All posts by Karen Taylor-Brown

The Science Behind Net Zero: New issue of Australian University Science – out now.

ACDS PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE

Welcome to Issue 11 of Australian University Science, the Australian Council of Deans of Science magazine, which showcases the impact and importance of university science in Australia.

As the world is transitioning its energy production strategies from traditional carbon sources to more efficient and sustainable options, university science is at the forefront of research and innovation, generating new knowledge, products, technologies and processes.

University science is also key to inspiring and preparing school and university students for rapidly growing careers in science and innovation, and ensuring we have the right workforce to effect this transformational change.

Effective partnerships with engineering, business and social science faculties, community groups, industry and policymakers are also required, to translate discoveries into innovative and scalable technologies, drive entrepreneurship and financial sustainability, and enable policy change and community acceptance.

Thank you to everyone who has contributed to this edition, notably including Sharath Sriram, President of Science Technology Australia, for his insightful and inspiring foreword.

Writer: Professor Melissa Brown, President, Australian Council of Deans of Science

About the issue

Australian University Science is the biennial publication of the Australian Council of Deans of Science. It showcases the impact, operation and significance of university science. 

As the world aims to move towards Net Zero emissions, university science is at the forefront of research and innovation.

Universities contribute groundbreaking discoveries and technologies and play a key role in educating future generations and developing innovative solutions and policy reforms.

The transition to a net-zero emission economy requires collaborative efforts between universities, businesses and policymakers.

Universities serve as the incubator for technical innovation and provide the evidence base for future policy and transformational change.

View or download the latest issue here.

View the back catalogue here.

The science behind net zero

Image: Professor Anita Ho-Baillie, John Hooke Chair of Nanoscience at The University of Sydney. Supplied by the University of Sydney

Australia plans to reach net zero emissions by 2050. With the transformation underway, the country’s universities are spearheading the scientific innovations critical to achieving national targets in renewable energy, storage, and reduction of emissions through agriculture and infrastructure.

Next-generation renewable energy technology

University science paved the way for Australia as a pioneer in photovoltaics. PERC solar cells, the brainchild of UNSW Scientia Professor Martin Green, continue to be the world’s most commercially viable silicon solar cell technology, reaching 25% efficiency.

Professor Anita Ho-Baillie, John Hooke Chair of Nanoscience at The University of Sydney, is boosting that efficiency by stacking together two different light-absorbing materials to expand the spectrum of sunlight solar cells can soak up. Perovskite forms the top layer to harvest high-energy rays, while the bottom silicon layer absorbs low-energy light.

“They’re working in tandem, making them more efficient in converting solar energy into electricity — up to 40%,” says Ho-Baillie. “We’re hoping to produce more power with less or the same amount of area, effectively reducing cost. And the more power we produce, the shorter the energy payback.”

Solar also powers the production of green hydrogen, another renewable energy source. Professor Tianyi Ma, a materials chemist at RMIT University, harnesses sunlight for his solar-to-hydrogen generator. This device is designed to float on water, with a photocatalyst-coated top layer that directly converts solar to hydrogen without the intermediate electricity generation and costly battery energy storage.

This simplifies the otherwise complex process of producing green hydrogen. “This results in lower costs and can potentially lead to large-scale utilisation of renewable energy,” Ma says. “And because it’s floating, it doesn’t occupy land space.”

Industry is hot on the trail of these next-generation technologies. Ho-Baillie is collaborating with Sydney-based solar tech startup SunDrive, while Ma
is working with industry partners and has recently been awarded a funding grant from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

Emerging avenues of research across the university ecosystem are integral to advancing renewable energy. Ho-Baillie’s group, for instance, includes undergrads as well as graduate students and post-doctoral researchers. “We’re educating and training the next generation to make renewable energy better,” she says.

Innovative chemistry for energy storage

While renewable energy is vital to realising net zero, storage is key to securing constant supply. For many, batteries are synonymous with energy storage.

University of Sydney professor of chemistry Thomas Maschmeyer and his research group formulated lithium-sulfur batteries. These can store more energy than lithium-ion ones and are a lower-cost and safer alternative.

The team also developed a novel electrolyte flexible enough to fit different anode types. As a result, lithium-sulfur batteries can match different configurations to power drones, electric vehicles and even electric planes.

In 2015, Maschmeyer founded energy storage startup Gelion, a spinout of his research at The University of Sydney. The company has since announced breakthroughs in lithium sulfur batteries that double the range of EVs and enable electric aviation. It is now globally positioned with partners in the UK and the US, poised to integrate its sulfur cathode platform technology into products spanning all current lithium battery applications. All these successes were made possible by Maschmeyer and his research group’s foundational scientific work at the university level.

“Batteries help us use our energy resources more efficiently, allowing us to change the model from centralised power with long transmission lines to local power with short transmission lines,” Maschmeyer says. “We need batteries to support the energy transition.”

University science is making hydrogen storage breakthroughs possible as well. Kondo-Francois Aguey-Zinsou, also a professor of chemistry at the University of Sydney, is working on hydride materials for hydrogen storage. These materials include metals and lightweight chemical elements capable of absorbing hydrogen like a sponge and storing it in compact form. They can store hydrogen in larger amounts and more safely than hydrogen’s current liquefied or compressed gas form.

Building scientific expertise in universities helps accelerate the progress of energy storage. “We need storage technologies if we are to deploy renewable energy at scale,” says Aguey-Zinsou. “Hydrogen will be part of that mix.”

Boosting soil carbon

Soil carbon sequestration can play a pivotal role in reducing Australia’s agricultural sector emissions.

“Evidence suggests carbon improves soil biodiversity and water retention and decreases erosion,” says Dr Elaine Mitchell, a Research Associate in soil carbon at QUT. “Drawing carbon out of the atmosphere where it’s causing harm and putting it into the soil means healthier, more productive soils.”

Universities are planting the scientific seeds to help bolster farmers’ soil carbon sequestration capabilities. Mitchell’s research, for instance, involves understanding how effective land management can generate long-term soil carbon gains. She’s investigating time-controlled grazing — grazing cattle at a higher density for a shorter duration — which has been shown to increase soil carbon stocks.

Additionally, she found that legumes, particularly species of Desmanthus, have deep tap roots, channelling carbon deep into the soil. They also contain compounds called tannins, “so when the cattle eat them, they reduce the production of methane in their guts,” Mitchell says.

Meanwhile, Annette Cowie, Senior Principal Research Scientist – Climate at the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries and Adjunct Professor at the University of New England Armidale campus, is exploring biochar, a carbon-rich form of charcoal, with researchers at UNE’s School of Environmental and Rural Science.

“As a soil amendment, biochar is much more stable and durable than carbon sequestered by building natural soil organic matter,” she says. 

Cowie adds that biochar is effective at building the soil’s nutrient- and water-holding capacity and reduces its nitrous oxide emissions.

Mitchell views soil carbon sequestration as a “short-term bridging solution allowing us to buy time while other technologies are developed and implemented. 

“It shouldn’t take away the focus from reducing emissions.”

Building energy-efficient infrastructure

Energy-efficient buildings are another component of the net zero transition. “Materials and design are critical as we move towards low-energy buildings,” says Dr Mark Dewsbury, senior lecturer at the University of Tasmania.

Dewsbury studies the hygrothermal performance of buildings, with a guiding motto of “build tight, ventilate right.”

Hygro refers to moisture, while thermal pertains to heat flow throughout the building envelope and how that envelope is designed relative to climate.

He notes that vented cavities behind cladding systems remove heat for improved cooling and allow water vapour to escape, reducing the risk of mould growth. When it comes to heating, placing insulation directly behind lining systems avoids losing heat. 

These findings inform recommendations for the Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme, and published guides for architects and builders. Recycling of building materials will play another role. Concrete, for example, requires energy to mine, mix and transport but can be reused from demolished building sites instead.

“We need to be designing and constructing net zero buildings today so we meet our net zero goals by 2050,” says Dewsbury.
Rina Caballar

First published in Australian University Science, Issue 11

University science: poised to deliver on net zero policy

Image: Shutterstock

The push towards a net zero economy has turned Australia’s energy landscape into a dauntingly complex place. 

University science is helping governments to navigate this labyrinth in three ways: through informing the numbers that measure progress towards net zero — and the consequences of not reaching it; through fundamental research driving innovation; and through partnerships that can fast-track technologies that will shift the dial.

Firstly, university science has the capacity to inform policy by providing accurate models of climate-impacting emissions needed to meet Australia’s net zero goals, says research director of Western Sydney University’s Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, Professor Ben Smith. The first step is designing better measurement processes.

Victorian non-profit organisation The Superpower Institute and the universities of Melbourne, NSW, Swinburne and Wollongong have grouped together to modernise greenhouse gas monitoring. In many areas, we are still in the dark about the extent and impact of fossil fuel emissions, Smith says.

“Next-generation measurement and prediction is an area where disciplinary and technological expertise need to come together, and of course universities have strong capability.” 

University science can also inform policy through communication. Scientists must be at the forefront of the conversation about the push towards net zero, because they can provide the scientific facts behind the policies, says UNSW Dean of Science and Scientia Professor Sven Rogge.

“This will help dispel the spread of misinformation that can impede developments across energy transition projects critical to our pursuit of a sustainable future,” he says.

“Universities will play an increasingly important role in working with a number of key stakeholders — including industry, government and the general public — in ensuring that any decisions on policy in reaching net zero are based on accurate, validated information that is both scientifically sound and socially responsible.”

It’s a tightrope walk: universities must lean into their research credentials without stepping over into areas that industry or community groups are better placed to handle, says Libby Robin, Emeritus Professor at ANU and an author of ACOLA Australia’s Energy Transition Research Plan

Rather than duplicating the advice offered by consultancies, universities should help industrial scientists communicate their work with broader audiences, including technical audiences, and feed practical case studies back into academic discussions, Robin says. 

“This can be achieved through universities’ unique partnerships with public institutions, such as museums, traditional owners and the ‘next generation’ of creative thinkers who have to live with the world to come,” she says.

Powering policy from partnerships

One example of universities already influencing policy design is the NSW Decarbonisation Innovation Hub. Here Smith leads a network of scientists focused on the challenges and opportunities of changing current land use and primary industry practices to reduce or offset emissions, while securing co-benefits for people, and the environment.

“The state government’s thinking behind creating a Hub to consolidate decarbonisation efforts is based on the very idea that universities are uniquely placed to bring together the right actors from research, government, industry and community to develop effective solutions, and promote or seed their widespread adoption,” Smith says.

He says addressing climate change requires a transdisciplinary approach, that the research sector’s wide reach of inquiry is well placed to lead.   

“It is doing this by collaborating with industry and communities for implementation, and governments to overcome barriers through regulatory or policy changes, or incentives such as carbon and biodiversity offset programs.” 

Setting measures for success

With Australia positioning itself as a global net zero high technology hub, success will involve access to research that may not yet be in the public domain, and translating it for commercial applications, Smith says.  

“There is an excellent value proposition for businesses to engage with the university sector to access relevant knowledge, and for universities to engage with industry to facilitate impact of their research and to access R&D funding,” he says. 

To successfully inform net zero policy, universities must not only supply quality research that can ground debates, but contribute to those debates by making that data accessible and understandable to government, communities and industry. 

In this way universities can play a full part in helping Australia achieve its net zero goals.

Writer: Rachel Williamson

First published in Australian University Science, Issue 11

5 ways Australian university science drives the energy transformation

Image: Shutterstock

1. Geology: Unearthing critical elements

Geologists are crucial to the green energy transition, discovering and sustainably extracting critical minerals like lithium and cobalt, essential for battery technology. Innovative geophysical techniques and remote sensing technology are revealing deposits with lower environmental impact. 

Research in action: Researchers at the University of Adelaide have discovered why rocks called cold eclogites vanished from geological records over a billion years ago. This fundamental science suggests new methods for locating critical minerals by examining rock chemistry changes during this period. 

2. Biology: Fuelling the future with biofuels

Biologists are advancing sustainable energy through genetic modifications of algae and plants, boosting biofuel production efficiency and cutting reliance on fossil fuels. These biofuels are remarkable for their superior yield, producing far more oil per acre than traditional crops. 

Research in action: University of Queensland researchers, together with the Technical University of Munich, have sped up the process for turning sugarcane into a key green aviation fuel ingredient. This opens doors for producing sustainable plastics, rubbers and food additives more efficiently. 

3. Chemistry: Transforming energy storage and conversion

Chemistry is advancing toward net zero, innovating battery technologies like sodium-sulfur and solid-state systems, crucial for renewable energy and electric vehicles. These enhance energy storage and conversion, vital for integrating renewables and improving vehicle safety and efficiency.

Research in action: In April 2023, QUT deployed Australia’s first large-scale sodium-sulfur battery at a WA mine site, showcasing a scalable, high-capacity energy storage system that excels in extreme heat. 

4. Physics: Maximising solar cell efficiency

By developing new materials and optimising designs, physicists are pushing solar panels beyond traditional efficiency boundaries. Innovations like integrating
perovskite layers into silicon-based panels are a key breakthrough, enabling next-generation solar panels to absorb a broader spectrum. 

Research in action: In 2020, scientists from UNSW and The University of Sydney produced a new generation of experimental solar cells that pass strict international standards for heat and humidity — an important step towards commercially viable high-efficiency perovskite solar cells. 

5. Maths: Modelling energy systems

Using complex models and algorithms, mathematicians can simulate energy systems, optimise energy network efficiency, and meticulously track our progress towards ambitious climate goals. These models enable us to forecast energy demands, evaluate potential renewable energy sources, and strategise on reducing carbon footprints. 

Research in action: Established in 2017, the One Earth Climate Model (OECM) is a collaboration between the University of Technology Sydney, The University of Melbourne, and the German Aerospace Center. It generates detailed carbon-reduction pathways and strategies for countries, regions and key industries worldwide.

Writer: Gemma Chilton

First published in Australian University Science, Issue 11

Universities lead the way in building energy-efficient infrastructure for a net zero future

Image: Shutterstock

Australia’s path to net zero emissions by 2050 is being paved with the development of energy-efficient infrastructure. Across the nation, universities are at the forefront of designing and implementing sustainable building practices. Energy-efficient buildings are an important component of the net zero transition.

“Materials and design are critical as we move towards low-energy buildings,” says Dr Mark Dewsbury, senior lecturer at the University of Tasmania.

Dewsbury studies the hygrothermal performance of buildings, with a guiding motto of “build tight, ventilate right.”

Hygro refers to moisture, while thermal pertains to heat flow throughout the building envelope and how that envelope is designed relative to climate.

He notes that vented cavities behind cladding systems remove heat for improved cooling and allow water vapour to escape, reducing the risk of mould growth. When it comes to heating, placing insulation directly behind lining systems avoids losing heat. 

These findings inform recommendations for the Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme, and published guides for architects and builders. Recycling of building materials will play another role. Concrete, for example, requires energy to mine, mix and transport but can be reused from demolished building sites instead.

“We need to be designing and constructing net zero buildings today so we meet our net zero goals by 2050,” says Dewsbury.


Rina Caballar

First published in Australian University Science, Issue 11

Universities pioneer innovative chemistry for energy storage in Australia’s Net Zero quest

Image:

While renewable energy is vital to realising net zero, storage is key to securing constant supply. For many, batteries are synonymous with energy storage.

University of Sydney professor of chemistry Thomas Maschmeyer and his research group formulated lithium-sulfur batteries. These can store more energy than lithium-ion ones and are a lower-cost and safer alternative.

The team also developed a novel electrolyte flexible enough to fit different anode types. As a result, lithium-sulfur batteries can match different configurations to power drones, electric vehicles and even electric planes.

In 2015, Maschmeyer founded energy storage startup Gelion, a spinout of his research at The University of Sydney. The company has since announced breakthroughs in lithium sulfur batteries that double the range of EVs and enable electric aviation. It is now globally positioned with partners in the UK and the US, poised to integrate its sulfur cathode platform technology into products spanning all current lithium battery applications. All these successes were made possible by Maschmeyer and his research group’s foundational scientific work at the university level.

“Batteries help us use our energy resources more efficiently, allowing us to change the model from centralised power with long transmission lines to local power with short transmission lines,” Maschmeyer says. “We need batteries to support the energy transition.”

University science is making hydrogen storage breakthroughs possible as well. Kondo-Francois Aguey-Zinsou, also a professor of chemistry at the University of Sydney, is working on hydride materials for hydrogen storage. These materials include metals and lightweight chemical elements capable of absorbing hydrogen like a sponge and storing it in compact form. They can store hydrogen in larger amounts and more safely than hydrogen’s current liquefied or compressed gas form.

Building scientific expertise in universities helps accelerate the progress of energy storage. “We need storage technologies if we are to deploy renewable energy at scale,” says Aguey-Zinsou. “Hydrogen will be part of that mix.”

Writer: Rina Caballar

First published in Australian University Science, Issue 11

Australia targets net zero emissions with next-generation renewable energy technology

Image: Professor Anita Ho-Baillie, John Hooke Chair of Nanoscience at The University of Sydney. Supplied

Australia plans to reach net zero emissions by 2050. With the transformation underway, the country’s universities are spearheading the scientific innovations critical to achieving national targets in renewable energy.

University science paved the way for Australia as a pioneer in photovoltaics. PERC solar cells, the brainchild of UNSW Scientia Professor Martin Green, continue to be the world’s most commercially viable silicon solar cell technology, reaching 25% efficiency.

Professor Anita Ho-Baillie, John Hooke Chair of Nanoscience at The University of Sydney, is boosting that efficiency by stacking together two different light-absorbing materials to expand the spectrum of sunlight solar cells can soak up. Perovskite forms the top layer to harvest high-energy rays, while the bottom silicon layer absorbs low-energy light.

“They’re working in tandem, making them more efficient in converting solar energy into electricity — up to 40%,” says Ho-Baillie. “We’re hoping to produce more power with less or the same amount of area, effectively reducing cost. And the more power we produce, the shorter the energy payback.”

Solar also powers the production of green hydrogen, another renewable energy source. Professor Tianyi Ma, a materials chemist at RMIT University, harnesses sunlight for his solar-to-hydrogen generator. This device is designed to float on water, with a photocatalyst-coated top layer that directly converts solar to hydrogen without the intermediate electricity generation and costly battery energy storage.

This simplifies the otherwise complex process of producing green hydrogen. “This results in lower costs and can potentially lead to large-scale utilisation of renewable energy,” Ma says. “And because it’s floating, it doesn’t occupy land space.”

“We’re educating and training the next generation to make renewable energy better.”

Professor Anita Ho-Baillie, John Hooke Chair of Nanoscience at The University of Sydney

Industry is hot on the trail of these next-generation technologies. Ho-Baillie is collaborating with Sydney-based solar tech startup SunDrive, while Ma is working with industry partners and has recently been awarded a funding grant from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

Emerging avenues of research across the university ecosystem are integral to advancing renewable energy. Ho-Baillie’s group, for instance, includes undergrads as well as graduate students and post-doctoral researchers. “We’re educating and training the next generation to make renewable energy better,” she says.

Writer: Rina Caballar

First published in Australian University Science, Issue 11

Innovative strategies to boost soil carbon propel Australia towards net zero emissions

Image: Shutterstock

At the heart of Australia’s efforts to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 are the nation’s universities, where researchers are pioneering advanced agricultural practices to boost soil carbon levels.

“Evidence suggests carbon improves soil biodiversity and water retention and decreases erosion,” says Dr Elaine Mitchell, a Research Associate in soil carbon at QUT. “Drawing carbon out of the atmosphere where it’s causing harm and putting it into the soil means healthier, more productive soils.”

Universities are planting the scientific seeds to help bolster farmers’ soil carbon sequestration capabilities. Mitchell’s research, for instance, involves understanding how effective land management can generate long-term soil carbon gains. She’s investigating time-controlled grazing — grazing cattle at a higher density for a shorter duration — which has been shown to increase soil carbon stocks.

Additionally, she found that legumes, particularly species of Desmanthus, have deep tap roots, channelling carbon deep into the soil. They also contain compounds called tannins, “so when the cattle eat them, they reduce the production of methane in their guts,” Mitchell says.

Meanwhile, Annette Cowie, Senior Principal Research Scientist – Climate at the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries and Adjunct Professor at the University of New England Armidale campus, is exploring biochar, a carbon-rich form of charcoal, with researchers at UNE’s School of Environmental and Rural Science.

“As a soil amendment, biochar is much more stable and durable than carbon sequestered by building natural soil organic matter,” she says. 

Cowie adds that biochar is effective at building the soil’s nutrient- and water-holding capacity and reduces its nitrous oxide emissions.

Mitchell views soil carbon sequestration as a “short-term bridging solution allowing us to buy time while other technologies are developed and implemented. 

“It shouldn’t take away the focus from reducing emissions.”

Writer: Rina Caballar

First published in Australian University Science, Issue 11

 Zero Net Emissions Agriculture Cooperative Research Centre (ZNE-Ag CRC) set to scale sustainability

Image: Shutterstock

Dr Debra Cousins, Chair, ZNE-Ag CRC reflects on The Zero Net Emissions Agriculture Cooperative Research Centre    (ZNE-Ag CRC) is Australia’s largest to date and how it evolved from and relies on university science.

Involving 11 university partners, three Indigenous organisations, and multiple industry partners and SMEs, the ZNE-Ag CRC has secured $300 million in funding over 10 years. The Federal Government’s contribution of $87 million is the largest in the CRC program’s history. Chair Debra Cousins details why university partners are critical to developing the innovative solutions needed to transition Australian agriculture to a zero net industry.

Many people don’t fully realise how important science is to everyday life. Everything we use, our food and drink, health, technology — none of this is possible without university science.

When this CRC was being considered, it was a kernel of an idea around a global problem of significance to Australia. The university science was already happening, with good collaborations between universities, government and industry. Once the conversations started, industry gravitated towards the project — people were ringing us up wanting to be involved.

The CRC bid gained momentum because partners recognised that reducing emissions needed a concerted, nationally coordinated effort. There are 87,000 Small to Medium Enterprises in Australian agriculture — small farming families, as well big corporations, all moving towards farming sustainable food. But agriculture contributes 16% of our emissions nationally — mostly methane from cows and sheep.

To tackle this challenge, we need to build on fundamental university research, while testing existing and emerging solutions at commercial scale. No single technology will get us to net zero emissions. The solution will be several technologies that together lead to low emissions, and we’ll need to draw from innovations from many disciplines.

CRC producer sites will demonstrate how these technologies can work together in farming systems, and create pathways to low-emissions agriculture. We need to know what we come up with is effective, impactful and doesn’t affect the farmer’s bottom line.

 Dr Debra Cousins, Chair, ZNE-Ag CRC

University science underpins our journey to net zero

Image: Professor Sharath Sriram President of Science & Technology Australia, supplied.

Throughout history, humans have grappled with grand challenges that have shaped our existence, tested our resilience, and spurred innovation. From the Industrial Revolution and space exploration to the information age, these monumental quests transcended epochs, leaving indelible marks on our collective journey.  

The current quest for sustainable energy spans the globe, and the energy transition to a net zero future is humankind’s next grand challenge to overcome. The transition to net zero is unprecedented and complex, but it is also a beacon of hope and a call to action. 

Standing at the precipice of this mountainous task, we need to recognise that no single discipline can unravel these complex problems. Instead, the collective symphony of scientific minds will orchestrate our ascent. 

For example, take the deep STEM expertise of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Their conservation and custodianship, sophisticated engineered systems, and complex technology development — woven into the fabric of this place for more than 65,000 years and continuing — provides sustainability blueprints for living in harmony with the land.

Australian universities have a critical role to play in cultivating the deep knowledge to unravel these wicked problems while fostering talent to secure Australia’s future STEM workforce. 

Our universities nurture a mosaic of disciplines, each one necessary to ensure the success of a net zero future. Boosting biofuel production efficiency, enhancing energy storage and conversion, developing the next generation of solar cells, protecting biodiversity through sustainable infrastructure development, and energy systems modelling — these incredible achievements are just snippets of the Australian university science innovations that are driving us towards net zero. 

Key to our success will be a connected innovation system that smoothly takes great Australian ideas, turns them into products and services, and creates maximum value for society. The three parts of our innovation system need to work in cohesion — universities and research institutes generate ideas and drive the push and pull of the innovation system. Businesses transform and adopt research, and the government champions the efforts with strategic incentives and drives efficiencies — informed by the best science out there. 

Creating this connected system is crucial, and the scientific knowhow, discoveries and outcomes from Australian universities are critical to its success. 

Writer: Professor Sharath Sriram President of Science & Technology Australia

First published in Australian University Science, Issue 11

Jobs in quantum heat up, with scholarships on offer

Image: Ven Chenniappan, an SQA Next Generation Program scholar, originally from India, at UNSW. Photographer: Grant Turner

QUANTUM IS SO HOT 
right now: with billion-dollar investments made this week and a new industry growth centre announced, there’s no better time to enter the world’s coolest high-tech industry of tomorrow.

On Tuesday, the Australian and Queensland Governments announced they would invest almost $1 billion into frontier technology company PsiQuantum to build the world’s first fault tolerant quantum computer. PsiQuantum, co-founded by Australians Prof Jeremy O’Brien and Prof Terry Rudolph, will reportedly create up to 400 new highly skilled jobs.

This came hot on the heels of an $18.4 million grant announced on Saturday to create a new Australian Centre for Quantum Growth that will catalyse the expansion of Australia’s quantum industry and ecosystem. The centre, led by the University of Sydney, is a consortium of 18 universities from around Australia, six state governments, 23 industry partners like quantum start-ups and technology companies Microsoft and Google, and 25 strategic partners such as venture capital and peak industry bodies.

These are just two of the initiatives under the government’s National Quantum Strategy. And they come off major investments by Federal and State governments in Silicon Quantum Computing and Diraq, two UNSW spin-off quantum start-ups based in Sydney.

Thousands of jobs to fill

“There’s no better time to get your foot in the door of this burgeoning new industry,” said Prof Peter Turner, CEO of Sydney Quantum Academy (SQA), a consortium member. “There will be thousands of jobs to fill over the next decade, and we need to train those people now. That’s why we have scholarships on offer: we need bright young people who are excited about creating this quantum future.”

new round of SQA PhD Scholarships is being offered for postgraduate candidates undertaking research and training in a field related to quantum science and technology. They include SQA PhD ScholarshipsSQA Partnership PhD Scholarships, and a new Next Generation Quantum Graduates Program Scholarships. Applications are now open, and close at midnight on Wednesday 15 May 2024.

Generous scholarships

Scholarships range from $37,684 to $41,650 per year, are offered for between 3.5 and 4 years at any of SQA’s four partner universities – UNSW, Macquarie University, UTS and the University of Sydney. At two of the universities – Macquarie and UTS – priority is given to women candidates.

They are open to Australian and New Zealand citizens and permanent residents, or any students entitled to stay in Australia, or to enter and stay in Australia. International students must either hold or be able to obtain a valid visa for the duration of the scholarship term (except for applicants to the Next Generation Scholarships, who must be citizens or permanent residents of Australia).

Scholarship recipients also take part in SQA’s unique PhD Experience program, a supportive community of PhD students who receive specialised training, seminars, networking and work experience opportunities, and who also organise their own social functions. Those applying for the Next Generation Scholarships also undertake specialised coursework with CSIRO.

Potential candidates can apply directly or search through the more than 100 SQA scientists and engineers working on quantum technologies in Sydney who are available to supervise PhD students.

What’s an SQA Scholarship like?

Read about the experience of current students Mingyu Sun at UTS, and Riddhi Ghosh at Macquarie University. Or read about Next Generation Program scholars Ven Chenniappan at UNSW, and Paulo da Silva Armi at the University of Sydney Business School.

Aussie invention predicts power line faults that can cause bushfires

Image: Supplied RMIT

IND Technology, which has commercialised this innovation, is seeking funding from the Australian Government to assist with rolling out the EFD system across all single-wire earth return (SWER) networks around the country – about 200,000 kilometres of power lines – over the next 10 years.

With 2,500 units installed worldwide, the technology now monitors over 12,500 kms of powerlines and has prevented more than 750 failures and potentially saved lives. The technology covers up to 5 kilometres of power lines with 2 units.

Lead RMIT researcher, Professor Alan Wong, said the EFD system “can detect and locate faults on a powerline before they happen”.

You can think of it like a smoke alarm for the power network,” said Wong, who is also the CEO of Melbourne-based company IND Technology

“You can think of it like a smoke alarm for the power network,” said Wong, who is also the CEO of Melbourne-based company IND Technology.

“If you place enough sensors across the network, these sensors or alarm system will send out an alert when it thinks there’s a certain risk in the network.”

The EFD system is included in several wildfire mitigation plans in the US and Canada, where the Australian-made innovation is in high demand.

“According to a report by Adept Economics that we commissioned, every dollar spent on the EFD technology would generate $4.70 in expected benefits for Australia, in terms of the benefits from preventing bushfires and blackouts,” Wong said.

Wong said the patented sensing method and data processing algorithm can even identify the precise location of expected faults down to a 10-meter section of a powerline, and enabled more proactive and cost-effective management of electricity network assets.

“The EFD system is a passive-listening device,” he said.

“It listens to radio frequency signals travelling up and down power lines. Some of these radio frequency signals are generated by failing assets on the powerlines. The EFD system uses the radio frequency information collected by the sensors to work out where and which equipment is failing.” 

With the EFD system, network owners can monitor every network asset 24/7, including during extreme weather when asset failures are likely to first appear.

On 7 February 2009, the Victorian town of Marysville was devastated by bushfire. The fire was allegedly caused by a break in an electrical conductor on a power pole near a local sawmill.

Jenny Pullen, a Marysville fire survivor, said she welcomed technology that could help prevent bushfires.

“We went to so many funerals,” she said.

“The bushfire took a huge toll and there’s still people who are trying to get over it and who will never get over it.”

During a trial of the technology, the EFD system developed by Wong’s team identified a failing conductor on Michael Thorne’s property in Victoria’s Porcupine Ridge.

“When I’m driving around the property, I’m looking at the stock or at the pasture, I’m not looking up at the powerline which is well above me, and it would be pretty hard to spot a broken strand even if you were paying a reasonable amount of attention,” Thorne said.

“The risk is that the power line breaks, drops to the ground and starts a grass fire. Grass fires can move very quickly, faster than a bush fire typically because the wind’s not interrupted as it flows across the grass and the fire could have swept up to the house, through the sheds and then beyond to adjacent farms very rapidly.

“In addition to the houses lost in a major fire, there’s the lives lost and lives disrupted. Fire can rip apart communities, it can destroy so much that matters.

“The idea of a fire ripping through my community is obviously deeply distressing and something that I’m keen to celebrate any tools that we have that can help reduce the risk of the kind of devastation we have seen across towns like Marysville and others in Victoria.”

Wong was thrilled when his team discovered the failing conductor on Thorne’s property that the EFD system had detected.

“We always tell people that this technology can potentially save lives and prevent fires. I think in Michael’s example it captured all this essence. It has prevented a potentially catastrophic fire,” he said.

Quantum allies push commercialisation 

Science leaders from the Australian, UK and US governments are all pushing for the industrialisation of quantum technology within their respective markets, as government money continues to flow for quantum.

Speaking at the Quantum Australia conference this week, Australia’s chief scientist Cathy Foley said while $40 million of venture capital and $150 million of private capital has already been invested in Australian quantum startups, more work was required to encourage university researchers or those working in private companies to take the leap into startup.

“What we want to see now is how we encourage people… to see that you can start your own business and if it doesn’t work out you will not go into poverty and unemployment and lose your house but actually have ways to be able to re-enter where you are or have another pathway.”

Australia last year released its first National Quantum Strategy, with an aim to drive commercialisation and “invest in, connect and grow Australia’s quantum research and industry to compete with the world’s best”.

Australia’s federal government has committed $1 billion for critical technologies like quantum via the National Reconstruction Fund, but it is yet to start making grants.

Meanwhile, the US and UK governments are in the process of re-investing billions of dollars after initial 5 and 10-year programs.

The UK government has a £2.5 billion strategy to deliver a quantum-enabled economy by 2033, and next week will announce a number of new research hubs that will collectively receive $100 million in funding.

Roger McKinlay, Quantum Challenge Director with UK Research and Innovation told the conference the £1 billion the government had spent over the last 10 years had gone towards ”growing the ecosystem and driving toward the science”, including funding industry.

“If you want to fund an industry, fund industry, don’t fund national labs or universities and expect it to percolate out, it doesn’t percolate,” McKinlay said.

The CSIRO has predicted Australia’s quantum industry could be worth $2.2 billion by the end of the decade, and by 2045, it might employ as many people as the oil and gas sector does today, with revenues of $6 billion and 19,400 jobs.

In the US, the government has been focusing on sensors, quantum networks and workforce requirements.

Dimitri Kusnezov, Under Secretary for Science and Technology in the US Department of Homeland Security told the conference sensor technologies required more government help because the markets for these technologies were niche.

“The science is interesting and you can test, but it’s harder in sensors because it depends on the use cases you want,” Kusnezov said.

“I don’t think the market cap in some of the sensor systems would be especially big to compel that much venture capital, and so that’s where governments also working together can help.”

McKinley cautioned governments against thinking their spending on quantum computing could have any effect.

“There are billions of private money coming. The job of governments there is to stay engaged so that they can influence the development for their own applications and they can understand the technology for appropriate regulation,” McKinley said.

“We really need to see a thriving commercial scene, an industrial scene in quantum and then we will have the right tools to play with this difficult international collaboration.”

Chief Scientist Foley said the AUKUS trilateral security partnership between Australia, the US and UK would open up extraordinary opportunities for Australia because it will remove export control issues and encourage the partners to work together to solve the world’s big issues. 

“So the opportunities of collaborating, of seeing how we have clear supply chains and roles and responsibilities, and also not just trying to nick each other’s capability in skills, we actually think very differently in the way we approach the quantum industry,” Foley said.

Written by Charis Palmer, Managing Editor, Refraction Media

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 Freelancer.com, 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: https://www.freelancer.com/contest/2323850

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 Freelancer.com will provide resources to help get entrants started on a simple CAD program so that they can share their ideas via this platform.

Prizes

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.”