously grateful for the risk the CRCLCL took investing in me. We’re a group of passionate experts in blockchain and technology at Power Ledger and with scaling and commercialisation, we hope to make a big difference to achieving the Paris climate goals.”

– Larissa Fedunik


Making warm cities more liveable

The Bowden low carbon development is one of the CRCLCL’s living laboratory research projects in Adelaide.

The Low Carbon Living CRC (CRCLCL) is championing buildings that will withstand the ravages of harsh climates. During the past seven years, the CRC has been researching barriers to a low carbon future which, according to a recent PwC Australia report, will exceed its estimated direct economic benefit to the Australian economy of $684 million by 2027.

“We aimed to save 10 megatonnes of CO2 emissions cumulatively by 2020, but we will have exceeded that target by next year,” says Scientia Professor Deo Prasad AO, CEO of the CRCLCL.

By focusing on how research is adopted into policy, as well as conducting basic research, the CRC has managed to achieve real change — most notably, updating the National Construction Code.

“Traditionally, the National Construction Code has eliminated worst practice,” says Prasad. “We want to move from this to encouraging best practice.”

Even small changes to building regulations could result in significant improvement in energy performance, according to the report, Built to Perform: An Industry Led Pathway to a Zero Carbon Ready Building Code, prepared by the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council (ASBEC) and ClimateWorks Australia, and funded by the CRCLCL.

The report found that households could save $900 a year if new homes were built to better standards. Some changes, such as choosing a dark coloured roof instead of a light one, cost nothing, while others, such as improved insulation, will increase building costs in the short term, but result in massive savings in energy bills over the long term.

“Stronger energy standards for new buildings could reduce energy bills by up to $29 billion between now and 2050,” says Prasad.

This research has provided the solid evidence required for regulatory change and has helped to inform the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), the peak intergovernmental forum in Australia, says ASBEC executive director Suzanne Toumbourou. “There is now a COAG-level commitment to a trajectory for low energy and carbon buildings,” she says.

Prasad says providing this level of certainty can help the construction industry to prepare itself for future changes. However, just ensuring buildings are energy efficient isn’t sufficient to make cities more comfortable as climate change pushes temperatures higher. The way we plan and design cities can also impact temperatures, thanks to the ‘urban heat island’ effect.

Prasad says cities can be made cooler by using vegetation, landscape materials, water bodies and cool materials.

To find out which approaches are most cost effective, the CRCLCL developed Australia’s first Guide to Urban Cooling Strategies. This 2017 report is now guiding the redevelopment of the Parramatta CBD in Western Sydney, where temperatures can be six to 10 degrees Celsius hotter than coastal areas.

“In the future, we will need a more holistic look at cities, not only at sustainability and low carbon, but also how we can build resilience over the long term,” says Prasad.

Rebecca Blackburn

This article was published in KnowHow Issue 9.

CRC Association

Innovation, perspiration and consultation

Some vital contributions to successful innovation might be quite small; they might even be deemed mundane or boring. But that doesn’t diminish their importance. These contributions usually fall into Thomas Edison’s ‘99 per cent perspiration’ category of genius, whereas the one per cent inspiration bit gets the recognition.

Perhaps it’s because the perspiration part doesn’t get the fanfare it deserves that innovation can be overlooked during planning.

In planning workshops, I spend a lot of time getting participants to think of those future ‘head slapping’ moments that need to be avoided. These often relate to systems and policies — “of course, no-one can use it until it’s in the building code” or “of course, once the Council of Australian Governments has agreed, we can adopt it.”

These statements of the obvious don’t seem so obvious when R&D is initially planned. Nevertheless, they are invariably preceded by the phrase “of course” when they come up.

Now with 30 years of hindsight, I see the massive blind spot technical people have when it comes to so-called “softer” sciences. I don’t know the origin of calling them soft sciences; if we ignore them, we are just as royally stuffed as if we bet against one of Newton’s laws.

Billions of dollars of applied science funding have failed to meet their promise because the social or human aspects of the research were ignored or downplayed.

“If you build it, they will come” may have worked for Kevin Costner in his film, Field of Dreams, but it hasn’t worked so well for a lot of genetic modification research or certain methods of food production — or, arguably, nuclear power. Assuming that public attitudes, economics and the law will eventually catch up to the science is just asking to be proved wrong.

We technical people are getting better. We’ve started to invite a soft scientist or two to planning meetings. But building our machines and funding our experiments is super expensive and obviously needs to be done first. Inevitably, “human factors” will be “program four” (never “program one”), with details to be worked out later, followed by budgeting a bit later than that (“How much money can they need? A few surveys can’t cost much!”)

It’s time we started to see the human factor as a front-end consideration — rather than an afterthought tacked on a few steps before the finish line — and gave proper respect to the perspiration needed to get us there.

Tony Peacock, CRC Association CEO

This article was published in KnowHow Issue 9.

Lowitja CRC

Community driven health research

Lowitja Institute CRC Board and CEO, L-R: Mr Romlie Mokak (CEO), Professor Peter Buckskin, Ms June Oscar AO, Ms Pat Anderson AO (Chair), Mr Selwyn Button and Mr Ali Drummond.

Since 2014, with our 22 Participants, we have achieved demonstrable benefit for the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. We have become a point of collaboration and have developed strong national and international networks.

We have provided leadership in the promotion of a definition of value that incorporates what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples hold to be true and intrinsically of value. The translation of those values into the research agenda enables a questioning of the status quo, privileges Indigenous knowledges, and ensures a new, sustainable and more empowering perspective for looking at issues that impact on the health and wellbeing of Australia’s First Peoples.

We are particularly proud that 68 per cent of our projects are led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health researchers and that our projects build in dynamic knowledge translation activities.

We have supported innovative research projects in areas including early childhood development, young men’s health and wellbeing, the cultural determinants of health, the impact of negative discourse and strength-based alternatives. We  convened for the first time in Australia an expert roundtable on disability in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, through which we identified critical areas of research.

We are proud of our achievements since we began under the CRC Programme. The Lowitja Institute will continue to fulfil the vision of Dr Lowitja O’Donoghue AC CBE DSG to be a courageous organisation committed to social justice and equity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

This article was published in KnowHow Issue 9.

Pork CRC

Pig power a game changer for pork producers

Blantyre farms, where pork producers create biogas from the effluent from their piggeries.

The Bioenergy Support Program (BSP), an initiative by the Pork CRC, supported pork producers to plan, design and implement on-farm biogas systems. There are now over 20 piggeries with operating
biogas systems, which is 15% of the national pig herd.

A biogas system typically consists of a covered effluent treatment pond where the methane is captured then used to generate electricity and heating. This also provides a way to reduce the farm’s carbon emissions, as methane is 25 times stronger than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.

Alan Skerman, program leader of the BSP and Principal Environmental Engineer at The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries in Queensland, said they would run calculations to figure out how farmers could get the most out of a biogas system. “We’d estimate what volume of gas they’d get,
and how they might best be able to use that gas to offset their existing energy bill,” he said.

“We were one of the first people to install one of the systems,” said Edwina Beveridge, a pork farmer from Young in New South Wales. “It’s magical: it’s great for the environment, it reduces our odour, and it has really good economic impacts as well.”

She said the BSP was invaluable to the industry in providing the scientific knowledge to fully utilise the resource. “We’re all farmers: we’re used to looking after our animals. Making bioenergy and electricity is a whole new world for us. So having clever people who really know the ins and outs of it has been a wonderful help.”

Skerman said, “We were also able to give some advice on programs like the carbon farming initiative and emissions reduction fund. So a lot of the producers were able to generate Australian carbon credit units which they were able to auction and produce further income.”

Biogas systems could also be a game changer for pork sales. “It may be that in the future the industry could market pork for its low carbon emission qualities,” Skerman said. The Pork CRC concludes June 30, 2019, with programs rolling into the industry supported body, Australasian Pork Research Institute Ltd.

Cherese Sonkkila

By the numbers – The Pork CRC

3.6 kg: The drop in CO2 equivalents by 2020–2021 (from 2010 levels) from greenhouse gas emissions of the Australian pork industry, according to a Life Cycle Assessment by Dr Stephen Wiedemann of Integrity Ag Services.

16% of the manure effluent from the Australian pig herd is now directed to biogas systems, compared to 2% prior to the Bioenergy Support Program starting.

80% of Australian producers have reduced the confinement of sows by 77–82%, contributing to the term High Integrity Australian Pork, developed by the Pork CRC.

This article was published in KnowHow Issue 9.


Rejecting mine waste can save billions

CRC ORE staff David La Rosa and Eiman Amini at the production trial site at Minera San Cristóbal in Bolivia.

Globally, conventional mining methods are becoming less efficient and more expensive. Fewer high-grade ore pockets remain and they are increasingly difficult to access.

The Cooperative Research Centre for Optimising Resource Extraction (CRC ORE) aims to use innovation to improve value and reverse declining productivity in the mining industry.

CRC ORE’s Grade Engineering technology will help miners improve the recovery of valuable ore by identifying which separation process is most effective for the specific ore’s characteristics. Less energy and water will be used by rejecting most of the waste material at the beginning of the value chain, then only milling the higher-grade material to extract the desired mineral.

A full-scale production trial of Grade Engineering is currently underway at Minera San Cristóbal S.A. (MSC) in Bolivia — a major global producer of zinc, lead and silver.

The trial involves CRC ORE and its participants, mine owner Sumitomo Corporation, and equipment supplier Metso.

Dr Ben Adair, CRC ORE CEO says initial results of the trial are impressive. “So far, results show that by applying Grade Engineering to areas previously designated as ‘mineralised waste’, the feed grade to the mill can be increased more than 2.5 times,” he says, adding that waste material can potentially be converted into high-grade ore feed.

“In this case, the big benefit of Grade Engineering is its potential ability to extend the life of the mine and add up to $1 billion to its value,” says Dave King, MSC operations director.

Australian mine operators are keenly watching the trial and CRC ORE is currently working with Australian participants to secure equivalent trials at their production sites.

Brendan Fitzpatrick

This article was published in KnowHow Issue 9.


Wild about rice up north

Northern Australia rice industry collaborators, L-R: Russell Ford (SunRice), Professor Robert Henry (QAAFI), Jed Matz (CEO, CRCNA) and Paul Ryan (Olive Vale Pastoral).

For more than 10,000 years, people in Australia’s Top End have harvested and eaten native rice, which grows wild in wetlands and includes genetically diverse small-grained species that are nutritious and able to resist drought and disease.

Researchers analysing rice DNA tracked the origins of northern Australia’s wild rice to ancient strains from Africa. Several species were cross-bred with domesticated rice to boost production, and new gourmet markets now exist for this ancient grain.

The CRC for Developing Northern Australia (CRCNA) has announced a new 18-month, $505,000 research collaboration to investigate the northern Australian rice sector. The project will evaluate three northern rice industry scenarios: producing wild rice, creating a unique northern Australian rice variety, and commercialising wild rice genes to boost global production.

The project brings together the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI) at the University of Queensland, Charles Darwin University, Western Australia’s Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Queensland’s Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Rice Research Australia (SunRice), Olive Vale Pastoral and Savannah Ag Consulting at James Cook University’s Cairns Institute.

QAAFI’s Professor Robert Henry says northern Australia is well placed to capitalise on emerging markets for speciality wild rice products, potentially worth around $10 million per year within five years.

CRCNA chair Sheriden Morris says the project — one of eight industry situational analyses funded by the CRCNA in 2017–2018 — will zero in on the opportunities for traditional owners and agriculturalists.

The outcome will include an ‘action plan’ for industry and inform future CRCNA investment and research.

Fran Molloy

This article was published in KnowHow Issue 9.


Smart move: Australians embrace the transport revolution

The real transport revolution looks to optimising the links between public and private transport, and Australians are all for it. Mobility as a service (MaaS) taps into the digital age by integrating planning, booking and payment and allowing users to personalise their trip. First trialed in Gothenburg, Sweden in 2013, MaaS has now spread to a handful of cities around the world.

New research by iMOVE, a new CRC for transport systems, has indicated that 46% of Australians would use a MaaS service. The 2018 report surveyed community attitudes of 4000 Australians, as well as industry experts and the status of MaaS around the world.

“We hope to look at the international experience and leapfrog over it,” said Stacey Ryan, policy manager of Intelligent Transport Systems Australia, an iMOVE CRC partner.

The benefit of MaaS platforms is their potential to improve the efficiency of existing systems without building new transport infrastructure, which is extremely expensive.

“Some people see MaaS as the holy grail of transport – it’s seamless,” said Stacey.

So how long do Australians have to wait?

“Some suggest six months – just add a ticketing and booking overlay to Google, while others say it will take five to 10 years because you need ticketing integration. The reality is probably somewhere in between,” said Stacey.

The initial focus of MaaS might be to serve niche markets such as tourists or the visually impaired, Stacey added. iMOVE is a collection of 44 partners, in a 10-year project for R&D of innovative transport solutions and technologies for Australia.

Rebecca Blackburn

This article was published in KnowHow Issue 9.


Cheaper, faster mineral exploration

The RoXplorer Coiled Tube Drilling rig enables safe, efficient mineral exploration.

The RoXplorer Coiled Tube Drilling (CTD) rig that was commercialised by mining firms IMDEX and Barrick Gold in 2018 is now the platform for two complementary research programs at the new MinEx CRC.

Developed originally by the Deep Exploration Technologies (DET) CRC, CTD technology replaces multiple individual rigid drill rods with a single, flexible steel tube wound on a spool. This makes drilling exploration holes much faster and cheaper, says Andrew Bailey, CEO of the MinEx CRC.

The CTD system’s flexible steel tube is led by a drill that uses recirculated high-pressure water to hammer or slice through rock, and can dig up to 110m a day, says Bailey. The assay samples are carried back up to the surface by the water for analysis.

Barrick Gold is now one of 35 participants in the MinEx CRC that began operations in July 2018, focussing on mineral exploration technologies and inheriting some of the now- defunct DET CRC’s research and commercialisation licenses.

Typical exploration holes are 500m deep and the MinEX CRC research aims to double this. A parallel research program aims to harness data generated by on-board sensors for the first time to geo-steer the drill, either towards a predicted mineral lode, or around a known or suspected obstacle.

As well as being faster and cheaper than conventional drilling techniques, the CTD technology is also safer as less direct human intervention is required, and environmentally superior as the system uses water rather than the oil-based ‘mud’ compounds used in conventional drilling.

Gregor Ferguson

This article was published in KnowHow Issue 9.


Isotope research helping industry and the environment

ANSTO’s Dr Mazumder’s research is helping the Australian aquaculture and seafood industries by developing tools to determine the geographic origin of seafood to combat food fraud.

Experts at tracing the tiny “fingerprints” isotopes leave as they move through earth systems such as water ways, our atmosphere and all living things.

Dr Debashish Mazumder, a Senior Environmental Research Scientist at ANSTO explains, “Plants produce organic carbon during photosynthesis. This carbon has a unique fingerprint which is passed on to animals as they consume the plant material, and this isotopic fingerprint is carried to the top of the food chain through predation.

“Tracing these isotopic fingerprints helps us work out the relationship between species within an ecosystem and the source of their food, which is essential for monitoring ecosystems and predicting changes. It can also play a powerful role in tracking the provenance of foodstuffs.”

Mazumder says the fast growing aquaculture industry is an example. “Isotope analysis of fish tissue and feed can provide insight into the cost-effectiveness of fish farming, whether the fish is farmed or wild-caught, and offers insight into aquaculture’s environmental footprint.”

ANSTO radiochemist Atun Zawadzki specialises in using a range of techniques, including using the radioisotope lead-210 as a “clock” within sediment layers up to 150 years old. Because radioactive isotopes decay at a known rate, a chronology can be established.

“Knowing the age of sediment layers and the substances present, we can construct a clear view of the environmental history of an area and investigate why and how changes have occurred,” says Zawadzki.

For more information on how ANSTO uses isotopes for environmental research, visit

— Gregor Ferguson

This article was published in KnowHow Issue 9.

CRC for Honeybee Products

A hive of activity in bee research

The CRC for Honeybee Products is seeking to revolutionise Australia’s honey industry.

“We’re proud to be a catalyst in accelerating research and new solutions, and products are already coming to light due to our diverse academic expertise and a fast-growing and demanding industry,” says Liz Barbour, CRCHBP CEO.

Barbour believes 2018 was a watershed year for honey bees in Australia. “Land use changes and intensified fire management are challenging the reliable and diverse supply of bee food, and impacting bee health, as never before,” she says. Climate change and shifting patterns of nectar flow have also caused uncertainty in the industry.

Barbour says the industry has also suffered from misleading accusations of adulterated honey during 2018. “This caught the world’s honey industry ill-prepared, and there was no chemical analysis system able to provide a clear answer to adequately address the public’s confidence,” she says.

CRCHBP has been at the forefront in trying to establish techniques and testing policies to address this problem.

A worldwide focus on ‘saving the bee’ has attracted more people to beekeeping.

This has led CRCHBP to develop better training programs for beekeepers to help protect Australia’s envied biosecurity status.

Barbour says the global buzz around New Zealand’s Manuka honey also offers a potential boon for Australian honey.

“CRCHBP has been successfully developing the other 80 Leptospermum species throughout Australia,” she says. “Some of these species have higher levels of active antimicrobial ingredients than reported from New Zealand.”

Brendan Fitzpatrick

This article was published in KnowHow Issue 9.

Alertness CRC

Developing smarter ways to sleep

Dr David White, Harvard professor and chief scientific officer at Philips Respironics.

Sleep disorders and inadequate sleep can cause real harm, so the Alertness CRC is working with institutions and industry partners, including global tech giant Philips, on solutions.

“If you’re sleepy or sleep deprived, your performance goes down, your attention to detail and vigilance goes down, reaction time gets worse, your executive function gets worse, and your mood gets worse,” says Dr David White, Harvard professor and chief scientific officer at Philips Respironics. “That leads to higher absenteeism and decreased productivity in the workplace.” With two in five Australians not getting enough sleep, the economic cost was an estimated $26.2 billion in lost productivity in 2016–2017.

Poor sleep is also linked to serious health problems. “Sleep disorders can lead to mental illnesses, cardiovascular, kidney and urinary tract disease, diabetes and loss of cognitive function,” says White.

That further loss of personal wellbeing was valued at $40.1 billion in 2016–2017.

The Alertness CRC has partnered with sleep physicians and specialists in developing a range of clinically validated tools that could really make a difference to people’s lives, including the lives of family members who can also be affected by another person’s poor sleep.

“For a wide variety of reasons, the vast majority of people do not address theirsleep problems, such as sleep apnoea or insomnia, so they remain undiagnosed and untreated,” says White. “In this research partnership, we are collaboratively working on ways to help consumers improve their sleep as easily and effectively as possible.”

Brendan Fitzpatrick

This article was published in KnowHow Issue 9.

immune system

Discovery helps researchers better understand immune system

A team from The Australian National University (ANU) and Monash University found the immune system can recognise more proteins from viruses and vaccines than previously thought.

“More than 80 per cent of the virus proteins can be recognised by the immune system and used to trigger an immune reaction by the body. This is much more than was expected”, said senior author Professor David Tscharke from the John Curtin School of Medical Research at ANU.

immune system

Professor David Tscharke. (Image credit: Jamie Kidston, ANU)

“This work has unearthed a better understanding of how well viruses and vaccines are recognised by the body.”

Lead author Dr Nathan Croft, from the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI), said the findings will have practical outcomes for new vaccines.

“We can now begin to apply this knowledge to other viruses and to cancer, to pinpoint favourable targets for the immune system,” said Dr Croft.

The team used vaccinia virus to understand how much of a virus is actually recognised and targeted by the immune system.

Vaccinia virus was used as a vaccine to eradicate smallpox and is now repurposed as a tool against other viruses as well as cancers.

“This is a remarkable finding that highlights the power of mass spectrometry to identify the entirety of viral antigens that are exposed to the immune system,” said co-senior author, Professor Anthony Purcell from Monash BDI.

“The translation to human infectious disease is obvious, but the identification of tumor derived antigens is also an exciting area we are developing to drive the precision oncology field and cancer immunotherapy.”

“Our results also show that no part of the virus is hidden from the immune system, no matter what time these parts are produced or how they are used by the virus,” said Professor Tscharke.

The team used a combination of biochemistry, bioinformatics and statistics to identify viral peptides present on the surface of infected cells and analyse the ability of the immune system to see them as foreign targets.

The research, supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and the Australian Research Council (ARC) is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

This article was originally published by ANU.

chemical industry

Harnessing light for a solar-powered chemical industry

RMIT University researchers have developed a nano-enhanced material that can capture an incredible 99% of light and convert it to power chemical reactions.

As well as reducing the environmental impact of chemical manufacturing, the innovation could one day be used to deliver technologies like better infrared cameras and solar-powered water desalination.

Published today in ACS Applied Energy Materials, the research addresses the challenge of finding alternative energy sources for chemical manufacturing, which accounts for about 10% of global energy consumption and 7% of industrial greenhouse gas emissions.

In the US, chemical manufacturing uses more energy than any other industry, accounting for 28% of industrial energy consumption in 2017.

While photo catalysis – the use of light to drive chemical reactions – is growing in the industry, efficiency and cost remain significant obstacles to wider take-up.

Lead investigator Associate Professor Daniel Gomez said the new technology maximised light absorption to efficiently convert light energy into chemical energy.

“Chemical manufacturing is a power hungry industry because traditional catalytic processes require intensive heating and pressure to drive reactions,” Gomez, an ARC Future Fellow in RMIT’s School of Science, said.

“But one of the big challenges in moving to a more sustainable future is that many of the materials that are best for sparking chemical reactions are not responsive enough to light.”

“The photo catalyst we’ve developed can catch 99% of light across the spectrum, and 100% of specific colours.

“It’s scaleable and efficient technology that opens new opportunities for the use of solar power – moving from electricity generation to directly converting solar energy into valuable chemicals.”

Nano-tech for solar power

The research focused on palladium, an element that’s excellent at producing chemical reactions but usually not very light responsive.

By manipulating the optical properties of palladium nanoparticles, the researchers were able to make the material more sensitive to light.

While palladium is rare and expensive, the technique requires just a miniscule amount – 4 nanometres of nano-enhanced palladium is enough to absorb 99% of light and achieve a chemical reaction. An average human hair, for comparison, is 100,000 nanometres thick.

Daniel Gomez with a disc covered in the nano-enhanced palladiumARC Future Fellow, Associate Professor Daniel Gomez, holding a disc covered in the nano-enhanced palladium (Image: RMIT).


Beyond chemical manufacturing, the innovation could be further developed for a range of other potential applications including better night vision technology by producing more light-sensitive and clearer images.

Another potential use is for desalination. The nano-enhanced material could be put in salty water then exposed to sunlight, producing enough energy to boil and evaporate the water, separating it from the salt.

Gomez, who leads the Polaritonics Lab at RMIT, said the new technology could significantly increase the yield in the emerging photo-catalysis sector, with leading firms currently producing about 30kg of product each day using light as the driving force.

“We all rely on products of the chemical manufacturing industry – from plastics and medicines, to fertilisers and the materials that produce the colours on digital screens,” he said.

“But much like the rest of our economy, it’s an industry currently fuelled by carbon.

“Our ultimate goal is to use this technology to harness sunlight efficiently and convert solar energy into chemicals, with the aim of transforming this vital industry into one that’s renewable and sustainable.”

The research, with collaborators from CSIRO, the Melbourne Centre for Nanofabrication and University of Melbourne, is published in ACS Applied Energy Materials (DOI: 10.1021/acsaem.8b01704).

A paper demonstrating similar technology using gold nanoparticles will be published in a forthcoming edition of the journal ACS Photonics.

Gosia Kaszubska

This article was originally published by RMIT.

international women's day

Celebrating STEM leaders this International Women’s Day

In 2018, Science & Technology Australia (STA) celebrated their leadership team – which includes researchers, innovators, communicators and advocates – this International Women’s Day for the contributions they have made to their field and to Australian science and technology. Read the leadership team’s profiles in the following section.

For the 2019 International Women’s Day , Science & Technology Australia is calling on every Australian to #NominateHer to celebrate inspiring, capable women across the country.

recent study published in Nature looked at the recipients of awards in biomedicine in the USA, and it found a stark gap in gender representation.

President of Science & Technology Australia, Professor Emma Johnston AO, said only 24% of recipients of the three most prominent science prizes in 2018 were female (excluding female-only awards).

“Last year, we saw some amazing science recognised through national awards – the Prime Ministers Prizes for Science, the Eureka Awards, and the Academy of Science’s honorific awards,” she said.

“Across these three award programs, which span the full gambit of science and technology, only one quarter of those recognised were women.”

“I think we can do better than that.”

The Nature study also found where there was greater prize money, the gender gap was even more stark.

“We are facing similar disparity here in Australia, as over the life of the Prime Minister’s Prizes for example, only 20% of recipients have been female,” Professor Johnston.

“According to those who run the awards, the issue comes down to a lack of nominations.”

She said International Womens Day would be the perfect time for Australians to #NominateHer, to make sure this wasn’t a problem in 2019.

“We are proud to build on great campaigns like ‘Honour a Woman’, which seek to bring balance to Australian awards and honours,” she said.

“We know there are hundreds of inspiring women who do fantastic, ground-breaking work across Australia, and we hope that 2019 will be the year we even the odds.”

“We want to see nominations for a range of leading and emerging scientists – who will you be nominating today?”

Awards that are currently open for nominations include:

Meet the STA leadership team:

Emma JohnstonA/Professor Judith DawesDr Cathy FoleyDr Zoe DoubledayTanya HaKylie WalkerProfessor Dianne JolleyDr Katherine DaffornA/Professor Coral WarrProfessor Rebecca RitchieA/Professor Ulrike MathesiusKylie Ahern

Professor Emma Johnston in the fieldProfessor Emma Johnston
STA President

Emma is Dean of Science at UNSW Sydney, one Australia’s leading marine ecotoxicologists, and an enthusiastic advocate for the STEM sector. A keen sailor from an early age, Emma recognised a way to combine this passion with her new-found interest in biology while completing her undergraduate Bachelor of Science at the University of Melbourne. She went on to complete her PhD in marine ecology in 2002.
Emma was the inaugural recipient of the Nancy Millis Award for Women in Science in 2014, and was presented with a Eureka Prize in 2015 for her work communicating science. Emma hosts the TV series Coast Australia, is a regular commentator on all things STEM in mainstream media, and serves as a mentor for young scientists and technologists through programs like the Superstars of STEM. Most recently Emma delivered the televised National Press Club Address, where she spoke about the challenges facing Australian science and technology and the ways the sector can thrive in to the future.

“We want a community of Australians who are striving and thriving together. Using science and technology – the method, the rigor, the drive, the imagination – to make our world a better place for all who live within it – regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, heritage, sexual orientation. Our ambition should be open to all.”

Judith Dawes

Associate Professor Judith Dawes
STA Treasurer

Judith is one of Australia’s leading researchers in optics and photonics, working in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Macquarie University.
Judith grew up amongst a family of scientists, becoming fascinated by the way atoms react to form molecules. She started to use lasers to study this process and since then has studied many different phenomena, from tissue welding in surgery and remote sensing of toxic gases, to communications using light.
Her current work involves researching the applications of light at the nanoscale, in particular for biophotonics.

Cathy FoleyDr Cathy Foley
STA Policy Chair

Cathy is Deputy and Science Director of CSIRO Manufacturing, where she works with Australian researchers and manufacturers to build new companies to assist with the translation of research for economic prosperity. Her own work has involved researching superconducting materials and applying this work to do things like detect magnetic fields and locate valuable deposits of minerals.
Cathy is a current and former Chair of many distinguished committees and groups, and previously served as a member of the Prime Minister’s Science Engineering and Innovation Council. She was named NSW ‘Woman of the Year’ in 2013, and in 2015 received the Clunies Ross Medal and the Australian Institute of Physics’ Outstanding Service to Physics Award.

Zoe Doubleday at workDr Zoe Doubleday
STA Early Career Representative

Zoe is an ecologist and Research Fellow at the University of Adelaide, and was recognised for her work with the South Australian Young Tall Poppy Award in 2017.
She investigates how marine plants and animals respond, for better or worse, to our changing environment. Based on these responses, she makes predictions about what our future oceans may look like, and has a particular interest in “weedy” species, like squid and octopus, that adapt to thrive in the face of change.
Zoe is also looking at how the readability of scientific papers can be improved to facilitate better transfer of knowledge between science, industry, policy and the broader community.

“When I work with an equal mix of men and women this is what happens: everyone talks, trust is higher, confidence is boosted and creativity abounds. Imagine what we could achieve in STEM if we had a diverse workplace every day all day.”

Tanya Ha at workTanya Ha
Ordinary Member Representative

Tanya is an award-winning Australian environmental campaigner, author, broadcaster, science journalist and sustainability researcher. She is also a media commentator on science and environmental issues and a behaviour change researcher.
She was a reporter for ABC’s Catalyst and an ambassador for National Science Week, and is currently an Associate at the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute at the University of Melbourne, and Director of Engagement at the communications agency Science in Public.
Tanya is on the advisory groups of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Exciton Science, Science Gallery Melbourne and the Thrive Research Hub, and has also served on the boards of Sustainability Victoria and Keep Australia Beautiful (National Association). Her books include GreeniologyThe Australian Green Consumer Guide and Green Stuff for Kids.

“Our girlfriends, sisters, aunts and daughters need us! and They need information to make informed choices, and women are often more receptive to advice from other women. If our female scientists, doctors and evidence-based advocates don’t step up, we’re leaving our girlfriends listening to the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow, Jenny McCarthy and Belle Gibson. This is scary in the age of fake news and Facebook.”

Kylie WalkerKylie Walker

Kylie is CEO of Science & Technology Australia, Chair of the Australian National Commission for UNESCO, and co-Chair of the National Research and Innovation Alliance. She is also a board member of the ACT Domestic Violence Crisis Service, and a visiting Fellow at the Australian Centre for the Public Awareness of Science.
Kylie is a proud advocate for women in science and technology, most recently developing and launching the Superstars of STEM program in 2017. She has worked as a senior communications and advocacy leader in the STEM sector for more than 10 years, and specialises in connecting scientists and technologists with governments, businesses, media and the Australia public.

“The unfortunate reality is that many people still think of a white-haired man in a lab coat when they think of scientists, but this hasn’t been true for decades: in fact there are all kinds of clever and dedicated women and men working in the labs, fields, at the computers and in the STEM companies of Australia.”

Dianne Jolley in the lab, image courtesy of UoWProfessor Dianne Jolley
STA Cluster Representative – Chemical Sciences

Dianne is a leading environmental chemist and toxicologist, and Head of the Environmental Chemistry and Toxicology Lab at the University of Wollongong. Her work has had  significant impacts in the disciplines of analytical and environmental chemistry and ecotoxicology, and she has been recognised as a Fellow of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute.
She has multiple national and international collaborators within academia, industry and government, and has been responsible for supporting more than 40 young women and men research students to graduate. Dianne is also a past president of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC).

Katherine DaffornDr Katherine Dafforn
STA Cluster Representative – Aquatic Sciences

Katherine is a Senior Research Associate at the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences at UNSW.
She is a marine ecologist and science communicator, who works on green engineering of artificial structures, stormwater and ecosystem services, marine debris in Sydney Harbour, and other areas of applied marine and estuarine ecology.
Katherine has featured on local and national media to discuss her work, and was awarded the 2008 John Holliday Student Conservation Award.

Coral WarrAssociate Professor Coral Warr
STA Cluster Representative – Biological Sciences

Coral is the Associate Dean Research and Head of the Faculty of Science at Monash University, and a leader in cellular and developmental genetics.
Her work looks at how cells detect signals from the environment, or from each other, during development and in the adult organism. Understanding this is critical because dysregulation of cell signalling underlies many of the major diseases that afflict society, including cancer and obesity.
Coral is also the President of the Genetics Society of Australia.

Rebecca RitchieProfessor Rebecca Ritchie
STA Cluster Representative – Cognitive and Medical Sciences

Rebecca is the Head of Heart Failure Pharmacology at Baker Heart & Diabetes Institute and a NHMRC Senior Research Fellow.
She is internationally-recognised for her contributions to cardiac pharmacology and identifying potential new treatment strategies for arresting the progression of heart failure. Her work has been recognised with awards from the Australasian Society of Clinical & Experimental Pharmacologists & Toxicologists and Diabetes Australia.
Rebecca is also a passionate advocate for women in STEM and an active mentor for early and mid career researchers.

Ulrike Mathesius on the jobAssociate Professor Ulrike Mathesius
STA Cluster Representative – Plant and Ecological Sciences

Ulrike is Sub Dean for the Bachelor of Philosophy (Science) program and a Professor of Plant Science in the Research School of Biology at the Australian National University (ANU). She is a teacher and researcher in the areas of plant science and microbiology, and looks at the symbiotic relationship between plants and soil bacteria – in particular legumes. While most plants need artificial nitrogen fertilises for optimum yield, legumes gain nitrogen from the air through this partnership with nitrogen-fixing soil bacteria.
Ulrike’s groundbreaking work has seen her receive both the Goldacre Medal from the Australian Society of Plant Scientists and the Fenner Medal from the Australian Academy of Science.

“My advice for women in STEM would be to charge ahead with your interests and find a place that is supportive of your work. Science is a very absorbing and fun occupation and if it is your passion you will find a way to make it happen.”

Kylie AhernKylie Ahern
STA Cluster Representative – General Representative

Kylie is an award-winning science publisher and entrepreneur. She was a co-founder at Cosmos Media; an award winning media company that launched Cosmos, Australia’s most popular science magazine and website.
She helped establish the Nature Publishing Group in Australia – creating and launching products to the academic market – and in 2016 founded her current business, STEM Matters.
Kylie is also an Advisory Board Member for the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision, and a former Board member at Publishers Australia.

This article was originally published by Science & Technology Australia.

square kilometre array

Groundwork laid for world’s largest radio telescope: the Square Kilometre Array

Main image: An artist’s impression of the future Square Kilometre Array (SKA) in Australia. Up to 132,000 low frequency antennas (resembling metal Christmas trees) will be built. (Image: CSIRO)

Designs for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) facility in Western Australia received the tick of approval this week during its critical design review, and can now move on to the final steps before construction starts in 2020.

Once completed, the multi-billion dollar SKA project will probe the corners of the universe to expand our understanding of its origins — and it will do so hundreds of times faster and in more detail than any existing facility.

Laying the groundwork

Australia’s Square Kilometre Array will be a web of more than 130,000 low-frequency antennas located in the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory in Western Australia (South Africa will host the other SKA facility).

The SKA’s success hinges on signals from thousands of antennas spread over many kilometres aligning with extreme precision. Infrastructure Australia Project Manager and Aurecon telecommunications infrastructure engineer Rebecca Wheadon said many of the challenges in ensuring this stem from the vastness and remote location of the site.

“We are working out in the middle of the desert, and we need to protect the radio quiet nature of the site,” Wheadon said.

“There’s a significant amount of engineering smarts that go into achieving that.”

For completion of this most recent phase, engineers were tasked with designing onsite support infrastructure, including a low central processing facility (CPF), a 1500-square-metre supercomputing centre.

“The CPF building is effectively a fully welded box within a box; all of the computing equipment goes within the inner shield of the building, with specially designed RFI [radio frequency interference] doors to ensure we do not pollute the air with RFI,” Wheadon said.

Square Kilometre Array

Artist’s impression of the supercomputing facility for the future Square Kilometre Array – the world’s largest radio telescope. (Image: Aurecon)

This includes any emissions from cooling equipment, pumps and lights. Hundreds of kilometres of access tracks and trenching for power supply and cables are also required to connect the sprawling network.

“Data flows will be on the scale of petabits, or a million billion bits, per second — more than the global internet rate today, all flowing into a single building in the Murchison,” said CSIRO’s SKA Infrastructure Consortium Director Antony Schinckel in a statement.

“To get this data from the antennas to the telescope’s custom supercomputing facilities, we need to lay 65,000 fibre optic cables.”

Coming into focus

Senior Electrical Engineer James Massoud, also from Aurecon, likened the electrical fitout to a “scaled-down version” of the east-coast transmission network, with long distances between demand centres and generation points.

“The scale of the site led to a significant electrical power distribution network, characterised as a long, low-density network,” said Massoud, who served as the power distribution lead engineer for the Infrastructure Australia consortium.

The team also had to “look back in time for mechanical or analogue ways of doing things”, he said, as digital technologies would disturb the radio quietness of the site.

The Murchison region, about 800 km north of Perth, has a legislated quiet zone of up to 260 km to limit interference. Keeping the ‘noise’ to a minimum is important, as the SKA antennas will be receiving extremely weak signals from the far reaches of the universe. Experts including CSIRO principal engineer and RFI specialist Carol Wilson advised on how to prevent the faint signals from being drowned out by the sites own equipment, like the CPF.

“One of the challenges is that the infrastructure equipment is not well characterised in terms of radio emissions, unlike radiocommunications equipment where the frequency power level and other technical qualifications are clearly identified,” she said.

Square Kilometre Array

Some of the SKA team, from left: Antony Schinckel, CSIRO; SKA Infrastructure Consortium Director, Rebecca Wheadon Aurecon; SKA Infrastructure Australia Project Manager, David Luchetti; and Australian SKA Director Shandip Abeywickrema, Aurecon Senior Project Engineer. (Image: CSIRO)

This milestone is the culmination of nearly a decade’s worth of work by an Infrastructure Australia industry partnership comprising experts from CSIRO and Aurecon.

Although the SKA project will physically reside in Australia and South Africa, in all more than 12 international engineering consortia, representing 500 engineers and scientists from 20 countries, are contributing to the telescope’s design, construction and eventual operation.

A critical design review for the entire SKA system will take place later this year or early next year, and construction is set to begin in 2020.

– Rachael Brown

This article was originally published by create digital as “Engineers lay the groundwork for the world’s largest radio telescope: the Square Kilometre Array”.

mineral technologies

$4.1m funding for mining technology projects announced

Image: Hon Karen Andrews MP,  Federal Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, announcing the METS Ignited Collaborative Project Funds at Mineral Technologies on the Gold Coast. (Image credit: METS Ignited)

The funding has been awarded under the METS Ignited Collaborative Project Funds and was announced by the Hon Karen Andrews MP on 1 March. METS Ignited is an industry-led organisation which aims to increase the competitiveness of Australia’s METS (Mining Equipment, Technology and Services) sector through innovative mining technology projects.

The recipients of the funding will now be able to launch eight collaborative industry projects that will deliver highly-advanced solutions to a variety of mining technology challenges and contribute to the growth and capability of the METS sector.

This funding is part of a four-year, $15.6m commitment made by the Australian Government to incentivise collaboration and address METS sector priorities. The funding established the METS Ignited Collaborative Project Funds, which support industry-led mining technology projects to improve the productivity, competitiveness and innovative capacity in the METS sector.

Acting CEO of METS Ignited, Ian Dover, says the funding will spur necessary collaboration in the sector and drive development of technologies that will be vital for the future of the mining sector.

“Active collaboration across the ecosystem is core to accelerating commercialisation of innovation and has been lacking in the METS and mining sector, where historically relationships have been in the main transactional,” says Dover.


METS Ignited has awarded the funds to businesses specialising largely in mining technology: robotics and automation, data analytics, data platforms, internet of things and business and professional services. The largest fund recipients were Queensland-based Mineral Technologies and Premron, awarded $1M each.

Collectively, the projects will benefit the mining sector by optimising the value chain, increasing productivity for mining and mineral processing, supporting and enhancing environmental management, and improving operational safety.

The projects are summarised below.

mineral technologies

Image: Andrew Foster, Jess Maddren and Ian Dover at Mineral Technologies. (Image credit: METS Ignited)

Automation of the Roy Hill Iron Ore Benefication plant

Recipient: Mineral Technologies

Partners: Roy Hill

Collaborative Project Funds: $1M

Industry investment: $1M

This project automates the gravity separation spiral process used in the mine tooptimise the concentration of lower grade ore into higher value ore for export.

Continuous Haulage System

Recipient: Premron

Partners: Gauley Robertson Australia, Kestrel Coal Mine

Collaborative Project Funds: $1M

Industry investment: $1.13M

Continuous haulage will revolutionise coal mining in underground mines. It eliminates the use of shuttle cars, which are used to take the coal cut from the wall of the mine to a transfer point further away in the mine. CHS will see the coal go straight onto a conveyor belt and out of the mine.

Austmine METS career Pathway Program

Recipient: Austmine

Collaborative Project Funds: $240K

Industry investment: $1.76M

This project places university students as interns in METS companies around Australia, increasing the interest level and uptake of graduates into the METS sector.

The OVERwatch Platform

Recipient: Roobuck

Partners: Redpine Signals, Northpark Mines, University of Wollongong

Collaborative Project Funds: $600K

Industry investment: $1.5M

This project develops sensors and software to track the location of people and machinery working in underground mines and ensure that collisions are avoided. This is a complex project as there is limited communication options underground (e.g. no wifi).

Remote grinding optimisation and support centre

Recipient: ProcessIQ

Partners: Orway Mineral Consultants, Jamieson Consulting, Curtin University

Collaborative Project Funds: $620K

Industry investment: $780K

This project enables grinding experts to interact directly and in real time with grinding circuits on remote minesites to ensure they are operating at their most productive levels.The project will develop automated AI software to emulate the experts as there is very limited supply of this specialist expertise, leading to increased processing efficiency globally.

Automated Oversize Detection

Recipient: AMOG

Partners: Omniflex

Collaborative Project Funds: $150K

Industry investment: $220K

This project involves developing sensor equipment that alerts the mine when rocks are too big to process throughthe crushing and grinding equipment. Blockages in the crushing and grinding circuits are costly and time-consuming. Haulage trucks with oversized rocks will be diverted to a separate location in the mine, which avoids stoppages.

Smooth Operator leach circuit process optimisation

Recipient: AMOG

Partners: Lithium Consultants

Collaborative Project Funds: $220K

Industry investment: $220K

This project involves developing a predictive analytics tool that allows copper and nickel mines to pinpoint when they should close equipment for descaling. Closing equipment too late or early is very costly. There is a very large global market for this product.

Commercialisation of pulp chemistry monitor for the mining industry

Recipient: Magotteaux

Partners: Hydrix, Manta Controls, Newcrest Mining

Collaborative Project Funds: $250K

Industry investment: $310K

This project involves developing a device to give more detailed information on the chemistry inside the grinding mill while it is operating. Grinding and flotation circuitsuse many chemical inputs in order to extractminerals from the ore. Getting the chemical balance right in the mill and the next stage of floatation is critical to removing as much of the valuable mineral as possible. The percentages of the yield vary between 85% and 95% and a 1% improvement in yield will deliver a very large financial benefit to the mine.

Originally published by METS Ignited.

energy data

Energy data assets platform to drive decision-makers

Main image: Dr Nariman Mahdavi Mazdeh is part of the research team centralising Australia’s energy data into the NEAR Program. (Image credit: CSIRO)

Launched on 21 February, the National Energy Analytics and Research ( Program brings together energy data assets from numerous sectors in a convenient, publicly-available resource. The federally-funded platform, accessible at, is a collaboration between CSIRO, the Department of the Environment and Energy and the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) and brings together comprehensive information, including energy consumption patterns, demographics, building characteristics, appliance uptake, weather statistics, and more.

Currently, this type of data is held by numerous parties, formatted to different standards and access is often restricted. Research scientist Dr Nariman Mahdavi Mazdeh describes the energy data platform as “a one stop shop” for researchers and decision-makers. NEAR hosts data collected from across Australia (from sources such as AEMO, network distributors, energy retailers, smart meter data and energy consumers) and new research outputs that draw upon that data to answer some of the energy sector’s most pressing questions.

CSIRO project leader Dr Adam Berry says that the aim of NEAR is to make energy decision-making easier. “If you have a complex problem in the energy space and need data, you can discover research we’ve been conducting or data sets to conduct your own research,” says Dr Berry.

Some of the energy challenges the data will help address include:

  • Key drivers of energy consumption in Australian households.
  • How energy use has changed Australia-wide over the last decade.
  • National and regional opportunities to develop demand response programs.
  • Identifying risks in periods of system stress.
  • Planning grid upgrades and the integration of renewables.
  • The impact of retail energy tariffs on vulnerable and low-income consumers.

energy data

NEAR infographic (Image credit: CSIRO)

Effective demand response will save on network infrastructure costs, which will translate to lower electricity prices. “The research we’re trying to do contributes to how we can manage energy usage to benefit both the network and consumers,” says Dr Mazdeh.

Dr Berry is enthusiastic about the NEAR Program’s potential to help vulnerable consumers. “Low income households typically have fewer levers to pull in terms of access to distributed renewable energy and they are potentially more exposed to the pressures of cost,” he says. NEAR data is being used to investigate the impacts of retail energy tariffs, particularly in vulnerable consumer sectors. An

NEAR data has already been used in an ACCC Inquiry into retail electricity prices. One of the outcomes of that Inquiry was the development of a reference price, which assists consumers with finding the best deal across energy retailers.

“Who we are as modern Australian energy consumers is changing rapidly, and this is at the heart of the NEAR Program,” says Dr Berry. “We need to make the right decisions to contribute to an effective electricity system.”

For more on CSIRO energy research, read about the CSIRO Energise app here. Research based on surveying the app will also appear on the NEAR platform.

Larissa Fedunik