All posts by Karen Taylor-Brown

Women in AI and Data Science awards

Innovative women in AI (artificial intelligence) and data science from Australia and New Zealand are being recognised at the first ever event in Sydney on Friday 26 March 2021.

Covering a huge range of categories from health and mining to finance and agribusiness, the awards recognises pioneers in their fields smashing stereotypes and disrupting their sectors.

“Technology means safer and more productive mining jobs. Attracting more women into our industry is essential to meet increasing demand for technical skills in areas like robotics and AI. The MCA is proud to sponsor the AI in Mining Award and celebrate the women leading our industry into the future,” says Chief Executive of the Minerals Council of Australia Tanis Constable, one of the industry supporters of the event.

“Artificial Intelligence has stepped confidently out of the research labs into everyday life, starting to alter the way we learn and work, entertain and dream,” says Professor Simeon SimoffDean at WSU’s School of Computer, Data and Mathematical Science.

“By identifying outstanding talent in AI Technology, Women in AI awards will certainly ensure that diverse voices have profound impact in shaping future AI systems.”

Congrats to the winner and ‘Innovator of the Year’ Jamila Gordon, CEO & founder of Lumachain, and runners up Dr Michelle Perugini, CEO & cofounder of Presagen and Fiona Turner, cofounder & CEO of Bitwise Agronomy.

RELATED: 5 ways to make friends with artificial intelligence

Meet the Women in AI award finalists!

Health

Dr Michelle Perugini, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder, Presagen

Dr Rahil Garnavi, Senior Technical Staff Member, Master Inventor, IBM Research

Dr Fatemeh Vafaee, Senior Lecturer & Principle Investigator, AI in Biomedicine Laboratory, UNSW

Mining

Angela Rodrigues, PhD Candidate, Monash University School of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment

Juliette Murphy, Chief Executive Officer & Co-Founder, FloodMapp

Holly Bridgwater, Principal Industry Engagement, Unearthed

RELATED: Want a data science job? Find out how

Law

Dr Sandra L J Johnson, Director | Child Development Paediatrics Clinical Associate Professor, University of Sydney

Dr Kobi Leins, Senior Research Fellow in Digital Ethics, Centre for AI and Digital Ethics
Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology, University of Melbourne

Aurelie Jacquet, Chair, IT-043 Standards Committee on AI

Finance

Dr Catherine Lopes, Founder & Director, Opsdo Analytics; Head of Data Strategy & Analytics, ME Bank

Sammi Bhatia, Co-Founder & COO, Medius Health

Dr Wen Chen (Monica), Research Scientist, CSIRO’s Data61

RELATED: Industry cadetships: tapping the talents of women in STEM

Agribusiness

Anastasia Volkova, Founder & Chief Executive Officer, FluroSat

Fiona Turner, Co-Founder & Chief Executive Officer, Bitwise Agronomy

Supriya Nair, Director, OutofBox Solutions

RELATED: Career insights from the coolest women in nuclear science

Cyber security

Dr Junae Kim, Cyber & AI Specialist, Defence Science and Technology Group

Dr Lina Yao, Scientia Associate Professor, School of Computer Science and Engineering, UNSW

Dr Sarah Erfani, Senior Lecturer, School of Computing and Information Systems, University of Melbourne

Education

Dr Beena Ahmed, Co-Founder, Say66, Senior Lecturer, School of Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications, UNSW

Lane Litz, Chief Executive Officer & Co-Founder, Chatterize

Dr Thushari Atapattu, Research Associate, School of Computer Science, The University of Adelaide

RELATED: Cyber security careers: Live webinar recording

Defence

Dr Kerry Trentelman, AI & Agents Specialist | Defence Science and Technology Group | Department of Defence

Dr Niusha Shafi Abady, Founder, CognoBit, Associate Professor in Intelligent Systems

Squadron Leader Kate Yaxley, Royal Australian Air Force Sir Richard Williams Scholar

Infrastructure

Distinguished Professor, Fang Chen, Executive Director, Data Science, University of Technology Sydney

Bonnie Shaw, Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer, Place Intelligence

Jiaming Li, Senior Research Scientist, CSIRO’s Data61

Manufacturing

Jamila Gordon, Chief Executive Officer & Founder, Lumachain

Liesl Yearsley, Chief Executive Officer, a.kin

Holly Hutson, Machine Learning Engineer, Max Kelsen

Innovation

Yolande Strengers, Associate Professor, Digital Technology and Society, Emerging Technologies Research Lab, Faculty of IT, Monash University

Dr Cécile Paris, Chief Research Scientist, CSIRO’s Data61

Michelle Aguilar, CTO and Co-Founder, VAPAR

The Women in AI Awards are also supported by the Minerals Council of Australia, Western Sydney University, Lockheed Martin, the University of Sydney, The Monash Data Futures Institute, Salesforce, Microsoft, ServiceNow, CommBank, Telstra, CSIRO, and AIML.

First published at www.CareerswithSTEM.com. Read more profiles and stories of Women in STEM!

Regional research set to get digital boost

Image: Dr Lining Arnold Ju, University of Sydney. Image: supplied.

The Australian Academy of Science along with the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources (DISER), congratulates the 26 recipients of the Regional Collaborations Programme COVID-19 Digital Grants.

Just over $250,000 in funding has been awarded to early-career and mid-career researchers to increase connectivity and engagement between Australian and Asia–Pacific economies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr Jin Han. Photo: supplied.

Dr Jin Han, an early-career researcher from the Black Dog Institute, will use her $8,940 grant to deliver an online mental health course, aimed at helping international university students develop effective stress coping strategies and psychological resilience post COVID-19.

“International students are more prone to social isolation with less access to public resources due to potential financial, informational, language or cultural barriers,” said Dr Han.

“This project will address an important gap in the current Asia–Pacific regional economics and public health.”

Professor Tanja Junkers. Photo: supplied

Professor Tanja Junkers, a mid-career chemist from Monash is also a grant recipient. Her $9,000 grant will go towards building a machine-readable cloud database of chemical reactions that can be combined by different laboratories around the world.

“This project is a completely new way of collaboration and interaction in the chemical space, be it across laboratories in one country, or across borders in the Asia–Pacific region,” said Professor Junkers.

This funding initiative, part of the Australian Government’s Global Innovation Strategy under the National Innovation and Science Agenda, supports projects that utilise digital methods of collaboration to address shared regional challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic response and recovery.

The Regional Collaborations Programme (RCP) is managed by the Australian Academy of Science on behalf of the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources.

The grant recipients are:

Recipient NameProject TitleGrant Amount
Dr Kiki Maulana Adhinugraha, La Trobe UniversityHow can digital innovation transform people’s behaviour in response to the COVID-19 restrictions in Indonesia?$9,980
Dr Thushari Atapattu, University of AdelaideMindSpace: Mental wellbeing and emotion awareness tool$10,000
Dr Venkatakrishnan Balasubramanian, Federation University AustraliaAI-based alarm to predict the sudden deterioration of health in COVID-19 patients$10,000
Dr Siva Chandrasekaran, Swinburne University of TechnologyClassification of nCov using deep learning CNN models on lung x-ray images$8,199
Dr Narelle Cox, Monash UniversityEasing health-service burden during COVID-19: Supporting implementation of remote rehabilitation in chronic lung disease$9,998.65
Dr Amirhossein Eslami Andargoli, Swinburne University of TechnologyCOVID-19 and virtual Healthcare: The barriers, enablers and drivers in Australia vs Pakistan$10,000
Dr Kelley Graydon, University of MelbourneAudiology digital training modules for low resourced settings$10,000
Dr Jin Han, Black Dog InstituteOnline mental health education for international students$8,940
Dr Hassan Hosseinzadeh, University of WollongongPatient experience with telemedicine: A risk reduction approach to COVID-19 management in Bangladesh$9,990.90
Dr Guangming Jiang, University of WollongongDevelopment of a machine learning platform to estimate COVID-19 community prevalence through wastewater-based epidemiology$10,000
Dr Lining Arnold Ju, University of SydneyHemodynamic analysis for COVID-19-on-a-chip model of blood clotting with integrated computational fluid dynamics simulation and particle image velocimetry.$10,000
Professor Tanja Junkers, Monash UniversityCloud-based chemical synthesis: Breaking barriers and redefining international collaboration in the chemistry space$9,000
Dr Kishan Kariippanon, University of WollongongSurabaya mental well-being check in (Surabaya tangguh: platform kualitas hidup penyintas COVID-19)$9,970
Dr Arutha Kulasinghe, Queensland University of TechnologyUnderstanding the immunopathology of COVID-19 infected myocardial tissue$10,000
Dr Christopher Lowbridge, Menzies School of Health ResearchStrengthening health systems capacity to respond to public health threats through digital education$10,000
Dr Iderlina Mateo-Babiano, University of MelbourneThe Gender and Transport Assemblage of Learning and Knowledge (GTALK)$9,976
Dr Sajib Mistry, Curtin UniversityGeo-spatial transfer learning data analytics to detect COVID-19 misinformation in the social media.$10,000
Dr Davoud Mougouei, University of WollongongReducing COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy by integrating public sentiments in vaccine communication: a machine learning framework$9,998
Dr Soon Hock Ng, Swinburne University of TechnologyWeb platform for remote data analysis and processing of synchrotron data$10,000
Dr Siddhi Pittayachawan, RMITCloud-based disaster relief coordination and optimisation platform: a proof of concept for Vietnam and beyond$10,000
Dr Derrick Roberts, University of Sydney‘Self-immolative’ commodity plastics for single-use medical PPE$9,245
Dr Shazia Ruybal, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical ResearchFit-for-purpose analytical tools to support COVID-19 sero-surveillance in Papua New Guinea$10,000
Dr Chin Wee Tan, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical ResearchComputational bioinformatics of COVID-19 digital spatial profiling in lungs$10,000
Dr Kamala Thriemer, Menzies School of Health ResearchInteractive digital capacity building for clinical trial staff and research institutions$9,660
Dr Johanna Wapling, Menzies School of Health ResearchStreamlining systems for remote support of SARS-CoV-2 testing at the National Health Laboratory of Timor-Leste$8,870
Dr Laurence Wilson, CSIRO Health and BiosecurityDeveloping a COVID-19 genetics platform for data-driven decision making$10,000

Other activities being undertaken with the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources in response to COVID-19 include a project examining the impact of the pandemic on women in STEM in the Asia-Pacific and a series of webinars discussing how science, technology and innovation are assisting in the response to the pandemic.

Background

The Regional Collaborations Programme COVID-19 Digital Grants aims to build strong regional linkages in the Asia–Pacific by funding multi-partner activities that facilitate greater collaboration in science, research and innovation and delivering innovative solutions to shared regional challenges.

These activities will reduce collaboration barriers and promote an open approach to science, research and industry collaboration through Australian-led projects and multilateral fora.

This investment in collaborative engagement will help establish enduring and impactful networks.

Read more about the Regional Collaboration Programme COVID-19 Digital Grants.

First published by the Australian Academy of Science

Collaboration to grow local smarts in emerging capabilities

In an effort to support Australia’s growing space, defence and national security capabilities, Nova Systems and the University of South Australia (UniSA), have committed to explore opportunities for collaboration.

Nova Group CEO Jim McDowell and UniSA Vice Chancellor Professor David Lloyd signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) this week, in a commitment to working closely over the next five years in industries critical to the State’s economy.

The MoU is focused on growing the future pipeline of engineers and conducting industry and academic exchanges in emerging technology areas, with a particular emphasis on defence, national security and space.

It will see the organisations collaborate in a range of areas, including:  

  • Staff and student placement opportunities including options to grow Nova’s award-winning Graduate Program.
     
  • Collaboration in research development and technology focused on defence, national security and space.
     
  • Joint development of training, education and short courses in support of defence, national security, and space industrial capability.

Nova Group CEO Jim McDowell said the signing strengthens the existing relationship between the organisations and would benefit the future workforce, who will be at the forefront of emerging technologies.

“As a 100% Australian owned and operated engineering services and technology solutions company, we are invested in working closely with academia to grow and sustain local smarts to solve complex challenges and keep our world safe and secure,” Mr McDowell said.

“This initiative will provide more opportunities for young Australians to gain industry insight, while at the same time studying at university, furthering the Australian Government’s efforts to create and sustain a local workforce of the future.

“By exchanging ideas and sharing best practice, students will gain new ideas about how to convert their learnings into practical solutions to support future capability requirements in the defence, national security and space domains.”

Collaboration in developing external short courses which support developing industrial capabilities will also be explored, including leveraging Nova’s established training in core capabilities, such Test and Evaluation.

UniSA Vice Chancellor Professor David Lloyd said the MOU would enable collaboration on world-class research and the provision of employment opportunities for graduates.

“With Nova being one of Australia’s leading engineering services and technology companies and UniSA a leader in the sector for industry engagement, it makes sense for us to work together,’’ Prof Lloyd said.

“The defence industry is a critical part of the South Australian economy – it’s essential that, as a university, we work closely with industry to educate a local, high-tech defence workforce for the future.

“This partnership will provide a great opportunity for our students to gain industry experience, for the defence industry to benefit from our world-class defence research, and for our academics to embed themselves in the industry.”

Science meets Parliament delivers online

Over the course of a whole month Science meets Parliament – the flagship event of Science & Technology Australia – delivered an innovative and engaging program, all online for the first time ever.


For 21 years, Science meets Parliament has been developing the advocacy skills of STEM professionals, and connecting them to decision-makers to nurture strong relationships and dialogue between the STEM sector and Government.

The early runway events gave delegates practical tips on how the policy process works, when and how to engage with it, and how to pitch their science. The main program featured internationally-recognised experts reflecting on a broad range of STEM and policy interaction spread across two days of exciting online activity.

As its centrepiece, Dr Cathy Foley delivered her first major address as Australia’s Chief Scientist at the National Press Club of Australia to an audience that included the co-chairs of Parliamentary Friends of Science – Science Minister Karen Andrews and Shadow Science Minister Richard Marles.

Science meets Parliament’s nearly 300 delegates got the opportunity to meet with and pitch their science to more than 60 MPs and Senators, as well as enjoying plenty of opportunities to build their own networks in the science community.

They also got a chance to find out more about Parliament House thanks to virtual tours of its beekeeping program from resident apiarist Cormac Farrell and a geology tour from Geoscience Australia Chief Scientist Dr Steve Hill.


Feedback from delegates after the event was overwhelmingly positive, especially around the online delivery format.

“I felt that the virtual delivery enhanced rather than hindered participation,” said one delegate.

“It was a fantastic event, even with most of the presentations are online,” added first-time delegate Dr Qian Peter Su.

“This event step-by-step reveals the process and tips for how STEM researchers can engage with government to make impacts in a logical way. The speakers are surprisingly open and genuine in providing advice, tips and opinions. The on-demand playback function not only allows flexibility but the opportunities to repeatedly watch some interesting topics for better information digestion. [I would] strongly recommended [it] to others,” said delegate Dr Yanyan Zhao.

The event concluded with concurrent gala dinners held in Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne, and Adelaide and featured talks from Minister Karen Andrews, Shadow Minister Richard Marles, and ANSTO’s Pamela Naidoo-Ameglio.


Science & Technology Australia thanked all its sponsors, partners, participating MPs and Senators, and the event’s delegates for making Science meets Parliament 2021 such a significant success.

Food waste helps secure future fish

Image: Shutterstock

Human food scraps could be used to create high-quality food for farmed fish, leading to a more sustainable global fish economy, according to a team of researchers at The University of Western Australia.


PhD student Katarina Doughty, from UWA’s Oceans Institute and School of Biological Sciences said the global dependence on fish products – both farmed and wild-caught – was rising, with roughly three billion people relying on seafood as a primary source of protein.


“The population is expected to exceed 9.6 billion by 2050, and the seafood sector is under great pressure to maximise production, while remaining within sustainable planetary boundaries,” Ms Doughty said.


The research, funded by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, found organic food waste destined for landfill could be repurposed and used to raise black soldier fly larvae, which could
then be fed to farmed fish to achieve better fish growth and performance.

The insect larvae – which are high in vitamins, minerals and essential amino acids – contain about 40 per cent protein and 30 per cent fat, making it a promising food to use in aquaculture environments.


Aquaculture, a practice which involves cultivating aquatic animal populations such as freshwater and saltwater fish under controlled conditions, is becoming an important source of human food.


“Globally, we are harvesting wild fish at their maximum levels, which makes further reliance on wild-caught fish unsustainable,” Ms Doughty said.


She said further development would be needed before aquaculture facilities could deliver long-term sustainable food production.


“Aquaculture can fill the gap between wild harvesting limits and consumer demand, but only if we develop sustainable feed alternatives that maintain fish growth, performance and health.


“Cultivating fish populations in aquaculture facilities often relies on wild-caught fish or agricultural sources, like poultry and soybean, which could be used directly by humans rather than as a feed source for high value fish.”


Ms Doughty is researching the use of black soldier fly as a feed source for rainbow trout, a globally important aquaculture species which is grown in 75 countries and almost every continent.


PhD student Isobel Sewell, from UWA’s Oceans Institute and School of Biological Sciences, is analysing how black soldier fly larvae could be used to farm two important Australian aquaculture species, barramundi and marron.

“I hope to use the findings of my research to develop new sustainable farming practices specific to both species, with the goal of aiding the development of sustainable aquaculture industries in Western
Australia,” Ms Sewell said.


The work is supported by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation in collaboration with WA’s Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Future Green Solutions Ltd, Ridley
Agriproducts Pty Ltd, GEA, and ChemCentre.

ANSTO develops new tech to minimise mining footprint

Image: ANSTO The drillcore rig setup on Dingo

The team at ANSTO, Australia’s knowledge centre for nuclear science and engineering have developed a new, cutting edge technology that may provide new insights into climate change and minimise the effects of mining by making it more efficient.

Using ‘Dingo’, one of the highest intensity neutron imaging machines in the world, ANSTO scientists have figured out how to greatly reduce the time needed to measure the exact mineral content of core samples.

Senior Instrument Scientist at ANSTO’s Australian Centre for Neutron Scattering Dr Joseph Bevitt developed the new technology which has the potential to significantly change the way minerals are explored around the world.

“At the moment, many drill core samples are X-rayed for surface mineral content, which is essentially a guesstimate,” Dr Bevitt said.

“While some drill cores are fully 3D imaged with X-rays, many cannot be studied in this way because X-rays do not have sufficient penetrating power.”

“Our neutron-imaging technology creates a full 3D map of the core, delivering the total mineral content for metal-rich and dense ores.”

The procedure is non-destructive and as quick as traditional X-rays and would mean the search for valuable minerals and their processing can be carried out in a more targeted manner, resulting in reduced environmental effects of mining.

“If you take gold for example, current X-ray technology is limited as to what it can reveal, especially when more abundant heavy metals such as lead are present in the ore as these prevent 3D X-ray imaging,” Dr Bevitt explains.

“Our 3D neutron tomography measures the exact gold content of a mining core, with neutrons able to image through lead, iron and other abundant metals, allowing parties to know the exact size of the lode underground through core samples without breaking earth.”

An upcoming upgrade to ANSTO’s 3D neutron imaging facility will also ensure simultaneous 3D neutron and X-ray imaging is achievable, enabling even more accurate mineral identification and quantification.

“This technology is revolutionary and a first for Australia,” Dr Bevitt said.

3D neutron tomography also has enormous benefits across numerous academic fields including environmental science, palaeontology, engineering, and cultural heritage. Speeding the method up opens the possibility for more, and deeper, research opportunities.

“By examining fossils, for example, we can learn how animals and plants evolved to thrive through changing environmental conditions. This research is essential as we seek solutions to the problems caused by climate change,” Dr Bevitt said.

“The device also can look for material imperfections down to a tenth of a human hair without damaging a sample. This is an integral part of ensuring the safety of materials being used for space and ocean exploration.”

Applications are currently open for academic researchers or commercial clients nationwide who may require access to ANSTO’s neutron imaging device or,any of its 13 other neutron scattering instruments for their research.

“This is one of the world’s most advanced neutron imaging machines, at one of the world’s top scientific facilities. For many researchers this will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to validate their theories.”

The rig was developed in collaboration with Dr Tim Murphy from Macquarie University. For more information about how to apply to collaborate on the Dingo, visit the ANSTO website.

This is the latest cutting-edge mining technology developed by ANSTO. Late last year, Dr Jessica Hamilton received an award from the Australian Academy of Science, following the development of her technique for using mining waste for carbon dioxide capture.

Dr Hamilton’s novel process sees mineral waste reused with acid neutralised and the CO2 captured.  Valuable products are produced in the form of carbonate minerals and the transformation of stockpiles of mineral waste into enriched ore that can be re-mined. 

Following the development of her technique, Dr Hamilton’s process is now being tested in diamond mines in Africa and Canada.”

Drones for life-saving medical supplies for remote communities

Custom-made, state-of-the-art medical drones with a flying range of up to 250km will be developed and trialled for delivery of potentially life-saving medicines in the Northern Territory – Australia’s first ever healthcare drone trail for regional Australia.

The project will also pave the way for future delivery of critical items such as cold-storage vaccines (COVID-19) in regional and remote communities, the iMOVE Cooperative Research Centre – part of the Federal Government-funded CRC Program has announced.

The Northern Territory is one of the most sparsely settled jurisdictions in the developed world with a significant Indigenous population living in remote communities.

iMOVE is funding the project in partnership with the NT Government Department of Health and Charles Darwin University (CDU), who will manage the trial under Associate Professor Hamish Campbell.

The project is already running with talks underway with manufacturers for suitable drone airframes capable of handling wet and dry seasons, and a maximum flying range of 250km.

Leading drone services consultants Hover UAV, who have managed projects for Google and developed cutting-edge shark detection surveillance technology, are advising on the project.

Drone pilots will soon be recruited and will undergo specialist training.

The Project will involve developing a drone test flight centre in the Northern Territory.

Key goals and milestones for the project include:

  • Regular drone flights of up to 100km by the end of 2021
  • Regular drone flights of up to 250km & regular transport of medical items to and from remote communities by July 1, 2023
  • Further development into drone delivery of cold-chain items (COVID-19 vaccine)

iMOVE programs director Lee-Ann Breger, a specialist in transformational R&D, conceived the project and was heavily involved in bringing together the necessary industry and government partners needed to undertake the project. 

“There are about eight million people living in rural and remote parts of the country – that’s about a third of our population living in places where getting life-saving medical supplies is not only a race against time, but also a battle against the tyranny of distance, harsh landscapes and unpredictable elements,” she said.

“Regional communities face medical access and health supply issues. This doesn’t have to be the case. We have the technology to put an end to this deprivation, especially in remote Northern Territory First Nations communities,” she said.

Breger said one of the project’s main goals was to create an efficient model so drone health delivery services could eventually be rolled out in other regional locations across Australia.

“We are looking at developing capacity and ways of doing things to ensure sustainability of this service beyond the lifetime of the project. It’s ground-breaking and important work, with significant benefits for millions of people who live in regional areas.

“Drones seem an obvious solution, a potential game-changer. In the not too distant future, if you see a drone flying overhead in the middle of nowhere there’s a fair chance that technology is on its way to help someone or even save their life,” Breger said.

First published by iMove

CyberSeek launched to close Australia’s cybersecurity talent gap

Australia’s largest cyber security services company, CyberCX, and cyber security growth network, AustCyber, together with a consortium of partners including Accenture, Burning Glass Technologies and CompTIA, have announced the Australian launch of CyberSeek – an interactive mapping tool that tracks the state of the Australian cyber security job market in real time and provides data on the talent gap within the sector.

This tool was funded through the AustCyber Projects Fund, which is a $15 million, three-year initiative designed to help the Australian cyber security industry grow and take ideas globally.

These organisations bring together market-leading expertise in workforce analytics, intelligence and career pathway development to provide CyberSeek users with the most relevant data and insights for cyber security professionals and job seekers, employers, educators, policymakers and students.

John Paitaridis, Cyber CX CEO, said “Cyber security workers protect Australia’s most important assets, from critical infrastructure to enterprise intellectual property, through to the personally identifiable information millions of Australians use to access their bank accounts. The dangerous shortage of cyber security workers Australia is facing puts our collective digital privacy and infrastructure at risk. As Australia’s largest cyber security provider, we want to play a leading role in helping build a robust and sustainable skills pipeline to drive the industry into the future.”

Data from the CyberSeek platform shows that in the 12 months to September 2020 there were over 14,000 job openings for dedicated and related cyber security roles in Australia, but a talent pool half the size of the national average for employers to recruit from.

For every job advertised in a cyber security related field in Australia, there are only six cyber security workers in existence in the labour market. The mass migration to remote working has only fuelled the need for more cyber security talent in Australia, with organisations now facing several additional security risks

“Maintaining and broadening efforts to attract and train workers in cyber security expertise will ensure the future quality of Australia’s cyber workforce,” said Michelle Price, AustCyber CEO. “Australia has some of the best cyber talent in the world, but we need to expand the supply of talent coming through the pipeline if we are to have a vibrant and globally competitive economy.

“The launch of CyberSeek ensures key enablers are in place to transition workers. This is an invaluable tool which provides information such as the demand for cyber skills by region across Australia, qualification and certification requirements for cyber roles, indicative salaries and transition pathways and role progression.”

CyberSeek uses sophisticated data analysis and aggregation tools developed by Accenture, Burning Glass Technologies and CompTIA to analyse hundreds of millions of job postings and real-life career transitions, providing powerful insights into labour market patterns.

Toby Brennan, Director of Strategy at Accenture, said “Demand for cyber skills is already strong and will only increase in the coming years, so it’s important Australia captures this critical economic opportunity. The importance of technology on our economy has created urgent need for organisations to rapidly adopt secure digital tools. We need to build a skilled workforce that understands the future environment.” 

The CyberSeek platform was first piloted in the USA by Burning Glass Technologies and CompTIA, where it has revolutionised how the cyber security job market is understood by people at every stage of their career journey.  Based on the National Initiative for Cyber Education – a framework that provides common definitions on cyber roles and workers – the data provides valuable intelligence to policy makers about the supply and demand of cyber security professionals across the country.

“The global pandemic underscores the critical importance of organisational and workforce resilience,” said Todd Thibodeaux, president and CEO, CompTIA. “Proactively preparing for the next crisis starts with cyber readiness and furthering our commitment to expanding Australia’s trained and certified tech workforce.”

CyberSeek features include an interactive heatmap of cyber security supply and demand, an interactive career pathway tool which highlights the key transition opportunities between common roles, and a certification and skills guide which calls out the credentials typically required for those roles.

Stone & Chalk and AustCyber merge

Today, Australia’s industrial capability in critical and emerging technologies will receive a boost from the strategic integration of Stone & Chalk and AustCyber.

The merger sees Stone & Chalk’s commercialisation services become available to Australian cyber security founders. This includes investment support, customer and talent acquisition, corporate partnerships, ecosystem support and curated mentorship from commercial leaders. Likewise, Stone & Chalk’s emerging technology founders will have access to vital support and expertise from AustCyber to ensure they are secure by design’ before they write their very first line of code. 

The merged organisation will provide startups and scale-ups with access to domestic and international customers, talent, expertise and capital. This will accelerate growth and maturity for companies as they become the fastest growing employers in the economy. In turn, this creates new and highly-skilled jobs for Australians and provides a highly attractive means for Australia to retain economic benefit. 

The organisation will also provide a powerful voice to better shape the policy and regulatory landscape for critical and emerging technology products and services.

AustCyber will become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Stone & Chalk, retaining its standalone brand, staffing structure and National Network of Cyber Security Innovation Nodes. It will also continue to operate as one of the Australian Government’s Industry Growth Centres. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear that Australia can no longer depend so heavily on imported technology which contains critical dependencies in supply chains,” said Stone & Chalk’s CEO Alex Scandurra. 

“In making our two organisations one, we are combining the greatest concentration of cyber security industry expertise in the country with the most developed technology commercialisation infrastructure that Australia has ever built. The integration of Stone & Chalk and AustCyber will enable our joint organisation to pursue a resilient and prosperous future not just for founders, enterprise and governments, but for all of Australia,” he said.

The organisations have joined forces at a time of unprecedented opportunity for Australian entrepreneurs – and unprecedented threats from both cyber criminals and state-sponsored threat actors against Australian public and private sector networks.

“It’s in our nation’s interests to be investing in scalable, flexible and sophisticated ways and means to nurture and propel forward emerging tech industries,” said AustCyber’s CEO Michelle Price. “AustCyber has demonstrated its ability to do this for cyber security and it’s critical we apply similar approaches to other emerging technologies.

“I have long respected the capabilities of Stone & Chalk and know that joining forces will provide our existing ecosystems with the tools they need to evolve, develop and thrive.”

Stuart Ayres, NSW Minister for Jobs, Investment, Tourism and Western Sydney, said the merger of Stone & Chalk and AustCyber will help the state and the nation continue to embrace emerging and critical technologies.

“The integration of these two organisations will see new jobs and investment for NSW, as well as the rest of the country, at a critical time when our economy is recovering from the pandemic. Our government will continue to support the growth of emerging technology and ensure cyber security is built into these new platforms from the ground up. These will be the jobs of tomorrow.”

COVID-19, cameras and AI: the story of a pandemic drone

Image: Shutterstock

As the COVID-19 death toll mounts and the world hangs its hopes on effective vaccines, what else can we do to save lives in this pandemic?

In UniSA’s case, design world-first technology that combines engineering, drones, cameras, and artificial intelligence to monitor people’s vital health signs remotely.

In 2020 the University of South Australia joined forces with the world’s oldest commercial drone manufacturer, Draganfly Inc, to develop technology which remotely detects the key symptoms of COVID-19 – breathing and heart rates, temperature, and blood oxygen levels.

Within months, the technology had moved from drones to security cameras and kiosks, scanning vital health signs in 15 seconds and adding social distancing software to the mix.

In September 2020, Alabama State University became the first higher education institution in the world to use the technology to spot COVID-19 symptoms in its staff and students and enforce social distancing, ensuring they had one of the lowest COVID infection rates on any US campus. ASU President, Quinton T. Ross, Jr., described the software as a “godsend”.

The collaboration between UniSA and its North American drone partner is helping to address potentially the number one threat to humanity – health security – and usher in a new era of telehealth.In this short documentary, Professor Javaan Chahl and his PhD students discuss the extraordinary journey they undertook in 2020 with this world-first technology to curb COVID-19, along with commentary from Draganfly CEO Cameron Chell and Alabama State University.

First published by UniSA.

New board member for Science and Technology Australia

Refraction Media co-founder and publisher of the Science Meets Business site, Heather Catchpole, has joined the Board of Science and Technology Australia, Australia’s peak body in science and technology representing more than 80,000 scientists and technologists.

“We are delighted to have Heather’s expertise and insights as one of our excellent Board of directors,” the STA announced today.

With Co-Founder and Co-CEO Karen Taylor Brown, Ms Catchpole created Refraction Media in 2013 with a view to inspiring a smarter future. Since its inception, Refraction Media has engaged with over 200 clients across the science and technology sector, including the Office of the Chief Scientist, Academy of Science, Google, Atlassian, ANSTO, the Australian Council of Deans of Science and the Cooperative Research Centres Association.

Refraction Media is a STEM content agency delivering innovative and engaging content across research, education and business. They are the publishers of the Careers with STEM platform, an inspirational tool for students, parents and teachers on the future of work and careers in science, technology, engineering and maths, which reaches 750,000 students annually in digital, print and video.

Ms Catchpole is a member of the Australian Institute of Physics and Women in STEMM Australia and a passionate advocate for inclusion and equality in STEM.

“STEM drives social change and is the lead employment sector of the future. We have a responsibility to ensure fair and diverse representation in STEM fields as science, digital and engineering transformations influence the way we work as a society.

“Too often, unintentional and intentional bias can lead to fundamental inequality in access to work, equal pay, mobility and healthcare.”

Ms Catchpole has a background in geoscience and a Master of Science Communication from the Australian National University and has worked for more than 20 years as a science journalist, producer and editor. She brings a wealth of experience in science and technology, leadership, digital and business growth, client and partnership development and interactive media content creation to her new role.

Recycling face masks into roads to tackle COVID-generated waste

Image: Medianet

Researchers have shown how disposable face masks could be recycled to make roads, in a circular economy solution to pandemic-generated waste. 

Their study shows that using the recycled face mask material to make just one kilometre of a two-lane road would use up about 3 million masks, preventing 93 tonnes of waste from going to landfill. 

The new road-making material developed by RMIT University researchers – a mix of shredded single-use face masks and processed building rubble – meets civil engineering safety standards. 

Shredded Face masks. Source: Medianet

Analysis shows the face masks help to add stiffness and strength to the final product, designed to be used for base layers of roads and pavements. 

The study published in the journal Science of the Total Environment is the first to investigate potential civil construction applications of disposable surgical face masks.  

The use of personal protective equipment (PPE) has increased dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic, with an estimated 6.8 billion disposable face masks being used across the globe each day.  

First author Dr Mohammad Saberian said multidisciplinary and collaborative approaches were now needed to tackle the environmental impact of COVID-19, particularly the risks associated with the disposal of used PPE. 

“This initial study looked at the feasibility of recycling single-use face masks into roads and we were thrilled to find it not only works, but also delivers real engineering benefits,” Saberian said. 

“We hope this opens the door for further research, to work through ways of managing health and safety risks at scale and investigate whether other types of PPE would also be suitable for recycling.” 

Making roads with masks 

Roads are made of four layers: subgrade, base, sub-base and asphalt on top. All the layers must be both strong and flexible to withstand the pressures of heavy vehicles and prevent cracking. 

Processed building rubble – known as recycled concrete aggregate (RCA) – can potentially be used on its own for the three base layers.  

But the researchers found adding shredded face masks to RCA enhances the material while simultaneously addressing environmental challenges on two fronts: PPE disposal and construction waste. 

Construction, renovation and demolition account for about half the waste produced annually worldwide, and in Australia, about 3.15 million tons of RCA is added to stockpiles each year rather than being reused. 

The study identified an optimal mixture – 1% shredded face masks to 99% RCA – that delivers on strength while maintaining good cohesion between the two materials. 

The mixture performs well when tested for stress, acid and water resistance, as well as strength, deformation and dynamic properties, meeting all the relevant civil engineering specifications. 

While the experimental study was conducted with a small amount of unused surgical face masks, other research has investigated effective methods for disinfecting and sterilising used masks. 

A comprehensive review of disinfection technologies found 99.9% of viruses could be killed with the simple “microwave method”, where masks are sprayed with an antiseptic solution then microwaved for one minute. 

In related work, the RMIT researchers have also investigated the use of shredded disposable face masks as an aggregate material for making concrete, with promising preliminary findings. 

Professor Jie Li leads the RMIT School of Engineering research team, which focuses on recycling and reusing waste materials for civil construction. 

Li said the team was inspired to look at the feasibility of blending face masks into construction materials after seeing so many discarded masks littering their local streets. 

“We know that even if these masks are disposed of properly, they will go to landfill or they’ll be incinerated,” he said.  

“The COVID-19 pandemic has not only created a global health and economic crisis but has also had dramatic effects on the environment. 

“If we can bring circular economy thinking to this massive waste problem, we can develop the smart and sustainable solutions we need.” 

‘Repurposing of COVID-19 single-use face masks for pavements base/subbase’, with co-authors RMIT Indigenous Pre-Doctoral Research Fellow Shannon Kilmartin-Lynch and Research Assistant Mahdi Boroujeni, is published in Science of the Total Environment (DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2021.145527). 

AT fitness: Runner with smart phone

How AI in health apps can make you fitter

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

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

One-size-fits-all doesn’t work

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

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

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

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

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

Taking AI into fitness

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

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

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

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

Leveraging data to motivate

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

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

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

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

This app:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s how it works

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Huong Ly Tong is a researcher and consultant in digital health. Ly is currently doing a PhD at the Centre for Health Informatics at Macquarie University. Her project looks at the development and evaluation of personalised digital interventions for behaviour change, under the supervision of Dr Liliana Laranjo, Dr Juan Quiroz and Professor Enrico Coiera. Her research is supported by the International Macquarie University Research Excellence scholarship. You can connect with Ly via Twitter or Linkedin.

From self-driving cars to better basketball shots

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

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

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

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

Working in industry and academia

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

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

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

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

Creating value for industry

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

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

Moving to the Australian Institute for Machine Learning 

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

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

Professor Simon Lucey

Co-Director Australian Institute for Machine Learning 

University of Adelaide

South Australia 

simon.lucey@adelaide.edu.au

Read next: Five ways science is fuelling new industries

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

Alan Finkel, Office of the Chief Scientist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CSIRO ‘gene sandwich’ to enhance wheat rust resistance

Image: Shutterstock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First published on CSIRO.au

CRC success: mineral processing technology to take on the world

Image: Shutterstock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thermal energy storage the key to reducing agricultural food pollution

Image: Open burning on rice field. Shutterstock

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

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

Boehringer Ingelheim and Google partner for quantum pharma R&D

Image: Shutterstock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First published by BusinessWire.

quantum technology

Ensuring Sydney’s place as a global hub for quantum

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

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

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

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

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

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

Producing future quantum leaders

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

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

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

Fuelling the nation’s quantum economy

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

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

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

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

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

Distributed by Medianet

Meet Australia’s newest Superstars of STEM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First published by Science & Technology Australia

Machine learning to help prevent seizures and monitor patients

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First published by CSIRO.au

R&D

Driving innovation by creating beta-testing sites for researchers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Distributed by Medianet

cyber security revenue

Australian hospitals are under constant cyber attack.

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

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

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

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

The current threat

The ACSC guidance identifies two significant threats.

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

SDBBot Remote Access Tool (RAT)

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

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

Cl0p ransomware

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

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

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

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

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

Potential consequences

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

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

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

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

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

Screenshot of Wannacry ransom demand. Wikimedia

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

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

Should we be worried?

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

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

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

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

Cl0p Leaks screenshot (taken from Dark Web site)

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

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

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