All posts by Karen Taylor-Brown

Free webinar: Unlock the potential of a science degree

Wednesday 28 February 12pm (AEDT)

Science careers are more than just lab coats and experiments. The truth is, science is a really broad area to work in. People who have a science degree can work in corporate consultancies, in research, in large scale infrastructure, or anywhere. Often without a lab in sight.

In this webinar you’ll meet a leader in Antarctic conservation, a reef restoration pioneer, a biological scientist who advises companies on environmental conservation, and a graduate hydrogeologist.

Brought to you with the support of QUT, this webinar unlocks the next-level potential of a science degree. Discover the careers of tomorrow and create change in our world today.

When: 12pm AEDT, Wednesday, 28 February 2023

Can’t make that time? No worries! Register and you’ll be sent a link to a recording of the webinar that you can watch at any time.

Register now

Meet the panel

Dr Justine Shaw, senior research fellow, School of Biological & Environmental Sciences, QUT and investigator, ARC SRI Securing Antarctica’s Environmental Future Researcher (Making Better Decisions), QUT Centre for the Environment

Justine is a senior research fellow, at Queensland University Technology. A research leader in Antarctic conservation, she leads projects on native and invasive species, decision science and Antarctic and sub-Antarctic conservation. Her research publications span a range of topics. Her work focuses at the interface of policy, governance and ecosystem science. She first went south as an ecologist with the Australian Antarctic Program in 1996, and has continued to travel south. Justine has a large global research network, having lead field teams in Australia, South Africa, sub-Antarctic, Antarctica and the Arctic. Justine studies plants, seabirds and invertebrates in the field. She works on Australia’s islands and in Antarctica. As an expert Justine sits on several advisory boards and committees, focused on conservation, threatened species and managing invasive species.

Justine is an advocate for gender equity and inclusivity in STEMM. Justine is a co-founder of Homeward Bound, a global organization aimed at elevating the visibility of women in STEMM and having more women in leadership roles globally. She has co-lead three Homeward Boundvoyages to Antarctica. She is co-founder of Women in Polar Science Network.

Justine has worked in government and in the University sector for over 25 years. She sits on the Board of two not for profit organisation in Australia focused on conservation, sustainability and gender equity.

Joel Alroe, lecturer in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Science, QUT

Joel completed his Bachelors of Applied Science (Physics) and Maths, and PhD (Atmospheric Physics) at Queensland University of Technology where he is now a lecturer in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Science. His research focuses on the climate-relevant properties of sea spray and other airborne particles in the marine environment. His research has taken him from the remote pristine Southern Ocean and Antarctica to several coastal sites around Australia and the Great Barrier Reef. Most recently, he has been working with the Reef Restoration and Adaptation Project to develop a seawater fog generator that can shade corals and reduce their risk of bleaching from intense sunlight.

Sophie Barrett, environmental scientist

Sophie holds a double degree in Bachelor of Science (Biological Sciences)/ Bachelor of Business (Human Resource Management) and aims to combine her knowledge and experience from both her science and business backgrounds in order to make a sustainable difference in corporate, industry or government spheres.

She is currently an environmental scientist at BMT, a maritime-orientated high-end design house and technical consulting firm driven by a passion for solving complex, real-world problems. BMT delivers design, engineering and consulting excellence in a world of ever-increasing change: growing compliance, new global competitors, the pressure to do more with less, ever-faster innovation cycles and less time to exploit market positions or new technologies.

Gidyea Venner, graduate hydrogeologist

Gidyea studied a Bachelor of Science (Environmental Science) at QUT and is now a graduate hydrogeologist for Australasian Groundwater and Environmental (AGE).

In this role, Gidyea is helping to supervise drilling efforts for monitoring wells on a major infrastructural project in Queensland. This involves advising on casing and development, as well as regular sampling and monitoring tests.

He’s also completing a hydrogeological honours project, where he has submitted a thesis on mapping the shallow springs of the Great Artesian Basin (GAB); a geophysical, hydrochemical, and hydrogeological investigation with a case study on Turraburra, a native title property near Aramac.

Register now

Meet the moderator

Kimberly Valenny, QUT Graduate and Graduate Front End Developer at Deloitte Digital, will be hosting our STEM + X webinar series

​Kimberly Valenny is passionate about turning ideas into realities. She is motivated by emerging technologies and how she can contribute to the future of user experience design and software development as a Graduate Front End Developer at Deloitte Digital.

​Kimberly completed a double degree in Information Technology and Creative Industries at QUT, with majors in Computer Science and Interactive & Visual Design. She was also the 2021 President of Women in Technology, a student society that aims to unite, inspire and empower strong like-minded females studying all things tech at QUT.

​Still eager to get involved in initiatives and networks, Kimberly is a member of the ACS QLD Emerging Professionals Committee and of the QUT IT Industry Advisory Group. She also tutors as a Sessional Academic at QUT for a first year ‘Introduction to Web Design’ unit and is an ambassador for the QUT Faculty of Science marketing team.

Register now

To be the first to hear about our STEM + X webinars, sign up to the Careers with STEM e-newsletter!

Australia’s Virtual Irrigation Academy wins COP 28 and World Economic Forum awards

Image: Farmer in Malawi checks their fields soil water content using VIA’s Chameleon sensor. Photo courtesy of Conor Ashleigh

The Water Changemaker Innovation Awards is a global initiative that recognises high-level commitment and leadership for climate-resilient water investments. The Awards also showcase the most promising climate-resilient innovations with the greatest potential for scale, replication, and further investment to support a water-secure world.

In its second great achievement, VIA was recently selected as a winner of the World Economic Forum’s ‘Smarter Climate Farmers Challenge’.

This challenge called for solutions using climate-smart agriculture approaches to improve food production, promote better living standards, respond to climate change and lead to the efficient care of the planet’s resources within food ecosystems. Its focus areas include: knowledge, skills, and education; resource efficiency and sustainability; inclusive technology; and innovative financing.

VIA’s world first Chameleon sensor helps small-scale farmers who are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change to reduce water use while increasing crop yields and food production.

By enabling effective water management, VIA has the potential to transform the lives of millions of the world’s poorest people in the poorest countries that are already stricken by climate change.  VIA is already having a significant impact on farmers in drought-afflicted countries such as Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.  Its application has limitless potential around the world as farming communities adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Revolutionising agriculture technology, farmers simply bury VIA’s soil water sensor in the ground.  Attached to a light, it shows blue when the plants have plenty of water, green when things are ok and red when they need a drink….taking guess work and outdated water usage practices out of the equation, maintaining soil nutrients and increasing yields.

Originally established by CSIRO and Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), VIA is now a stand-alone not-for-profit, seeking and working with partners around the world to manufacture and distribute this transformative technology.

The Virtual Irrigation Academy (or VIA) – created by CSIRO in 2015 and funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research – develops technology specifically for the needs of low-income irrigation farmers.

Over the last 8 years, we have tested a big idea: what if we gave these farmers simple information about whether their crops were thirsty or not. We developed a soil water sensor – buried in the ground and attached to a light – that shows blue when the plants have plenty of water, green when things are ok and red when they need a drink.

We started in Tanzania and the results were extraordinary. Then on to Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi, Ethiopia and into Asia – with much the same result. Farmers were hungry for this kind of information and quickly changed their irrigation practices.  A large majority of farmers substantially increased their yields.

But this was not the most surprising part. Almost all farmers who grew more food used less water to do so. Giving plants more water than they need leaches nutrients out of the soil, wastes energy for pumping and causes environmental problems such as waterlogging and salinity.

Soil water sensors like ours cost tens or even hundreds of dollars each.  Ours can be bought for less than $12 and forty thousand are already in use across 20 countries. Within a few years the sensor will cost half of that, and perhaps half again before the end of the decade.    

Farmers need information about water in their soil and that is what the VIA provides.  Perceived scarcity over water fuels conflict and conflict undermines attempts to equitably govern and share water in the contested world of managing common pool resources.

In 2022 the VIA became a not-for-profit company. The next step is to expand our production capacity and establish strategic knowledge and distribution partnerships in several locations around the world. This is because sensors are not a silver bullet in themselves, and this is not just a tech-fix problem. Growing more food with less water is a people problem.  We are challenging deep-seated traditions around the way things have always been done.

Building local knowledge and in-country capacity is key for farmers and stakeholders to understand how the sensors work, how to troubleshoot and carry our repairs and maintenance. And our quality assurance processes are fundamental in providing confidence around what makes for a low-cost but accurate sensor.

Soil sensors and data systems developed by the Virtual Irrigation Academy are applicable to 150 million of the poorest farming households in the world. It’s the first time in history these farmers have had access to this type of technology.

Irrigation is going to be a major part of adapting to climate change and most of this is going to have to be on small farms in low-income countries. Our technology is designed for these farmers and has been shown to work.  All we need now is the partners to scale.

Graphene oxide study strengthens the case for smart concrete

Image: RMIT students Thanh Ha Nguyen, Wen Si, Junli Liu, Kien Nguyen and Shuai Li with a 3D printed concrete structure

Engineers have added graphene oxide to cement mixture to make stronger 3D printed concrete that is easier to print, paving the way to create potential ‘smart’ walls that can monitor cracks. 

The research, conducted by RMIT University and University of Melbourne, is the first to investigate the effects of graphene oxide on the printability and compressive properties of 3D printed concrete.  

It found the addition of graphene oxide, a nanomaterial commonly used in batteries and electronic gadgets, gave concrete electrical conductivity and increased the strength of concrete by up to 10%. 

Research supervisor and RMIT Associate Professor Jonathan Tran said this concrete had the potential to create ‘smart’ buildings where walls can act as sensors to detect and monitor small cracks. 

While current detection methods, such as ultrasonic or acoustic sensors, are non-destructive and widely used in the construction industry to detect large cracks in concrete structures, detecting smaller cracks early is still a challenge.  

“The equipment for these methods is often bulky, making it difficult to regularly use for monitoring very large structures like bridges or tall buildings,” said Tran, from RMIT’s School of Engineering. 

“But the addition of graphene oxide creates the possibility of an electrical circuit in concrete structures, which could help detect structural issues, changes in temperature and other environmental factors.” 

While the research was preliminary, Tran said graphene oxide had the exciting potential to make 3D printed concrete more viable in the construction industry, which could have positive impacts on cost and sustainability. 

“Current concrete structures are created using formwork, which is where you create a mold before pouring fresh concrete mixture into it,” he said. 

“Formwork requires a lot of labour, time and money, and it often creates a lot of waste. 

“With 3D printed concrete, not only does it help save time, money and labour, but you can also create more complex structures and reuse some construction waste in cement-based materials.” 

As 3D printed concrete uses layer-by-layer printing, it can potentially lead to weaker bonds between each layer, but the addition of graphene oxide in concrete makes it easier to extrude, creating better inter-layer bonding, which can also help maximise strength. 

“Graphene oxide has functional groups on its surface, which are like sticky spots on the surface of a material that can grab onto other things,” Tran said. 

“These ‘sticky spots’ are mainly made of various functional groups containing oxygen, which play a crucial role in facilitating its stronger bonds with other materials like cement. This strong bonding can improve the overall strength of the concrete. 

“However, more research is needed to test if concrete with graphene oxide can match or surpass the strength of traditionally cast concrete.” 

Too much of a good thing 

Lead researcher RMIT PhD candidate Junli Liu said the strength of the concrete could be increased if the bond between graphene oxide and the concrete mixture was improved.  

The research tested two dosages of graphene oxide in cement and found the lower dosage (0.015% of the weight of cement) was stronger than the higher one (0.03% of the weight of cement).  

Tran said adding too much graphene oxide could impact the strength and workability of the concrete mix, which can cause potential issues with printability, strength and durability.  

“Concrete is a carefully balanced mixture. Adding too much graphene oxide can disrupt this balance, particularly the hydration process, which is crucial for concrete strength,” Tran said.  

“Too much graphene oxide can impact the flow of concrete, making it harder to extrude and therefore creating a structure with more gaps between layers of concrete. 

“Graphene oxide can also clump together instead of spreading out evenly, which can create weak spots in the concrete and reduce its overall strength.” 

The next phase of the research will study the electrical conductivity of graphene oxide in concrete and test its viability as a potential smart material.  

Exploration of using graphene oxide for strength enhancement of 3D-printed cementitious mortar” was published in Additive Manufacturing Letters. (DOI: 10.1016/j.addlet.2023.100157) 

Junli Liu, Phuong Tran, Thusitha Ginigaddara and Priyan Mendis are co-authors. 

Revolutionising optics for Earth observation  

Image: iLAuNCH Freeform optics project team at UniSA. Supplied

Satellite optical payloads are used to track changes in Earth observation images including environment, transport, and infrastructure through to defence Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR). 

Satellites scan over the Earth’s surface and typically the camera payloads need to be wide and gather light in strips, similar to an office paper scanner. Glass optics onboard satellites today are limited in their view by traditional manufacturing processes.  

Through the iLAuNCH Trailblazer, the University of South Australia (UniSA) with VPG Innovation and SMR Australia will mature and space qualify a new optical manufacturing process and materials for space flight applications and demonstrate it in a camera that can utilise this revolutionary new manufacturing capability. 

An emerging optics technology, called freeform optics, is now possible due to the emergence of suitable additive manufacturing technologies. Freeform optics, as their name implies, are free from any constraints of symmetry in their form and shape. Freeform optics, such as mirrors, can now be designed and additively manufactured to take on complex shapes that can provide larger fields of view within smaller packaging sizes, all while being able to withstand the harsh environment of space.  

“This project demonstrates what iLAuNCH is all about, taking a 2021 Defence Innovation Partnership (DIP) concept demonstrator that investigated the viability of Freeform Optical Components for small satellites – and moving it into production using Australian technology for real world application” said iLAuNCH Trailblazer Executive Director, Darin Lovett. 

“Through iLAuNCH we are growing a trained workforce for space hardware, and in this case, bedding down new manufacturing techniques for these novel freeform mirrors for satellites.” 

One of the important requirements in the development of freeform optics is the ability to take the additively manufactured part and process it to the point that a mirror finish can be developed. Traditional surface-finishing processes are unsuitable for freeform surfaces. Additionally, there is the challenge of achieving a stable, durable coating in the harsh low Earth orbit environment.   

The Future Industries Institute at UniSA has pushed the boundaries of additive based manufacturing to develop a novel technology that is set to transform the way space missions are designed.  

“We are developing an optical grade finish on additive material substrates for optical components for satellites,” said UniSA Senior Research Fellow, Dr Kamil Zuber. 

“We will also demonstrate a coating system for reflective optical components for space applications.” 

The project partners, both Adelaide-based, advanced manufacturer VPG Innovation and mirror and camera systems experts SMR Australia have long experience in traditional and additive manufacturing, and product development for automotive and defence sectors.  

The additive manufacturing, moulding and vacuum coating capabilities of the partners enable commercial production of the developed product.  

“With Australia developing new space capabilities and small satellite platforms, it is at the forefront of those developments, including the rising trend towards nanosatellite platforms. The iLAuNCH Trailblazer, in partnership with UNISQ, UniSA, Stärke-AMG, and SMR Australia, is an innovative journey pushing the boundaries of additive manufacturing to revolutionise emerging freeform optics technology. We firmly believe in the transformative power of additive manufacturing and its potential to positively reshape the manufacturing industry. We are proud to be leading those efforts that will enable innovative satellite optics design and manufacturing for Earth observation and other critical applications. Together, we are enabling a future where freeform optics will redefine the possibilities of space missions,” said Co-Founder and Group CEO, Stärke-AMG, Al Jawhari. 

“We are thrilled to be part of the iLAuNCH Trailblazer project alongside the University of South Australia and Stärke-AMG. Over a decade of collaboration has shown that the synergy between UniSA’s research and Motherson’s manufacturing prowess leads to outcomes greater than the sum of its parts. The addition of Stärke-AMG’s innovation focus will ensure that this venture not only propels South Australia into a key role in space technology but also exemplifies the true essence of collaboration. Our combined efforts will redefine the possibilities in additive manufacturing and freeform optics, promising a transformative impact on the future of space exploration. As we contribute our advanced injection moulding and coating expertise to the project, we are not just advancing technology but shaping a future where South Australia becomes synonymous with cutting-edge value-added manufacturing”, said Dr Bastian Stoehr, SMR Australia, Senior Design Engineer, Advanced Surface Technology.  

The project will expand ISR capabilities for space satellites, and satellite platforms in general, through the prototyping and validation of space grade materials, and durable coatings for optical, and structural satellite components using substrates made by polymer and metal additive manufacturing. In addition, the team will explore, validate and test existing and emerging space materials creating guidelines and standards for space materials for satellite components to aid the Australian space sector.  

About iLAuNCH and 2023 achievements 

The Australian Government Trailblazer Universities Program provides dedicated investment to accelerate Australia’s innovation agenda at speed and at scale.  

The Innovative Launch, Automation, Novel Materials, Communications and Hypersonics (iLAuNCH) Trailblazer is a $180 million program building Australia’s enduring space capability through the commercialisation of projects, a fast-track accelerator, and skills development to build the workforce of the future. 

In our first year of operation the iLAuNCH Trailblazer:  

  • Started 7 new projects, and committed over $100 million in total project value.  
  • The recent Expressions of Interest second round of funding was oversubscribed, and applications are in review.  
  • Our industry and university partners are employing more people in the space industry, with 60 new positions being created, including 20 new PhD students.  
  • Our focus is not just industry, we are investing in future skills development from primary school to tertiary, using space to inspire and develop the regional workforce of the future, including:
    • through our STEM partner One Giant Leap,  
    • developing microcredentials courses at the University of Southern Queensland, and  
    • industry and academic workshops with CSIRO and the Australian National University. 

Together, we are accelerating space innovation. 

About VPG Innovation 

VPG Innovation serves as an essential partner within the Stärke-AMG group, a collaborative group encompassing eight companies with operational facilities in Australia and the USA. Specifically designated as the engineering and prototyping arm of the group, VPG Innovation plays a crucial role in the design-for-manufacture process. 

This affiliation empowers VPG to harness the comprehensive array of services offered by the group, thereby presenting clients with an impeccably integrated suite of cutting-edge end-to-end Advanced Manufacturing services. 

Bolstered by a diverse scale of services and an increasing expertise of over five decades, Stärke-AMG stands as a wholly Australian-owned and operated group of companies that specialise in turnkey solutions for design, prototyping, complex precision machining, tooling, plastic injection moulding and fabrication projects, delivering full product and system assemblies. 

About SMR Australia 

SMR Australia, a part of the Vision Systems Division within the Motherson Group, specialises in manufacturing automotive components. The company is a specialist in rearview mirror systems and a pioneer in intelligent camera systems for automotive applications. With over 300 employees, SMR Australia is a significant employer in the southern Adelaide area. Focussed on innovation and advanced manufacturing, SMR Australia is making its mark in developing new and innovative products, recognised as a high-end vehicle component manufacturer. SMR Australia invests heavily in research and state-of-the-art equipment, housed in an environmentally controlled clean-room facility, along with collaborations with world-class universities. The company is also diversifying into medical and other industries aligned with its broad capabilities. 

SMR Australia’s parent company, the Motherson Group, is a diversified global manufacturing specialist and one of the world’s leading automotive suppliers for OEMs. Motherson supports its customers from more than 350 facilities across 41 countries, with a team of over 180,000 dedicated professionals. The group recorded revenues of USD 12.7 billion during 2022-23 and is ranked among the top 25 automotive suppliers worldwide. 

Scarcity of talent hampers Australia’s quantum industry

Image: Lauren Trompp, Careers with STEM

AUSTRALIA’S NASCENT QUANTUM sector sees the technology as a massive economic opportunity with the potential to be game-changing for a variety of industries. However, industry players say strong international competition, a scarcity of talent, a lack of domestic investment firepower and industry capability will likely hamper Australia’s ability to truly commercialise quantum applications onshore.

The National Quantum Industry and Workforce Development Review, published by Sydney Quantum Academy, is based on a year-long survey of Australia’s nascent quantum industry.

Relying on in-depth interviews with key organisations as well as qualitative and quantitative research, it represents of the first overviews of an emerging local sector projected to be worth $2.2 billion and employ almost 9,000 Australians by 2030.

“This gives us some useful insights into the national industry and its expectations,” Prof Peter Turner, CEO of the Sydney Quantum Academy (SQA), a partnership between four Sydney universities and backed by the NSW Government.

“It confirms some of our internal thinking, particularly on the education front. “It’s clear that the industry – both developers of quantum technologies and likely users – understand its potential, and will have a growing and urgent need for a skilled workforce for years to come,” he added.

Wide range of industries surveyed

It surveyed both start-ups developing quantum technologies as well as potential users across various industries, including aerospace, banking and insurance, chemicals and energy, health and life sciences, logistics and information technology.

It also sought input from industry associations, local offshoots of international companies, as well as Federal and State Government instrumentalities.

Respondents considered Australia to have strong levels of research expertise and nucleus of respected global thought leaders, as well as universities with high quality talent and accomplished education programs, particularly in PhD and Master’s programs.

Quantum computing the lead technology

Quantum computing was identified as the main quantum technology under development, and the one of most interest to potential users. This was led by computing hardware and high-level software (eg. algorithms and applications), followed by low-level software (control, error correction and fault tolerance).

Almost one-third of local quantum companies said they also supply expertise in quantum communications, cryptography or sensing; while quantum simulation, imaging and metrology was at lower levels.

A wide range of industries said they are exploring quantum technologies. And almost half of Australian quantum technology developers said they supply to clients in the innovation sector, followed by information technology; then banking, finance and insurance; with quantum technology for defence in the top five.

Potential users cited quantum computing as the type of quantum technology they are most likely to use: 78% said they will have a use case for quantum technologies in their business in the next five years, and that it would likely occupy two-thirds of their organisation’s focus on average.

Only 22% of potential users said no quantum technology is likely to have a use case in their organisation in the next five years.

More PhDs needed, but also more business nous

While both technology developers and potential users see a strong need for ‘quantum specialists’ (scientists with PhDs in physics, chemistry, mathematics or computer science), a growing need was identified for ‘strategists’: business executives with a sophisticated understanding of quantum technologies to help develop business priorities and opportunities.

Another growing need was for ‘technology translators’: graduates with a background science, engineering or software development who can take quantum technologies and turn them into products or solutions.

Both quantum technology suppliers and potential users said there’s a clear need for more ‘commercial’ skills among quantum graduates, such as design thinking, scenario planning, financial forecasting and risk assessment.

For the industry to mature, potential users said that more individuals in business need to see uses for quantum solutions and understand the basics of when and how they can be used.

Need for internal business champions

Both quantum suppliers and potential users believe the top two roles needed over the next five years will be Software Developer/Engineer; followed by Quantum Algorithm Developer/Algorithmic Engineer.

Thereafter, they diverge based on their specific needs. Potential users see a need for staff on the business side of their companies to coordinate quantum technology development – roles such as a Quantum Director/Team Management/Program Manager role and/or a Business Development Manager – which would help establish quantum-related functions internally and support them alongside more technically-focused staff.

Hard science skills in demand

Demand for quantum skills – such as physics, chemistry, mathematics and engineering – will continue to be in high among quantum technology suppliers.

In software, there was a marked demand for skills in the Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) and Algorithm Development and Software Development, including programming.

But there is also expected to be a marked priority for non-technical fields, such as Business Development, Product Development and Project Management. For potential users, the focus is primarily on classical software, with AI/ML/Algorithm Development and Systems Architecture the priorities.

The second biggest priority is non-technical, eg. Business Development, Product Development and Business Analysis.

Much less interest in hard quantum skills, except where they can apply to Device Modelling/Simulation or Quantum Algorithm Development.

Future industries

The report found that about one-third of the industry operating in Australia have less than 50 employees, while just under 50% have 1,000 or more employees. For organisations with global offices, just over 50% have 1,000 or more employees, versus 25% with less than 50 employees.

Future industries that suppliers intend to provide quantum technologies were led by government and agriculture primarily; followed by transport, telecommunications, pharmaceuticals and medical or life sciences; with energy, resources, utilities, chemicals and business services as among the least focus.

About Sydney Quantum Academy

Sydney Quantum Academy is a joint venture between University of Sydney, UNSW Sydney, Macquarie University and the University of Technology Sydney, and supported by the State Government of New South Wales.

Its vision is to build Australia quantum economy by connecting academia, industry, and government; providing training and support for the next generation of quantum talent; and harnessing Sydney’s considerable collective expertise.

Want to know more about Quantum careers? Check out the special edition: Careers with STEM: Quantum

More than one hundred scholarships awarded to boost diversity in STEM

Image: Brenton Edwards, Careers with STEM

The Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE) has today announced 116 scholarships to support women and diverse people to thrive in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers.

In the second round of the seven-year, $41.2 million program funded by the Department of Industry, Science and Resources, ATSE is delighted to grow the number of scholarships on offer through the 2024 Elevate program with targeted support from the Department of Defence.

The 2024 cohort counts 14 additional undergraduate scholarships under a new partnership with the Australian Defence Science Technology Group (DSTG). The partnership aims to develop the urgently needed diverse STEM skills to support Australia’s growing science and defence workforce needs amid the current STEM skills shortage.

ATSE CEO Kylie Walker said she is thrilled to see the Elevate program grow from strength to strength, with more than 1,200 applications this year demonstrating the massive demand from Australian women who are looking to study STEM as a fulfilling career path.
“We are thrilled to partner with the Defence Science and Technology Group to support even more women and diverse people to join the STEM workforce and contribute to building the opportunities of our STEM-fuelled future.”

As well as the financial support, extensive skills development, mentoring and peer networking available to all Elevate scholars, the 14 Defence-funded scholarships also provide access to tours, workshops and panels taking place around the country, and invite-only DSTG networking events.

Australia’s Chief Defence Scientist, Professor Tanya Monro AC FTSE FAA said there is a growing need for diverse experiences and views in shaping Australia’s defence capabilities.

“Attracting talented STEM professionals to the rewarding field of defence science and technology is critical.

“Defence is building a capable and diverse workforce – we have an ambitious 50% target for women’s participation across key research and innovation career pathways.

“We’re proud to partner with ATSE to fund new undergraduate scholarships through the Elevate program, enabling women and diverse people to start a fulfilling career and deliver innovative technology solutions to give our ADF the edge,” said Professor Monro.

All Elevate scholars will commence their studies in early 2024, including 116 women and diverse people studying across 26 universities across Australia, and exploring an exciting range of science disciplines including cybersecurity, nuclear engineering and artificial intelligence.

Want to know more about STEM careers in Defence? Check out the special editions: Careers with STEM: Defence

Leading universities join Uniseed venture fund to invest in future of Australian innovation

Image: Monash University’s Dr Alastair Hick, Chief Commercialisation Officer, and Uniseed CEO Peter Devine. Supplied.

Uniseed, Australia’s longest-running venture fund, today announced a significant expansion of research partners, with Monash University joining as a full partner, alongside a new collaboration of NSW universities, comprising the University of Newcastle, the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), Western Sydney University and Macquarie University.

The five new partners join the Universities of Queensland, New South Wales, Melbourne, and Sydney, and Australia’s national science agency CSIRO as partners, each of whom currently spend over $1 billion a year on research. The newly expanded set of partners, who all rank within the top 25 Australian universities for research expenditure, collectively spend around $7.7b on research annually, making up ~60% of the total research spend by all research organisations in Australia.

With this expansion, Uniseed will grow from representing 43% to 60% of expenditure on research in Australia; from 46% to 57% of annual invention disclosures; from 48% to 62% of patent applications filed; from 50% to 68% of active patent families; from 45% to 77% of new start-ups formed; and from 42% to 53% of active start-ups.

Uniseed’s Chief Executive Officer, Dr Peter Devine, said that the expanded partner set demonstrates the important role Uniseed can play in investing in researchers, technologies and businesses that will change the world for the better. “Since the foundation of Uniseed in 2000, we have helped fund 66 start-ups, each born from Australian research and ingenuity.

Seventeen of these have achieved commercial deals with international companies, which is a very high conversion rate. Notable examples include the sale of Spinifex Pharmaceuticals to Novartis AG in 2015, Fibrotech Therapeutics sale to Shire plc in 2014, Aurtra’s sale to Schneider Electric in 2022 and Kinoxis Therapeutics’ collaborative deal with Boehringer Ingelheim in 2023.

“The existing partners and I are proud to welcome five new universities to the Uniseed partnership – Monash University, the University of Newcastle, UTS, the Western Sydney University and Macquarie University. Each university represented in the partnership is of excellent quality and reputation – each ranked within the top 25 of Australian universities, and joined by CSIRO, Australia’s preeminent scientific institution.

“This is a very significant partnership expansion as it considerably expands the reach we can offer in funding new startups and commercialising technologies developed by Australian research institutions. Where previously we had the ability to support 42% of spin outs from research organisations in Australia, our partners will now cover more than half of all commercial research output generated by Australian institutions.”

More than 1,000 people have been employed through funding from Uniseed start-ups, either directly or by Uniseed research partners via contract research agreements with our companies. More than $1.2 billion has been raised by the 66 start-ups supported by Uniseed, reflecting their significance to the Australian economy.

Dr Alastair Hick, Monash University’s Chief Commercialisation Officer and the university’s nominee to join the Uniseed Board, commented: “Ensuring that research has the best potential for commercial success possible is of vital importance. Through this partnership, we look forward to working with Uniseed to develop investable opportunities from researchers at Monash University and in doing so support the advancement of many new ideas and technologies with global potential.”

Mr Warwick Dawson, Pro Vice-Chancellor Industry and Engagement for University of Newcastle, who will be joining the Uniseed Board of Directors as nominee of the four new NSW universities, said: “Innovation is the bridge that enables the translation of research to economic and social impact. Through making this commitment to joining the Uniseed venture fund, we’re bringing new investment potential to researchers at the forefront of the many transformative ideas discovered within our diverse university landscape. We’re also reinforcing our dedication to nurturing a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship within Australia’s academic community.”

Both new partners, Monash University and the collective of four new NSW universities, will match the remaining commitments of Uniseed’s existing members, providing an additional $6.75 million to the Uniseed Fund-3, taking the total fund size to $56.75 million. With the new funds injected and taking into account prior Fund-3 investments, a total of $23.63 million remains investible under Uniseed’s Fund-3.

This funding will add to UniSuper’s $75 million commitment to Uniseed (made in 2022), with the goal of supporting exciting new developments across industries of the future such as biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, quantum computing and green energy. With a strong heritage managing retirement savings for people employed in the higher education and research sector and now open to all Australians, UniSuper currently invests approximately $124 billion on behalf of over 615,000 members.

UniSuper’s Chief Investment Officer, Mr John Pearce, said “As Uniseed’s exclusive institutional investment partner, we’re proud to champion Australian innovation while focusing on returns for our members over the long term. These new partnerships represent a significant moment for Uniseed, UniSuper, and for research and development commercialisation in Australia.”

In order to manage the new opportunities delivered under the expanded partnership, Uniseed will also appoint two new Investment Managers.

Dr Devine concluded: “By welcoming five new partners and expanding our portfolio team, Uniseed is significantly expanding its potential and reach. This is a watershed moment for the fund and incredibly exciting for Australian innovation.”

Using “superhero bugs” and AI to save lives from infections

Image: Curtin School of Population Health’s Associate Professor Anthony Kicic. Supplied.

Common bacterial infections such as golden staph (staphylococcus) and pseudomonas can quickly put a person’s life at risk and are typically treated with medicines such as antibiotics.

However, many of the germs responsible for these infections can grow resistant to the medicines used to treat them, eventually leaving physicians with no other management options but to use higher concentrations and different combinations — which can cause serious side-effects for patients.

It’s known as antimicrobial resistance (AMR) — and Curtin University School of Population Health’s Associate Professor Anthony Kicic is investigating a natural alternative to battle it.

Associate Professor Kicic is researching natural viral predators of bacteria known as bacteriophages (or more commonly, phages), which can be used therapeutically.

“AMR is expected to kill more than 10 million people annually by 2050, but bacteriophage viruses are like superhero bugs found everywhere in nature,” Associate Professor Kicic said.

“They’re like something out of a movie: rather than make us sick, they seek out particular bugs, go inside them to create baby viruses, which then all burst out and kill the bacteria.
“Once all of the bacteria are killed, the phage has no host, so it too dies out.”

Phages are also a strong alternative for patients with allergies to medications, such as penicillin. However, identifying the correct phage to combat a particular bacterial infection is a time-consuming laboratory process — and time is often in short supply when medical staff are treating a critically ill patient.

Associate Professor Kicic is partnering with the Wal-yan Respiratory Research Centre at the Telethon Kids Institute to investigate how artificial intelligence (AI) can speed up this process to save lives, with the Western Australian Government recently awarding the project an Innovation Challenge 2023 – Generative Artificial Intelligence Applications (GAIA) grant.

Associate Professor Kicic is working on an AI platform known as PHAEDRA (PHage bacteriA genomE Diagnostics Recognition via Artificial Intelligence) which will run computer simulations to quickly determine which of the thousands of phages available will be most suitable to use on a case-by-case basis.

“Australians with resistant infections are already being treated with phages, but the weakest link in the chain of service is the four to five days needed to identify the most effective phages for a specific individual’s given infection,” he said.

Construction begins on Big Build $40 million Eagle Farm TAFE Robotics and Advanced Manufacturing Centre

Image: Shutterstock

CIMIC Group’s Broad Construction has been selected to deliver TAFE Queensland’s new Robotics and Advanced Manufacturing Centre at the Eagle Farm TAFE campus for the Department of Youth Justice, Employment, Small Business and Training.

The project is a part of the $100 million Equipping TAFE for our Future (ETFoF) program of works to invest, build and modernise TAFE facilities across Queensland and will include a new two-storey facility specialising in industry-leading robotics, advanced manufacturing, process instrumentation, renewable technologies (hydrogen and solar) and telecommunications technologies. The new facility comprises classrooms and learning areas, seminar rooms, laboratories, workshops and both staff and student breakout areas including all associated siteworks.

This new Robotics and Advanced Manufacturing Centre is an important investment in the training and education of the future workforce and will play a major role in ensuring industry can continue to thrive and meet the needs of clients and consumers, while also providing individuals with the skills and opportunities they need to succeed in their careers across a variety of sectors.

CIMIC Group Executive Chairman Juan Santamaria said: “Broad Construction is experienced in safely building complex projects and will draw on the experience and skills gained from delivering award-winning educational facilities across Queensland. We are pleased to be once again selected to deliver a collaborative learning space that will inspire innovation and skills development for the future workforce.”

Broad Construction General Manager Cyril Cahill said: “Showcasing a commitment to sustainable building, this new development will bring many benefits to TAFE Queensland and will target a 5 Star Green Buildings rating which demonstrates Australian excellence in its design and construction. Our project team are specialists in working on occupied, high-density environments, and we look forward to bringing our expertise to safely deliver this new state-of-the-art Robotics and Advanced Manufacturing Centre on time, on budget and to a high quality.”

Piling works have now commenced on the new facility and is scheduled for completion in Q3 2024.

CIMIC Group is an engineering-led construction, mining, services and public private partnerships leader working across the lifecycle of assets, infrastructure and resources projects. CIMIC Group comprises our construction businesses CPB Contractors, Leighton Asia and Broad, our mining and mineral processing companies Thiess (joint control) and Sedgman, our services specialist UGL and our development and investment arm Pacific Partnerships – all supported by our in-house engineering consultancy EIC Activities. Our mission is to generate sustainable returns by delivering innovative and competitive solutions for clients and safe, fulfilling careers for our people. With a history since 1899, and around 25,500 people in around 20 countries, we strive to be known for our principles of Integrity, Accountability, Innovation and Delivery, underpinned by Safety. 

National Innovation Challenge for Australia’s First Lunar Rover Arm Design Opens

Image: Supplied

The Australian Space Agency, in collaboration with NASA’s Artemis program, is embarking on an ambitious journey to design Australia’s first lunar rover. The ELO2 Big Dipper Lunar Regolith Acquisition Challenge is an open invitation for innovators and enthusiasts to be a part of this groundbreaking mission.

Hosted by, the challenge revolves around the design of a Regolith Sample Acquisition Device, a crucial component of the lunar rover. This device will be responsible for collecting lunar soil samples (regolith) and transporting them to an In-situ Resource Utilisation (ISRU) facility managed by NASA. The overarching goal is to extract oxygen from the lunar regolith, paving the way for sustained human presence and exploration on the Moon and beyond.

“Our mission is to foster new horizons in the Australian space sector, focusing on the collaboration and projects that will help Australia build expertise and supply chains for critical technologies,” said Joseph Kenrick, Program Manager at Lunar Outpost Oceania and Technical Lead for ELO2.

“We will build on experience and lessons learned from the development of Lunar Outpost’s Lunar Voyage 1 and Lunar Voyage 2 MAPP rovers. By actively contributing to NASA’s Artemis program, we are leading the way for a technology-led innovation funding model with government, industry and research partners to sustain growth in the Australian space industry.”

More in-depth details surrounding the challenge, including guidelines, timelines, prize allocations, and the criteria for concept proposals can be accessed here:

Challenge Information

Imagine a lunar rover perched upon the Moon’s surface, tasked with the objective of gathering and transporting lunar regolith to be used to extract oxygen. This mission will help pave the way for sustained human presence and exploration on the Moon and beyond.

In this Phase 1 challenge, the objective is to design a Regolith Sample Acquisition Device that can be attached to an Australian designed rover for the collection of lunar soil (regolith) and deposit at an In-situ Resource Utilisation (ISRU) facility run by NASA. Phase 2 will provide the opportunity to integrate what is learnt from feedback and testing of Phase 1 winning designs into a set of design recommendations that will be useful for implementation.

Entrants don’t have to be an engineer or space expert to participate in this challenge, or even need to have experience with CAD design. All it takes is an idea, and a commitment to communicate it. ELO2 and will provide resources to help get entrants started on a simple CAD program so that they can share their ideas via this platform.


Up to 10 designs will be chosen as winning submissions in this phase, to share in a prize pool of AU$15,000 during the first phase. Winners of Phase 2 will share in a prize pool of $3,000.

Beyond monetary rewards, winners will have the opportunity to engage with experts, have their designs showcased online and tested by groups throughout Australia.

Challenge Rules

The challenge is open to Australian Residents/Citizens or a team with at least one Australian Resident as a contributing member. All submissions must originate from Australia or have been substantially transformed in Australia. Submissions must be made in English, and communication related to the challenge will be conducted in English.

For more information about the challenge, head to Freelancer.

UNSW Sunswift Racing claims Bridgestone World Solar Challenge victory after wind drama in Outback

Image from Sunswift Racing

UNSW Sydney’s student-built Sunswift 7 solar-powered car has been declared the winner of the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge (Cruiser Class) after strong winds wiped out the entire race.

The Sunswift car was dominantly leading the points classification on day four of the 3600km race from Darwin to Adelaide last week, before weather conditions threw the competition into disarray.

Competitors in the Cruiser Class were required to arrive at Coober Pedy from Alice Springs (a distance of around 650km) before 5pm – but they were all severely hampered by the wind.

The conditions put such a toll on all the car’s batteries that none of the five entrants still racing at that point were able to complete the stage in the allotted time, and they were all subsequently ruled out of the rest of the Challenge.

Race organisers subsequently announced that the final results would be based on the standings from the previous checkpoint at Tennant Creek, where Sunswift was well ahead of its rivals in first place.

In the Cruiser Class event, positions are based not purely on which car drives the fastest, but instead on a points system which takes into consideration the energy usage of the car, the number of people inside the car and also therefore its ‘practicality’, as well as the time taken to complete each stage.

Sunswift was significantly ahead on points throughout the race until the unfortunate conclusion due to carrying three passengers plus its driver, as well as being ahead of the other Cruiser cars on the road in each completed stage.

Despite that, the team still had to wait until a final scrutineering session on Saturday when a panel of judges gave an additional score to each car based on criteria such as design innovation, environmental impact, ease of access and egress, occupant space and comfort, ease of operation (driving and charging), versatility, and style and desirability.

Sunswift received high marks from the judges and the team were officially announced as Cruiser Class champions at an awards event in Adelaide on Sunday evening.

Following all calculations, Sunswift finished top of the rankings to claim the trophy, ahead of the University of Minnesota in second place, with Team Solaride from Estonia taking third.

It is the first time an Australian car has won the Cruiser Class category in the World Solar Challenge since it was first introduced back in 2015.

Sunswift 7 already holds a Guinness World Record after completing 1,000km on a single charge in under 12 hours in December 2022.

Sunswift Racing team principal, Professor of Practice Richard Hopkins, said: “I could not be more proud of this team for what they have achieved.

“The work the students have done is simply amazing and I can only say positive things because they have been so focused and committed and professional.

“This is called a Challenge for a reason – and it is obviously not an easy race. When you are competing against the best in the world you have to go right to the edge of what is possible. And when you are at the very margins then something uncontrollable like the wind can play a big part.

“But overall what we achieved is a massive success. We were the fastest car in the pre-race time-trial, we were ahead on the road, we were ahead on points and we travelled further than any other team.”

Bridgestone World Solar Challenge race director Chris Selwood AM acknowledged the difficult conditions all the teams faced on the stage into Coober Pedy.

“The teams in this event are testing cutting edge technology, often not in market and driving beyond the range of current electric vehicles,” he said.

“To win the Cruiser Class takes a combination of strategic energy management, endurance and more than a little style. These solar electric cars, designed to bring the green to the mainstream, have never been about being first across the line.”

Sunswift 8: say hi to hydrogen

With the 2023 World Solar Challenge now complete, the team of student engineers that makes up the UNSW Sunswift project will now focus on developing and building a brand-new car in 2024 that might not even be allowed to race in the WSC due to current regulations.

That’s because Sunswift 8 is likely to feature hydrogen fuel cells, in addition to solar panels.

Current designs indicate it will be a two-seater sports car that is capable of completing laps of Mount Panorama, where the famous Bathurst 1000 race takes place, only 20-30 seconds slower than the fastest V8 Supercars.

It also promises to be more environmentally-friendly with the chassis potentially made of hemp and flax rather than carbon fibre.

“Sunswift 8 won’t just be a hybrid, it will be a tri-brid, utilising solar, batteries and hydrogen fuel cells in combination,” Prof. Hopkins said.

“It means the car could potentially run on all three of those technologies, or just one at a time. Potentially there will be a little dial on the steering wheel to select which is being used.

“If you are just going round the corner to the shops you maybe just select solar. If the car is being used to drive to Canberra then perhaps you use battery and hydrogen. And if you are doing a lap of Bathurst then you might choose all three to give it the full beans.”

Mass coral breeding methods amidst raft of breakthroughs to protect reefs

Image: Wave Energy Experiements. Credit Gemma Molinaro, AIMS

These semi-automated and robotic methods make it possible to increase the number of corals bred in aquaculture from a few thousand a year to tens of millions.

This is just one of a raft of scientific and engineering breakthroughs that have been made through the Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program (RRAP) – the world’s largest R&D program to protect an ecosystem from climate change. The program aims to provide the critical step-change needed to achieve coral reef restoration at scale and give real hope for the future of the world’s reefs.

The World Meteorological Organization confirmed July was the world’s hottest month ever recorded, with ocean temperatures reaching the highest level ever for this time of year. This has already sparked catastrophic bleaching on coral reefs in the Florida Keys and the Caribbean and scientists are warning ocean temperatures are likely to continue to rise as the impacts of climate change intensify.

To prepare for these warming ocean temperatures, we’ve been focused on developing solutions that will enable millions of heat tolerant corals to be planted on the Great Barrier Reef, and coral reefs around the world.

The breakthroughs that will help coral reefs resist, adapt to, and recover from warming ocean temperatures include:

  • Semi-automated and robotic methods to mass produce corals and year-round coral propagation methods
  • The acceleration of heat tolerance of several coral species in the lab
  • Seeding devices engineered to deliver these coral babies en masse to reefs in a way that enhances survival in their vulnerable first year
  • Cryopreserving over a trillion coral sperm which are ready to be thawed and used to re-populate damaged reefs
  • The development of new models which vastly improve our ability to predict where interventions are best deployed, and how well they will function
  • Building prototypes for fogging and cloud brightening machines that can shade corals from heat and light intensity, and could reduce the impact of heatwaves.

Great Barrier Reef Foundation Managing Director Anna Marsden said: “The recent heat records are underscoring what the science has been telling us – coral reefs are on the frontline of climate change and global emissions reduction remains the most important action we can take to secure their future.

“However, warming ocean temperatures are locked in, meaning emissions reductions alone are no longer enough to safeguard coral reefs for the next generation. We must pioneer a toolbox of solutions to help protect the reefs we have left, restore lost reefs and help corals adapt to warming ocean temperatures.”

Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program Executive Director Dr Cedric Robillot said: “The speed at which climate change impacts are unfolding on coral reefs around the world is alarming and current restoration efforts can’t keep up.

“These breakthroughs are game changing as they are designed to be applied at scales of thousands of square kilometres – completely transcending current notions of coral reef repair, which are mostly done by hand on a few square metres of reef.

“We’ve been able to achieve this by bringing together a diverse group of 350 experts including biologists, data scientists, ecologists, engineers, geographers, mathematicians and social scientists to work alongside Traditional Owners and passionate Reef community members. And it’s working – we’ve made more advances in coral reef restoration science in the past three years than we have in the past three decades.”

Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program partner quotes

The Australian Institute of Marine Science acting CEO Basil Ahyick highlighted the importance of building fundamental knowledge to develop end-to-end solutions that can be applied at scale on the Great Barrier Reef and other reef systems around the world.

“The challenge is enormous. Using our state-of-the-art National Sea Simulator facility and research vessels, we are pushing the boundaries of coral aquaculture to develop large-scale, tech-driven breeding and coral seeding techniques to help fast-track reef recovery. We are also developing ways to enhance coral heat tolerance to help safeguard Australian reefs for a warmer future.

“These innovations are supported by lasting relationships with Traditional Owners.

“If and when the time comes, decisions will be guided by information we are gaining from field studies, and ecological and decision models we are developing to determine where and when these efforts will be most effective.”

CSIRO Environment, Energy and Resources Executive Director Peter Mayfield believes it’s an important time to be a part of the Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program as it looks ahead to piloting new restoration approaches developed over the last three years.

“With our partners we have developed ways to collect coral larvae from heathy reefs and move these to reefs that need help to recover. Our environmental modelling is showing us how reef ecosystems will respond to this extra help under climate change – so we know it’s worth doing,” Dr Mayfield said.

The University of Queensland Executive Dean of the Faculty of Science Professor Melissa Brown said: “UQ is proud to be contributing to the outcomes of the RRAP program, leveraging our long-

standing commitment to combatting global reef ecosystem challenges, and the outstanding facilities at the UQ Heron Island Research Station.

“As part of RRAP, our scientists are investigating methods to stabilise damaged reef surfaces where dead or degraded corals have become loose and unconsolidated rubble, preventing or slowing reef recovery.

“Rubble stabilisation as a reef restoration technique is in its infancy, but could prove to be an invaluable tool in saving our precious Reef.”

QUT Executive Director, Industry Engagement, Dr Erin Rayment, said: “QUT is developing technologies and interventions to help prevent coral bleaching and restore the reef, in collaboration with communities and stakeholders.

“Our scientists have created a world-first way to easily count baby coral using state-of-the-art computer vision and artificial intelligence. We are developing processes to translate research into real-world actions to restore the reef,” Dr Rayment said.

“Significantly, our researchers are collaborating across QUT and with partners like AIMS to amplify the impact of our work. This is demonstrated in the recent project that developed an adhesive that sticks coral to reef rubble for reef re-seeding and stabilisation projects.”

Southern Cross University Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research and Academic Capability) Professor Mary Spongberg said: “Given the sea temperatures we have seen this year in the Northern Hemisphere, techniques such as Cloud Brightening and Fogging may prove critical to the preservation of the Great Barrier Reef, as bleaching and heat stress seem inevitable. The work our researchers have undertaken as part of the RRAP has prepared us to deal with these increasingly catastrophic climate conditions.”

James Cook University Deputy Vice Chancellor, Research, Professor Jenny Seddon said: “JCU is proud to be a partner of RRAP and has played a crucial role in the Program’s research outcomes.

“We have made breakthroughs in coral aquaculture research to boost coral larval survival and promote coral production, such as seeding new corals. JCU has also played a central role in a collaborative monitoring project, based at Moore Reef off the Cairns’ coast, with scientists working alongside Traditional Owners, tourism operators and the community to design, train local partners, and successfully implement citizen-science based monitoring of RRAP’s coral seeding field trials,” Professor Seddon said.

The Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program is funded by the partnership between the Australian Government’s Reef Trust and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, partners include the Australian Institute of Marine Science, CSIRO, the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, The University of Queensland, Queensland University of Technology, Southern Cross University and James Cook University.

Scientists from UNSW Sydney reveal biases in the field of coral reef research

Image: Shutterstock

Coral reefs support approximately 25 per cent of marine species, and are essential to coastal economies, such as the fishing and tourism industries, to name a few. But coral reefs worldwide are at risk due to climate change and are on the brink of collapse. 

The global decline of coral reefs has encouraged extensive research. Now, scientists from UNSW Sydney have assessed the current landscape of coral health research to reveal biases in the field.  

The team discovered that most papers on coral reef research are published from within the US and Australia, while researchers from countries with large coral reefs, such as The Maldives and Papua New Guinea, are underrepresented. As these reefs are also on the brink of collapse, the UNSW research team emphasises the importance of local experts to be included. 

They also identified key topic areas that are underrepresented within the existing literature, including coral bioerosion and the microbiome, both of which are important to paint a more complete picture of the state of our reefs.  

The team hope the findings published today in the Journal of Ecological Solutions and Evidence will help inform marine ecologists on the understudied areas of coral research, increase funding in underrepresented countries and raise public trust in science.  

“The idea behind this research was to take stock of what information we have, like a bird’s eye view of the research,” says Samantha Burke, a PhD candidate and lead author on the study from the UNSW School of Biological, Earth & Environmental Sciences (BEES).  

“We wanted to provide clear data on the topic areas that we’ve looked at, as well as the areas that require further research, and also to provide some ideas and evidence-backed directions for where we can improve coral health research as a whole.”

Taking a holistic view of the research 

For the study, the team synthesised 335 literature papers on coral health and documented a number of key characteristics, such as details of the authors – including affiliated country – the key themes explored in the papers, the methods used in each publication and the research integrity of the study. They also used systematic maps to report the state of knowledge within the field, identifying research gaps, most studied themes, and timelines of when topics gained popularity.  

“By weaving together these different techniques, we can get a more holistic view of what’s missing, and perhaps some explanations as to why there are certain biases within the field,” says Ms Burke.  

The final part of the methodology is a critical appraisal using a set of predetermined criteria for transparency and rigour within research. For example, whether these studies openly share the data and type of analysis they used.  

“I think it’s important for people to be held accountable,” says Ms Burke. “We want to push this research area into a better place, not just within the field itself, but also in terms of public trust in science as a whole.” 

Highlighting biases in the field 

Key study topics identified were climate change and coral resilience, at 50 per cent and 42 per cent, respectively. Bioerosion of corals – the removal of coral material by other living reef organisms – was the least studied.  

“Through this analysis, we have revealed key gaps in coral health topics for further review, particularly when considering conservation policy,” says Ms Burke. “Bio-erosion and the coral microbiome – the bacteria that lives in its tissues – are not fully understood yet. These two facets, particularly the coral microbiome, could drastically change our understanding of how coral health is affected by climate change and human activities.”  

While their analysis found that the authors of these papers are highly interconnected, they discovered that authors from countries such as Maldives and Papua New Guinea, are not as represented within the literature as they should be for the amount of coral reefs within those ocean territories.  

This bias, referred to as academic colonialism, omits the knowledge base of the researchers who live and breathe the threats to and benefits of these major coral reef systems. The team warn that this could leave certain threats unaddressed and certain reefs unprotected from the stressors that lead to reef decline. 

“So, for example, as we had seen that most of the researchers are coming from America, it might explain why we have so much research on coral bleaching, because there have been lots of coral bleaching events that have been well documented in the Caribbean and Hawaii, compared to events that are happening in other coral reefs, for example, disease outbreaks in the Coral Sea, right off the coast of Indonesia.” 

Additionally, using citation information and alternative metrics of impact, the data also provide a sense of the reach of the research within and outside of academia, for example, whether work has been used in policymaking or conservation practices. 

The team found that over 80 per cent of papers stated that the review’s primary purpose was to inform coral conservation. However, data the team collected from a citation repository also revealed that the reviews were only cited in policy 0.565 times, on average.  

“We were surprised to find that very little of the research was actually reaching outside of academia. Incorporating research in policy could be improved through greater research accessibility and continuing to gather public interest in coral reefs.” 

Increasing public trust in science 

The researchers hope that in being transparent about the current research landscape, they can encourage higher standards of research integrity. “Identifying areas where we can make science more accessible to the public is definitely going to improve how we can engage with our intended audiences as researchers.” 

By highlighting countries with large coral reef ecosystems, such as The Maldives and Indonesia, which are underrepresented in the literature, Ms Burke hopes that these biases can be addressed with changes in funding.  

“These local researchers provide a wealth of knowledge and are intimately familiar with the community’s relationship with coral reefs. When we include these researchers in studies of coral health, we tap into a great source of information and encourage a passion for coral reef conservation in the public.” 

Importantly, the methods used in the study are very reproducible, systematic processes that scientists in other areas of research can use to conduct similar assessments in their field of interest.  

“These methods are relatively new to ecology, and especially new in terms of marine ecology,” says Ms Burke. “So, seeing these techniques get picked up in other topics could provide a better picture of what’s going on in our reefs and what’s going on in our oceans.”

Ultimately, the team hope that this research will push coral health research in a new direction – one that produces research of higher quality, collaboration, and efficiency. 

“As coral reefs decline, we should also aim to rebuild public trust in research and strengthen the evidence base for the imperative conservation of our reefs.”

Deep freezing native plants at risk of extinction

Image: Dr Alice Hayward in the greenhouse with a gossia plant. Credit: Megan Pope, UQ

A process similar to that used to store human embryos is being used by scientists at The University of Queensland to save native Australian plants under threat from the invasive fungus, myrtle rust.

Teams from UQ’s Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation and Botanic Gardens of Sydney are cryogenically preserving tissue from some of the most impacted plants of the Myrtaceae family, including native guava and rainforest shrubs and trees.

Dr Alice Hayward said the spread of myrtle rust has placed hundreds of Myrtaceae species under pressure, with some now at risk of extinction.

“Myrtle rust affects the ability of the worst impacted species to reproduce and some of these species are no longer producing seed in the wild,” Dr Hayward said.

“On top of this, seeds from affected rainforest species often cannot be stored in a seed bank as they don’t survive the standard drying or freezing processes.

“To prevent them from being wiped out by the fungus, we are hoping to bring those species into the lab and place them into a frozen but living state using a process called cryopreservation.

“This enables them to be safely secured while other researchers work out how to deal with myrtle rust in the environment.

“To do this we take a tiny shoot, treat it with special protectants and plunge it into liquid nitrogen where it can be stored indefinitely,” Dr Hayward said.

“We can then revive that shoot tip and use tissue culture to multiply it and produce plants that could be put back into the wild.

“We are trying to preserve those species that we know are at most risk of extinction in the immediate future, to capture that biodiversity before it’s too late.”

The process is not simple.

UQ’s Dr Chris O’Brien used the technique to create a cryopreservation protocol for avocado.

“To develop a cryopreservation protocol for each species you must optimise every step of the process to ensure the survival of the shoot tip, which is a lot of work,” Dr O’Brien said.

“That includes a tissue culture system that delivers nutrients and the correct requirements for the plant to survive, as well as how best to treat the tissue to dehydrate it before it can be stored in liquid nitrogen.”

Despite the complexity, Dr Hayward said the conservation work was something she was passionate about.

“For each plant species we need a different tissue culture formulation, as even within a species, different individuals can sometimes require different treatments,” Dr Hayward said.

“We’ll be working with a team from Botanic Gardens of Sydney based at the Australian PlantBank at the Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan to develop protocols for six species.

“Once the protocols are developed, the species will be safely stored in PlantBank’s cryopreservation tank.

“We are doing something important that can contribute to protecting the unique Australian biodiversity and environment that we call home.”

The UQ team is part of a collaborative Australian Research Council project team, led by Professor Ricardo Mancera at Curtin University in Western Australia.

Green hydrogen project takes Curtinnovation Awards’ biggest prize

The water electrolysis method developed by Curtin University Professor Zongping Shao and PhD candidate Ms Jiayi Tang works on unpurified water sources, including seawater. Their approach uses an alternative catalyst that costs just one tenth of existing methods and could produce green hydrogen at 60 per cent of the current cost.

Curtin Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research, Professor Melinda Fitzgerald congratulated the new generation of innovators.

“This year’s field of finalists was incredibly impressive, and I want to congratulate all of them for their outstanding work in trying to solve some of the world’s most difficult challenges,” Professor Fitzgerald said.

“As the global call for decarbonisation intensifies, it’s especially pleasing to see this year’s Griffith Hack Winner go to a project that is focussed on solving the energy needs of the future.

“I look forward to following Professor Shao and Ms Tang, along with all the Curtinnovation teams as they continue their journeys towards commercialisation of their fantastic innovations.”

The green hydrogen project was one of 10 bold new products and services named winners at the Curtinnovation Awards 2023 event, including a deployable sensor system capable of flying under the radar to track aircraft and satellites, a theory based chatbot designed to support mental health in young people, an AI-driven model to predict the quality of a pineapple that doesn’t damage the fruit, and a leading national education platform that is improving access to school content.

The annual Curtinnovation Awards recognise Curtin’s commitment to transforming exceptional research into new products and services that benefit the community, with leading research acknowledged across Curtin’s Faculties of Science and Engineering, Health Sciences, Business and Law and Humanities. Prizes are also awarded for the top submissions from a Curtin Entrepreneurs program graduate, the Learning and Teaching department, International or Student team, and the Trailblazer prize for the submission that can benefit the critical minerals and resources industry. 

The winners from the 2023 Curtinnovation Awards include:

  • Griffith Hack Overall Winner – Green Hydrogen: an electrolyser to produce green hydrogen from untreated water

The two existing methods for extracting hydrogen from water have their limitations: one process requires ultrapure water and an expensive catalyst, the other requires significantly higher energy inputs for the same level of hydrogen production. Curtin researchers have created a new water electrolysis method that employs unpurified water sources, including sea water. Their approach uses an alternative catalyst that costs just one tenth of existing methods, calculated to offer up to a 38% cost saving in hydrogen production. This exciting development could be a cost effective, plentiful source of hydrogen that contributes to the achievement of global zero carbon goals. 

Team: Professor Zongping Shao and Ms Jiayi Tang

Video: Watch the team video here.

  • Business & Law Award –Curtin ANI Research: An automated self-service market research solution​ for SMES

ANI Research is a self-serve, market research platform that helps businesses understand their customers’ needs, identify new opportunities, test new products and make data-driven decisions. The fully automated platform draws from a bank of proven questions to create a customised survey with associated analysis and data presentation templates. Data is collected via shareable survey links or consumer panel services, and the statistically validated analytics are applied to the results. Rather than only providing data to the business, the automated analysis and interpretation assists in creating true insight.  Disrupting the domain of full-service market research agencies, ANI Research’s affordable subscription model makes rigorous market research accessible to even the most modestly funded organisations and start-ups and empowers and educates clients to make informed data-driven decisions. 

Team: Professor Billy Sung, Dr Sean Lee. 

Video: Watch the team video here.

  • Curtin Entrepreneurs Award- Tempo: A two-sided marketplace for health providers and health professionals

Tempo is a new web app designed to help address Australia’s growing healthcare needs. The innovative two-sided platform helps healthcare providers find available, qualified practitioners to fill shifts quickly in a variety of healthcare settings, while allowing freelance healthcare professionals the chance to nominate their availability, and to negotiate their pay rate for each shift they accept. Previously, agencies have acted as the hub between professionals and providers, but the Tempo app now gives all parties greater flexibility. The web app offers self-employed healthcare professionals more control over their work-life balance, helping avoid burnout, while healthcare providers who have previously relied on a time-consuming booking process, now have instant access to a pool of practitioners with just one post.  

Team: Ms Nicola Cuthbert

Video: Watch the team video here.

  • Health Sciences Award- MYLO: A novel mental health chatbot

Manage Your Life Online, or MYLO, is an AI web-based chatbot that generates specific questions for individual users, prompting users to ask questions they may not have thought to ask themselves. The app is designed to emulate ‘Method of Levels’ therapy, which encourages users to listen to themselves. It also uses elements of Perceptual Control Theory, prompting users to find ways to change their perception of challenges they face to better manage their life and emotions. Users are able to rate the helpfulness of each question, informing and improving future questioning. The Curtin MYLO project team has forged strong ties around the globe with mental health service providers, commercial entities and development partners interested in researching, funding and distributing MYLO. In the future, the team anticipate translations of the app to other languages and platforms to support a wider international audience.   

Team: Professor Warren Mansell, Ms Aimee-Rose Wrightson-Hester, Professor Melanie Johnston-Hollitt, Mr Joel Dunstan, Mx Georgia Anderson

Video: Watch the team video here.

  • Humanities Award- Marri Gum Dye: a natural dye extract from the Western Australian Marri gum

With the global textile industry seeking out sustainable alternatives to toxic synthetic dyes, this offers a new, energy-efficient method to produce a natural dye from the iconic Western Australian marri tree. Marri gum contains up to 70% soluble and insoluble tannins, giving it the potential to become an effective natural dye, but up until now, the insoluble elements, which cause colour inconsistences, have proven difficult to remove. The discovery is an efficient way to separate the soluble and insoluble fractions of the gum in cold water to create a water-soluble extract that produces yellow-brown colours on cloth, or with the addition of a food-grade reducing agent, pink to pinkish-red hues.   The next step is a collaboration with Aboriginal artists participating in the Noongar Arts Program who are exploring natural, locally made dyes for the creation of their work. The team envisages a commercialisation model led by Noongar businesses for harvesting and producing the dye, with the support of state and federal government initiatives. 

Team: Ms Helen Coleman 

Video: Watch the team video here.

  • International Award- Pine-sense: A new AI-driven model to predict pineapple quality based on skin colours

The humble pineapple fruit is popular worldwide, with the global pineapple market forecast to reach US$23.1 billion by 2026. However, current methods to test the flavour profile and quality of a pineapple prior to sale are time consuming and invasive, destroying the fruit in the process. Researchers at Curtin Malaysia have developed Pine Sense, a non-destructive AI method that identifies a correlation between the colour of the fruit’s shell and its sweetness or acidity.  An image of each pineapple is separated from its background, and its colour data is assessed through quality prediction modelling. Pine Sense’s ability to quickly and accurately assess pineapples, without destroying the fruit, makes it possible to grade individual fruit for different sectors of the market during processing. With Malaysia producing on average 400,000 to 600,000 tons of pineapples yearly, this new innovation aims to benefit the local and wider pineapple market by helping producers identify higher quality varieties, while reducing product waste. 

Team:  Dr Christine Yeo Wan Sieng, Mr Eric Chua Yong Hong (Curtin Malaysia)

Video: Watch the team video here.

  • Learning & Teaching Award- Elucidate Education: a not-for-profit education platform

Elucidate Education is Australia’s largest not-for-profit education platform, making upper secondary school learning resources accessible to all students, regardless of their circumstances.  Curtin students have joined forces with a large team of university volunteers to create curriculum-based textbooks, online content and videos that are already proving to be effective. To date, 82,000 students globally have accessed the material, with many expressing a preference for these learning resources.  While the textbooks are available for purchase by all students and high schools, Elucidate Education also uses a two-for-one donation model aimed at supplying every third textbook for free to students who are financially disadvantaged, or who are under-resourced due to regional isolation. Following its initial roll-out in Western Australia and Victoria, Elucidate Education has an Australia-wide expansion plan to increase the number of volunteers writing textbooks for middle and upper school learning. The team is also developing a production studio for the creation of educational content.  

Team: Mr Christian Bien, Mr Jack Anderson, Mr Patrick Catambay, Ms Hannah Knight, Mr Ben Whitten 

Video: Watch the team video here.

  • Science & Engineering Award- Space Domain Awareness: a deployable sensor system

Curtin researchers have harnessed their expertise in imaging distant galaxies to create a highly portable and ‘invisible’ radar system, with exciting potential applications for the defence and aerospace industries. The Space Domain Awareness (or SDA) system was designed in-house and looks for reflections of FM radio and TV station signals that have bounced off objects in the sky.  Using this method, the SDA system does not broadcast its position, unlike conventional radar systems, which transmit a dedicated signal and look for its reflections. By employing techniques from radio astronomy applications, such as low noise amplification of weak signals, the SDA system has the capability to track aircraft or even objects in orbit thousands of kilometres away. The highly portable system was manufactured in Western Australia and can be deployed by a small team in under two hours. 

Team: Associate Professor Randall Wayth, Ms Emmaline Yearsley, Mr Jake Jones, Ms Aoife Stapleton, Ms Mia Walker, Mr Luke Verduyn

Video: Watch the team video here.

  • Student Award- MacroMop: Enhanced immune cells to remove diseased tissue

A special type of immune cell could offer an alternative treatment pathway for patients with infections that have become immune to antibiotics, or patients with cancers that are not responding to chemotherapy. The cells, known as macrophages and microglia, consume and remove infected and damaged tissue in a process known as phagocytosis. A team of Curtin researchers have identified a novel protein, present in the macrophage cell, that when increased, dials up the rate and capacity of phagocytosis. These ‘super active’ macrophages could potentially be applied or injected into specific infection sites or tumours to ‘consume’ the diseased tissue more quickly. While macrophage therapy is currently being explored, the use of this protein is new and presents a novel way to increase the utility of macrophage therapy. The next phase of research will look into the potential of other further therapeutic uses, such as improving the skin condition of burns patients, enhancing pathogen recognition by macrophages in infections, and modifying the environment of solid tumours. 

Team: Ms Melissa Eccles, Dr Benjamin Dwyer, Associate Professor Giuseppe Verdile

Video: Watch the team video here

  • Trailblazer Award- Hydrobe®: a scalable carbon capture process

Finding ways to capture and recycle carbon discharged by heavy industries is critical to achieving net zero emissions targets. Western Australian company Hydrobe has developed a new, sustainable approach to decarbonisation that uses a biological process to convert carbon into algal biomass, without generating new carbon. Hydrobe is using Curtin research to quantify and improve the effectiveness of recycling carbon into organic carbon while co-producing hydrogen. As Hydrobe’s core technology doesn’t require high heat or pressure, the cost, size and energy footprint of large-scale photosynthetic reactor systems are reduced. A recent independent study has confirmed the viability of Hydrobe’s process at scale, and an ability to produce hydrogen for less than USD$2 per kilogram. 

Team: Mr Brent Bonadeo (Co-Founder and Executive Director, Hydrobe), Mr Duncan Anderson (Chair, Hydrobe), Mr Jaco Zandberg (Head of Research & Development, Hydrobe), Dr Nadia LeineckerDr Milinkumar Shah, DrSufia Hena, Associate Professor Tejas Bhatelia. 

Video: Watch the team video here.

Construction begins on world-first natural gas research facility

Image: Curtin Corrosion Centre Director and Emeritus Professor Brian Kinsella, Chevron Australia Gorgon FEI Team Lead Michael Krachler, and Curtin Project Lead Dr Ammar Al Helal.

Building work has begun on a landmark natural gas research facility which could significantly shape future offshore projects around the world.

Curtin University and Chevron Australia are partnering on a $4 million Extreme Service Flow Loop facility, which broke ground today at Technology Park, near the University’s Bentley campus.

Project Chief Investigator Dr Ammar Al Helal said natural gas is vital to transition to clean energy and the innovative research project aims to revolutionise how offshore facilities manage corrosion, which can be a costly and time-consuming challenge.

“The flow loop will be made from Hastelloy, a high nickel alloy able to withstand extreme corrosive conditions,” Dr Al Helal said.

“It will simulate various corrosive conditions found inside pipelines and other high-flow environments in the industry.

“This will allow operators to better measure and predict the effects of corrosion on a given project, which will not only reduce costs but also reduce the risk of damage to infrastructure and the environment.”

The Curtin and Chevron project will not only offer an Australian-based alternative to overseas testing but will also be the only flow loop in the world capable of mimicking corrosive conditions in the presence of mercury vapour, which in other facilities can result in escalated costs, lengthy time delays and limited control over testing.

Curtin Corrosion Centre Director and Emeritus Professor Brian Kinsella said the flow loop would also be an invaluable training opportunity, with several PhD research programs using it to obtain data for controlling corrosion.

“The projects will train students in the use of pressure vessels and flow equipment important for work in the petroleum industry,” Professor Kinsella said.

“The flow loop will be available to other companies for research and development purposes after the completion of the Chevron research program.

“This partnership is an excellent example of academia and industry working together for the mutual benefit of all.”

Phase one of the project is the construction of a building with special facilities which will house the flow loop, which will be installed once the building is completed.

“Today, we are witnessing the successful outcomes of the diligent efforts of the internal corrosion team, brilliantly led initially by the late Dr Ahmed Barifcani and supported by team members Dr Al Helal and Darwin Hartono,” Professor Kinsella said.

Refraction Media celebrates 10 years of busting STEM stereotypes

Refraction Media co-founders Karen Taylor-Brown and Heather Catchpole location at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, producing the US edition of Careers with Code. Image: Supplied.

In 2014, Meghan Trainor was singing ‘All About That Bass’, everything was ‘basic’ and ‘software developer’ was the number one job. Most young people had stereotyped ideas about the hoodie-wearing tech guy, and less than 2% of students were graduating computer science. It was also the year the very first edition of Careers with Code magazine was released, with Google as a founding sponsor. 

We headed to Google in Sydney, photographed people on scooters and in plant-filled offices, and packed the magazine with stories of how people really worked in tech – like product manager Ganesh Shankar, who worked with doctors to help safely share patient data outside of isolated environments during the largest Ebola outbreak in history in March 2014. 

In that first issue, we created the concept of STEM + X (where ‘X’ stands for your passion or goal), and focused on busting stereotypes about people working in tech. We featured the Aussie founders of Atlassian, software engineers behind the tech for ‘design-your-own’ shoe fashion, and programmers working on marine sonar technology.

In 2015, Careers with Code went global to the United States and New Zealand, and in 2016 the mag was promoted by then US President Barack Obama.

In 10 years, we’ve distributed 2 million free magazines to high schools across the globe, expanding to a different area of STEM for each school term, and creating special issues on everything from quantum technologies to space, defence, and even digital retail.

We’ve made 26 Job Kits that deep dive into special areas like metaverse engineer, machine learning engineer, game designer, and software developer (we still need them!).

Through events, free mags, websites and newsletters, we’ve reached well over 4 million people.

Today, Australia has a goal to hire 1.2 million new workers in tech by 2030, while New Zealand’s digital tech sector is growing at 10.4% per year. And with mega advances in AI and data, we need to ensure equitable development of technology, with more women, people of colour, people with disabilities and First Nations people working in technology.

Enrolment rates for women in IT degrees have increased from 13% to 18% in the five years from 2015 to 2020. There’s still a long way to go, and so much inspiration that you’ll find in this 10th issue.

Make sure you also check out this website to find your ‘X’, plus quizzes and videos to help you find a career in tech, whatever your interests are.

Electronic sensor the size of a single molecule a potential game-changer

Piezoresistors are commonly used to detect vibrations in electronics such as smart phones for counting steps. Image: Shutterstock

Australian researchers have developed a molecular-sized, more efficient version of a widely used
electronic sensor, in a breakthrough that could bring widespread benefits.

Piezoresistors are commonly used to detect vibrations in electronics and automobiles, such as in smart
phones for counting steps, and for airbag deployment in cars. They are also used in medical devices
such as implantable pressure sensors, as well as in aviation and space travel.

In a nationwide initiative, researchers led by Dr Nadim Darwish from Curtin University, Professor Jeffrey
Reimers from the University of Technology Sydney, Associate Professor Daniel Kosov from James Cook
, and Dr Thomas Fallon from the University of Newcastle, have developed a piezoresistor that
is about 500,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair.

Dr Darwish said they had developed a more sensitive, miniaturised type of this key electronic component, which transforms force or pressure to an electrical signal and is used in many everyday applications.

“Because of its size and chemical nature, this new type of piezoresistor will open up a whole new realm
of opportunities for chemical and biosensors, human-machine interfaces, and health monitoring devices,” Dr Darwish said.

“As they are molecular-based, our new sensors can be used to detect other chemicals or biomolecules
like proteins and enzymes, which could be game-changing for detecting diseases.”

Dr Fallon said the new piezoresistor was made from a single bullvalene molecule that when mechanically
strained reacts to form a new molecule of different shape, altering electricity flow by changing resistance.

“The different chemical forms are known as isomers, and this is the first time that reactions between them have been used to develop piezoresistors,” Dr Fallon said.

“We have been able to model the complex series of reactions that take place, understanding how single
molecules can react and transform in real time.”

Professor Reimers said the significance of this was the ability to electrically detect the change in the
shape of a reacting molecule, back and forth, at about once every 1 millisecond.

“Detecting molecular shapes from their electrical conductance is a whole new concept of chemical
sensing,” Professor Reimers said.

Associate Professor Kosov said understanding the relationship between molecular shape and
conductivity will allow basic properties of junctions between molecules and attached metallic conductors to be determined.

“This new capability is critical to the future development of all molecular electronics devices,” Associate
Professor Kosov said.

Opinion: We must future-proof Australia’s high-performance-computing framework

High performance computing (HPC) has been a mainstay of research institutions worldwide
for five decades, turbocharging scientific invention and innovation in numerous fields.

From groundbreaking medical research for new cancer treatments to the search for the first
stars and galaxies, HPC has consistently played an instrumental role in many home-grown

Yet, as the demand for well-supported HPC resources continues to grow, Australia’s existing
infrastructure is significantly constraining researchers. Serious issues that are impeding
progress include hardware limitations and reliability, as well as a lack of support with respect
to software development, maintenance and optimisation. 

Currently, researchers must compete for time on Australia’s national facilities: the Pawsey
Supercomputing Research Centre and the National Computational Infrastructure.

Unfortunately, requests for time far exceed the time available. Put simply, these facilities are
oversubscribed which is impeding research.

Also, the constant and rapid advance of computing technology, combined with an increasing
diversity of researcher needs, means more and more end-users either lack or cannot access
the expertise required to effectively leverage HPC. This is being compounded by the rise of
computationally hungry artificial intelligence (AI), which is increasingly becoming a standard
tool in research. Many early-career researchers, and those unfamiliar with the niche skillset
required to use HPC effectively, are disadvantaged. 

In addition, researchers often face prolonged wait times from application to allocation. This is
another impediment to the timely publication of results in a fast-paced world of research

When researchers cannot access the HPC resources they need, the flow-on effects are
extensive, including a much longer runway for commercialisation or simply missed
opportunities for innovation. 

To address these challenges, the model which governs how HPC resources are allocated
could be refined. Providing researchers with more autonomy and flexibility to select their
HPC provider from a group that includes certified commercial facilities would ensure they get
the fit-for-purpose resources they need, when they need them. 

Globally, precedents have been set with respect to HPC funding for both national and
commercial providers. For instance, the UK Meteorological Office announced a move to the
cloud with a £1.2 billion investment to capitalise on the power of commercial HPC. 

As the proliferation of AI intensifies the demand for agile HPC solutions is more crucial than
ever. Commercial HPC providers procure hardware just in time, bypassing the limitations of
multi-year cycles. This approach ensures that researchers receive timely access to the latest

Moreover, commercial HPC companies can prioritise tailored solutions, with HPC experts
dedicated to addressing each researcher’s distinct needs and challenges, empowering them
to focus solely on their scientific endeavours.

The Albanese Government’s agreement to all 10 recommendations of the Review of the
Australian Research Council Act 2001 is welcome. It’s also encouraging to see that Federal
Education Minister Jason Clare is likewise focussed on strengthening Australia’s research
landscape, ensuring it remains responsive to contemporary challenges.

The HPC sector is looking forward to the review and is committed to collaborating with the
Government to support scientific advancement in diverse sectors such as health, defence,
space exploration, life sciences, and environmental research.

Written by Stuart Strickland, Chief Operating Officer, DUG Technology

Sanofi partnership brings global research development to Gold Coast

Image: Dr Iris Depaz, Managing Director TSH & Country Medical Lead, Sanofi AuNZ, Vice Chancellor and President Professor Carolyn Evans, Griffith University, Acting Deputy Director General, Mark Tierney – Queensland State Government. Supplied.

Sanofi, one of the world’s leading healthcare companies, has  progressed its partnership with Griffith University by officially opening its latest research  site at the university’s Gold Coast campus, which will bring global biomedical research  and development (R&D) to the Coast.  

The partnership forms part of the Translational Science Hub (TSH), an exciting  collaboration that links world-class researchers in Queensland, and now the Gold Coast, with scientists at the Sanofi mRNA Centre of Excellence in France and the United States  to develop the next generation of immunisations.  

A first of its kind, TSH is a $280 million partnership between Sanofi, the Queensland  Government, Griffith University, and the University of Queensland that is putting the  Sunshine State at the forefront of mRNA vaccine development and biomedical research  in Australia. 

Operating at the cutting-edge of science, Griffith University offers state-of-the art  technology and leading experts in infectious disease, vaccine development and mRNA  technology, presenting strong foundations for successful research collaboration in  mRNA science. 

“Queensland is home to world-class research facilities and a highly-skilled workforce driving the development of new vaccines and healthcare  breakthroughs,” says Queensland Deputy Premier, Hon. Steven Miles MP.

“The fact that Sanofi, one of the world’s largest healthcare  companies, chose Queensland to reshape 21st century medicine is a strong  sign of things to come, and a significant milestone for the Gold Coast and  Griffith University.”

The Translational Science Hub will initially focus on the evaluation of a new generation  of mRNA vaccines. mRNA is expected to herald new vaccines that instruct certain cells  to produce proteins that are recognised by the immune system to mount a defence. 

“This partnership sees Griffith University as a burgeoning biotech hub on the  Gold Coast,” says Vice Chancellor and President Professor Carolyn Evans, Griffith University.

Researchers based on the Gold Coast will use Griffith University infrastructure and  technology to better understand mRNA vaccine technology, which will help to optimise  the platform to produce better vaccines and expand its use in the development of  therapies to treat a variety of diseases.  

First-of-its-kind vaccines for chlamydia, acne and even some cancers, plus improved  vaccines for influenza and RSV, will be developed on the Gold Coast and across  Queensland.  

Monash team breaks record for human powered bicycle

Image: Monash Human Power’s 2023 vehicle ‘Bilby’ on location in Nevada.Supplied by Monash University

Two engineering students from Monash University have officially broken the Australian single track speed record for a human powered vehicle, achieving speeds of 116 kilometres per hour(kmh) on a flat desert track at the World Human Powered Speed Challenge held in Nevada, United States.

Monash Human Power (MHP) is a student-led engineering team from Monash University. Since 2015 they have been designing, manufacturing and racing fully enclosed human-powered vehicles (HPV) to push the limits of human speed.

HPV use reclining bicycles in an aerodynamically engineered vehicle. This engineering approach takes into account the sustainable and eco-friendly aspects of possible future travel options.

Students Kit Kirby and Alastair Haslam were two of four riders in this year’s team. They finished second and third respectively in the men’s single-track competition, behind former world professional track cycling champion François Pervis of France. The Monash team’s other two riders, Oscar Varney and Chris Hall, also achieved speeds greater than 110 kmh in runs during the week-long competition.

“Having the chance to go highway speeds under my own power creates a feeling I have been chasing since I rode at the OzHPV Speed Trials last year. The team and I have worked tirelessly to get to where we are and it has been amazing to be able to perform in an event this special with them,” Kit Kirby said.

“The test location is on State Route 305 with a speed limit of 70 mph so after the speed trials this year, powered solely by my own two legs, I had the rare thrill of being ceremoniously delivered a speeding ticket!”

“For me, the simple joy of cycling is being able to do what a car can, using nothing but my legs and my Weet-bix,” Chris Hall said.

“Everyone knows going fast is fun, and riding Bilby at 110kmh is the coolest thing I’ve ever done on a bike.”

Their 2023 bike, named Bilby, is the third they have built and features extensive modifications and improvements to the frame and drivetrain and to the aerodynamics of the external shell, which have been extensively tested in the Monash wind tunnel.

MHP Chief Operating Officer Jessica Mark said over the next year the team will be working through all the insights gathered from the World Human Powered Speed Challenge. 

“We’re designing and engineering our Version 4 bike so we move straight into analysing our results and how we can improve the next model,” Ms Mark said. 

“We’re also in the process of developing a tricycle with the aim of being able to enter more local HPV competitions and try something new as a team.”

Team CEO Sydney Buntine started out as a materials team member in 2019, and says MHP has its sights set on breaking a new world speed record.

“My involvement with MHP has been an extremely enriching and fulfilling journey, being able to work with such a talented and passionate group of students and faculty all working towards achieving excellence in engineering performance and design,” said Mr Buntine. 

“I am so proud of the whole team, but reaching speeds of 116.39 kmh is just the beginning of what we are capable of!”

CSIRO invests $500K to help Indigenous students pursue futures in STEM

Image: The CSIRO Indigenous STEM Scholarship will provide opportunities for Indigenous students to explore careers in science, technology, engineering or mathematics. ©  Paul Jones

Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, has bestowed more than half a million dollars to the University of Wollongong (UOW) to enable more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to pursue a future in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).  

The CSIRO Indigenous STEM Scholarship was first established in 2019 with the help of a $30,000 gift from the organisation to support two Indigenous STEM students throughout their studies.   

The scholarship will now be awarded in perpetuity following a further $500,000 gift from CSIRO.

This is part of CSIRO’s commitment in supporting the pipeline of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander talent which saw the agency contribute more than $5M to Indigenous STEM Scholarships this year. 

The partnership between CSIRO and UOW will provide one new scholar with $5000 each year for the duration of their degree. It is aimed at Indigenous students who are undertaking a full-time Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics degree.  

Zara Button, who is studying a Bachelor of Environmental Science (Honours), was the 2021 recipient of the CSIRO Indigenous STEM Scholarship and said the financial support of the scholarship has enabled her to focus on her future career and her wellbeing.

“The money from the CSIRO scholarship means I have been able to work less and spend more time doing meaningful activities that could further my career or health. It has also given me confidence in myself that my hard efforts are being recognised,” Zara said.

“I would like to thank the CSIRO for donating generous amounts of money to Indigenous STEM students like me. The money goes a long way in supporting my studies and encouraging me to keep going with it.

“It is so important to utilise Indigenous knowledge in all faculties, including in STEM, whether it be in the bushfire research I am involved with, or medicine and other areas.”

Dr Chris Bourke, a Gamillaroi man and Director of Indigenous Science and Engagement at CSIRO, said the organisation was delighted to be providing practical support to nurture the next generation of Indigenous STEM superstars.

“Growing an Indigenous STEM pipeline will enable the science and technology sector, and CSIRO in particular, to engage with Indigenous talent, embed Indigenous knowledge and expertise and to foster thriving careers in science and research for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” Dr Bourke said. 

“These scholarships are a very practical step because we know that adequate financial support for Indigenous university students is a key factor to overcoming barriers to entry and success in higher education.” 

Professor Patricia M Davidson, UOW Vice-Chancellor and President, said the partnership between the University and the CSIRO would foster the next generation of Indigenous talent in STEM.  

“The CSIRO scholarships will enable students to explore and expand on their interests in STEM, fields that are vital to the future of our communities, our economy and our nation, without fear of financial stress,” Professor Davidson said.

“This significant investment demonstrates the true power of philanthropy, by enriching the lives of Indigenous students and setting them up for a bright and prosperous future.”

Jaymee Beveridge, Vice-President (Indigenous Strategy and Engagement) and Director of Woolyungah Indigenous Centre at UOW, said she was proud to see more financial support for Indigenous students who are interested in forging a career in the thriving industries of STEM.

“I am thrilled that these scholarships from CSIRO will enable UOW to truly support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to achieve their potential, tackle the big issues of tomorrow, and become the future leaders in the fields of STEM,” Ms Beveridge said.

“Continued partnerships and commitments through scholarships create very real opportunities. They connect students with ongoing projects and research that have a direct effect on our Country, our People and ultimately our future. This investment in our students sends a message that our knowledge and voices are essential in STEM developments.”

Learn more about the CSIRO Indigenous STEM Scholarship.

Find out more about Indigenous employment opportunities at CSIRO.

Project aims to produce cheap, highly efficient, environmentally friendly solar cells

QUT has partnered with two Australian companies working in solar research and development on the project to produce perovskite solar cells that are significantly cheaper than traditional solar cells with comparable efficiency.

The lead investigator on the team Professor Hongxia Wang from the QUT School of Chemistry and Physics and the QUT Centre for Materials Science said a consortium led by Halocell Energy, including First Graphene and QUT, was awarded a grant of $2,028,773 from the Australian government’s Cooperative Research Centres Project, or CRC-P initiative.

“QUT will deliver expertise in material development, facilities for advanced material characterisation and testing, and assistance in developing carbon inks using low-cost carbon materials and graphene in collaboration with Halocell and First Graphene for roll-to-roll production of perovskite cells and modules,” Professor Wang said.

“It’s a three-year project with a total funding size of more than $5.26 million,” Professor Wang said.

Professor Wang said the key project outcomes were likely to include replacement of high-cost precious metal-based conductor materials with cost-effective carbon-based composite materials and up-scaling the production process to allow high volume, ultra-low-cost production of the perovskite solar cells.

“This will facilitate the commercialisation of perovskite photovoltaics in Australia using all Australian raw materials, improving energy security and providing significant job opportunities as a primary and enabling technology for other small to medium-sized enterprises,” Professor Wang said.

The project is led by Halocell CEO Paul Moonie (Halocell), and the team includes Dr Minh Tam Hoang, a Postdoctoral Fellow from the QUT School of Chemistry and Physics; Dr David Pham (Chief Science Officer, Halocell), and Dr Ian Martin (R&D Manager, First Graphene).

The perovskite solar cells will be manufactured using Halocell’s roll-to-roll production process at the company’s Wagga Wagga plant, in southern New South Wales.

Solar cell efficiency is the measure of how much sunlight a solar cell can convert into electricity.
Mr Moonie said perovskites solar cells offered many advantages over traditional silicon solar cells.

Silicon cells have reached the peak of their technical innovation but perovskites solar cells have already demonstrated their efficiency of more than 26 per cent within ten years of research and development.

Mr Moonie said among the advantages of perovskite solar cells is that they could be applied on flexible substrate using low cost roll-to-roll production processes.

“And perovskite cells are quite simply better for the planet with a significantly smaller manufacturing footprint, far less energy intensive with much less toxic waste material than existing photovoltaics technology.”

Graphene is a one-atom-thick layer of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice. It is the building block of graphite, which is used, among other things, in pencil tips.

Michael Bell, managing director and CEO of First Graphene, said previous research had found that cells made with alternative carbon-based materials outperform conventional silicon cells in low and artificial light conditions, including indoor environments in relation to generating and supplying power for niche applications.

“Validation of these graphene-based materials will help build a strong business case for full-scale commercial production of both perovskite cells and the materials needed to make them in large volumes,” Mr Bell said.

Minister opens new high-tech robotics manufacturing facility Sydney

Image: Supplied

Australian AI-based robotics and navigation firm Advanced Navigation has opened a new high-tech robotics facility for autonomous systems at UTS Tech Lab in Sydney’s Botany.

The facility will allow the company to scale up the manufacturing of its digital fibre-optic gyroscope (DFOG) technology, Boreas, which can be used in applications from spacecraft to submarines where GPS is not available.

It will also be used to home research collaborations with UTS, including indoor positioning technology that helps members of the visually impaired community navigate safely inside underground train stations.

At the opening, Advanced Navigation CEO Xavier Orr described how he started Advanced Navigation with fellow University of Western Australia electronics engineering student Chris Shaw, to commercialise his university thesis on AI based inertial navigation.

The company has since gone on to raise millions in funding, including a $108 million round in November. Its tech is being used by Amazon in driverless trucks, for the Indy autonomous race car competition, and in wind turbines.

“Thanks to our continued work with universities throughout Australia this has led to the development of several world-first technologies from AI navigation systems, underwater acoustics and drone fleet platforms, to autonomous underwater robots and more recently our navigation systems set for space. 

“While Advanced Navigation has been around for just under 10 years these innovations are based on decades of research from prominent institutions and universities throughout Australia,” Shaw said.

UTS Dean of Engineering and IT Peta Wyeth said: “Like most great partnerships, our relationship with Advanced Navigation started small and is evolving into a multi-faceted interaction over time. 

“Together we are creating new ways of working, thinking and imagining future possibilities.”

Opened in 2018, the UTS Tech Lab is a multidisciplinary research facility that supports bespoke industry-led partnerships designed to drive innovation and growth in engineering and IT.

Wyeth said while the Lab had made “impressive inroads,” it had just scratched the surface. “Our vision is to be the go-to place  for industry partners to work with expert academics, a place where researchers and students can work hand in hand with industry.”

During the event the Advanced Navigation co-founder Chris Shaw thanked Lucy Turnbull for helping connect the company with UTS. The Turnbulls are investors in the company.