Some vital contributions to successfulinnovation might be quite small; they might even be deemed mundane or boring. But that doesn’t diminish their importance. These contributions usually fall into Thomas Edison’s ‘99 per cent perspiration’ category of genius, whereas the one per cent inspiration bit gets the recognition.
Perhaps it’s because the perspiration part doesn’t get the fanfare it deserves that innovation can be overlooked during planning.
In planning workshops, I spend a lot of time getting participants to think of those future ‘head slapping’ moments that need to be avoided. These often relate to systems and policies — “of course, no-one can use it until it’s in the building code” or “of course, once the Council of Australian Governments has agreed, we can adopt it.”
These statements of the obvious don’t seem so obvious when R&D is initially planned. Nevertheless, they are invariably preceded by the phrase “of course” when they come up.
Now with 30 years of hindsight, I see the massive blind spot technical people have when it comes to so-called “softer” sciences. I don’t know the origin of calling them soft sciences; if we ignore them, we are just as royally stuffed as if we bet against one of Newton’s laws.
Billions of dollars of applied science funding have failed to meet their promise because the social or human aspects of the research were ignored or downplayed.
“If you build it, they will come” may have worked for Kevin Costner in his film, Field of Dreams, but it hasn’t worked so well for a lot of genetic modification research or certain methods of food production — or, arguably, nuclear power. Assuming that public attitudes, economics and the law will eventually catch up to the science is just asking to be proved wrong.
We technical people are getting better. We’ve started to invite a soft scientist or two to planning meetings. But building our machines and funding our experiments is super expensive and obviously needs to be done first. Inevitably, “human factors” will be “program four” (never “program one”), with details to be worked out later, followed by budgeting a bit later than that (“How much money can they need? A few surveys can’t cost much!”)
It’s time we started to see the human factor as a front-end consideration — rather than an afterthought tacked on a few steps before the finish line — and gave proper respect to the perspiration needed to get us there.
The goal of the CRC for Low Carbon Living (CRCLCL), which is in its final year of funding, is to achieve 10 megatonnes cumulative reduction in carbon emissions by 2020. This will provide a projected economic benefit to Australia of $684 million by 2027.
Speaking at its Annual Forum – From Research to Reality– in Adelaide, CRCLCL CEO Scientia Professor Deo Prasad AO said the past six years of low carbon research will significantly help reduce carbon emissions in Australia’s built environment now and into the future, through new technology and changes to policy and human behaviour.
“Our research collaborations with industry and government have proved that a low to zero carbon future is not pie in the sky as our research now becomes a reality and makes a real impact, which is the focus of this Forum,” he said.
“Over 120 projects have produced excellent results, such as the Built to Performreport which proves that changes to the National Construction Code could improve energy efficiency in Australian Buildings by up to 56 per cent and cut household energy bills by $200-900 per year; and a low carbon schools education pilot program, which saved 266 tonnes of carbon emissions in Western Australia, is now a viable ongoing national program called ClimateClever,” said Professor Prasad.
“The Low Carbon Living Australia program, a pilot which helped 80 tourism businesses in the Blue Mountains lower their carbon emissions by 15 per cent, has now been rolled out nationally with partner Eco Tourism Australia; and our Urban Heat Mitigation projects have provided an authoritative new body of Australian research critical to how we keep our cities cool, now and into the future.”
Blockchain technology research for solar energy sharing and pricing which was conducted at one of the CRCLCL’s 16 Living Laboratories – White Gum Valley in Perth – was the foundation of a new business calledPowerLedger, co-founded by the CRCLCL researcher, Dr Jemma Green. PowerLedger recently won Sir Richard Branson’s Extreme Technology Challenge which provides entrepreneurs an opportunity to “break out of the pack” plus unprecedented access to key investors, innovators and high-profile entrepreneurs.
“Our research has also revealed that 81 per cent of a home’s electricity supply can be met by a combination of solar 3kW PV and a 10KWh battery, and that owner occupiers of net zero energy homes will save $24,935 over their home’s lifetime,” Professor Prasad said.
International keynote speaker, UK policy expert Professor Brian Collins, Professor of Engineering Policy at University College London and Director of the International Centre for Infrastructure Futures, said he was impressed with the CRCLCL’s achievements.
“I’m highly impressed by the work of the CRC, which is crucial for Australia to ensure it has strong, sustainable and liveable cities as it has provided concrete evidence that can help influence change in building codes and government and city policy,” he said.
“Changing how we do things is always a challenge, and it is my experience with policy implementation that sustained research is fundamental to providing evidence and ideas for policy and process changes. Educating future experts and leaders in low carbon living is critical to ensure that rapid take-up of knowledge and innovation takes place resulting in low carbon services. More investment in this form of education is overdue,” he said.
“This is a challenge that is being met all around the world and Australia is showing true leadership in this area through the work of the CRCLCL and its partners. We in the UK look forward to greater collaboration in this area of research,” said Professor Collins.
An energy storage alternative using technology better than lithium or even solar is under development as researchers work to efficiently capture the energy of graphene oxide (GO).
Under a new $3.45 million Cooperative Research Centre Project (CRC-P) grant, researchers at Swinburne University of Technology and Flinders University will partner with Australian industry to commercialise the world’s first alternative to lithium-ion battery (LIB) technology as an energy storage alternative.
The industry collaboration, with Australian Stock Exchange-listed First Graphene Ltd and Victorian manufacturer Kremford Pty Ltd, aims to make inroads into the production of a new super-capacityGO-powered battery, an energy storage alternative to the emerging LIB technology.
Researchers at Swinburne’s Centre for Micro-Photonics are working on a commercially viable, chemical-free, long-lasting safe GO-based supercapacitor which offers high performance and low-cost energy storage capabilities.
Graphene is the lightest, strongest, most electrically conductive material available and has been predicted to generate revolutionary new products in many industry sectors. But so far unreliable quality and poor manufacturing processes has prevented an industrial graphene market.
The new national CRC Project via the Australian Government’s Advance Manufacturing Fund will expand Flinders University’s clean technologies and nanotech research focus.
Professor Colin Raston, the South Australian Premier’s Professorial Research Fellow in Clean Technology, says there is significant global research to improve energy storage capability to support its role in the development of sustainable energy storage systems.
“For example, we’re seeing the rapid rise of LIB around the world, notably with South Australia’s significant investment in the new storage facility near Jamestown in this State.”
The ‘High performance energy storage alternative to lithium ion batteries’ project seeks to advance the GO-based supercapacitor that has promising superior energy density, flexibility and environmental sustainability ahead of traditional batteries.
“This project aims to develop the manufacturing specifications for the commercial production of a graphene oxide (GO) super-capacitor with the ‘look and feel’ of a LIB but with superior performance across weight, charge rate, lifecycle and environmental footprint factors,” Professor Raston says.
“The production of GO from graphite ore, without generating lots of waste, is an important part of this collaborative project.”
First Graphene (ASX code: FGR) managing director Craig McGuckin says the $1.5 million in CRC-P funding, to be matched by the partner organisations and in-kind, would propel the company’s innovative approach to finding real-world applications for graphene.
“The success in the fourth round of the CRC-P funding demonstrates the high regard in which the company’s research efforts are held,” Mr McGuckin said.
“It also shows the robustness of the programs designed by FGR’s university partners.”
First published by Flinders University, 12 December 2017
Image: By AlexanderAlUS – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11294534
Collaboration between industry and research is vital. We know that unlocking the commercial value of Australian research will result in world-first, new-to-market innovation and new internationally competitive businesses. Cooperative Research Centres (CRCs) are an excellent, longstanding example of how industry and researchers can work together to create these growth opportunities.
The CRC Programme supports industry-led collaborations between researchers, industry and the community. It is a proven model for linking researchers with industry to focus research and development efforts on progress towards commercialisation.
Importantly, CRCs also produce graduates with hands-on industry experience to help create a highly skilled workforce. The CRC Programme has been running for more than 25 years and has been extremely successful.
Since it began in 1990, more than $4 billion in funding has been committed to support the establishment of 216 CRCs and 28 CRC Projects. Participants have committed an additional $12.6 billion in cash and in-kind contributions.
CRCs have developed important new technologies, products and services to solve industry problems and improve the competitiveness, productivity and sustainability of Australian industries. The programme has produced numerous success stories; far too many for me to mention here. A few examples include the development of dressings to deliver adult stem cells to wounds; creating technology to increase the number of greenfields mineral discoveries; and spearheading a world-leading method for cleaning up the potentially toxic chemicals found in fire-fighting foams.
These examples demonstrate not just the breadth of work being done by the CRCs, but also the positive benefits they are delivering.
Minister Greg Hunt has signalled a potentially very important change to the Cooperative Research Centres Program. He wants to have the ability to call for, or prioritise, national interest themes in future CRC funding rounds – for both Cooperative Research Centres and CRC-Projects. The CRC Association fully supports the Minister’s move.
Priorities for CRC funding rounds are not new. A number of existing CRCs were established as a result of the “priority public good” stream under the previous Labor Government. Ministers have often signalled several priority areas at the commencement of the funding round.
However, sometimes the priorities given were simply too vague to garner a meaningful response – I well remember debates about what “social innovation” meant when it was given as a priority. Calls for CRCs out of sync with the normal competitive funding round have also occasionally caused some confusion.
Through his media release today, Minister Hunt is doing things a bit differently. Firstly, he is seeking the views of the community on what issues should be prioritised.
Secondly, he is clear that any prioritised areas will need to be competitive and assessed on their merits in line with the normal processes.
Thirdly, and very importantly, he has said that the CRC program is open to all sectors and any prioritised areas will be in the national interest.
He has even gone further and named some example areas that many people would perceive as excluded by the current guidelines.
The fast turnaround for consultation will allow for the coming Round 19 of the program to be impacted by the change.
– Tony Peacock
This article on CRC funding was first shared by the CRC Association on 21 December 2016. Read the original article here.
Featured image above: The Hon Luke Hartsuyker and His Excellency Dr Ren Zhengxiao introduce the Australia-China Joint Centre for Postharvest Grain Biosecurity and Quality Research. Credit: Plant Biosecurity CRC
His Excellency Dr Ren Zhengxiao, Administrator of China’s State Administration of Grain, and the Hon Luke Hartsuyker, Assistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister, have launched an Australia-China grains biosecurity research centre partnership.
The Australia-China Joint Centre for Postharvest Grain Biosecurity and Quality Research is a partnership between Australia’s Plant Biosecurity Cooperative Research Centre (CRC), Murdoch University and China’s Academy of State Administration of Grain.
With grain Australia’s most significant agricultural export and China the world’s largest producer of wheat, the two countries share similar challenges for their industries.
“Global grain markets are changing and we need to change with them. Established methods for stored grain pest control are facing increased pressure from both regulation and changing market preferences for non-chemical options,” says Dr Michael Robinson, CEO of the Plant Biosecurity CRC.
“A major challenge is increasing insect resistance to the stored grain fumigant phosphine, a mainstay of the grains industry globally,” he says.
The Joint Centre will bring together leading researchers from both China and Australia to work on developing non-chemical controls to manage stored grain pests with the aim of reducing biosecurity and trade risks while providing clean grain.
“This partnership will assist both nations in protecting domestic and international grains markets, maintaining access and ensuring food security,” says Robinson.
The Joint Centre will focus on innovative technologies such as the use of nitrogen for stored grain pest management and ‘lure and kill’ pest control using pheromones and light-based trapping systems. The partnership will work with grain suppliers and companies to commercialise the research and deliver it to industry.
“This agreement has the opportunity to sustain biosecurity research in the grains sector for the long-term,” Robinson says.
“The visit of His Excellency Mr Ren to Australia to launch the Joint Centre shows how important this is for the grains industries of both countries.”
This information on theAustralia-China Joint Centre for Postharvest Grain Biosecurity and Quality Research was first shared by the Plant Biosecurity CRC. Read the original article here.
Bookshelves in offices around Australia groan under the weight of unimplemented reports of research findings. Likewise, the world of technology is littered with software and gadgetry that has failed to gain adoption, for example 3D television and the Apple Newton. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
The best are not always adopted. To change that, says Brown, developers need to know how their research solutions will be received and how to adapt them so people actually want them.
“Physical scientists, for example, benefit from understanding the political, social and economic frameworks they’re operating in, to position the science for real-world application,” she says.
The big-picture questions around knowledge and power, disadvantage and information access, political decision-making, community needs and aspirations, policy contexts and how values are economised – these are the domains of the social sciences. When social science expertise is combined with that of the physical sciences, for example, the research solutions they produce can have a huge impact. In the case of the CRC for Water Sensitive Cities, such solutions have influenced policy, strategy and regulations for the management of urban stormwater run-off, for example. Brown and her colleagues have found it takes a special set of conditions to cultivate this kind of powerful collaborative research partnership.
The CRC for Water Sensitive Cities has seen considerable growth. It started in 2005 as a $4.5 million interdisciplinary research facility with 20 Monash University researchers and PhD students from civil engineering, ecology and sociology. The facility grew over seven years to become a $120 million CRC with more than 85 organisations, including 13 research institutes and other organisations such as state governments, water utilities, local councils, education companies and sustainability consultancies. It has more than 230 researchers and PhD students, and its work has been the basis for strategy, policy, planning and technology in Australia, Singapore, China and Israel.
In a 2015 Nature special issue, Brown and Monash University colleagues Ana Deletic and Tony Wong, project leader and CEO respectively of the CRC for Water Sensitive Cities, shared their ‘secret sauce’ on bridging the gap between the social and biophysical sciences, which allowed them to develop a partnership blueprint for implementing urban water research.
8 tips to successful collaboration
Cultivating interdisciplinary dialogue and forming productive partnerships takes time and effort, skill, support and patience. Brown and her colleagues suggest the following:
1 Forge a shared mission to provide a compelling account of the collaboration’s overall goal and to maintain a sense of purpose for all the time and effort needed to make it work;
2 Ensure senior researchers are role models, contributing depth in their discipline and demonstrating the skills needed for constructive dialogue;
3 Create a leadership team composed of people from multiple disciplines;
4 Put incentives in place for interdisciplinary research such as special funding, promotion and recognition;
5 Encourage researchers to put their best ideas forward, even if unfinished, while being open to alternative perspectives;
6 Develop constructive dialogue skills by providing training and platforms for experts from diverse disciplines and industry partners to workshop an industry challenge and find solutions together;
7 Support colleagues as they move from being I-shaped to T-shaped researchers, prioritising depth early on and embracing breadth by building relationships with those from other fields;
8 Run special issues of single-discipline journals that focus on interdisciplinary research and create new interdisciplinary journals with T-shaped editors, peer-reviewers or boards.
A recent Stanford University study found almost 75% of cross-functional teams within a single business fail. Magnify that with PhD research and careers deeply invested in niche areas and ask people to work with other niche areas across other organisations, and it all sounds impossible. Working against resistance to collaborate requires time and effort.
Yet as research partnerships blossom, so do business partnerships. “Businesses don’t think of science in terms of disciplines as scientists do,” says Brown. “Researchers need to be able to tackle complex problems from a range of perspectives.”
Part of the solution lies in the ‘shape’ of the researchers: more collaborative interdisciplinary researchers are known as ‘T-shaped’ because they have the necessary depth of knowledge within their field (the vertical bar of the T), as well as the breadth (the horizontal bar) to look beyond it as useful collaborators – engaging with different ways of working.
Some scholars, says Brown, tend to view their own discipline as having the answer to every problem and see other disciplines as being less valuable. In some ways that’s not surprising given the lack of exposure they may have had to other disciplines and the depth of expertise they have gained in their own.
“At the first meeting of an interdisciplinary team, they might try to take charge, for example talk but not listen to others or understand their contribution. But in subsequent meetings, they begin to see the value the other disciplines bring – which sometimes leaves them spellbound.
“It’s very productive once people reach the next stage in a partnership where they develop the skills for interdisciplinary work and there’s constructive dialogue and respect,” says Brown.
In a recent article in The Australian, CSIRO chief executive and laser physicist Dr Larry Marshall describes Australians as great inventors but he emphasises that innovation is a team sport and we need to do better at collaboration. He points out that Australia has the lowest research collaboration rates in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and attributes this fact to two things – insufficient collaboration with business and scientists competing against each other.
“Overall, our innovation dilemma – fed by our lack of collaboration – is a critical national challenge, and we must do better,” he says.
Brown agrees, saying sustainability challenges like those addressed by the CRC for Water Sensitive Cities are “grand and global challenges”.
“They’re the kind of ‘wicked problem’ that no single agency or discipline, on its own, could possibly hope to resolve.”
The answer, it seems, is interdisciplinary.
There’s a wealth of great advice that CRCs can tap into. For example the Antarctic Climate & Ecosystems CRC approached statistical consultant Dr Nick Fisher at ValueMetrics Australia, an R&D consultancy specialising in performance management, to find the main drivers of the CRC’s value as perceived by its research partners, so the CRC could learn what was working well and what needed to change.
Fisher says this kind of analysis can benefit CRCs at their formation, and can be used for monitoring and in the wind-up phase for final evaluation.
When it comes to creating world-class researchers who are T-shaped and prepped for research partnerships, Alison Mitchell, a director of Vitae, a UK-based international program dedicated to professional and career development for researchers, is an expert. She describes the Vitae Researcher Development Framework (RDF), which is a structured model with four domains covering the knowledge, behaviour and attributes of researchers, as a significant approach that’s making a difference to research careers worldwide.
The RDF framework uses four ‘lenses’ – knowledge exchange, innovation, intrapreneurship [the act of behaving like an entrepreneur while working with a large organisation] and entrepreneurship – to focus on developing competencies that are part and parcel of a next generation research career. These include skills for working with academic research partners and industry.
Gaining industry experience and seeing how their research can have practical applications is important to early career researchers. Universities and industry are now working together to help provide graduates with the opportunity to work on commercial solutions for real-life problems.
“The partnership allowed me to do things that haven’t been done before, like use optical fibres as sensors instead of electrical sensors,” says Allwood, who will work with Bombora Wave Power to test the sensors.
There are other, similar Australian programs. CRCs offer a number of scholarships across 14 different fields of research, giving PhD students a chance to gain industry experience.
The Chemicals and Plastics GRIP has 20 industry partners offering training and funding, including Dulux and 3M. One student is treating coffee grounds to create a fertiliser to improve the soil quality of agricultural land.
The Cooperative Research Centres Program (CRC) links research, education and end users, creating a synergy that fosters innovation. Now in its 24th year, the program has led to the development of beneficial new technologies in areas as diverse as contact lenses, financial markets and advanced composite materials.
Defence is just one beneficiary of the CRC Program. For example, lifesaving improvements have been made to body armour and vehicle protection as a result of research into advanced materials and manufacturing techniques.
Safeguarding Australia will depend on our ability to use science and technology to increase the effectiveness of our people and systems. No single research organisation can meet all of Australia’s future needs – collaboration is key. The CRC Program has enabled participants – universities, publicly-funded research organisations and industry – to significantly increase the impact of their science and technology through teamwork.
“No single research organisation can meet all of Australia’s future needs – collaboration is key.”
The Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) is supporting the new Data to Decisions CRC. This CRC will focus on creating the tools, techniques and workforce to unlock big data. Specific areas include tracking and sensor fusion techniques, visual analytics, cyber data, elastic search tools, speech and text processing, and detecting objects of interest in large imagery datasets.
Through the CRC Program, DSTO will continue to work with industry and publicly-funded agencies to create a vibrant culture of innovation, nurture the next generation of scientists and ensure that research has real impact.
Professor Jane Burns, CEO of the Young and Well CRC, which researches the health and wellbeing of young people, was the category winner for social enterprise and not-for-profit. Burns was also a Victorian finalist in the 2012 Telstra Business Women’s Awards and was listed in the Financial Review and Westpac Group 100 Women of Influence in 2012.
Professor Veena Sahajwalla is a Project Leader in the Low Carbon Living CRC, working on innovative sustainable low carbon products from waste materials for the built environment.
Pat Anderson is the Chairperson of the CRC for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health (The Lowitja Institute), which has led reform into Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health research by working with communities, researchers and policymakers. Anderson was the winner in the public policy category.
Short-sightedness (myopia) is a health problem that threatens to sweep the world, but it’s one Associate Professor Padmaja Sankaridurg believes she and her colleagues can play an important role in controlling.
Myopia affects 27% of the world’s population. Research suggests these numbers will rise dramatically as people spend more time indoors and at their computer screens, taking the world’s current number of myopes from 1.45 billion to 2.5 billion by 2020.
“Take any country in the world, there seems to be something about the urban environment that contributes to myopia,” says Sankaridurg, Vision CRC’s program leader on the condition.
Myopia often occurs when children start school and can severely effect their education. At its worst, it also increases risks of developing more serious vision problems, such as retinal detachment and glaucoma, which can lead to blindness.
Hence, Vision CRC’s goal is to develop a new generation of optical products that can control myopia’s progression in children – a move that would consolidate Australia’s position as a global centre of excellence in understanding the condition.
Vision CRC: Sydney
R&D: $22 million, 5-year extension granted in 2010
Reach: More than 50 countries, including China
At a glance: Vision CRC was established in 2003 as part of the Cooperative Research Centres program with a grant of $32 million, which was followed up in 2010 with a further $22 million to carry out leading research in the areas of myopia, new biomaterials for vision correction, ocular comfort and vision care delivery. Vision CRC partners with 31 organisations.
They had been testing the theory that if lenses could directly focus onto the periphery of the retina – not just the central portion – then myopia progression would be slowed in young children and perhaps also in adults.
ZOC is China’s leading ophthalmic trial centre, says Sankaridurg. Importantly, ZOC can give access to the most vulnerable myope population – children.
Through these key partnerships, the design evaluation at ZOC demonstrated an ability to slow the progression of myopia by 30% in children aged 6–12 years old.
So far, Sankaridurg has overseen results from over 600 children, with trial proposals underway for another 500.
In 2010, Carl Zeiss Vision Australia launched the cutting-edge technology under the MyoVision brand name into the Asian market, while the international collaboration reported on 12 months of results in a paper in the journal Optometry & Vision Science.
“Communication is the key for good collaboration and for ensuring success,” Sankaridurg adds.