Tag Archives: Australian science news

agricultural research

Transplanting refugee knowhow

Featured image credit: new agricultural research brings community together to improve maize production. Credit: Facebook/Sunraysia Burundian Garden

Far from their native home in eastern Africa, a group of former refugees have brought their traditional farming methods to their new home in Victoria’s north.

Armed with shovels and hoes and some seeds, Mildura’s Twitezimbere Burundian community have planted a crop of maize – a traditional staple food in their home country – which is not only connecting them to the greater Mildura community, but is also connecting researchers with new agricultural methods.

These methods, employed in the northern Victorian township that’s known for its hot temperatures and vast food-growing industry, are helping researchers from the University of Melbourne and the University of Wollongong understand new ways to grow and support crops beyond current techniques. This is especially important in an era of increasingly erratic weather patterns.

agricultural research
Work in the maize field in Mildura. Credit: Facebook/Sunraysia Burundian Garden

Dr Olivia Dun, from the School of Geography at the University of Melbourne, says she and fellow researchers – Professor Lesley Head from the University of Melbourne and Dr Natascha Klocker from the University of Wollongong – have been able to gain important insights into different agricultural methods and crops that could be adopted in Australia.

With funding from an Australian Research Council Discovery Project, the researchers are exploring how people from ethnically diverse backgrounds value nature, how they practise agriculture and how they transfer skills from their home country to the Australian landscape.

“One of the reasons we’re doing this is because when we talk about migrants in relation to the environment, they’re often portrayed as a drain – extra people needing resources. It’s a population debate that frames migrants very negatively,” says Dun.

“So, we wanted to challenge that: these are people with skills, and migrants are not often asked about their knowledge and skills relating to nature.”

Drawing on this untapped resource has also provided the Burundian community multiple benefits: it not only provided the 100 members of the Burundian community with the main ingredient for their traditional dishes, but has also enabled them to connect with the broader Mildura community.

One of the Burundian participants, Joel, said of why he wanted to farm: “I looked and saw [that] this town is a town of farmers. So I thought it will suit me. Because I did not study, I don’t have a degree, I don’t expect to go and work in an office”.

Another agricultural research participant, Joselyne, says she sees Mildura as a “place to grow”.

And grow it has. The tiny maize seeds were planted in September 2016 and by February 2017 had flourished into a soaring crop in which people could get lost. Dun says its success has delighted everyone involved, but especially the local Burundians.

The Republic of Burundi is an east African country that has been blighted by a recent history of colonisation and bloody civil wars. Unlike Australia, the majority of Burundi’s population live in rural areas, so farming and agriculture are significant economic and practical components of life in the land-locked country.

Maize is a staple food for Burundians, along with sweet potato, cassava and wheat.

agricultural research
Preparing the soil for the first day of maize planting. Credit: Olivia Dun and Rachel Kendrigan

“Joel, Joselyne and other members of the Burundian community are extremely accomplished and knowledgeable farmers,” says Dun. “Through their interactions with more established farmers in Mildura, this project provides really exciting opportunities to learn about their farming methods.

“It’s been built on such a strong foundation of mutual respect and a willingness to learn from other cultures, which has been inspiring to see,” adds Klocker.

The community will consume about 10% of the maize fresh, and the rest will either be sold or dried and milled into flour to make ugali – a traditional East African dish. The success of the crop has opened the path for them to think about developing their own small business, selling maize to the Mildura community.

“They feel proud and it’s connected them to the general Australian community in Mildura in a very positive way,” says Dun.

The agricultural research project has been a group effort, made possible thanks to the generous access to one acre of land provided by Sunraysia Produce, support from Sunraysia Local Food Future’s members and Food Next Door program, Sunraysia Mallee Ethnic Communities Council and Mildura Development Corporation.

Dun says keeping this farming tradition alive has been particularly good for the younger kids amongst Mildura’s Burundian community, many of whom have grown up in Australia and have now been able to interact with this crop and how their family farmed in Africa.

Thanks to the success of the agricultural research pilot, more businesses and community groups are seeking to get involved and cultivate more under-utilised land. Vietnamese, Tamil, Nepalese, Hazara and young Anglo-Australian groups across Mildura want to get involved in the next farming scheme, with talks underway to cultivate and establish a community farm on a recently-donated 20-acre parcel of land.

– Alana Schetzer, University of Melbourne

The Food Next Door program needs help kick-starting the community farm and is currently looking for support and financial donations. If you would like to help, please email sunraysialocalfoodfuture@gmail.com

This article was first published by Pursuit. Read the original article here.

national press club address

Australia’s science vision centres on collaboration

Featured image: Australian Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, the Hon Arthur Sinodinos, addresses the National Press Club at Science meets Parliament 2017

The Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, the Hon Arthur Sinodinas, highlighted collaboration and ensuring all Australians understood the benefits of science as key areas of focus for the Government’s science ‘vision’ in an address to the National Press Club.

The Hon Sinodinas is the fourth Minister for Science in four years. This was his inaugural address to what Australia’s Chief Scientist Alan Finkel termed the ‘network of nerds’, a gathering of over 200 of Australia’s most senior scientists at Science meets Parliament.

Sinodinas said innovation has become a buzzword that “excites socially mobile, inner-city types; but for other Australians, creates anxiety – about job losses and insecurity.”

However Australians need to be prepared for disruption as “the new constant”, he warned.

“We need to manage the transition from the resources boom to more balanced, broad-based growth.

“This is against the backdrop of heightened uncertainty and slower economic growth, and a yearning for more protectionist measures.”

Sinodinas went on to quote Atlassian co-founder and highly successful tech entrepreneur Mike Canon-Brookes, who recently questioned if the government was “dodging the question of job losses as a result of innovative change.”

“The Government has started a conversation with the Australian people to address just that question. We’re about helping your business to respond to disruption and stay viable in the future. We want to create a culture of innovation across the board.”

Australia’s climate science and energy future

Overall, the mood at Science meets Parliament, which brings 200 science, technology, engineering and maths professionals and researchers to Canberra to pitch their programs to politicians – about a third of whom volunteer their time – was positive and researchers were happy to be heard.

national press club address
Science meets Parliament brings together 200 STEM professionals, researchers and Australian politicians.

“Science meets Parliament is a great event. It is about recognising the contribution of scientists. Scientists and politicians should be natural communicators,” said Sinodinas.

He also addressed criticisms of the Government’s commitment to climate change science at the National Press Club address.

“We haven’t turn our back on climate science, we made sure it is properly looked after and protected and that will provide its own insight into climate science information. We are also trying to deal with this issue at the same time as we deal with the affordability and reliability of energy.”

Science at the forefront of the next election

Last night both the Minister and Opposition Leader the Hon Bill Shorten presented their vision of science at a gala dinner. Sinodinas extolled Australia’s national research infrastructure, including the Australian Synchrotron and the Square Kilometre Array, a 3000-dish radio antennae that will offer an unique glimpse into the universe’s early history. He also emphasised we need to “nail collaboration”.

“As a country, if we want to have control over our economic destiny, we want to have world class companies operating out of Australia. To do that we need to nail collaboration.

“Finding the money for the next stage of the research infrastructure is a challenge.”

Shorten also highlighted collaboration as an essential goal, and reiterated the Opposition’s goal to invest 3% of GDP in science R&D by 2030.

“Science research and innovation are not niche areas. They should be frontline for all of us.

“The issues that scientists deal with are political and there needs to be this engagement,” said Shorten.

“Science research and innovation are economic, environmental and practical issues that are vital to adapting to technological change and will allow us to compete in the Asian market. It shapes the way that we learn and teach.”

national press club address
Opposition Leader the Hon Bill Shorten with Refraction Media Head of Content Heather Catchpole (left) and CEO Karen Taylor-Brown (right)

He also emphasized the need for job security for postgraduate researchers, a sentiment widely echoed by scientists attending the Science meets Parliament event.

“For all of those postdoc researchers who spend years, we owe you certainty in terms of support,” said Shorten.

“We can’t complain about fake news when the facts don’t suit the stories. We see you as essential to the future. Science will be at the forefront of the next election.”

– Heather Catchpole

top stories

Top stories of the year

Featured image above: AI progress makes history – #2 of the top stories in STEM from 2016.

1. New way to cut up DNA

On October 28, a team of Chinese scientists made history when they injected the first adult human with cells genetically modified via CRISPR, a low-cost DNA editing mechanism.

Part of a clinical trial to treat lung cancer, this application of CRISPR is expected to be the first of many in the global fight against poor health and disease. 

2. AI reads scientific papers, distils findings, plays Go

Artificially intelligent systems soared to new heights in 2016, taking it to number 2 on our list of top stories. A company called Iris created a new AI system able to read scientific papers, understand their core concepts and find other papers offering relevant information.

In the gaming arena, Google’s DeepMind AlphaGo program became the first AI system to beat world champion, Lee Se-dol, at the boardgame Go. Invented in China, Go is thought to be at least 2,500 years old. It offers so many potential moves that until this year, human intuition was able to prevail over the computing power of technology in calculating winning strategies. 

3. Scientists find the missing link in evolution

For a long time, the mechanism by which organisms evolved from single cells to multicellular entities remained a mystery. This year, researches pinpointed a molecule called GK-PID, which underwent a critical mutation some 800 million years ago.

With this single mutation, GK-PID gained the ability to string chromosomes together in a way that allowed cells to divide without becoming cancerous – a fundamental enabler for the evolution of all modern life. GK-PID remains vital to successful tissue growth in animals today. 

4. Data can be stored for 13.8 billion years

All technology is subject to degradation from environmental influences, including heat. This means that until recently, humans have been without any form of truly long-term data storage.  

Scientists from the University of Southampton made the top stories of 2016 when they developed a disc that can theoretically survive for longer than the universe has been in existence. Made of nano-structured glass, with the capacity to hold 360TB of data, and stable up to 1,000°C, the disc could survive for over 13.8 billion years. 

5. Mass coral bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef

The most severe bleaching ever recorded on the Great Barrier Reef occurred this year. Heavy loss of coral occurred across a 700km stretch of the northern reef, which had previously been the most pristine area of the 2300km world heritage site.

North of Port Douglas, an average of 67% of shallow-water corals became bleached in 2016. Scientists blame sea temperature rise, which was sharpest in the early months of the year, and which resulted in a devastating loss of algae that corals rely on for food. 

6. Climate protocol ratified – but Stephen hawking warns it may be too late

On the 4 November 2016, the Paris Agreement became effective. An international initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and control climate change, the Paris Agreement required ratification by at least 55 countries representing 55% of global emissions in order to become operational.

So far 117 countries have joined the cause, with Australia among them. But some of the world’s greatest minds, including Stephen Hawking, believe time is running out if the human race is to preserve its planet. 

7. Young people kick some serious science goals

A group of high schoolers from Sydney Grammar succeeded in recreating a vital drug used to treat deadly parasites, for a fraction of the market price.

The drug, known as Daraprim, has been available for 63 years and is used in the treatment of malaria and HIV. There was public outcry in September when Turing Pharmaceuticals raised the price of the drug from US$13.50 to US$750. 

In collaboration with the University of Sydney and the Open Source Malaria Consortium, a year 11 class at Sydney Grammar created the drug at a cost of only $2 per dose, and made their work freely available online.

8. Gravitational waves detected

Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity was confirmed in February, when scientists observed gravitational waves making ripples in space and time. 

Gravitational waves are thought to occur when two black holes merge into a single, much larger, black hole. They carry important information about their origins, and about gravity, that helps physicists better understand the universe. 

The gravitational waves were observed by twin Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory detectors in Louisiana and Washington. Australian scientists helped to build some of the instruments used in their detection.

9. Moving away from chemotherapy

Researchers at the University College London made a leap forward in cancer treatment when they found a way to identify cancer markers present across all cells that have grown and mutated from a primary tumour. They also succeeded in identifying immune cells able to recognise these markers and destroy the cancerous cells. 

This breakthrough opens the door not only for better immuno-oncology treatments to replace the toxic drugs involved in chemotherapy, but also for the development of personalised treatments that are more effective for each individual.

10. New prime number discovered

The seventh largest prime number ever found was discovered in November. Over 9.3 million digits long, the number 10223*231172165+1 was identified by researchers who borrowed the computer power of thousands of collaborators around the world to search through possibilities, via a platform called PrimeGrid. 

This discovery also takes mathematicians one step closer to solving the Sierpinski problem, which asks for the smallest, positive, odd number ‘k’ in the formula k x 2n + 1, where all components of the formula are non-prime numbers. After the discovery of the newest prime number, only five possibilities for the Sierpinski number remain.

– Heather Catchpole & Elise Roberts

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Gravity waves hello

Have a story we missed? Contact us to let us know your picks of the top stories in STEM in 2016.

3D printed jet engine

3D printing turbo-boost for university spin-off

The Monash University-led team who created a 3D printed jet engine last year have enabled a new venture for manufacturing aerospace components in France.

Melbourne-based Amaero Engineering – a spin out company from Monash University’s innovation cluster – has signed an agreement with the University and Safran Power Units to print turbojet components for Safran, the French-based global aerospace and defence company.

“Our new facility will be embedded within the Safran Power Units factory in Toulouse and will make components for Safran’s auxiliary power units and turbojet engines,” says Barrie Finnin, CEO of Monash spin-out company Amaero.

Monash University’s Vice-Provost (Research and Research Infrastructure) Professor Ian Smith says that the Amaero-Safran agreement is an excellent example of the University’s exceptional research having commercial impact on a global scale.

“I am delighted that Monash is contributing to global innovation and attracting business investment with our world-class research. The Amaero-Safran collaboration is a fabulous example of how universities and industry can link together to translate research into real commercial outcomes,” Smith says.

Monash Jet Engine on display at the Avalon Airshow.
Monash Jet Engine on display at the Avalon Airshow.

The world’s first 3D printed jet engine was revealed to the world at the 2015 Melbourne International Airshow. As part of a project supported by the Science and Industry Endowment Fund (SIEF) Safran, Monash University and Amaero, in collaboration with Deakin University and the CSIRO, took a Safran gas turbine power unit from a Falcon executive jet, scanned it and created two copies using their customised 3D metal printers. This research is now being extended further through the support of Australian Research Council’s (ARC) strategic initiative “Industry Transformation Research Hub” and several industrial partners including Safran and Amaero.

“We proved that our team were world-leaders,” says Professor Xinhua Wu, Director of the Monash Centre for Additive Manufacturing. “I’m delighted to see our technology leap from the laboratory to a factory at the heart of Europe’s aerospace industry in Toulouse,” Wu says.

Amaero will establish a new manufacturing facility on the Safran Power Units site in Toulouse using a 3D printing technology known as Selective Laser Melting. They will not only bring the know-how and intellectual property they’ve developed in partnership with Monash University, they will also relocate two of the large printers they have customised for this precise manufacturing task.

Safran Power Units will test and validate the components the team makes, and then the factory will enter serial production, producing components that Safran Power Units will post process, machine and assemble into auxiliary power units and turbojet engines for commercial and defence use. The project team expect that production will commence in the first quarter of 2017.

Hear from Professor Xinhua Wu:

This information on 3D printed jet engine technology was first shared by Science In Public on 8 November 2016. Read the original article here.

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How does 3D printing work?

shelf-life

Ensuring shelf-life right from the word ‘grow’

A pair of Curtin University researchers have come up with a way of extending the shelf-life of vegetables, fruit and flowers by slowing down the process that leads to them spoiling. 

The process has the potential to help reduce the billions of tonnes of food that are wasted worldwide each year.

In effect, it also represents a new weapon in the fight to help feed the world’s growing population, estimated to reach more than nine billion people by 2050.

Making food last longer and reducing waste will help feed more people, compared to alternative strategies of having to increase food production.

The process was developed by horticultural researcher Professor Zora Singh and organic chemist Dr Alan Payne.

Food and flowers ripen, and then over ripen and spoil, due to their natural production of ethylene gas.

The researchers have come up with compounds they’ve dubbed ‘ethylene antagonists’ (in chemistry an antagonist is a substance which inhibits another process).

The result is that fruit and vegetables stay fresher for longer, and cut flowers take longer to drop their petals.

“The way these compounds work is that they don’t reduce the production of ethylene, they prevent the fruits, vegetables and flowers from perceiving ethylene,” says Payne.

“Every fruit has a receptor that ethylene binds to.”

“What we’re doing is we’re masking those receptors.”

Singh says up to 44% of fresh food and produce spoils before it reaches consumers, and that half of this is due to ethylene production.

Singh has been working in the food research area for more than two decades and several years ago approached Payne.

“I started to think how could I make a compound that’s easier to make, easier to use and I came up with these compounds that Zora was happy to test on his fruits and flowers,” says Payne.

The pair says their ethylene blockers are more versatile than current methods of increasing shelf-life and can be used pre- or post-harvest as a solid or liquid by spraying, dipping, waxing or fumigation.

“The beauty of these compounds is that we can apply them in the production phase, when the food is growing,” Singh says.

“We tried to make them more user friendly, because it was already being used by the industry.”

Their work won a recent Curtin Commercial Innovation Award.

The researchers and Curtin University have filed a patent and are seeking potential partners to commercialise the technology.

This article was first published by ScienceNetwork WA on 24 October 2016. Read the original article here.

technology transfer

Empowering knowledge transfer

To date TTPs have lacked clear and identifiable career paths.  While commercialising publicly funded research is relatively new, the drive from external stakeholders such as Government and business to “do better” has escalated the need to better define the practice, and outline what is required to effectively put research to use in both an ethical and competent manner.

Knowledge Commercialisation Australasia (KCA) commissioned the development of a world-first career Capability Framework that defines the skills, knowledge, behaviours and values required by a team taking research to market, and outline career paths for those working in the role at different levels. 

Entitled Knowledge Transfer in Australia: Is there a route to professionalism?,  the new Framework is the result of intensive research where 103 TTPs, 31 stakeholders and 64 Australasian organisations were interviewed and surveyed. It describes up to 200 desired capabilities for TTPs, divided into seven clusters and sixteen sub-clusters, and classified by development stages: early-career, mid-career and senior level. 

Infographic

technology transfer professionals
Click the image above to open KCA’s Technology Transfer Professionals infographic.

Results

Study participants perceived the skills of Australasian TTPs to be strong in the area of intellectual property advice and knowledge transfer, plus the qualifications and experience of those in the industry is well respected. The skills requiring the most development are in the areas of business acumen, communications and influence, legal compliance and advice, marketing and relationships, social media, and strategy and results.

KCA Chair and Director of Monash Innovation at Monash University, Dr Alastair Hick says that with increased demand and interest in improving the transfer of research to market, the KCA Framework comes at the right time. 

“To date there has been a lot of discussion about Australia’s record of translating research success into commercial uptake and jobs creation, with much of it focussing on the researcher,” says Hick.  

“However, technology transfer professionals play a vital role in commercialising research out of research organisations so ensuring they have the right skills and development are crucial to this commercial success. The framework is helping us to benchmark our performance and skills and see where KCA can provide additional training opportunities for our members.”

Applications

In March 2015, the Professional Standards Council awarded a $98,000 grant to KCA to develop the framework for the professional competency standards of the technology transfer sector.

“The Capability Framework we have developed provides benchmarks for technology transfer professionals (TTPs), against which the performance of individuals and teams can be measured,” says Hick.

“A digest of the Framework will be provided to KCA Members as a toolkit to improve recruitment practices, select targeted professional development, communicate their capabilities to stakeholders, and enable informed self-assessment and career planning.

“Researchers and industry stakeholders can also use the Framework to improve their understanding of the role of TTPs, thereby promoting more transparent, accountable and productive partnerships.”

Next steps for Technology Transfer Professionals

Recommendations for KCA and similar organisations include the development of a Code of Ethics for the TTP sector; focused education programs to address the identified skills gaps; secondment and mentoring programs involving Technology Transfer Offices and industry stakeholders and a formal processes for stakeholder feedback on the performance of TTPs.

“We are delighted to see this report, as it tackles the issue of advancing knowledge exchange and commercialisation by providing insights to build Australian industry,” says Dr Deen Sanders, Chief Executive Officer of the Professional Standards Council.

“It also shows that this sector is taking a serious and strategic approach to raising standards and becoming a profession,” says Sanders. 

Read the full report here.

This information was first shared by Knowledge Commercialisation Australasia and gemaker on 9 September 2016. Read the original article here.

SAGE pilot

Men of history, women of the future

The modern disciplines and industries of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) have developed over centuries, from the natural philosophers of the Renaissance to the multi-billion dollar global enterprises of today. With only a few exceptions – Ada Lovelace, Marie Curie and Rosalind Franklin among them – men have dominated the institutions of STEM, brought new technologies and innovations to market, and inevitably reaped the recognition and the rich and varied rewards.

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the structures and processes that underpin STEM today have evolved in a way that strongly favour men. Reflecting on my own career, I well remember my surprise at being asked to change a regular Saturday morning departmental staff meeting to a time more compatible with the family responsibilities of some of my female colleagues. The request was eminently sensible, but such considerations were only just beginning to register with STEM leaders of the 1990s.

Fast-forward to 2016, and while many of the policies and procedures that support hiring and promotion practices have improved, there remain significant structural and cultural problems that need to be overcome.

There is a sharp and in some cases growing discrepancy in representation of women and men across the academic spectrum, with women holding more than 50% of junior positions across most STEM disciplines, but fewer than 20% of full professorships.

Professor Tanya Monro, Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of South Australia spoke on this issue with Professors Nalini Joshi and Emma Johnston at the National Press Club in March 2016. She described the ‘motherhood penalty’ that has been shown to affect income, career advancement and perceived competence relative to men and to women without children.

Catherine Osborne also spoke on the ABC Science Show about how the lack of flexibility and the short term nature of contracts offered to early and mid-career scientists – particularly women – forced her out of her chosen profession.

In an effort to address these issues, the Australian Academy of Science and the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering joined forces in 2015 to launch the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) initiative that is piloting the Athena SWAN Charter; a UK-based accreditation framework that rewards universities and other research institutions on the basis of how much they do to improve gender equity in STEM.

Thirty of Australia’s 40 universities have now joined the SAGE pilot. So have a number of medical research institutes and research agencies, CSIRO among them. The Academies are grateful to the Australian Government for their support of this initiative through the National Innovation and Science Agenda.

However, the efforts to change the many structural barriers to gender equality in STEM are only the beginning. More insidious, and therefore more difficult to overcome, are the significant cultural norms and unconscious biases that affect day-to-day interactions between men and women working in STEM, as they do throughout society.

There is clearly much to be done. Forward thinking organisations are setting targets for achieving gender balance in senior STEM roles by 2025 or 2030. Between now and then, programs like the SAGE pilot, Male Champions of Change and the Panel Pledge will make a difference, but true change will require leadership and commitment from us all.

Professor Andrew Holmes AM

President, Australian Academy of Science

Read next: Dr Saraid Billiards of the NHMRC sheds light on funding reforms that are vital to the retention and progression of women in STEM.

People and careers: Meet women who’ve paved brilliant careers in STEM here, find further success stories here and explore your own career options at postgradfutures.com.

Spread the word: Help Australian women achieve successful careers in STEM! Share this piece on the SAGE pilot using the social media buttons below.

More Thought Leaders: Click here to go back to the Thought Leadership Series homepage, or start reading the Graduate Futures Thought Leadership Series here.

corporate culture

Smashing the glass ceiling

“Science Meets Business” – this is a beautiful thing. It does not get better than that for me, having trained as a scientist and worked for more than 30 years in business, including the past 27 years with Dow, one of the world’s leading science and technology companies.  At Dow we are proud of our mission to combine chemistry, physics and biology to create what is essential for human progress. As our ever growing population faces pressing challenges, we believe that innovation will be the key to addressing the needs of the future.

Implicit in this vision is that graduates in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) are readily available to drive innovation and progress humanity and, just as importantly, that the graduate pool reflects the diversity of our society in all its dimensions.

Over recent years, there has been an increasing recognition of the imbalance of women in STEM.  This has culminated in an impressive $13 million of the National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA) funding being earmarked to support women in STEM careers including support for SAGE, Australia’s Science and Gender Equity initiative to promote gender equity in STEM.

Changing corporate culture

There is a real need for this concerted effort to address gender inequity. According to the Chief Scientist’s March 2016 report, women make up only 16% of Australia’s STEM Workforce.

The good news is that in recent years, a lot has been done to address the gender inequality issues.  We have a strong combination of social awareness, government policy and financial investment, corporate and business buy-in and social consciousness of the issue.

I have recently met a number of female board directors who have openly acknowledged that their appointment is due to the Victorian governments spilling of agency boards and establishing a 50% gender quota requirement. This is one example of real and substantial change.

Across the globe, Dow has over 1,600 employee volunteers, known as STEM Ambassadors, who are helping to bring STEM subjects to life in the classroom, and serving as role models of a diverse STEM workforce.

In partnership with the Women in Business Summit hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ), Dow has also taken a leadership role to improve STEM career development opportunities for women.  We are progressing slowly, but steadily, with women constituting nearly 60% of new Australian and New Zealand hires at Dow in 2016.

With the $13 million NISA investment and the changing corporate culture, now is the perfect opportunity for young women to seek and develop a career in STEM.

Innovation in general will be the driving force of commercial success, economic growth and national development. A large part of this will come from R&D and innovation in STEM fields.

If the majority of future jobs are yet to be imagined, then women in particular are in a perfect position to seize the opportunity of creating these positions.

The management glass ceiling might exist today, but if the jobs are yet to be invented, then then we have a chance of shattering that ceiling in the future.

Tony Frencham

Managing Director & Regional President, Australia and New Zealand, Dow Chemical Company

Read next: CEO of AECOM Australia and New Zealand Lara Poloni explains why it’s important for women to stay connected with the workplace during a career break.

People and careers: Meet women who’ve paved brilliant careers in STEM here, find further success stories here and explore your own career options at postgradfutures.com.

Spread the word: Help Australian women achieve successful careers in STEM! Share this piece on corporate culture using the social media buttons below.

More Thought Leaders: Click here to go back to the Thought Leadership Series homepage, or start reading the Graduate Futures Thought Leadership Series here.

role models

The power of non-linear role models

The world around us is undergoing rapid transformation by people finding innovative ways to use information and technology to better serve our needs. At the heart of these disruptive innovations are people with deep groundings in science, technology, engineering and maths – the STEM disciplines.

Critically, the number of kids studying subjects in school that lead to STEM courses is decreasing. According the Australian Bureau of Statistics only 29% of STEM graduates are women, and in the key disciplines of IT and engineering this falls to 14%. Low enrolment numbers for women in STEM have been a consistent factor since I was an undergraduate in engineering.

Today, Australia competes in the global race for innovative ideas with only half the team – the male half. If we are to develop new industries that move us beyond Australia’s traditional industries and allow us to be globally competitive, we have to change.

For a start, we have to help our kids, and in particular our girls, understand the wealth of opportunities open to them with a STEM foundation. We need to address any perceived or real bias in our high school exam systems and marking arrangements that discourage kids from taking up studies in maths and science. With the highly competitive nature of the results from high school assessments, we need to work to change views that taking STEM subjects could lead to any disadvantage.

We also have to recognise – as a positive – the fact that many STEM graduates will work in roles outside of the classical STEM disciplines. These are role models for a future in which interdisciplinary graduates are able to contribute to the transformation of traditional industries such as the finance, automotive and healthcare sectors.

In an effort to stimulate interest in STEM early on in schooling, Macquarie University runs the FIRST Robotics program in Australia for children in years K–12, with key sponsorship by Google and Ford. This program gives all participants a chance to work as teams that bring together mechanics, electronics, information processing, design and software development skills to build robots and compete with them.

This is an example of how we can not only inspire school students’ interest in STEM, but create pathways for them to pursue these fields into further study, careers, and entrepreneurship in a variety of areas. Today the program involves 5000 kids from 600 schools, and the total numbers of participants across Australia is rapidly growing.

Having stimulated interest at school, we need examples at universities and in the workplace that highlight the important roles that women with STEM backgrounds occupy. This is vital to improving the pull of women through universities and into industries where they are able to make meaningful contributions.

At Macquarie University, we are actively focused on building women’s participation in world-leading research programs through the Science in Australia Gender Equality (SAGE) program. We are able to celebrate the achievements of our world-leading female researchers, including role models such as Macquarie University’s Professor Ewa Goldys (recent winner of a Eureka Award) and Professor Nicki Packer.

Having shining examples of where STEM can take our young women is key to closing the gender gap. We need to expose women to the right kinds of images and messages, which involves having conversations around the non-traditional and non-linear career pathways available to them.

Professor Barbara Ann Messerle

Executive Dean, Faculty of Science and Engineering, Macquarie University

Read next: Deloitte Partner Elissa Hilliard says raising Australia’s STEM IQ means teaching girls foundational skills in their formative school years.

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diagnosing dysphagia

Diagnosing dysphagia without radiation

Featured image above: research nurse Alison Thompson diagnosing dysphagia using the AIMplot software with a Motor Neurone Disease patient.

AIMplot Collaborative Software was developed by researchers from Flinders University in South Australia to give clinicians the ability to accurately assess patient swallowing at the bedside.

AIMplot developer Taher Omari says the new program was a standard above contemporary techniques because current methods involved x-rays, which took a long time to process and exposed patients to radiation.

“If you are looking at x-rays you are not actually measuring anything you are just visualising what is happening. What our method is doing is putting some numbers onto that,” he says.

“The analysis simplifies it for clinicians and allows them to get some immediate results that tells them how well someone is swallowing.

“The big advantage is that it doesn’t require radiology, you don’t’ need exposure to x-rays. Our technique can be done at the bedside and you can take the system to the patient and get a measurement done in a ward.”

Clinicians use a highly robust catheter with multiple pressure sensors placed along the length of the tube to measure muscle contractions and pressure flow.

The catheter is introduced via the naval cavity until it reaches the upper oesophagus sphincter and then patients are given a variety of different substances to swallow.

Data is immediately sent to a computer with the AIMplot software installed and the information is translated into a simple analysis.

Clinicians can determine whether the problem is muscular, related to the nervous system or if there are any blockages in the throat.

Dysphagia or difficulty swallowing, is a common symptom for people who deal with neurological conditions such as strokes, motor neuron disease and Parkinson’s Disease.

According to the World Gastroenterology Organisation stroke is the leading causes of dysphagia and are present in up to 67%of patients.

“Normally you need about three or four people to get the assessment. But with our biomechanical method you can do (the procedure) with just one or two,” says Omari.

“You are measuring the swallowing biomechanics as a opposed to just looking at images.”

diagnosing dysphagia
Associate Professor Taher Omari with the AIMplot software

The new software for diagnosing dysphagia is currently being trialled by three major medical centres: Saint George Hospital in Sydney, University Hospitals Leuven in Belgium and Flinders Medical Centre in South Australia.

Omari says a commercial version could be available internationally within the next six months.

Dr Charles Cocks who is a gastroenterologist at Flinders Medical Centre says dysphagia affects about 60% of nursing home residents worldwide and AIMplot could help accurately differentiate different cases.

“The contemporary methods are open to interpretation whereas this (AIMplot) is a lot more objective,” he says.

“It’s quite simple once you know how to interpret it. It’s also very reproducible. If you take it from here to somewhere else, other people will get the same results.

“Including the x-rays, it (a contemporary method) takes about 45 minutes. With the software we can do the analysis in about 15 minutes. I definitely think this is the way to go – this is the way of the future in terms of ease and accuracy of diagnosis.”

– Caleb Radford

This article about diagnosing dysphagia was first published by The Lead on 9 August 2016. Read the original article here.

collaboration platform

Collaboration platform welcomes universities

The Australian National University and the University of Western Australia have become the first research institutions in Australasia to join IN-PART, a global university-industry collaboration platform.

Researchers at these universities will have access to a growing community of 2000+ R&D professionals from over 600 businesses in Europe, Oceania, the UK, and the USA, who use IN-PART to collaborate with universities in the commercialisation of academic research.

“The potential of the output from world leading research at Australian institutions is huge, but the limited industrial base means that it is essential we partner with corporate world leaders to realise that potential”, said Professor Michael Cardew-Hall, Pro Vice-Chancellor of Innovation at The Australian National University.

“The ANU has strong links with many partner research institutions worldwide and strategic partnerships with major corporations. However, developing new partnerships that are mutually beneficial is a key strategy for the University”.

The Australian National University (ANU) and the University of Western Australia (UWA) will join 70 universities from the UK, USA, Japan, and Europe — including Cambridge, Cornell, and King’s College London — who currently use IN-PART to publish innovation and expertise from academics who are actively looking to interact with industry.

“We’re very excited about being able to profile our projects to targeted people in relevant industries, and to show people that UWA and Australia are the home of some amazing innovations. Just as our researchers rely on collaborating locally and internationally, tech transfer offices need to look further afield for development partners with particular expertise and routes to market”, said Simon Handford, Associate Director of Innovation at the University of Western Australia.

“Hopefully, IN-PART can help us meet future R&D partners and give more projects the chance of being translated into something that can be put to use”.

Launched in January 2014, IN-PART has facilitated the first point of contact for a range of university-industry collaborations that include licensing deals, co-development projects with joint funding, academic secondments, and long-term research partnerships.

This information was first shared by IN-PART on 11 August 2016.

Australia's biosecurity

Australia’s biosecurity future

Australia needs to take a fresh approach to its plant biosecurity science system according to the Australian Farm Institute’s Mick Keogh.

In a report released on 12 August– A sustainable and nationally coordinated plant biosecurity RD&E system for Australia – Keogh states that the establishment of a standalone plant biosecurity corporation, as a joint venture between the Australian Government, state governments and plant industries, should be a priority.

The report states: “The structure should have the flexibility to bring in other partners (for example the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries) and also to enter into joint-venture projects with other industry participants, such as grain or horticulture trading corporations.

Additionally it recommends that the structure be led by a dedicated, skills-based board, elected or appointed by contributing organisations or governments and have annual funding levels approximately equal to the current Plant Biosecurity Cooperative Research Centre (PBCRC) (around $25 million per annum).

The focus should be on strategic and cross-sectoral plant biosecurity  research, development and extension (RD&E) projects and providing enhanced opportunities for the training and development of younger researchers.

Keogh says with no future sustainable plant biosecurity RD&E system yet described for Australia, resources for Australia’s biosecurity RD&E and surveillance on the decline, and the potential for major plant disease incursions increasing, there is a perfect storm brewing.

The Report, commissioned by the PBCRC, follows significant consultation with government, industry and research providers.

“Consultation confirmed broad support for a new approach to biosecurity RD&E, revealed a range of interpretations about how the current system works, and varying views on the best vehicle to drive a future RD&E system,” says Keogh.

Dr Michael Robinson, CEO of the PBCRC, observed there were many issues that were agreed upon by stakeholders.

“Through the consultation processes stakeholders were unequivocal in recognising the need for biosecurity to support Australian agriculture, growing its market and trade opportunities. We all agree on the need for nationally funded and coordinated plant biosecurity RD&E – for that we have consensus. Full stop. Consensus.”

“We also agree on the need to move now. The CRC has played an important cross-sectoral role over the past decade and any lapse between the CRC finishing in 2018 and a new system will leave a gaping hole in the plant biosecurity RD&E effort, not just for Australia but in the region and beyond,” says Robinson.

Tony Mahar, Chief Executive of the National Farmers’ Federation reiterated the importance of biosecurity in a recent blog saying: “it is one of the highest priorities for Australian Government services to both the Australian community at large and to farmers in particular. Our biosecurity system has a high level of research, development and extension capability in the plant and the livestock industries.”

Shenal Basnayake, CEO of NT Farmers said it is crucial that any future framework for plant biosecurity R&D involves and integrates industry and on-farm biosecurity within the overarching biosecurity R&D system. “Robust, peer reviewed, verifiable and science based R&D which is globally accepted will be key to maintaining a vibrant plant industries sector within Australia,” writes Basnayake in a PBCRC blog post.

Robinson says the Plant Biosecurity CRC is committed to leading the process, knowing that a long-term, nationally-coordinated research effort is essential for all agricultural interests.

“However, we can’t do it alone. We know there is no ‘correct’ answer on a future plant biosecurity RD&E structure, nor an ‘optimal’ structure from every stakeholder’s perspective but we firmly believe that through collective and constructive leadership we can avoid this potential perfect storm.

To find out more about Australia’s biosecurity future, click here to read the two-page Summary Paper, or access the full final report here.

This article was first published by the PBCRC on 12 August 2016. Read the original article here

Innovating Australia

Australia faces a challenging period in shifting towards an ‘innovation economy’, with a drive towards greater participation in science and technology; an increased focus on commercialisation success; and partnering research with industry. But how will we get there?

In this unique series, leaders from government, industry and academia share their vision for Australia’s innovation future, including Australia’s Chief Scientist Alan Finkel, Telstra’s CTO Vish Nandlall, CEO of AusBiotech Anna Lavelle, entrepreneur, surgeon and inventor Fiona Woods, Chief Defence Scientist Alex Zelinksy, and the Vice Chancellors from QUT, Peter Coaldrake, and Western Sydney Uni Barney Glover, and many more.

Read the Thought Leadership Series: Australia’s Innovation Future, here. Commentaries will be published throughout the week.

The path forward

There is no doubt that Australian R&D often punches far above its weight for the size of the nation’s population. But for too long Australian invention has stalled at the crucial points in moving research from lab to marketplace. From a nation of thinkers, there has been too little product. Buoyed by the rich resources in the landscape, we have rested on our laurels, riding the sheep’s back or relying on our mineral wealth.

There are notable exceptions. Most Australians, for example, are familiar with the success of the cochlear implant, invented by Professor Graeme Clark and pioneered with a team of surgeons at Melbourne’s Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital. This clever little device is now distributed in over 120 countries and has helped over 320,000 hearing-impaired patients. In the inaugural 2016 Top 25 Science Meets Business R&D spin-off list, this and other less familiar success stories – including companies just starting to make their mark – were noted and celebrated.

In December 2015, the Turnbull government pushed an agenda on innovation – the so-called #ideas boom. The innovation agenda clearly indicates that Australia must move from a resource-based economy to a knowledge-based economy. It highlights the poor track record of research commercialisation, and low rates of collaboration between industry and research organisations. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development rates Australia as last or second last on the level of collaboration against other developed nations. So how much further forward does the ideas boom push us, and what more can be done?

The December 2015 agenda throws $1.1 billion towards steps to address stagnation in research commercialisation and business growth in STEM. This includes $200 million industry incentive to work with the CSIRO and Australian universities, and a 20% non-refundable tax offset for early stage investors. There’s also money for Australian businesses looking to relocate overseas, bonuses for universities collaborating and resources allocated towards raising awareness of the importance of STEM in education.

While the money sounds great, transitioning towards a knowledge economy is more than just a fiscal move – it requires a fundamental shift in the notion of what it is to be Australian. The pathway towards this mental reimagining is far from clear, and will involve people in business, education, research and communication industries to change their thinking, develop ideas and set in motion a totally different model of achievement.

In this thought leadership series, those stepping up to deliver on this challenge describe their vision of science, technology, engineering, maths, and medicine – in the way we do the research and in how we benefit from these fields – to describe their first step towards this brave new world. – Heather Catchpole

Read the Thought Leadership Series: Australian Innovation Future, here.

Contributors

Dr Alan Finkel AO, Chief Scientist of Australia

Dr Anna Lavelle, CEO and Executive Director of AusBiotech

Professor Peter Coaldrake AO, Vice-Chancellor of QUT

Dr Krystal Evans, CEO of the BioMelbourne Network

Professor Peter Klinken, Chief Scientist of Western Australia

Professor Barney Glover, Vice-Chancellor and President of Western Sydney University and Dr Andy Marks, Assistant Vice-Chancellor (Strategy and Policy) of Western Sydney University

Dr Cathy Foley, Chief of CSIRO’s Division of Materials Science and Engineering

Dr Alex Zelinsky, Chief Defence Scientist and Head of the Defence Science and Technology Group

Vish Nandlall, Chief Technology Officer of Telstra

Professor Fiona M Wood, FRACS AM, Director of the Burns Service of Western Australia and the Burn Injury Research Unit at the University of Western Australia

Everyday this week

John Pollaers, Chairman of the Australian Advanced Manufacturing Council

Robert Hillard, Managing Partner of Deloitte Consulting

Kim McKay AO, CEO and Executive Director of the Australian Museum

Philip Livingston, Founder and Managing Director of Redback Technologies