All posts by Karen Taylor-Brown

AT fitness: Runner with smart phone

How AI in health apps can make you fitter

Smartphones assist us in many aspects of our lives – from keeping in touch with friends and family to scheduling work and helping us to lead a healthy lifestyle. Many of us also use health apps to track our run, join a Zoom yoga class or log our meals. 

But are these health apps as effective as they can be? And given the popularity and wide reach of smartphones, can they be leveraged to deliver affordable and effective health care at a large scale?

One-size-fits-all doesn’t work

My research with Macquarie uni has indicated that the current one-size-fits-all approach in the health system is not enough to help people start and maintain healthy habits. 

In other words, simply advising someone to walk 10,000 steps a day, without giving them specific advice on how to incorporate this in their personal life, is unlikely to change their behaviours. 

Research from the US shows that each of us has a different lifestyle, needs and preferences that influence our decisions and health behaviours.

My PhD addresses this problem by focusing on “personalisation”, which aims to deliver the right health support to each person in the right moment, in a way they would be personally most receptive to. 

READ MORE: Microsoft’s AI for Health supports COVID-19 vaccine development

Taking AI into fitness

To better understand how this can be helpful, let’s take a hypothetical example of the use of health apps. A student, say ‘Lila’ is 19 years old and recently moved out of home to attend university. To support herself financially, Lila also takes on a part-time job as a medical receptionist, in addition to her full-time study. 

With such a busy schedule, and the fact that most of her work and studying involves working in front of a computer, Lila finds it difficult to stay active. 

There are millions of students like Lila across Australia who undergo many life and academic changes as they transition from high school to university and work. European research has found that university students find it difficult and overwhelming to stay healthy while taking on these new responsibilities. 

My own research into health apps serves to help people by Lila by combining smartphones with AI and similar tools to get to know the users – who they are, what they do and what their lifestyle patterns are. 

Leveraging data to motivate

Smartphones store a wide range of information, including our activity, calendar and availability, and Internet search habits. All this information can be fed into an algorithm, which can learn about the users’ life pattern and identify the most appropriate moment to provide health advice.

While many existing health apps like Fitbit use novel algorithms to deliver motivating comments or suggest interesting activities, few actually consider the user’s thoughts and preferences.

This lack of user involvement means that some health suggestions might not fit into the users’ lives, making it difficult for people to incorporate healthy behaviours in their routine.

To overcome this problem, our multidisciplinary team at Macquarie University are developing and evaluating a personalised mobile app which generates activity suggestions based on user preferences and needs. 

This app:

1. Gathers information from the users’ smartphones to understand their activity patterns and barriers to physical activity;

2. Suggests three choices to help the users be more active, and;

3. Allows the user to pick a suggestion that will be most suitable for them.

This approach promotes healthy behaviours by respecting the user’s autonomy and letting them choose the most suitable course of action for their life. 

To ensure that we develop an evidence-based, effective mobile app that can be integrated in the larger health systems, our team of experts come from several disciplines, including medical doctors, machine learning experts, software engineers and user experience (UX) designers.

Our team members come from institutions across Sydney, including Macquarie University, University of Sydney, University of New South Wales, and University of Technology Sydney. 

Here’s how it works

Here is an application of how this would work for Lila. By 3pm on Friday, based on Lila’s phone sensors, our mobile health app knows that Lila has been mostly sitting down during the week as she is studying for an upcoming exam. 

The app will then send a notification, prompting Lila to check out the top three suggestions to be more active, such as “Why not go for a short 15 minute walk during your study break?”, or “Doing a set of 10 push-ups quickly can help freshen your mind”. 

Subsequently, Lila chooses to go for a walk and become more active as a result. Lila gradually builds up healthy habits, incorporating more exercise in her busy life. 

Our team has pilot-tested this novel personalised app amongst 23 students, and found an overall increase of more than 1300 steps in their daily step count. This initial result shows the promising potential of our approach, as past research has linked an increase in step count to reduce mortality and morbidity risks

Given the promising results of our first trial, I hope to extend this research by incorporating advanced AI and machine learning techniques. For example, it is possible for our personalised mobile app to get more information about Lila by connecting to her calendar app. 

Our be.well app can also connect to external sources to get information about the weather, or air quality. 

With more information, the activity suggestion can become more specific and actionable, such as saying “Hey Lila, the sun is shining so why not go for a short walk and pick up a coffee from your favourite shop?” 

While our approach is promising, some of our users had expressed concern over the privacy of their data. So, our future work will also investigate how to deliver personalised support without invading user privacy, in an ethical, safe and effective way. 

Ly Tong is a PhD candidate and a Research Officer at Centre for Health Informatics at Macquarie University. Her project looks at the development and evaluation of personalised digital interventions for behaviour change, under the supervision of Dr Liliana Laranjo, Professor Enrico Coiera and Dr Juan Quiroz. Her research is supported by the International Macquarie University Research Excellence scholarship. 

From self-driving cars to better basketball shots

Prof Simon Lucy from the Australian Institute for Machine Learning on his experiences of creating new technologies across business and academia  

In Australia we’re used to seeing academic and business activities kept relatively separate. But I’ve seen the clear benefits that come from linking science with business. Indeed, if you look at the top computer science universities in the USA, you’d struggle to find any senior academic who does not have a concurrent dual role with a commercial operator. 

I recently became Co-Director (with Anton van den Hengel) at the Australian Institute for Machine Learning in Adelaide, South Australia. Immediately prior, I was Associate Professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute, USA, and also Principal Scientist at Argo AI – a company that builds technology for self-driving cars – plus managing engagements with Samsung, and Apple, and a couple of other big companies.

All of this took place in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where an innovation district brings together Carnegie Mellon University, University of Pittsburgh and its Medical Center plus numerous established and start-up tech organisations. Recent data shows the area supports over 50,000 jobs, with the population of Pittsburgh being around 2.3 million.  

Working in industry and academia

My dual roles in Pittsburgh worked together well. Yes, I had to be considered in navigating through the intellectual property implications. And yes, I was careful to disclose all my activities when it was appropriate.

But even with all that, we had some fantastic outcomes. The mix of my activities created positive results for both the university, and the technology companies.

After all, in the end we were all working towards similar kinds of scientific goals: to develop and apply machine learning to solve human problems. For example, we created Argoverse, a whole environment in which anyone who wants to work in autonomous vehicles can go and evaluate their algorithms and benchmark their activities.

Also through Carnegie Mellon University, I did some consulting work to develop artificial intelligence improve basketball shot taking, now incorporated into a product called Noah

Creating value for industry

Many tech businesses see a value proposition in working with universities. Argo AI invested US$15 million in a research centre at Carnegie Mellon University, where all the technology developed was open source. The university benefitted by having a new research facility and working closely with the company, and the company benefited by having access to a pool of talented researchers, building capability in one geographical location and having a good look at innovation as it developed. 

Ownership of intellectual property is not the only way that tech companies see value – they’re keen to find ways to incorporate thinking about blue sky problems into their activities. Working from quarter to quarter with strict commercial goals doesn’t always give businesses the freedom to be creative, and so having access to academics is one way to achieve this. I saw it work extremely well in Pennsylvania. 

Moving to the Australian Institute for Machine Learning 

Now that I’m here in Adelaide, I can see it has a lot in common with Pittsburgh. They’re both highly liveable cities, great places for families. But Adelaide also has the capacity to create real momentum when it comes to computer science, in the same way that Pittsburgh has done over recent decades.

We’ve got a concentration of world-class machine perception and learning expertise at the Australian Institute for Machine Learning and the AU$20 million Centre for Augmented Reasoning opening in early 2021, plus the innovation and entrepreneurship hub including Australia’s Space Agency next door at Lot Fourteen. I’m excited about the technology and growth in expertise that will undoubtedly emerge from South Australia’s co-located university, business and start-up communities. 

Professor Simon Lucey

Co-Director Australian Institute for Machine Learning 

University of Adelaide

South Australia 

simon.lucey@adelaide.edu.au

Read next: Five ways science is fuelling new industries

How a late-night phonecall in 2016 triggered ‘incredible progress’ on clean energy

Alan Finkel, Office of the Chief Scientist

Like so much of what I have done as Australia’s Chief Scientist, the electricity market review of 2017 was unexpected.

I was driving home after delivering a speech late one night in October 2016 when then federal energy minister Josh Frydenberg called and asked if I would chair a review of the National Electricity Market.

The urgent need had arisen as a consequence of the South Australian power blackout and ongoing concerns about the evolution of the electricity market. The call was brief; the task was huge.

This was new territory for me. While I have a PhD in electrical engineering, I had no specific interest in power systems. I had previously taken a business interest in green technologies. I had started a green lifestyle magazine, I had invested early in green technology stocks (and lost a small fortune), been involved in an electric car charging company, and I drove an electric car. I was an engineer but my work was in micro-electronics, at the scale of brain synapses. Large-scale power engineering had been my least favourite subject.

Now, it is close to my favourite. Work on low-emissions technologies has occupied a significant portion of my five-year term as Chief Scientist, which finishes at the end of this month.

Energy is a complex, vitally important topic, on which everyone has an opinion. The physics of human-induced global warming is irrefutable and a fast reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is urgent. Last summer’s bushfires were a grim reminder.

People often ask me whether climate policy is destined to destroy political leaders in Australia. Call me an optimist, but what I have seen is progress. When my proposed Clean Energy Target met its maker in October 2017, I was disappointed, but I was honestly excited the Australian, state and territory governments agreed to 49 out of 50 recommendations of our review.

Many of these recommendations ensured the electricity system would retain its operating strength as ever more solar and wind generation was added, and others ensured better planning processes for long-distance interconnectors and renewable energy zones. The public narrative that climate progress is moribund overlooks this ongoing work.

In early 2018, as I began to better understand the full potential of hydrogen in a low-emission future, I informally briefed Frydenberg, who responded by asking me to prepare a formal briefing paper for him and his state and territory counterparts. With support from government, industry, research and public interest colleagues, it developed last year into the National Hydrogen Strategy, which explored fully the state of hydrogen technology internationally and its potential for Australia.

The next step came this year with the Low Emissions Technology Statement, which articulates a solid pathway to tackle some of the pressing and difficult challenges en route to a clean economy. This was developed by Frydenberg’s successor, Angus Taylor, supported by advice from a panel I chaired.

When I was appointed Australia’s Chief Scientist in 2015, my predecessor Ian Chubb took me for a drink at Canberra’s Monster Bar. He had a prepared brief for me and we flicked through it. But Ian didn’t offer prescriptive advice, given the reality that the specifics of the role are defined by each chief scientist in line with requests from the government of the day.

I came to the role with a plan no more detailed than to work hard, do things well, be opportunistic, and always say yes – despite the device that sits on my desk and barks “no” whenever you hit the red button, a gift from my staff keen to see a more measured response to the many calls on my time.

I am most proud of my initiatives in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) education. These include the Australian Informed Choices project that ensures school students are given wise advice about core subjects that will set them in good stead for their careers; the STARPortal one-stop shop for information on extracurricular science activities for children; a report to the national education ministers on how businesses and schools can work together to provide context to science education; and the Storytime Pledge that acknowledges the fundamental importance of literacy by asking scientists to take a pledge to read to children.

But many of the high-profile tasks have arrived unexpectedly – the energy and low-emissions technology work, helping CSIRO with its report on climate and disaster resilience, and my work this year to help secure ICU ventilators and most recently, to review testing, contact tracing and outbreak management in the coronavirus pandemic.

The incoming Chief Scientist, Cathy Foley, will no doubt find, as I did, the job brings big surprises and unexpected turns. I expect she will also find government more receptive than ever to taking advice from experts in health, the physical sciences and the social sciences.

That doesn’t mean gratuitous advice. The advice we offer as scientists must be relevant and considered. Much of my advice has been in the form of deep-dive reviews, such as the report on national research facilities that was funded in the 2018 budget. But this year, amid the pandemic, we began something quite different: the Rapid Research Information Forum, which gives fast, succinct advice to government on very specific questions. This has been a highly effective way to synthesise the most recent research results with a very quick turnaround.

Nor does advice mean criticism. The Chief Scientist’s job is not to be the chief scientific critic of government policy. It is to advise ministers with the best that science has to offer. In turn, their job is to weigh that advice alongside inputs from other sectors and interests.

For me, working with the government has delivered results. Ministers have been receptive, have never told me what to say, and have agreed to the vast majority of my work being made public. In the energy sphere, we’ve made incredible progress. I am delighted to be staying on in an advisory role on low-emissions technologies.

When Frydenberg called late that evening in 2016, I had no idea where to begin to assess the state of the electricity market. And I had no idea that three years later we would be taking the first steps towards a clean hydrogen economy.

Now I am confident we will achieve the dramatic reduction in emissions that is necessary. Because of the immensity of the energy, industrial, agricultural and building systems, it will be slow and enormously difficult in a technical sense, politics aside.

Anyone who believes otherwise has not looked in detail at the production process for steel and aluminium. Converting these industries to green production is a mammoth task. But the political will is there. Industry is on the job, as is the scientific community, and the work has started.

The beginning of my term coincided with one of the most momentous scientific breakthroughs in a century: the detection of gravitational waves, literally ripples in the fabric of spacetime. This confirmed a prediction made by Einstein 100 years ago and was the final piece in the puzzle of his Theory of General Relativity.

As I finish my term, the contribution of Australian scientists to that discovery has just been recognised in the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science. As chair of the Prizes selection committee, this was a nice bookend for me. More importantly, it’s a reminder we are playing the long game.

Alan Finkel, Australia’s Chief Scientist, Office of the Chief Scientist

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

CSIRO ‘gene sandwich’ to enhance wheat rust resistance

Image: Shutterstock

This represents a major advance over conventional wheat breeding protocols where individual resistance genes are added one by one. The researchers developed novel genetic technologies that combine and insert the five different wheat resistance genes together. The bundling prevents separation in subsequent breeding generations of the plant, according to results published in Nature Biotechnology  .

Lead CSIRO researcher Dr Mick Ayliffe said this novel approach of building multiple layers of protection will make it much harder for rust pathogens to successfully attack wheat.

“Our approach is like putting five locks on a door – you’re making it very difficult to get in,” Dr Ayliffe said.

“Rigorous field testing showed that our gene stack approach provided complete protection against the rust pathogens we were targeting.

“Successfully validating the effectiveness of our technology makes this approach an incredibly attractive opportunity to protect global grain crops.”

In Australia, wheat is a $6 billion per annum industry, and the wider Australian grains industry supports over 170,000 jobs. It has been estimated that a disease outbreak of one of the world’s most virulent strains of rust – Ug99 – could cost the industry up to $1.4 billion over a decade. Wheat provides around 20 per cent of the world’s calorie intake, making crop protection vitally important for world food security, with cereal rusts also affecting barley, oats, rye and triticale crops.

As rust is a global problem, it requires international collaboration with the team comprising researchers from CSIRO, University of Minnesota, Aarhus University, The John Innes Centre, USDA, Xinjiang University and strategic funding by the 2Blades Foundation.

Dr Ayliffe said this study had targeted stem rust, but the same technology can be used to breed against stripe and leaf rust diseases as well, and in different existing wheat varieties to add resistance. “One of the genes we selected actually protects against stem, leaf and stripe rust diseases, so it’s entirely possible to include genes that also work against other rust species,” he said.

“We don’t know the limits of this new gene stacking technology yet. We currently have an even larger genetic stack with eight resistance genes in the lab, so even more protection against rust is possible.”

However, multiple genes compiled together in a gene stack can greatly strengthen wheat’s defenses and be deployed far more quickly. Stripe, leaf and stem rust diseases cause in excess of US$1 billion in crop damage globally every year, with different strains of each fungal disease occurring around the world. Adoption of this new in-built resistance technology would also be a valuable tool for integrated pest management, lowering the need for fungicides and increasing the durability of the management tools for farmers.

Further advances in this technology are now allowing the researchers to explore building new gene stacks that would not be considered GM (genetically modified) and would ease their broad on farm deployment. Rust spores are transported by wind, so international adoption would help to reduce the risk to Australian grain crops from exotic incursions from overseas.

“This promising gene stacking technology is a way we could rust-proof not only Australia, but international crops as well,” Dr Ayliffe said.

“It’s a valuable insurance policy in case we face mutations in wheat rust with catastrophic virulence, with the ability to deploy long-lasting solutions to the field much sooner than we would have in the past.”

First published on CSIRO.au

CRC success: mineral processing technology to take on the world

Image: Shutterstock

An Australian-developed simulation software platform for improving the efficiency of mineral processing operations is set to take on the world.

Developed by the Brisbane-based Cooperative Research Centre for Optimising Resource Extraction (CRC ORE)Integrated Extraction Simulator (IES) is a cloud-based software platform designed to reduce the use of energy and water in mining through the application of simulation, optimisation and machine learning.

Following a competitive selection process, Australian headquartered global mining explosives and services giant Orica has been selected as the commercialisation partner for the Simulator, and will take the reins of the platform’s growth strategy from July 2021, with plans for global expansion of the technology.

Orica’s interest was initially driven by IES’s introduction of blast simulation into the mineral processing value chain.  While mine operators can use controlled blasting techniques as an effective augmentation of the rock breakage process, Orica also saw the wider application of IES as an obvious fit with its expanding digital solutions offer across the whole mining value chain.

By harnessing the virtually limitless scalability available through cloud computing services, mining companies can now use IES to configure multiple design options for a mineral processing plant. IES then tasks each design and simulates its performance for every day of operation over the life of a mine.  This high-resolution simulation of each design leaves no stone unturned in the pursuit of optimal mineral processing.

Orica intends to expand this capability into a global solution for mining companies, enabling them to design their mineral processing using IES, and then leverage IES’s capability every day to drive continual operational improvements.

CRC ORE Chief Executive Officer Dr Ben Adair said having a company the calibre of Orica as commercialisation partner is testament to the enormous opportunity and benefits that the simulator provides to the mining industry.

“We have worked with our Participants over many years to refine our simulation platform,” Dr Adair said.

“As a foundation Participant in CRC ORE, Orica shares our commitment to optimising resource extraction
and our passion for the continued development of the simulator.

“The scale offered by Orica’s global reach, in addition to its sustained investment in research and development and unwavering focus on innovation makes it the ideal custodian of IES.”

Known for its market-leading explosive and blasting systems, Orica has been evolving towards its vision of an integrated ore extraction mining services company. This vision includes investing in digital solutions where continuous innovation and open integration with other industry systems across the mining value chain are key to the delivery of whole of mine optimisation for customers.

Orica Chief Commercial and Technology Officer Angus Melbourne said Orica is primed to take the simulator global and continually evolve the technology to meet the ever changing needs of the industry.

“This is a great example of industry collaboration developing solutions to industry level problems, and we are extremely proud to be part of it.

“It is a fantastic opportunity to continue Orica’s 11-year relationship with CRC ORE and further expand our digital solutions offering by combining our blasting domain expertise with this leading simulation technology to customers and beyond worldwide.”

Orica Vice President Digital Solutions Rajkumar Mathiravedu said: “From a technology perspective, we see enormous synergies with our existing blasting and measurement solutions, including BlastIQ, FRAGTrack and ORETrack. We are also excited to integrate our automated, data science enabled blast design technology and solutions with IES, offering end-to-end digitised workflow solutions from orebody knowledge through to mineral processing in an open, secure, and connected platform.”

CRC ORE’s team of world-class developers and consultant engineers will integrate into Orica from July of 2021 and will continue to be led by CRC ORE’s current General Manager for the simulator Nick Beaton.

“CRC ORE has developed a simulation platform that can take mathematical models of mineral processing equipment from anywhere in the world.  We fuse physics models, machine learning models and artificial neural network models into one integrated system.  It is like we have built the mining industry’s smartphone and it can run any number of mineral processing apps,” Mr Beaton said.

“We have been able to achieve this enormous progress through cooperation with our mining company members and a dedicated team of industry research partners around the world.  IES is now at the right point in its development to become commercially sustainable while continuing to develop new capabilities.  It will be thrilling to continue this with Orica.

“We have demonstrated that the simulator can improve the value of major mine sites by some five to six per cent, this is significant for the mines using the simulator and for the whole industry.

“Optimisation of processing operations by use of IES will also enable step-change reductions in power and water consumption, while greatly improving recoveries of marginal ores, all contributing to the future sustainability of mining operations.”

The transition of the IES business to Orica will take place in the middle of 2021 when CRC ORE’s term comes to an end. In the meantime, CRC ORE and Orica, together with industry partners will continue developing innovations to drive continual improvements throughout the mining industry. Continuing this innovation, Orica looks forward to IES participation in the next iteration of the Amira P9 project.

Thermal energy storage the key to reducing agricultural food pollution

Image: Open burning on rice field. Shutterstock

UniSA thermal energy researcher Professor Frank Bruno has been awarded almost $1 million by the Federal Government to find a solution to agricultural pollution in Australia and India.

Prof Bruno, South Australian Energy Chair at UniSA’s Future Industries Institute, will lead a collaborative project with India’s biggest private university, LPU, to develop a renewable energy-driven food processing and drying system which alleviates both pollution and landfill issues in both countries.
 
India is the largest global producer of food, while Australia is one of the world’s largest food exporters.
 
The three-year $977,585 project is being funded by the Australia-India Strategic Research Fund, announced this week by the Federal Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, the Hon Karen Andrews MP.
 
According to the World Health Organization, India has nine of the top 10 cities with the highest air pollution in the world, partially due to agricultural waste burnt by farmers in the field, rice husks in particular, which are a major food source for the country.
 
Prof Bruno’s research focuses on developing high temperature, electrically charged thermal energy storage (ECTES) which can provide heated air for drying, replacing fossil fuels.
 
Previous studies show that this system, driven by solar PV, can meet more than 80 per cent of energy requirements at half the cost of LPG.
 
The technology will not only cut air pollution and agricultural waste landfill, but also reduce food manufacturers’ costs, Prof Bruno says.
 
“Shifting towards this solution will undoubtedly result in significant amounts of biomass which can then be converted into high-value renewable biofuels,” Prof Bruno says.
 
The project will build on existing research on high temperature ECTES being undertaken by Prof Bruno and his team at UniSA’s Mawson Lakes Campus, as well as a current project to improve the shelf life of milk.

Boehringer Ingelheim and Google partner for quantum pharma R&D

Image: Shutterstock

Boehringer Ingelheim announced today a collaborative agreement with Google Quantum AI (Google), focusing on researching and implementing cutting-edge use cases for quantum computing in pharmaceutical research and development (R&D), specifically including molecular dynamics simulations. The new partnership combines Boehringer Ingelheim’s leading expertise in the field of computer-aided drug design and in silico modeling with Google’s outstanding resources as one of the leading developers of quantum computers and algorithms. Boehringer Ingelheim is the first pharmaceutical company worldwide to join forces with Google in quantum computing. The partnership is designed for three years and is co-led by the newly established Quantum Lab of Boehringer Ingelheim.

“We are really excited about joining forces with Google, the leading tech company when it comes to quantum computing,” says Michael Schmelmer, Member of the Board of Managing Directors of Boehringer Ingelheim with responsibility for Finance and Corporate Functions. “Quantum computing has the potential to significantly accelerate and enhance R&D processes in our industry. Quantum computing is still very much an emerging technology. However, we are convinced that this technology could help us to provide even more humans and animals with innovative and groundbreaking medicines in the future.”

The new collaboration is part of Boehringer Ingelheim’s comprehensive digital transformation strategy with the aim to better leverage and accelerate the company’s promising pipeline and ultimately bringing more medical breakthroughs to patients in need. Boehringer Ingelheim is significantly increasing its investment in a broad range of digital technologies, encompassing key areas such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning, and data science to better understand diseases, their drivers and biomarkers, and digital therapeutics.

“Extremely accurate modelling of molecular systems is widely anticipated as among the most natural and potentially transformative applications of quantum computing. Therefore, Google is excited to partner with Boehringer Ingelheim to explore use cases and methods for quantum simulations of chemistry. Boehringer Ingelheim brings both an impressive quantum computing team and deep expertise in real world applications of these capabilities in the pharmaceuticals space,” says Ryan Babbush, Head of Quantum Algorithms at Google.

Computational approaches are already a cornerstone in the design and development of innovative new medicines, making a significant contribution to improving the health of humans and animals. However, given their algorithm structure, today’s computers are not able to solve many of the real complex challenges which are essential for the early stages of pharmaceutical R&D, most importantly simulating and analyzing molecules related to disease mechanisms. Quantum computing has the potential to accurately simulate and compare much larger molecules than currently possible, creating new opportunities for pharmaceutical innovation and therapies for a range of diseases.“

Researching and developing new, groundbreaking therapies for diseases with high unmet medical need is what our work at Boehringer Ingelheim is all about,” says Michel Pairet, Member of the Board of Managing Directors of Boehringer Ingelheim with responsibility for the company’s Innovation Unit. “Together with Google, our goal is to apply the use of quantum computing in biopharmaceutical R&D and thus continue to make a decisive contribution to medical progress for patients around the world.”

“The thought leadership of Boehringer Ingelheim’s quantum research effort is very impressive. This is reflected in the quick turnaround time that their strong quantum research team got assembled, and their commitment to open research. We are looking forward to jointly working on the field with fundamental research and a joint vision for solving relevant pharma problems in the beyond-classical regime over the next decade,” says Markus Hoffmann, Google Quantum AI Partnerships.

Boehringer Ingelheim will invest significantly in the coming years to realize the full potential of quantum computing. The company has already set up a dedicated Quantum Lab and hired outstanding experts in the field of quantum computing from academia, industry, and quantum providers. Partnerships from Industry and Academia will complement the respective teams. Colleagues mainly from the Boehringer Ingelheim’s Innovation Unit and IT support these experts in their work.

First published by BusinessWire.

quantum technology

Ensuring Sydney’s place as a global hub for quantum

Sydney Quantum Academy is working to create thousands of well-paid, high-tech jobs building on the city’s quantum strengths.

At an online forum officially launching the Academy this week, Minister for Jobs, Investment, Tourism and Western Sydney, the Hon. Stuart Ayres MP will join representatives from academia and industry to discuss plans to grow the city’s quantum economy, creating new jobs and attracting investment.

Sydney is already home to one of the highest concentrations of quantum research groups in the world and there is a burgeoning quantum tech industry with start-ups like Q-CTRL, government-backed enterprises like Silicon Quantum Computing and global tech giants like Microsoft.

The newly formed Sydney Quantum Academy – a partnership with four world-leading universities Macquarie University, UNSW Sydney, the University of Sydney and UTS, backed by the NSW Government – has been tasked with supercharging the sector’s growth.

Minister Ayres said: “The NSW Government is investing heavily in the infrastructure required to build a world-class technology precinct. This includes investing in support networks for emerging technologies where we have credible expertise.”

“The Academy will keep us at the forefront of quantum technology by developing the future employers, entrepreneurs and the workforce required to sustain the industry’s growth.”

Producing future quantum leaders

Sydney Quantum Academy’s newly appointed CEO Prof Peter Turner spoke of the Academy’s plans to grow the talent pipeline through education and training programs, industry partnerships and internships.

Prof Turner said: “The potential for quantum is enormous, which is why we are seeing significant increases in effort and investment around the world. Quantum technologies will fundamentally change areas like computation and sensing. They will help us to solve problems that we simply can’t solve with classical information technology.”

He added: “The Academy’s unique model means we have the ability and the infrastructure to deliver work-ready graduates and leaders who can help translate quantum research into real-life applications. There are jobs already there with the technology maturing rapidly, but there are many more to come. We need to boost the talent pipeline and anticipate what skills will be required for the future. We can only do this by working closely with industry in Australia and beyond.”

Fuelling the nation’s quantum economy

Cathy Foley, CSIRO’s chief scientist and Australia’s incoming chief scientist spoke on how Sydney will play a central role in developing the nation’s quantum technology sector.

Dr Cathy Foley, Chief Scientist at CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, said: “The investment by the NSW Government in the Sydney Quantum Academy is a great example of the steps that are needed to create and accelerate a quantum ecosystem that will allow the whole of Australia to come together behind an industry that will create jobs and prosperity.”

“Quantum is an industry that is going to do more than create new products and services – it will also catalyse a broader capability that will be transformational for all industries, similar to the effect of the digital revolution. It is going to allow us to do new things and accelerate our ability to solve challenges that seem unsolvable today.”

Dr Foley is a member of the Sydney Quantum Academy’s External Advisory Board which has been established to help SQA bridge the gap between industry, academia and government. The board features 10 senior representatives from government, international and local start-ups, venture capital, and technology firms.

“We’re very fortunate to have these global tech industry and government leaders involved. It demonstrates the significance of what’s happening in the quantum space in Sydney,” said Professor Peter Turner.

Distributed by Medianet

Meet Australia’s newest Superstars of STEM

Australia’s newest Superstars of STEM – 60 brilliant women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics who want to step into the spotlight as experts in their fields have been announced.

The new Superstars reflects the strong diversity of women in STEM – including three Indigenous scientists and engineers, and a record number of Superstars from South Australia and the ACT.

Science & Technology Australia Chief Executive Officer Misha Schubert said the program gave women in STEM the skills and confidence to step into expert commentary roles in the media.

“It’s hard to be what you can’t see,” she said. “Women are still seriously under-represented in STEM – especially at the senior leadership levels.”

“The Superstars of STEM program sets out to smash stereotypes of what a scientist, technologist, engineer or mathematician look like – these powerful role models show girls that STEM is for them.”

“We thank the Australian Government for its strong support of this important program, which is already having a profound impact.”

“Sustaining this type of program for the long-term is more important than ever amid the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic on women in the STEM workforce.”

Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews last week officially announced those chosen for Science & Technology Australia’s game-changing Superstars of STEM program in 2021.

“This program upends the adage ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ by increasing the visibility of women in STEM and encouraging girls and young women to aspire to an exciting STEM career,” Minister Andrews said.

“With STEM skills crucial to driving innovation and playing a significant role in preparing people for the jobs of the future, it’s essential that all Australians have the opportunity to participate in these fields.

“Gender equity in STEM is a key focus of the Morrison Government and we’re taking action to support women in STEM careers and provide diverse STEM role models to inspire the next generation.”

Since doing the program, current Superstar Dr Kudzai Kanhutu has become a regular on ABC’s The Drum, regularly sharing her expertise in frontline health challenges, technology and current affairs.

Another current Superstar Dr Kate Cole generated front-page media in May that led to a ban on hundreds on unsafe masks, protecting frontline healthcare workers and the Australian public.

“There is no way I would have spoken to the media before the Superstars of STEM program, and if I hadn’t done that, more than 600 questionable masks would still be on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods,” she says.

Supported by the Australian Government’s Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, these next 60 Superstars of STEM will participate in the program in 2021 and 2022.

The full list of new Superstars is now available on the STA website.

First published by Science & Technology Australia

Machine learning to help prevent seizures and monitor patients

The researchers will now use a $1 million Australian Government grant awarded to Australian company Anatomics to develop a ‘smart helmet’ to monitor brain swelling in stroke and traumatic brain injury patients

Researcher at CSIRO’s data and digital specialist arm, Data61, Dr Umut Guvenc said traumatic brain injuries affect over 69 million people worldwide  , including 700,000 Australians  , with one in three likely to develop chronic epilepsy due to the high frequency of seizures.

“Monitoring brain activity post-surgery is especially critical to a patient’s recovery as seizures can regularly occur, often leading to patients developing epilepsy,” Dr Guvenc said.

“These seizures are often difficult to detect, with current monitoring techniques only able to be used in a hospital using bulky devices for less than 24 hours, providing a brief snapshot of brain activity during that time only.

“This new method can continuously monitor brain activity wirelessly, allowing the patient to be mobile, comfortable and more socially active.” The machine learning in the devices was trained using data from Monash University, and can detect even the smallest seizures before transferring the data securely from the helmet to the healthcare practitioner.

During normal brain activity, the implants stay in standby mode to conserve energy while monitoring brain activity for seizures, and are reactivated when a seizure is detected, sampling the signal at higher resolution.

Senior Research Engineer at Data61, Peter Marendy, said the project aims to use the insights from the helmets to develop a ‘brain machine interface’, enabling clinicians to monitor brain function in real-time.

“Information provided by the implants can be used to inform clinicians about the patient’s brain activity and inform decisions regarding the administering of drugs,” Mr Marendy said.

“The combination of brain swelling, surgery timing and patient outcome data will enable further study on the ideal time to perform a reconstructive cranioplasty to achieve the best patient outcome – research that will ultimately influence future medical decisions.”

Dr Ganesha Thayaparan is R&D Fellow at Anatomics Pty Ltd  . “Anatomics’ ongoing collaboration with CSIRO has produced a number of medical world-firsts, including additively manufactured patient-specific titanium implants,” Dr Thayaparan said.

“The ‘smart helmet’ project builds upon our existing SkullPro technology to develop a remote sensing platform to monitor the injured brain following a decompressive craniectomy.”

The development of these technologies was enabled by CSIRO’s Probing Biosystems Future Science Platform, which provided initial funding to support this cutting-edge research. The work also brought together cross-domain experts from across CSIRO including energy and mineral resources researchers who are developing the micro batteries used in the implants.

For further information and project updates, or to collaborate, please visit Project: Brain Implants.

First published by CSIRO.au

R&D

Driving innovation by creating beta-testing sites for researchers

NSW could significantly increase technological innovation and new product development by creating beta-testing sites within NSW for university researchers.

Stoic Venture Capital Partner Dr Geoff Waring said technology innovation lifts employment while improving competitiveness of local companies at a global level.

“Creating a policy for beta-testing sites in NSW for university researchers would attract researchers, entrepreneurs, start-up companies, venture capital and multinationals to NSW,” Dr Waring said.

“It could also help to develop links between university research and industry as well as lead to the creation of new technology start-ups from the intellectual property developed at local universities.”

Dr Waring said NSW’s current procurement innovation stream for small and medium sized companies whereby contracts of up to $1 million may be awarded following successful proof of concept trial, does not currently meet the needs of university researchers who are at a very early level of development.

Many of NSW’s most difficult problems are beyond the technology capability of existing suppliers, so need unproven technology development, he said.

“These difficult problems include ecological conservation, the effects of climate change and pandemics. University researchers have a parallel problem proving their technology that works in the lab also works and is safe in use. Venture capital investors want to see a proof of concept before they invest. All these parties gain from a small-scale beta test.”

If the NSW Government shared more information with university researchers about the priority problems they faced and had a process to evaluate emerging technologies, the universities could bring to the government potential technologies that could be trialled on a small scale in NSW locations, he said.

Small pilot trials could be undertaken in a managed environment to minimise risk.

“There would need to be requirements around safety, data privacy and a minimum level of technology readiness according to the standardised benchmarks,” Dr Waring said. “Coming from a university would also give the science a high degree of legitimacy.”

This has similarities to the Federal Business Research and Innovation Initiative and Melbourne 5G IoT testbed and prototype street programs, Dr Waring said.
“This is an innovative approach that could assist researchers and investors to overcome information gaps that act as a barrier to financing while exploring solutions to city problems that are too difficult for existing providers.”

Distributed by Medianet

cyber security revenue

Australian hospitals are under constant cyber attack.

Recently, the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) issued warnings to Australian health-care providers that it had observed an increase in cyber incidents targeting the sector.

These attacks seem to be aimed at infiltrating networks and burrowing deep into their infrastructure before deploying further attacks.

The ACSC is tasked with improving Australia’s cyber security posture, and provides advice and support to help ensure Australia is a secure place to live and work. As part of its warning, the ACSC flagged the possibility of “ransomware” being deployed, which could disable critical systems unless a ransom is paid. In a hospital or other health-care facility, this could be a life-threatening situation.

Attacks against the health-care sector are dangerous at any time. But when services are under pressure from COVID-19, and information-sharing (including tools such as contact tracing) is increasingly important, an all-out cyber attack against the health sector could be very damaging.

The current threat

The ACSC guidance identifies two significant threats.

The first is the SDBBot Remote Access Tool (often referred to as a RAT), whereas the second is a ransomware tool named Cl0p. While neither is desirable, the combination of the two is particular concerning in a health-care setting.

SDBBot Remote Access Tool (RAT)

A RAT is a piece of malicious software designed to allow criminals to remotely access and control one or more systems in an organisation. Once run, the SDBBot RAT installs itself, downloads additional components and deploys the remote-access capability.

Once fully installed, criminals will often use a compromised computer to explore other systems – a technique often referred to as “pivoting”. As the criminals move through the network, they often take the opportunity to make copies of sensitive data. This can be a valuable asset to use for coercion, blackmail or even sell through the underground economy.

Cl0p ransomware

Having the SDBBot RAT successfully deployed enables other attacks – one of the most concerning is that of ransomware. While not an inherent feature of SDBBot, a frequent consequence of infection is the subsequent deployment of the Cl0p ransomware.

Ransomware generally encrypts an organisation’s files or data so they are no longer accessible. Recovering the files typically involves paying a ransom, often in Bitcoin or another cryptocurrency.

In October, German company Software AG faced a US$20 million ransom demand after a Cl0p ransomware attack. In this incident, the criminals claimed to have more than a terabyte of stolen data, including emails, financial records and even scanned copies of passports. This data trove was published online when the company failed to pay the ransom.

Screenshot of Cl0p Leaks website showing Software AG financial data available for public download (taken from dark web site).

This is an example of an increasingly common tactic referred to as “double extortion”, in which not only is data stolen and held to ransom, but there is the added threat the data will be posted in public or auctioned to interested parties. The threat of public exposure of the breach, coupled with the potential release of confidential data, can often encourage organisations to pay the ransom.

Potential consequences

A recent ACSC report on ransomware in Australia identified the health-care sector as the most targeted, by a significant margin. This is perhaps not surprising, given the sector’s lack of training, lax security practices and chronic underinvestment in technology and digital infrastructure.

ACSC report on impacted sectors for reported ransomware incidents – October 2020. ACSC

Health-care providers face two significant consequences of cyber compromise. First, personal or sensitive data are valuable to criminals. Having such data leaked online is embarrassing and has significant legal implications for the organisation and the government.

A second, more serious, consequence can be seen when a ransomware attack impacts critical systems. The most notable example in recent years was the Wannacry attack in 2017 that targeted the UK National Health Service, among others. https://www.youtube.com/embed/5v5gtycGTps?wmode=transparent&start=16 Ransomware attack on UK hospitals.

The NHS suffered a major outage over several days following the Wannacry ransomware attack, resulting in thousands of operations and appointments being cancelled. Wannacry was estimated to have cost billions of dollars globally, with the UK NHS spending close to US$100 million to recover and strengthen its cyber defences.

Screenshot of Wannacry ransom demand. Wikimedia

A ransomware incident earlier this year in Germany had deadly results. When ransomware crippled a hospital in Dusseldorf, an emergency patient was sent to another facility instead. She died, and her death has been attributed to the delay in treatment.

Australia has had similar incidents in the past. Last year saw seven hospitals affected by a ransomware attack.

Should we be worried?

Cyber attacks are a constant threat, and most organisations are well aware of the risks to their business operations, intellectual property, sensitive data and reputation.

But in the health-care sector the stakes are higher. Losing data can cost lives, and patient records being stolen is a breach of privacy that can have long-lasting effects for the patient.

With systems intertwined and dependent on each other, just one compromised target can have major implications.

Interestingly, the Cl0p Leaks website (only available on the dark web through the TOR web browser) features the following reassuring statement in relation to hospitals – perhaps showing an ethical streak to the criminal group.

Cl0p Leaks screenshot (taken from Dark Web site)

Cyber criminals are usually motivated by profit. Ransomware attacks work because individuals within organisations make mistakes. When combined, there is a strong motivation for criminals to continue these actions and for organisations (and us) to continue to pay to clean up the mess that’s left behind.

Paul Haskell-Dowland, Associate Dean (Computing and Security), Edith Cowan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Reducing risk in mega wildfires

Fighting wildfires is one of the most dangerous professions in the world but new ECU research may reduce firefighter injuries and fatalities whilst responding to large wildfires.

Dr Greg Penney, who is also a Senior Firefighter has recently completed his PhD in wildfire engineering at ECU. His research has examined how we can reduce the risk of injuries and death among firefighters responding to wildfires.

“Despite 242 formal inquiries and reviews into Australian natural disasters since 1927, and more than 62 international post-incident investigations following firefighter fatalities or injuries during wildfire entrapment and burnover, volunteer and career firefighters continue to be injured or killed in the line of duty in alarming numbers,” he said.

“Over the past 20 years nearly half of Australian first responder fatalities were firefighters and bushfire fighting has resulted in the highest number of injuries of all.

“Firefighting will always remain an incredibly dangerous occupation, but we need to re-examine how we prepare and respond to bushfires in order to keep our communities and our firefighters safe.”

Practical guide to save lives

Dr Penney has attempted to address the issues by developing a handbook to provide practical guidance to firefighters, incident management teams and urban planners.

“As a 14-year career firefighter who has worked in both metropolitan and country operations in Western Australia, I have not only lived in communities devastated by bushfires but have also been part of significant campaign bushfire operations as a firefighter,” he said.

“There are a number of ways to improve fire suppression operations, firefighter safety and resilient community design where development meets the bush.”

Dr Penney’s practical guide explores occupational safety in dynamic and high-risk environments, not only contributing models to improve wildfire suppression, but to provide guidance regarding the safety of high consequence operations at the rural urban interface.

His contribution to knowledge in occupational safety also extends to prevention, addressing improvements in urban design to not only improve the safety of responding firefighters, but to improve the resilience of communities from the impacts of wildfire internationally.

“The exposure to catastrophic bushfires will only increase as the effects of climate change continue to worsen.

“Bushfires continue to cause devastation around the world each year, with hundreds of houses and multiple of lives lost,” Dr Penney said.

“Climate change is ultimately resulting in longer and more severe bushfire seasons, while fire behaviour is also more difficult to suppress. Mega wildfires are a global problem that is unfortunately here to stay.”

A Handbook of Wildfire Engineering is available for download at the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC website.

Article first published by Edith Cowan University

Determining shark ‘Deterrent’ devices from snake oil

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As summer descends, sharks may be at the forefront of the minds of many beach goers and reef adventurers.

Globally, the number of shark bites is on the rise, with a threefold increase since 1982. White sharks, bull sharks and tiger sharks are most commonly responsible.

In Australia this year, there have been 20 unprovoked shark bites (when humans don’t initiate contact) — a similar number to recent years. However, we’ve had eight fatalities, the highest on record since 1929. The latest fatality was at Cable Beach in Western Australia, a location not recognised as a shark bite hotspot.

Still, the risk of an unprovoked shark bite is still exceptionally low. You’re more likely to drown at a beach than be killed by a shark. But there are things people can do to reduce the already low risk even further.

What’s behind the shark bite trends?

There is no single reason for the observed trends in unprovoked shark bite.

A 2016 study found more people in the water contributes to rising incidents, as populations around coastal cities and towns increase. But this doesn’t tell the whole story.

Another reason may be due to changes in the distribution and an increasing abundance of key prey such as humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) and New Zealand fur seal (Arctocephalus forsteri) along parts of the coast.

For some sharks, weather conditions can also play a role. This is the case for bull sharks, which are commonly found in warm, shallow waters along coasts and rivers, such as in Sydney Harbour during summer and autumn when water temperatures are higher.

After flooding, there is a heightened risk of an unprovoked bite, as bull sharks prefer turbid water in the coastal zone. In other words, more rain generally means more bull shark activity.

Research in 2018 confirmed this. The authors found when total rainfall in a catchment near a beach was greater than or equal to 100 millimetres, the bull shark catch increased between one and eight days later.

And as we’re entering a summer with La Niña weather conditions — which means we’ll see increased rainfall — the risk of encountering a bull shark will be higher, particularly near river mouths.

Shark deterrent technology

If you want to learn about safety and sharks, it’s a good idea to start at the Shark Smart websites for Queensland and NSW, which provide simple ways to reduce your personal risk.

This includes identifying times, locations and conditions to avoid, such as not swimming at dawn and dusk, and avoiding swimming with schools of baitfish or diving birds.

For those wanting greater peace of mind, personal electric shark deterrents are commercially available, with products suitable for divers, surfers and swimmers.

Sharks have a set of sense organs called ampullae of Lorenzini that can detect very weak electric currents in the water. Deterrent devices produce a electric current strong enough to elicit an avoidance response by the sharks without hurting them.

No shark deterrent is 100% effective, but independent testing has demonstrated several can significantly reduce the risk of a bite. Still, results are variable.

For white sharks, one electric deterrent reduced the percentage of bait taken from 96% to 40%. And for bull sharks, researchers tested several different electric deterrents and found the best-performing device resulted in a 42.3% reduction in baits being consumed.

Electric devices aren’t the only type of deterrent. Chemical deterrents based on a necromone (dead shark smell!) have been effectively tested on Caribbean reef and blacknose sharks. They may not be effective against large species, such as tiger or white sharks though.

And research from earlier this year on reinforced neoprene wetsuits — fortified with composite fibres — shows promise for reducing the physical trauma of a shark bite, potentially reducing the chance of a fatality or serious injury. https://www.youtube.com/embed/NRyK6bA0-0U?wmode=transparent&start=0 The Freedom+ Surf is an electric shark deterrent that has been independently tested.

Know your deterrent from snake oil

If you’re thinking of buying a deterrent, a challenge for consumers is that many on the market have little to no biological or ecological basis, and have not been independently tested, as CHOICE, Australia’s leading consumer advocacy group, pointed out in 2016.

A shark deterrent is a safety device and as such should be the subject of an Australian Standard – similar to the way a life jacket must follow a standard – to ensure claims are valid. Currently no specific Australian Standard exists for shark deterrents.

No one can legally make a seat belt in their garage and sell it as an effective safety device. The same should apply to shark deterrents.

There is a risk a person may place themselves in a more dangerous situation than they otherwise would have on the false belief the deterrent they have purchased has some level of effectiveness.

If you are looking to purchase a shark deterrent, look for those that have been independently tested in the field and found to have an actual deterrent effect. Don’t just rely on anecdotes and “the vibe”. In any case, the most effective deterrent is to make informed choices when entering the water this summer.

And we should never lose sight that an unprovoked shark attack is traumatic for surviving victims, first responders, and friends and families who lose a loved one.

Daryl McPhee, Associate Professor of Environmental Science, Bond University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

First-of-its-kind chatbot developed to support genetic counselling

Dubbed ‘Edna’ (which stands for electronic DNA), the chatbot is the first of its kind globally developed specifically to support genetic counselling for adults being tested to ascertain future risk of preventable or treatable conditions (known as ‘additional findings’).

These conditions include treatable genetic disorders such as hereditary breast cancer or cardiomyopathy.

Derived from real-world patient interactions, Edna is designed to answer the most generic and simple questions asked by patients, which then creates more time for genetic counsellors to focus their highly specialised skills on deeper and more specific issues relevant to patients.

Professor Clara Gaff is Executive Director of Melbourne Genomics, a ten-member alliance that includes CSIRO.

“If the healthcare system were to provide this kind of testing – which is beyond immediate medical need – one of the challenges is the genetic counselling time required to support patients’ informed consent,” Professor Gaff said.

“This prototype chatbot shows how we might employ technology to meet this need.”

CSIRO researcher Dr Dana Bradford, who led the development of Edna, said chatbots simulates human conversation through artificial intelligence.

“For chatbots to accurately recognise content in human speech – and provide a meaningful response – they need a large body of data to draw on, called a chatbot ‘brain’,” Dr Bradford said.

“Many chatbot brains are developed from open source data but this is inadequate for highly specialised fields like patient decision-making.”

“We developed Edna’s brain by systematically analysing transcripts of actual genetic counselling sessions for additional findings.

“This expert basis for Edna makes all the difference in applying this new technology.”

An example of EDNA in action. Credit: CSIRO

Edna is a downloadable smartphone app which can collect a patient’s family history and analyse human responses for signals that interaction with a genetic counsellor may be needed.

Edna’s development was part of a larger proof-of-concept study led by Melbourne Genomics to better understand the implications of offering additional findings testing to patients in Victoria.

“The Edna chatbot represents a significant movement toward feasible, real-world-informed digital health processes that can support patients’ informed decision-making about testing for future disease risk,” Professor Gaff said.

Edna is currently undergoing a feasibility trial with patients, genetic counsellors and genetics students, and is slated to undergo a larger-scale patient trial in the near future.

“When built in partnership with healthcare experts and patients, chatbot technology has enormous potential to provide and collect basic information in complex fields like genetics,” Dr Bradford said.

“Not only is the service on-demand, so people can access it whenever they wish, but it could free up highly-skilled expert time to build more effective care.”

The Edna chatbot was recently published in the peer-reviewed journal Patient Education and Counselling  .

For more on the Additional Findings proof-of-concept study, read the protocol paper A novel approach to offering

Jane O’Dwyer to lead CRC Association

Jane O’Dwyer, currently Vice-President (Engagement and Global Relations) at The Australian National University will become the Chief Executive Officer of the Cooperative Research Centres Association (CRC Association) in January 2021. She will succeed Tony Peacock, who has led the CRC Association for the past decade with great distinction.

“We are delighted to have Jane join us after what was a highly competitive process,” said CRC Association Chair, Belinda Robinson. “Her leadership skills, energy and unique experience across peak bodies, industry, academia, media and politics, make her an ideal fit to lead the organisation in its next chapter.”

“Along with my colleagues on the Board, I’m looking forward to working with Jane to support and represent our members and advance the benefits of cooperative research in Australia.”

“I would also again like to thank Tony and recognise the tremendous work he has done for the CRC Association and the Australian innovation community. He has been very well respected by our members and stakeholders and I would like to wish him and his wife Ros the absolute best for his next chapter.”

Jane joins the CRC Association after a more than 25-year career that has spanned Australia, Japan and the United States. Commencing her career as a political advisor, Jane held key roles in the Australian Local Government Association and Sports Medicine Australia. She joined ANU more than 15 years ago after 4 years in Japan, and has been a close and trusted advisor to three consecutive ANU Vice-Chancellors across media and public affairs, policy, international relations and global engagement. She spent three years in the United States, where she established the ANU North America Liaison Office attached to the Australian Embassy in Washington DC.

Ms O’Dwyer holds a Bachelor of Arts (Curtin), Masters degrees in Management (ANU) and Journalism (Wollongong) and is a Graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. She is Deputy Chair of the Canberra Writer’s Festival and a Director of the Canberra Convention Bureau.  

“I’m delighted to join the CRC Association and know I follow in the footsteps of a highly respected and active CEO in Tony Peacock. Cooperative Research Centres are a great Australian success story, and a testament to the profound national value of industry-university research cooperation.   

“I relish the opportunity to work with the Board to write the next chapter for the CRC Association at a time when research and the development, and retention, of a highly skilled research workforce that can transition between universities and industry, will be essential to emerge from the impacts of COVID-19.

“Cooperative research is critical to Australia’s future.”

Making biodiesel from dirty old cooking oil and ag waste just got way easier

Researchers have developed a powerful, low-cost method for recycling used cooking oil and agricultural waste into biodiesel, and turning food scraps and plastic rubbish into high-value products.

The method harnesses a new type of ultra-efficient catalyst that can make low-carbon biodiesel and other valuable complex molecules out of diverse, impure raw materials. 

Waste cooking oil currently has to go through an energy-intensive cleaning process to be used in biodiesel, because commercial production methods can only handle pure feedstocks with 1-2% contaminants. The new catalyst is so tough it can make biodiesel from low-grade ingredients, known as feedstock, containing up to 50% contaminants.

It is so efficient it could double the productivity of manufacturing processes for transforming rubbish like food scraps, microplastics and old tyres into high-value chemical precursors used to make anything from medicines and fertilisers to biodegradable packaging.

The catalyst design is reported in a new study from an international collaboration led by RMIT University, published in Nature Catalysis.

Co-lead investigator Professor Adam Lee, RMIT, said that conventional catalyst technologies depended on high purity feedstocks and required expensive engineering solutions to compensate for their poor efficiency.
“The quality of modern life is critically dependent on complex molecules to maintain our health and provide nutritious food, clean water and cheap energy,” Lee said. 

“These molecules are currently produced through unsustainable chemical processes that pollute the atmosphere, soil and waterways. 

“Our new catalysts can help us get the full value of resources that would ordinarily go to waste – from rancid used cooking oil to rice husks and vegetable peelings – to advance the circular economy.

“And by radically boosting efficiency, they could help us significantly reduce environmental pollution from chemical manufacturing and bring us closer to the green chemistry revolution.”

Catalyst sponge: advancing green chemistry

To make the new ultra-efficient catalyst, the team fabricated a micron-sized ceramic sponge (100 times thinner than a human hair) that is highly porous and contains different specialised active components. 

Molecules initially enter the sponge through large pores, where they undergo a first chemical reaction, and then pass into smaller pores where they undergo a second reaction.

It’s the first time a multi-functional catalyst has been developed that can perform several chemical reactions in sequence within a single catalyst particle, and it could be a game changer for the $US34 billion global catalyst market.

Co-lead investigator Professor Karen Wilson, also from RMIT, said the new catalyst design mimicked the way that enzymes in human cells coordinated complex chemical reactions.

“Catalysts have previously been developed that can perform multiple simultaneous reactions, but these approaches offer little control over the chemistry and tend to be inefficient and unpredictable,” Wilson said.

“Our bio-inspired approach looks to nature’s catalysts – enzymes – to develop a powerful and precise way of performing multiple reactions in a set sequence.

“It’s like having a nanoscale production line for chemical reactions – all housed in one, tiny and super-efficient catalyst particle.”

DIY diesel: supporting distributed biofuel production

The sponge-like catalysts are cheap to manufacture, using no precious metals.

Making low-carbon biodiesel from agricultural waste with these catalysts requires little more than a large container, some gentle heating and stirring.

It’s a low-technology, low-cost approach that could advance distributed biofuel production and reduce reliance on fossil fuel-derived diesel.

“This is particularly important in developing countries where diesel is the primary fuel for powering household electricity generators,” Wilson said.

“If we could empower farmers to produce biodiesel directly from agricultural waste like rice bran, cashew nut and castor seed shells, on their own land, this would help address the critical issues of energy poverty and carbon emissions.”

While the new catalysts can be used immediately for biodiesel production, with further development they could be easily tailored to produce jet fuel from agricultural and forestry waste, old rubber tyres, and even algae.

The next steps for the RMIT School of Science research team are scaling up the catalyst fabrication from grams to kilograms and adopting 3D printing technologies to accelerate commercialisation.

“We’re also hoping to expand the range of chemical reactions to include light and electrical activation for cutting-edge technologies like artificial photosynthesis and fuel cells,” Lee said

“And we’re looking to work with potential business partners to create a range of commercially available catalysts for different applications.”

The research was supported through funding from the Australian Research Council (Discovery, Linkage, Industrial Transformation Training Centres).

‘A spatially orthogonal hierarchically porous acid-base catalyst for cascade and antagonistic reactions’, with collaborators from University College London, University of Manchester, University of Western Australia, University of Plymouth, Aston University, Durham University and University of Leeds, is published in Nature Catalysis (DOI: 10.1038/s41929-020-00526-5).


Distributed by Medianet

Smart collar to track your pet in real-time


The prototype builds on work between CSIRO and Ceres Tag to develop smart ear tags for tracking livestock across expanses of open grazing and monitoring their activity and health.

Unlike similar products for pets, the prototype collar uses both Bluetooth and satellite communications rather than one or the other to track an animal’s movements in real-time. Updates are sent to the owner’s phone via an app whenever their pet wanders outside of a boundary they’ve established.

Dr Phil Valencia, Senior Research Engineer at CSIRO’s Data61, said the solution developed for the agriculture industry could also have flow-on benefits for conscientious pet owners.

“The Companion Collar uses Data61’s EIP (Embedded Intelligence Platform) and BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) technology to determine if the pet is nearby, automatically switching to satellite communications when the collar is outside of the home network,” Dr Valencia said.

“Many devices only employ Bluetooth or WiFi-based tracking, which often involve a community of people listening’ on their phones and sharing their location data with a service in order to report the tracking device. This method is also only suitable for short distance monitoring.”

Navigating the neighbourhood

The other smart collar to track your pet approach available on the market is a GPS-based tracker that requires a mobile plan. These devices are often expensive, rely on cellular coverage and use a large amount of power, requiring weekly, if not even more frequent, charging. The Companion Collar requires monthly charging on average, depending on the amount of activity the animal performs.

Pets who remain within the virtual boundry set up by their owner will trigger the device’s automatic power saving mode, but those who wander outside will cause it to switch to GPS location and direct satellite reporting.

Other crucial information such as specific behaviours, out of the ordinary activity and data for health metrics will also be monitored by the Collar, with information being uploaded to the cloud and displayed on a smart phone app.

“Owners will get valuable insights into how their pet has behaved throughout the day, with the system identifying if the animal’s activity is above or below its typical levels, and whether it was significantly different at a certain time of day,” Dr Valencia said.

Personalised pet health through a smart collar to track your pet

Lewis Frost, Ceres Tag Chief Operating Officer, said insights will lay the foundation for personalised pet treatment and medication, suggesting the collar will vastly improve the health and welfare of domestic pets.

“Ceres is leveraging all its learnings from the livestock smart tag development to create a superior product in the companion animal market utilising the skills of our very capable development team,” Mr Frost said.

The Companion Collar is the latest project in a longstanding partnership between Ceres Tag and Data61, with CSIRO’s Kick–Start program making this project possible.

CSIRO Kick-Start is an initiative for innovative Australian start-ups and small SMEs, providing funding and support for innovative Australian start-ups and small businesses to access CSIRO’s research and development (R&D) expertise and capabilities.

The Kick-Start program provides dollar-matched funding vouchers of between AUD$10,000-$50,000 and access to CSIRO expertise and capabilities to help grow and develop their business.

First published on CSIRO.au

Read next: Navigating the future of GPS

How Australia can reap the benefits and dodge the dangers of the Internet of Things

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The Internet of Things (IoT) is already all around us. Online devices have become essential in industries from manufacturing and healthcare to agriculture and environmental management, not to mention our own homes. Digital consulting firm Ovum estimates that by 2022 Australian homes will host more than 47 million IoT devices, and the value of the global market will exceed US$1 trillion.

The IoT presents great opportunities, but it brings many risks too. Problems include excessive surveillance, loss of privacy, transparency and control, and reliance on unsafe or unsuitable services or devices.

In some places, such as the European Union, Germany, South Korea and the United Kingdom, governments have been quick to develop policies and some limited regulation to take advantage of the technology and mitigate its harmful impacts.

Australia has been late to react. Even recent moves by the federal government to make IoT devices more secure have been far behind international developments.

A report launched today by the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA) may help get Australia up to speed. It supplies a wide-ranging, peer-reviewed base of evidence about opportunities, benefits and challenges the IoT presents Australia over the next decade.

Benefits of the Internet of Things

The report examines how we can improve our lives with IoT-related technologies. It explores a range of applications across Australian cities and rural, regional and remote areas.

Some IoT services are already available, such as the Smart Cities and Suburbs program run by local and federal governments. This program funds projects in areas such as traffic congestion, waste management and urban safety.

Health applications are also on the rise. The University of New England has piloted the remote monitoring of COVID-19 patients with mild symptoms using IoT-enabled pulse oximeters.

Augmented and virtual reality applications too are becoming more common. IoT devices can track carbon emissions in supply chains and energy use in homes. IoT services can also help governments make public transport infrastructure more efficient.

The benefits of the IoT won’t only be felt in cities. There may be even more to be gained in rural, regional and remote areas. IoT can aid agriculture in many ways, as well as working to prevent and manage bushfires and other environmental disasters. Sophisticated remote learning and health care will also benefit people outside urban areas.

While some benefits of the IoT will be felt everywhere, some will have more impact in cities and others in rural, remote and regional areas. ACOLA, CC BY-NC

Opportunities for the Australian economy

The IoT presents critical opportunities for economic growth. In 2016-17, IoT activity was already worth A$74.3 billion to the Australian economy.

The IoT can facilitate more data-informed processes and automation (also known as Industry 4.0). This has immediate potential for substantial benefits.

One opportunity for Australia is niche manufacturing. Making bespoke products would be more efficient with IoT capability, which would let Australian businesses reach a consumer market with wide product ranges but low domestic volumes due to our small population.

Agricultural innovation enabled by the IoT, using Australia’s existing capabilities and expertise, is another promising area for investment.

Risks of the Internet of Things

IoT devices can collect huge amounts of sensitive data, and controlling that data and keeping it secure presents significant risks. However, the Australian community is not well informed about these issues and some IoT providers are slow to explain appropriate and safe use of IoT devices and services.

These issues make it difficult for consumers to tell good practice from bad, and do not inspire trust in IoT. Lack of consistent international IoT standards can also make it difficult for different devices to work together, and creates a risk that users will be “locked in” to products from a single supplier.

In IoT systems it can also be very complex to determine who is responsible for any particular fault or issue, because of the many possible combinations of product, hardware, software and services. There will also be many contracts and user agreements, creating contractual complexity that adds to already difficult legal questions.

The increased surveillance made possible by the IoT can lead to breaches of human rights. Partially or fully automated decision-making can also to discrimination and other socially unacceptable outcomes.

And while the IoT can assist environmental sustainability, it can also increase environmental costs and impacts. The ACOLA report estimates that by 2050 the IoT could consume between 1 and 5% of the world’s electricity.

Other risks of harmful social consequences include an increased potential for domestic violence, the targeting of children by malicious actors and corporate interests, increased social withdrawal and the exacerbation of existing inequalities for vulnerable populations. The recent death of a woman in rural New South Wales being treated via telehealth provides just one example of these risks.

Maximising the benefits of the IoT

The ACOLA report makes several recommendations for Australia to take advantage of the IoT while minimising its downsides.

ACOLA advocates a national approach, focusing on areas of strength. It recommends continuing investment in smart cities and regions, and more collaboration between industry, government and education.

ACOLA also recommends increased community engagement, better ethical and regulatory frameworks for data and baseline security standards.

The ACOLA report is only a beginning. More specific work needs to be done to make the IoT work for Australia and its citizens.

The report does outline key areas for future research. These include the actual experiences of people in smart cities and homes, the value of data, environmental impacts and the use of connected and autonomous vehicles.

Kayleen Manwaring, Senior Lecturer, School of Taxation & Business Law, UNSW and Peter Leonard, Professor of Practice (IT Systems and Management and Business and Taxation Law), UNSW Business School, Sydney, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Machine learning helps to map invasive gamba grass from space

Gamba grass can grow up to four metres high and forms dense tussocks which can burn as large, hot fires late in the dry season.
Credit: NESP Northern Australia Hub.

Researchers from CSIRO, Charles Darwin University and The University of Western Australia have developed a machine-learning approach that reliably detects invasive gamba grass from high-resolution satellite imagery.
 
Gamba grass, originally from Africa, is listed as a Weed of National Significance, and is one of five introduced grass species that pose extensive and significant threats to Australia’s biodiversity.
 
The perennial grass can grow to four metres in height and forms dense tussocks which can burn as large, hot fires late in the dry season.
 
Mapping where gamba grass occurs is essential to managing it effectively, but northern Australia is so vast and remote that on-the-ground mapping and even airborne detection of the weed is too labour-intensive.

So, the researchers turned to high-quality satellite imagery and developed a technique that could help detect and prioritise gamba grass for management.
 
Dr Shaun Levick from Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, said that the research team used field data to ‘train’ a machine-learning model to detect gamba grass from high-resolution, multispectral satellite imagery.
 
“Under optimum conditions, our method can detect gamba grass presence with about 90 per cent accuracy,” Dr Levick said.
 
The researchers commissioned the WorldView-3 satellite to capture very high-resolution imagery across 16 spectral bands for an area of 205 square kilometres near Batchelor in the Northern Territory – an area of dense gamba grass infestation.
 
The wide range of spectral data allowed them to use factors unseen to the human eye, such as leaf moisture levels and chlorophyll content, to differentiate between gamba grass and native grass species.
 
Dr Natalie Rossiter-Rachor, of Charles Darwin University, said that the project drew on extensive on-ground research into the life cycle of gamba grass to help achieve such accurate detection rates.
 
“We knew that gamba grass tends to stay green longer into the dry season than native grasses, so we timed the capture of the satellite imagery for this period,” Dr Rossiter-Rachor said.
 
“Understanding the ecology of the problem was essential to informing the remote sensing and machine-learning solution to the problem.”
 
The project, funded by the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program under the Northern Australia Environmental Resources Hub, is part of a larger effort to detect and map gamba grass throughout the north.
 
“Our longer-term goal is to move to a system where we can use free, open-access imagery to map gamba grass. We want to develop a technique that is accessible to anyone and that can help improve land management in northern Australia,” Dr Levick said.
 
Associate Professor Samantha Setterfield from The University of Western Australia said that accurate maps of where gamba grass occurs are essential to control the spread of the weed.
 
“Mapping gamba grass using satellite imagery unlocks the potential to frequently map large areas so we can get a better picture of where gamba grass is across northern Australia, and how quickly it is spreading,” Dr Setterfield said.
 
“Managers can then target areas that are the highest priority for control, such as biodiversity-rich areas or culturally important sites.”
 
To read the paper Leveraging High-Resolution Satellite Imagery and Gradient Boosting for Invasive Weed Mapping, go to https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/abstract/document/9154553

Bulk ore sorting goes Olympic

One of the world’s biggest resources companies recently engaged the services of an Australian research consortium to examine deployment of cutting edge preconcentration techniques.

Olympic Dam is 560 kilometres north of Adelaide and is one of the world’s most significant deposits of copper, gold, silver, and uranium. This large BHP site is made up of underground and surface operations and conducts fully integrated processing from ore to metal.

The South Australian operation is one of the locations where BHP is actively examining bulk ore sensing and sorting opportunities – techniques within the Grade Engineering® suite of preconcentration technologies.

Grade Engineering is a key innovation of the Cooperative Research Centre for Optimising Resource Extraction (CRC ORE). It is an integrated approach to coarse rejection that matches a suite of separation technologies to ore specific characteristics and compares the net value of rejecting low value components in current feed streams to existing mine plans as part of a system-view.

CRC ORE was requested by BHP to assist in the assessment of bulk ore sorting opportunities at Olympic Dam.

BHP Principal Technology Lee Bolden said that as a CRC ORE Participant, the diversified miner had watched with interest the sorting and sensing work that CRC ORE is undertaking in open pit and underground operations.

“It made sense for us to have CRC ORE provide us with valuable insights on this work and input into our bulk ore sorting plans,” Mr Bolden said.

BHP received a high-level bulk ore sorting deployment strategy from CRC ORE for Olympic Dam, along with a framework and calculator for the quantification and ranking of bulk ore sorting strategies at the operation.

CRC ORE also identified the critical work and data required to strengthen the evaluation of bulk ore sorting with the Olympic Dam Project team.

CRC ORE Chief Operating Officer Dr Luke Keeney said there were several deployment options among the opportunities assessed.

“We explored sublevel open stoping under the current mining environment, along with block caving as part of future-state mining options,” Dr Keeney said.

As part of the assessment, BHP received a high-level estimate of value from these deployment options.

Dr Keeney said the engagement of CRC ORE at Olympic Dam demonstrated the commitment of big miners to apply innovation to their processes.

“With the need for valuable minerals continuing to grow and mining these minerals becoming ever more difficult, mine operators need to think differently,” Dr Keeney said.

“Bulk ore sorting, and other Grade Engineering opportunities become increasingly competitive and complementary solutions where mined grades decline and mining dilution increases.”

More information on Grade Engineering can be found at crcore.org.au/gradeengineering.

CSIRO and partners take aim at ending plastic waste

CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, is developing a major research program to tackle plastic waste and reimagine the future of plastics.

The Plastics Mission, one of 12 missions in development by CSIRO is using science and technology, to address Australia’s plastics waste issue.

Each year, 90 billion tonnes of primary materials are extracted and used globally for plastics. Only 9 per cent is recycled, with economic, social, environmental and health impacts. In Australia, we generate an estimated 67 million tonnes of waste every year.

CSIRO Senior Principal Research Scientist Dr Denise Hardesty said CSIRO was working with collaborators through the Plastics Mission to apply technological solutions to the entire plastics supply chain and prevent rubbish ending up in the environment.

“Our research is helping to understand the extent of plastic pollution in Australia and globally, and how to reduce it,” Dr Hardesty said.

“Rethinking plastic packaging is just one way of reducing waste, through better design, materials and logistics. We can also transform the way we use, manufacture and recycle plastics by creating new products and more value for plastics.”

New solutions under development include plastics detection using artificial intelligence, implementing and optimising waste monitoring systems, and establishing recycling standards and best practices to reduce contamination.

Machine learning and camera sensor technologies

Machine learning and camera sensor technologies are fast-tracking data collection to detect and classify items of rubbish in our rivers.

This project, in partnership with Microsoft, helps inform waste management strategies, highlighting where intervention is needed to stop plastic from entering waterways.

Microsoft Australia chief technology officer Lee Hickin highlighted the importance of supporting the efforts to aid in the development of a national baseline to measure litter accumulation in the environment, which was key for measuring and reacting to change.

“Microsoft artificial intelligence image recognition is underpinning the identification of plastic pollution,” Mr Hickin said.

“By using AI to accelerate the detection and classification of rubbish in our waterways, we can simply react more quickly and work to improve the quality of water faster than if done manually.”

Camera sensor technologies are also being applied to waste traps, commonly used by councils to prevent rubbish flowing through stormwater drains into the environment.

City of Hobart Lord Mayor Anna Reynolds said the City was working with CSIRO to develop an autonomous sensor network to provide real-time reporting on the amount of rubbish being captured.

“Gross pollutant traps capture rubbish that ends up in stormwater drains,” Cr Reynolds said. “But maintenance can be costly and time-consuming.”

“By tapping into CSIRO’s modelling capabilities, we can optimise our operations to avoid the release of pollutants, while improving safety and reducing environmental harm.”

Turning resources to riches

CSIRO is also collaborating with Chemistry Australia and their Plastics Stewardship Australia initiative to inform ways to more sustainably use, re-use and recycle plastic products.

Director Strategy Energy and Research for Chemistry Australia Peter Bury said new technologies and initiatives to recover and transform what are important resources into commodities supports the UN’s Sustainability Development Goals and can help drive Australia’s circular economy.

“With a pending export ban for Australian waste, the time is now to address the plastic waste problem,” Mr Bury said.

“Leading science will help establish standards to ensure product security and inform decision-making.

“Leveraging the capability of industry for plastic products at their end of life will also generate new types of products and design, and help build new industries and jobs across a range of sectors.”

References

CSIRO Missions Program
CSIRO is working with government, universities, industry and the community on a new missions program to bolster Australia’s COVID-19 recovery and build long term resilience.
The program of large scale, major scientific and collaborative research initiatives, is aimed at solving some of Australia’s greatest challenges, focused on outcomes that lead to positive impact, new jobs and economic growth.

Plastics Mission
These projects are part of CSIRO’s Plastics Mission to end plastic waste, which is one of 12 missions in development.

Early collaborators working to co-design a mission to end plastic waste include:
Chemistry Australia and Plastics Stewardship Australia.
Working together on initiatives to support the sustainable use and recovery of plastics. This includes establishing best practices and standards to ensure product reliability, food security, sustainability; and partnering with Operation Clean Sweep® to prevent plastic pellet loss into the environment.
Hobart City Council
Pilot project partner for cameras to measure waste flows and smart sensor and decision support technologies to reduce costs, increase safety and better manage gross pollutant trap assets.
Microsoft
Microsoft computer vision technologies is enabling CSIRO researchers to detect and classify the rubbish in rivers, infer litter abundance and distribution and inform councils and decision makers in order to build more suitable policies and waste management systems.
NSW Government
CSIRO is supporting the Regional Growth NSW Development Corporation on a program of long-term engagement in the NSW Special Activation Precincts in Parkes, Wagga Wagga, Moree, Snowy Mountains and Williamtown. Our collaboration with the NSW Government as well as NSW universities and industry in these Precincts will assist to accelerate NSW economic recovery by creating future industries and highly skilled jobs.
Ocean Protect
Ocean Protect is an implementing partner for gross pollutant traps in stormwater drains to optimise performance, reduce costs and increase safety.

Standards Australia
CSIRO is working with Standards Australia to design and implement a clear set of guidelines for plastics recycling and recycled content to decrease contamination and increase the value of recycled stocks.


 

Super-charging Australia’s biggest renewables project

Australia doesn’t yet export renewable energy. But the writing is on the wall: demand for Australia’s fossil fuel exports is likely to dwindle soon, and we must replace it at massive scale.

The proposed Asian Renewable Energy Hub (AREH) will be a huge step forward. It would eventually comprise 26,000 megawatts (MW) of wind and solar energy, generated in Western Australia’s Pilbara region. Once complete, it would be Australia’s biggest renewable energy development, and potentially the largest of its type in the world.

Recently, the federal government granted AREH “major project” status, meaning it will be fast-tracked through the approvals process. And in another significant step, the WA government this month gave environmental approval for the project’s first stage.

The mega-venture still faces sizeable challenges. But it promises to be a game-changer for Australia’s lucrative energy export business and will reshape the local renewables sector.

Map showing proposed location of the Asian Renewable Energy Hub.
Map showing proposed location of the Asian Renewable Energy Hub. AREH

Writing on the wall

Australia’s coal and gas exports have been growing for decades, and in 2019-20 reached almost A$110 billion. Much of this energy has fuelled Asia’s rapid growth. However, in recent weeks, two of Australia’s largest Asian energy markets announced big moves away from fossil fuels.

China adopted a target of net-zero greenhouse emissions by 2060. Japan will retire its fleet of old coal-fired generation by 2030, and will introduce legally binding targets to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

There are signs other Asian nations are also moving. Singapore has weak climate targets, but on Monday inked a deal with Australia to cooperate on low-emissions technologies.

Export evolution

The Asian Renewable Energy Hub (AREH) would be built across 6,500 square kilometres in the East Pilbara. The first stage involves a 10,000MW wind farm plus 5,000MW of solar generation – which the federal government says would make it the world’s largest wind and solar electricity plant.

The first stage would be capable of generating 100 terawatt-hours of renewable electricity each year. That equates to about 40% of Australia’s total electricity generation in 2019. AREH recently expanded its longer term plans to 26,000MW.

The project is backed by a consortium of global renewables developers. Most energy from AREH will be used to produce green hydrogen and ammonia to be used both domestically, and for shipping to export markets. Some energy from AREH will also be exported as electricity, carried by an undersea electrical cable.

Another Australian project is also seeking to export renewable power to Asia. The 10-gigawatt Sun Cable project, backed by tech entrepreneur Mike Cannon-Brookes, involves a solar farm across 15,000 hectares near Tennant Creek, in the Northern Territory. Power generated will supply Darwin and be exported to Singapore via a 3,800km electrical cable along the sea floor.

The export markets for both AREH and Sun Cable are there. For example, both South Korea and Japan have indicated strong interest in Australia’s green hydrogen to decarbonise their economies and secure energy supplies.

But we should not underestimate the obstacles standing in the way of the projects. Both will require massive investment. Sun Cable, for example, will cost an estimated A$20 billion to build. The Asian Renewable Energy Hub will reportedly require as much as A$50 billion.

The projects are also at the cutting edge of technology, in terms of the assembly of the solar array, the wind turbines and batteries. Transport of hydrogen by ship is still at the pilot stage, and commercially unproven. And the projects must navigate complex approvals and regulatory processes, in both Australia and Asia.

But the projects have good strategic leadership, and a clear mission to put Australian green energy exports on the map.

Shifting winds

Together, the AREH and Sun Cable projects do not yet make a trend. But they clearly indicate a shift in mindset on the part of investors.

The projects promise enormous clean development opportunities for Australia’s north, and will create thousands of jobs in Australia – especially in high-tech manufacturing. As we look to rebuild the economy after the COVID-19 pandemic, such stimulus will be key. All up, AREH is expected to support more than 20,000 jobs during a decade of construction, and 3,000 jobs when fully operating.

To make smart policies and investments, the federal government must have a clear view of the future global economy. Patterns of energy consumption in Asia are shifting away from fossil fuels, and Australia’s exports must move with them.


John Mathews, Macquarie University; Elizabeth Thurbon, UNSW; Hao Tan, University of Newcastle, and Sung-Young Kim, Macquarie University

John Mathews, Professor Emeritus, Macquarie Business School, Macquarie University; Elizabeth Thurbon, Scientia Associate Professor in International Relations / International Political Economy, UNSW; Hao Tan, Associate professor, University of Newcastle, and Sung-Young Kim, Senior Lecturer in International Relations, Discipline of Politics & International Relations, Macquarie School of Social Sciences, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

NASA / Tracy Caldwell Dyson

How to live in space: what we’ve learned from 20 years of the International Space Station

NASA / Tracy Caldwell Dyson

Alice Gorman, Flinders University and Justin St. P. Walsh, Chapman University

November 2 marks 20 years since the first residents arrived on the International Space Station (ISS). The orbiting habitat has been continuously occupied ever since.

Twenty straight years of life in space makes the ISS the ideal “natural laboratory” to understand how societies function beyond Earth.

The ISS is a collaboration between 25 space agencies and organisations. It has hosted 241 crew and a few tourists from 19 countries. This is 43% of all the people who have ever travelled in space.


Read more: Explainer: the International Space Station


As future missions to the Moon and Mars are planned, it’s important to know what people need to thrive in remote, dangerous and enclosed environments, where there is no easy way back home.

A brief history of orbital habitats

The fictional ‘Brick Moon’ was constructed from bricks because they are heat-resistant. NASA

The first fictional space station was Edward Everett Hale’s 1869 “Brick Moon”. Inside were 13 spherical living chambers.

In 1929, Hermann Noordung theorised a wheel-shaped space station that would spin to create “artificial” gravity. The spinning wheel was championed by rocket scientist Wernher von Braun in the 1950s and featured in the classic 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Instead of spheres or wheels, real space stations turned out to be cylinders.

The first space station was the USSR’s Salyut 1 in 1971, followed by another six stations in the Salyut programme over the next decade. The USA launched its first space station, Skylab, in 1973. All of these were tube-shaped structures.

In Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, a spinning wheel-like space station creates gravity using centripetal force.

The Soviet station Mir, launched in 1986, was the first to be built with a core to which other modules were added later. Mir was still in orbit when the first modules of the International Space Station were launched in 1998.

Mir was brought down in 2001, and broke up as it plummeted through the atmosphere. What survived likely ended up under 5000 meters of water at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.

The ISS now consists of 16 modules: four Russian, nine US, two Japanese, and one European. It’s the size of a five-bedroom house on the inside, with six regular crew serving for six months at a time.

The fully assembled International Space Station. Roscosomos/NASA

Read more: Space invasions: what to do when stuff falls from the sky


Adapting to space

Yuri Gagarin’s voyage around Earth in 1961 proved humans could survive in space. Actually living in space was another matter.

Contemporary space stations don’t spin to provide gravity. There is no up or down. If you let go of an object, it will float away. Everyday activities like drinking or washing require planning.

Spots of “gravity” occur throughout the space station, in the form of hand or footholds, straps, clips, and Velcro dots to secure people and objects.

In the Russian modules, surfaces facing towards Earth (“down”) are coloured olive-green while walls and surfaces facing away from Earth (“up”) are beige. This helps crew to orient themselves.

Colour is important in other ways, too. Skylab, for example, was so lacking in colour that astronauts broke the monotony by staring at the coloured cards used to calibrate their video cameras.

In movies, space stations are often sleek and clean. The reality is vastly different.

The ISS is smelly, noisy, messy, and awash in shed skin cells and crumbs. It’s like a terrible share house, except you can’t leave, you have to work all the time and no-one gets a good night’s sleep.

There are some perks, however. The Cupola module offers perhaps the best view available to humans anywhere: a 180-degree panorama of Earth passing by below.

Astronaut Rick Mastracchio looks towards Earth from the Cupola in 2016. NASA

‘A microsociety in a miniworld’

The crew use all kinds of objects to express their identities in this miniworld, as space habitats were called in a 1972 report. Unused wall space becomes like your refrigerator door, covered with items of personal and group significance.

In the Zvezda module, Orthodox icons and pictures of space heroes like Konstantin Tsiolkovsky and Gagarin create a sense of belonging and connection to home.

Oleg Kononenko in the Zvezda module in 2008, showing icons and space heroes pinned on the wall in the background. NASA

Food plays a huge role in bonding. Rituals of sharing food, celebrating holidays and birthdays, help form camaraderie between crew of different national and cultural backgrounds.

It’s not all plain sailing. In 2009, toilets briefly became a source of international conflict when decisions on the ground meant Russian crew were forbidden to use the US toilets and exercise equipment.

In this “microsociety”, technology isn’t only about function. It plays a role in social cohesion.

The future of living in space

The ISS is massively expensive to run. NASA’s costs alone are US$3-4 billion a year, and many argue it’s not worth it. Without more commercial investment, ISS may be de-orbited in 2028 and sent to the ocean floor to join Mir.

The next stage in space-station life is likely to occur in orbit around the Moon. The Lunar Gateway project, planned by a group of space agencies led by NASA, will be smaller than the ISS. Crews will live on board for up to a month at a time.

Its modules, based on the design of the ISS, are due to be launched into lunar orbit in the next decade.

One preliminary habitat design for the Lunar Gateway has four expandable crew cabins, to give people a little more space. But the sleeping, exercise, latrine, and eating areas are all much closer together.


Read more: Living in a bubble: inflatable modules could be the future of space habitats


Since ISS crews like to create improvised visual displays, we might suggest including spaces reserved for such displays in next-generation habitats.

In popular culture, the ISS has become Santa’s sleigh. In recent years, parents around the world have taken their children outside on Christmas Eve to spot the ISS passing overhead.

The ISS has shaped the space culture of the 20th and 21st centuries, symbolising international cooperation after the Cold War. It still has much to teach us about how to live in space.

Alice Gorman, Associate Professor in Archaeology and Space Studies, Flinders University and Justin St. P. Walsh, Associate professor of art history and archaeology, Chapman University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.