Tag Archives: Curtin University

geochemistry

Curtin home to new geochemistry equipment that unlocks geochemical secrets

AuScope supports the purchase, upgrade and maintenance of geochemical research infrastructure at Curtin and has recently received $5 million in Federal Government funding. The investment will be used on a new replacement Sensitive High-Resolution Ion Microprobe (SHRIMP) age-dating geochemistry instrument, which will be installed at the John de Laeter Research Centre at the University’s Bentley Campus.

Funded through the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy, the new SHRIMP will enable continued geochemistry research and innovation at the world-leading zircon geochronology facility at the centre.

Curtin University Vice-Chancellor Professor Deborah Terry congratulated the John de Laeter Research Centre team for presenting a strong case for funding to upgrade the existing 25-year-old SHRIMP.

“A quarter of a century ago, Professor John de Laeter led a proposal to commission a new SHRIMP ion microprobe at Curtin, which would subsequently bring about new understandings of the Australian continent, the Earth’s tectonic plates and the age of the Solar System, among other breakthroughs,” Professor Terry said.

“This new SHRIMP instrument will enable the continuation of the important research that has been demonstrated over many years as having tremendous benefit to government, industry and academia.

“The funding allows our researchers to remain working at the forefront of a science that shapes our collective understanding of the Earth and its place in the Universe.”

John de Laeter Research Centre Director Professor Brent McInnes said the SHRIMP instrument had played a huge role in the advancement of geoscience and geochemistry research in Australia and around the globe, enabling new scientific discoveries and reshaping the geological map of Australia.

“The new funding will allow industry, government and academic researchers to undertake new Earth and planetary research, such as those related to deep drilling projects and asteroid sample return missions,” Professor McInnes said.

The John de Laeter Research Centre has strong links with the Geological Survey of Western Australia and Geoscience Australia, and provides geochemistry, geochronology and isotope geoscience data critical to their missions of mapping and understanding the Australian continent and its resources.

AuScope’s SHRIMP instrument forms part of the Earth Composition and Evolution infrastructure  located at Curtin University, The University of Melbourne and Macquarie University.

This article was originally published by Curtin University.

Successful collaboration

Successful collaboration unpacked

Contrary to popular belief university researchers are good at collaborating, but often this is limited to collaborations with other university researchers. In fact, the Nature Index, one of the many university ranking systems, produces multiple rankings of world universities – one of which is based solely on successful collaboration with other universities.

So, what are the prerequisites for successful collaboration?

I believe there are three key ingredients:

  1. Awareness of the drivers of each institution in the collaboration
  2. A shared understanding of the problem the collaboration is trying to solve
  3. Trust between the people collaborating

The most recent Nature Index list of the Top 100 bilateral collaborators provides some interesting insights into the collaboration process. Almost all collaborations in this list are between institutions in the same country, and often within the same city.

Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology top the list with most collaborations, while the only entry that includes Australian institutions is one involving Curtin University and The University of Western Australia. In both cases, the collaborating institutions are strong rivals.

What does this data suggest about why there is so much collaboration occurring between university researchers?

The first prerequisite is a given because at the highest level the drivers for all universities are essentially the same. The shared understanding often comes quite quickly as the collaborators are often experts in the field they are working in, and therefore start with a common vocabulary.

Building trust is the most time-consuming part of collaborating, but as the bilateral data above shows, close physical proximity helps and trust can be built between researchers – even when their institutions are in competition.

What about collaborations with industry?

In Australia, there is a lack of appreciation in universities of industry drivers and vice versa.

In the Cisco IoE Innovation Centre, located on the Curtin University campus, Cisco, Woodside and Curtin have developed an innovation centre and workplace for customers, partners, start-ups, universities and open communities. One significant outcome of the first year of operation is an understanding within the three founding members of their drivers and differing corporate cultures, which has proven to be a relatively time-consuming process.

A shared understanding of the problem is often also a challenge, as a different vocabulary is spoken by the collaborating parties. In the past, the model was often that the industry partner provided money and left the university researchers to solve the problem, contributing little input into the process. This often led to a suboptimal solution or a solution to another problem than what was intended.

In our projects at the Cisco IoE Innovation Centre, we meet as a joint industry and academic team on a weekly or fortnightly basis, which allows us to develop a shared understanding of the problem and evolving solution. Finally, building trust is always an involved process, which can be made easier between industry and academia because of the absence of competition between the collaborating organisations.

In summary, the secret to successful collaboration between academia and industry is no different to one within academia, provided additional attention is paid by both parties to cultural differences and the development of a lingua franca.

Professor Andrew Rohl

Director, Curtin Institute for Computation

Read next: Brad Furber, COO of the Michael Crouch Innovation Centre at UNSW Australia, paves the path to easier, faster and more impactful collaboration.

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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.

WA women join Antarctic leadership mission

Featured image above: women in sustainability head to Antarctica

A group of female scientists from Western Australia are preparing to embark on a leadership voyage to Antarctica.

The eight local researchers are among 78 women from around the world taking part in Homeward Bound, a 20-day trip that aims to enhance the influence and impact of women in science, and ensure the sustainability of our planet.

One of the youngest participants, PhD student Sandra Kerbler from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology at UWA, says she is passionate about women in science and the improving gender inequality they experience.

“Only 10 to 15 per cent of top level scientists are women so there’s not very many of us, and it’s become more and more apparent how prevalent that is as I’ve been going through my studies,” she says.

“I find this really discouraging and I want to be able to fix it in some way.”

Among those joining Kerbler on the voyage—including a potentially hairy crossing of the Drake Passage—are Curtin University sustainability researcher Samantha Hall and SciTech Aboriginal education program coordinator Kathleen Patrick.

Hall says she believes women are often more attracted to sustainability.

“I really think that an integral step to bringing the planet back to being healthy and sustainable is that we need more involvement of women’s voices, and we have to make those voices heard,” she says.

“That was really the brief for Homeward Bound, it was ‘how do we get these voices at the leadership table’.”

Hall, who is a co-founder of Simply Carbon, says finding ways to overcome self-doubt and lack of confidence could help translate more women’s ideas into action, particularly in the start-up and innovation space.

Patrick says the most exciting thing about the expedition for her is the opportunity to network with the other women involved.

“I love meeting other people who are doing similar and different things in other parts of the world, sharing knowledge…and also borrowing ideas and tapping into other people’s programs,” she says.

“For me it’s [about] meeting 77 other women who are kicking goals in their respective fields.”

Ms Kerbler says she is looking forward to doing something she had never even dreamed of before.

“Going to the end of the world is definitely a big highlight for me, learning more about the strategy and leadership skills I’ll need to continue on in science and hopefully make myself a bit more competitive when it comes to my scientific career,” she says.

– Michelle Wheeler

This article about women in sustainability was first published by ScienceNetwork WA on 30 September 2016. Read the original article here.

Maths researchers optimise Woodside’s vessel efficiency

Improving vessel efficiency featured image credit: Woodside Energy Ltd

Oil and gas company Woodside is streamlining its offshore operations with the assistance of new mathematical models developed in collaboration with a team of Curtin University academics.

This collaborative research project has focused on scheduling the support vessels that service Woodside-operated offshore facilities. The vessels are used for delivering supplies and for assisting with oil off-takes to oil tankers.

The most cost-efficient vessel routes are influenced by various constraints, including time windows – most facilities are only open during daylight hours – along with vessel speeds, vessel cargo capacities and the capability of each vessel to assist with oil off-takes, as not every vessel in the fleet is equipped for this operation.

Despite an industry-wide push into ‘big data’ computer technology over the past few years, the mathematical models in this project were so large that state-of-the-art optimisation software packages struggled to find good solutions, and in some cases couldn’t even begin processing the model.

New solution algorithms were consequently devised by the Curtin team and this work has been accepted to appear in the Journal of Industrial and Management Optimisation.

“One outcome of the project was providing Woodside with strong evidence for a business case to reduce the support fleet from four to three vessels – this is a significant saving since the cost of running an additional vessel is considerable,” says Curtin’s Associate Professor Ryan Loxton, who led the project.

“Another outcome was modelling the implications of changing the vessel schedule from a ‘taxi-style’ service whereby vessels would service facilities on demand, to a regular fixed schedule that is easier to deliver in practice.”

The Curtin team’s current focus is on developing more powerful optimisation algorithms that will allow for ‘on the fly’ dynamic optimisation of day-to-day and week-to-week vessel schedules.

“Major challenges include the current dynamic and uncertain operating environment, and the computational demands required. The standard solution algorithms are too slow for the problems that we encounter,” says Curtin’s Dr Elham Mardaneh, who worked on the project.

Although the models were highly customised to suit Woodside’s offshore operations, Mardaneh says that there is also considerable potential to adapt the technology to make optimal routing decisions in other industries such as mining.

“Mine sites also involve difficult vehicle routing problems, such as how to route haul trucks among different locations in the most optimal manner.”

– Blair Price

This article on vessel efficiency was first published by Science Network WA on 24 September 2016. Read the original article here.

research commercialisation awards

Research commercialisation awards

Featured image above: Dr Alastair Hick, KCA Chair and Jasmine Vreugdenburg (UniSA), winner of the Best Entrepreneurial Support Initiative and People’s Choice Award at KCA’s Research Commercialisation Awards. Credit: KCA

The University of New South Wales (UNSW), Curtin University (WA) and the University of South Australia (UniSA) were winners at the Knowledge Commercialisation Australasia (KCA) Research Commercialisation Awards, announced at its annual conference dinner in Brisbane.

Success lay with UNSW which won Best Commercial Deal for securing $20 million capital investment from Zhejian Handian Graphene Tech; Curtin University for the Best Creative Engagement Strategy with The Cisco Internet of Everything Innovation Centre; and UniSA won Best Entrepreneurial Initiative and the People’s Choice Award for its Venture Catalyst which supports student led start-ups.

“These awards recognise research organisations’ success in creatively transferring knowledge and research outcomes into the broader community.  They also help raise the profile of research organisations’ contribution to the development of new products and services which benefit wider society and have the potential that develop the companies that may grow new knowledge based industries in Australia,” says KCA Executive Officer, Melissa Geue.

KCA Chairman and Director of Monash innovation at Monash University, Dr Alastair Hick, says it is important that commercialising research successes are celebrated and made public.

“KCA member organisations work incredibly hard at developing new ways to get technology and innovation out into industry being developed into the products and services of tomorrow. These awards recognise that hard work and also that we must develop new ways of improving the interface between public sector research and industry.

“I am also excited that KCA members are playing an increasing role in helping the entrepreneurs of tomorrow. It is essential that we help develop their entrepreneurial skills and give them the opportunities in an environment where they can learn from skilled and experienced mentors,” says Hick.

Research Commercialisation Awards – winning initiatives

Best Commercial Deal

Zhejian Hangdian Graphene Tech Co (ZHGT) – University of New South Wales (UNSW)

This is an initiative to fund and conduct research on cutting-edge higher efficiency voltage power cables, known as graphene, and on super-capacitors. With $20M capital investment by the Chinese corporation Hangzhou Cable Co., Ltd (HCCL), and UNSW contributing intellectual property as a 20% partner, the objectives are to execute the deal through research and development; manufacturing of research outcomes in Hangzhou; and finally commercialisation.                                                                                                             

Best Creative Engagement Strategy

Cisco Internet of Everything Innovation Centre – Curtin University

The Cisco Internet of Everything Innovation Centre, co-founded by Cisco, Curtin University and Woodside Energy Ltd, is a new industry and research collaboration centre designed to foster co-innovation. With a foundation in radioastronomy, supercomputing and software expertise, it is growing a state-of-the-art connected community focused on leveraging data analytics, cybersecurity and digital transformation network platforms to solve industry problems. The Centre combines start-ups, small–medium enterprises, industry experts, developers and researchers in a collaborative open environment to encourage experimentation, innovation and development through brainstorming, workshops, proof-of-concept and rapid prototyping. By accelerating innovation in next-generation technologies, it aims to help Australian businesses thrive in this age of digital disruption.

Best Entrepreneurial Initiative

Venture Catalyst Program – UniSA

Venture Catalyst supports student led start-ups by providing up to $50k to the new enterprise as a grant. The scheme targets current and recent graduates who have a high tolerance for risk and an idea for a new business venture that is both novel and scalable. The scheme takes an ‘IP and equity free’ approach and encourages students to collaborate with different disciplines and externals to encourage a diverse skill set for the benefit of the new venture. Venture Catalyst is a collaboration between the UniSA and the South Australian Government, and is supported through UniSA Ventures as well as representatives from industry and experienced entrepreneurs.

This year’s Research Commercialisation Awards were judged by commercial leaders of innovation:  Erol Harvey, CEO, MiniFab, Dan Grant, PVC Industry Engagement, LaTrobe University and Anna Rooke, CEO, QUT Creative Enterprise Australia.

About Knowledge Commercialisation Australasia (KCA)

Knowledge Commercialisation Australasia (KCA) is the peak body leading best practice in industry engagement, commercialisation and entrepreneurship for research organisations. They achieve this through delivery of stakeholder connections, professional development and advocacy.

This information was first shared by Knowledge Commercialisation Australasia on 2 September 2016. See all finalists here

eureka prize 2016

Eureka Prize Winners of 2016

Featured image above: Winners of the 2016 UNSW Eureka Prize for Scientific Research, Melissa Little and Minoru Takasato from the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute. Credit: Australian Museum

Regenerating kidneys, smart plastics, artificial memory cells and a citizen science network that tracks falling meteors. These and many other pioneering scientific endeavours have been recognised in the 2016 annual Australian Museum Eureka Prizes, awarded at a gala dinner in Sydney.

Having trouble with a kidney? It may not be long before you can simply grow a new one. This is the ultimate ambition behind the research of the 2016 UNSW Eureka Prize for Scientific Research winners, which was awarded to Melissa Little and Minoru Takasato from the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute.

They have developed a method of growing kidney tissue from stem cells, and their kidney “organoids” develop all the different types of cells that are needed for kidney function. The kidney tissue is currently used in the lab to model kidney disease and to test new drugs, but one day the technique could be developed to regrow replacement kidneys for transplant.

For his work using the latest in 3D printing and materials technology develop a world centre for electromaterials science, Gordon Wallace, from the University of Wollongong, received the 2016 CSIRO Eureka Prize for Leadership in Innovation and Science.

Some of the materials he and his team are developing include structures that are biocompatible, meaning they can be used inside the body without causing an adverse reaction. These structures can be used to promote muscle and nerve cell growth. Other cells include artificial muscles using carbon nanotubes.

The CSIRO’s Lisa Harvey-Smith has been one of the most vocal and energetic proponents of science in the media and the general public, especially amongst Indigenous communities. It is for her work as the face of the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) and communicating astronomy to the public that Harvey-Smith was awarded the 2016 Department of Industry, Innovation and Science Eureka Prize for Promoting Understanding of Australian Science.

Have you ever seen a meteor streak across the sky and wondered where it landed? Phil Bland, from Curtin University, certainly hopes you have. He and his team set up the Desert Fireball Network, which allows members of the public to track meteors as they fall, helping them to identify where they land, and where they came from.

For this, Bland and his team were awarded the 2016 Department of Industry, Innovation and Science Eureka Prize for Innovation in Citizen Science.

But not all the awards went to seasoned researchers. Some were reserved for the next generation of scientific pioneers.

Hayden Ingle, a Grade 6 student from Banksmeadow Primary School in Botany, received the 2016 Sleek Geeks Science Eureka Prize for Primary Schools for his video production, The Bluebottle and the Glaucus. It tells the remarkable tale of a little known sea predator, the tiny sea lizard, or glacus atlantica, and its fascinating relationship with the bluebottle.

Speaking of predators, a video by Claire Galvin and Anna Hardy, Year 10 students at St Monica’s College, Cairns, won the 2016 Sleek Geeks Science Eureka Prize for Secondary Schools for exploring the eating habits of the Barn Owl.

They examined “owl pellets”, which contain the indigestible components of the owl’s last meal, and used them to identify its prey.

Other winners of the 2016 Eureka Prize

Ewa Goldys from Macquarie University and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics and Martin Gosnell from Quantitative Pty Ltd have been awarded the ANSTO Eureka Prize for Innovative Use of Technology for their development of hyperspectral imaging technology, which enables the colour of cells and tissues to be used as a non-invasive medical diagnostic tool.

For his discovery and development of novel treatments for serious brain disorders, Michael Bowen, from the University of Sydney, is the winner of the Macquarie University Eureka prize for Outstanding Early Career Researcher. His research has established oxytocin and novel molecules that target the brain’s oxytocin system as prime candidates to fill the void left by the lack of effective treatments for alcohol-use disorders and social disorders.

For developing a new generation of armoured vehicles to keep Australian soldiers safe in war zones, Thales Australia and Mark Brennan have won the 2016 Defence Science and Technology Eureka Prize for Outstanding Science in Safeguarding Australia.

Davidson Patricia Davidson is Dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing in Maryland, and has mentored more than 35 doctoral and postdoctoral researchers, working tirelessly and with passion to build the capacity of early career researchers, an achievement that has won her the 2016 University of Technology Sydney Eureka Prize for Outstanding Mentor of Young Researchers.

For taking basic Australian research discoveries and developing them into a new cancer therapy that was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in April this year, David Huang and his team from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research has win the 2016 Johnson & Johnson Eureka Prize for Innovation in Medical Research. The drug, venetoclax, was approved for a high-risk sub-group of patients with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia and is now marketed in the US.

For creating a three part documentary that portrayed both the good and the evil of uranium in a series seen around the world, Twisting the Dragon’s Tail, Sonya Pemberton, Wain Fimeri and Derek Muller, won the 2016 Department of Industry, Innovation and Science Eureka Prize for Science Journalism.

Sharath Sriram, Deputy Director of the A$30 million Micro Nano Research Facility at RMIT University, has won the 2016 3M Eureka Prize for Emerging Leader in Science for his extraordinary career – during which he and his team have developed the world’s first artificial memory cell that mimics the way the brain stores long term memory.

For bringing together a team with skills ranging from mathematical modelling to cell biology and biochemistry, Leann Tilley and her team from the University of Melbourne have won the 2016 Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre Eureka Prize for Infectious Disease Research. They have uncovered an important life saving mechanism by which the malaria parasite has developed resistance to what has been previously a widely used and successful malarial treatment.

For recruiting an international team of scientists to measure trace elements in the oceans from 3.5 billion years ago to the present day to understand the events that led to the evolution of life and extinction of life in the oceans, Ross Large from the University of Tasmania and researchers from as far as Russia and the US have won the 2016 Eureka Prize for Excellence in Interdisciplinary Research.

For conducting the world’s first survey of plastic pollutants which has given us a confronting snapshot of the impacts on marine wildlife of the 8.4 million tones of plastic that enters the oceans each year, Denise Hardesty, Chris Wilcox, Tonya Van Der Velde, TJ Lawson, Matt Landell and David Milton from CSIRO in Tasmania and Queensland have won the 2016 NSW Office of Environment and Heritage Eureka Prize for Environmental Research.

The Functional Annotation of the Mammalian Genome (FANTOM5) project produced a map that is being used to interpret genetic diseases and to engineer new cells for therapeutic use. The team led by Alistair Forrest from the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research has won the 2016 Scopus Eureka Excellence in International Scientific Collaboration Prize.

– Tim Dean

This article on the Eureka Prize 2016 winners was first published by The Conversation on 31 August 2016. Read the original article here.

plant researcher

Plant researcher wins Scientist of the Year

Featured image above: 2016 WA Scientist of the Year, plant researcher Professor Kingsley Dixon (centre), with Premier Colin Barnett (right) and WA Chief Scientist, Professor Peter Klinken (left). Credit: Office of Science/The Scene Team 

Professor Kingsley Dixon has been the Curtin University Professor at Kings Park and Botanic Garden since 2015, but his career in plant research stretches back decades.

He was the Director of Science at Kings Park for 32 years, leading its research efforts and building a team of more than 50 scientists and research students.

With his trademark approach of turning ‘science into practice’ he discovered that bushfire smoke triggers the germination of plants in Australia, as well as other parts of the world.

He later led an 11-year research project with the University of Western Australia and Murdoch University colleagues that isolated the secret ingredient that triggered the germination.

“This discovery has led to new horticultural products, and the improved restoration and conservation of many rare and threatened Australian plants that are unable to be conserved or propagated by other means,” the Premier and Science Minister Colin Barnett says.

In accepting the award, Dixon paid tribute to his colleagues over the years.

“The incredible verve and enthusiasm of all the young people who came through the Kings Park labs over the years just inspired me in the belief that WA is a great place, it’s the greatest place on earth to do the sort of science that we do,” he says.

Scores of WA’s top scientists and researchers attended the awards ceremony at the Kieran McNamara Conservation Science Centre in Kensington.

The late Professor Ian Ritchie AO was inducted into the WA Science Hall of Fame for his lifelong dedication to science.

Professor Ritchie was instrumental in setting up ChemCentre, as well as establishing the AJ Parker Cooperative Research Centre for Hydrometallurgy (extracting metals from their ores).

Other award winners

Woodside Early Career Scientist of the Year

Dr Scott Draper, a renewable energy engineer investigating wave and tidal energy, based at the School of Civil, Environmental and Mining Engineering (CEME) at UWA.

ExxonMobil Student Scientist of the Year

Christopher Brennan-Jones, a PhD candidate at UWA’s Ear Sciences Centre who led an international consortium assessing the reliability of automated hearing tests.

Chevron Science Engagement Initiative of the Year

Curtin University’s Fireballs in the Sky project, a citizen science initiative which uses digital cameras in the outback to track the fireballs created by meteorites to better understand the solar system.

You’ll find more details on the finalists in each of the four categories here.

– Tony Malkovic 

This article was first published by Science Network Western Australia on 19 August 2016. Read the original article here.

research startups

Research startups accelerate CSIRO science

Featured image above: Research startups pitch at the ON Accelerate demo night. Hovermap have developed intelligent software that will allow drones to map indoor environments.

There are now over 30 accelerator and incubator programs in Australia, but CSIRO’s ON accelerator is the only one focused on equipping research startups with the tools they need to grow.

“It’s the first time a program of this sort has been offered for the research community on this scale,” says Elizabeth Eastland, the General Manager for Strategy, Market Vision and Innovation at CSIRO.

Just six months ago, Eastland was the Director of the University of Wollongong’s iAccelerate program, but moved to CSIRO having been “blown away by what this program can offer researchers”.

At the ON Accelerate Demo event held on Thursday 7 July, Eastland introduced 11 research startups who pitched their products to Sydney’s venture capital investors. In contrast to the young faces that dominate many of Australia’s accelerators, last night’s ON cohort were led by experienced researchers, engineers, developers and entrepreneurs.

Two of the research startups revealed big plans for the agriculture industry. A group called Future Feed is selling seaweed supplements that aim to reduce livestock greenhouse gas emissions by 80%. Another team has created wireless trapping technology to help farmers detect fruit fly infestations.

Fruit Fly costs farmers US$30 billion in fruit and vegetable production around the world, but this isn’t the only global challenge that the ON research startups have been tackling. The presenter from Modular Photonics pointed out last night that the world’s internet demand is about to outstrip its fibre capacity.

His group is commercialising new photonics hardware compatible with both old internet fibre and the new fibre being developed by the top telecommunications providers.

On the health front, another of the research startups, ePAT unveiled new facial recognition software to detect pain levels in people who cannot speak, such as children and elderly people with moderate to severe dementia. Their vision is that “no patient who cannot speak will suffer in silence in pain”.

ON Accelerate had major success earlier this year when a German company launched a gluten free beer brewed from barley commercialised by a startup from last year’s ON cohort. That startup, known as Kebari, is in now the process of developing another form of gluten free grain for use in food.

Kebari co-founder and scientist Dr Phil Larkin spoke at yesterday’s research startups event, saying ON Accelerate had taught him about ‘flearning’ – learning from failure – and the importance of interrogating the entire delivery chain to validate the value of a solution.

CSIRO Principal Research Scientist and RapidAIM team leader Dr Nancy Shellhorn said that the program had given her much faster access to the market and much better insight into customer needs.

“It’s given me and the RapidAIM team a runway to the science of the future that will be truly impactful,” said Shellhorn.

Program Mentor Martin Duursma also spoke at the research startups event, saying that startup skills are very transferable to research teams because they are all about trying something, gathering feedback, making improvements and repeating the process.

“Startup skills are really just a variant of the scientific method,” said Duursma.

And scientists will have greater access to the ON research startups program next year, with a dramatic increase in the interest of universities. Eastland says that 21 of Australia’s 40 universities have now signed on to be ON partners. Macquarie University and Curtin University led the pack with their involvement this year. UNSW Australia, the University of Technology Sydney and Monash University are among those jumping on board for the next round.

– Elise Roberts


ON Accelerate Research Startups

The below information was first shared by CSIRO. Read the original list and team members here.

1. Hovermap

The future of asset inspection.

“Every year, Australia loses billions of dollars due to infrastructure failures, spends billions of dollars on inspecting its aging assets and loses some of its bravest men and women who take the risk to do this dull and dangerous job. Utility companies and governments are turning to Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to reduce costs and improve safety. However, current UAVs are ‘dumb and blind’ so require expert pilots and can’t fly in many places.

Our solution is an intelligent UAV with advanced collision avoidance, non-GPS flight and accurate 3D mapping capabilities – all tailored to suit industrial inspection requirements. Hovermap is the ultimate inspection tool of the future that can be used to safely and efficiently inspect hard-to-reach assets and collect extremely high fidelity data in previously unreachable places. It is suitable for inspecting telecommunication towers, bridges, power line assets and smoke stacks. This innovative technology will reduce risks, improve safety and efficiency and lower costs, all of which benefit customers and businesses.”

2. Suricle

Changing the face of polymers.

“We change the face of polymers by embedding functional particles into the surface to give them new and useful properties. Our patented technology paves the way for development of many new, innovative materials and products.

An immediate area of application is to protect high-value marine sensors from biofouling. The unwanted growth of marine organisms causes signal attenuation, sensor malfunction, increased weight and unwanted drag due to ocean currents. There are many thousands of marine sensors deployed globally, costing up to $120K each, which require frequent cleaning to keep them in service.

Suricle are focusing on treating adhesive polymer films with antifouling properties for attachment to sensors to mitigate biofouling. Kits containing this film will be sold via our e-commerce store for application in the field by the end-users, offering savings of thousands of dollars per year in reduced maintenance costs.”

3. RapidAIM

Supporting and growing global fruit and vegetable export markets

“Fruit Fly are the number one biosecurity issue in fruit and vegetable production. Globally US$30b worth of fruit and vegetable production is lost due to fruit fly, and $US18b in global trade is threatened by the pest.

Millions of fruit fly traps across the globe are checked manually, causing delay and risking outbreaks. This can close markets!

RapidAIM is a new era in biosecurity. We provide a service of real-time alerts for the presence and location of fruit fly using wireless trapping technology. This immediate data-driven decision service allows biosecurity agencies, growers and agronomists to respond rapidly to fruit fly detection to control the pest.

This allows for targeted workflow, the protection of existing markets and supports the development of new trading opportunities.”

4. ExByte

Predictive data analytics for preventative maintenance of infrastructure assets including water 

“Each year 7,000 critical water main breaks occur in Australia resulting in billions of dollars in rectification and consequence cost. In contrast, the cost of preventative maintenance is only 10 per cent of the reactive repair cost. The ExByte team has developed a disruptive technology that uses data analytic techniques to predict failure probability based on learned patterns, offering a solution to accurately predict water pipe failures resulting in effective preventative maintenance and a reduction in customer interruptions.”

5. Future Feed

A natural feed additive from seaweed that dramatically reduces livestock methane and increases production.

“The world is under increasing pressure to produce more food and producing more food is contributing to climate change. Livestock feed supplementation with FutureFeed is the solution. It can improve farm profitability and tackles climate change. FutureFeed can also provide farmers access to other income streams through carbon markets and provide access to premium niche markets through a low carbon footprint and environmentally friendly product.”

6. elumin8

An energy efficiency product that empowers households to understand and reduce their energy consumption.

“It is very difficult for households to improve their energy efficiency and transition to a sustainable future as current solutions are boring, costly and confusing. Elumin8 solves this problem by providing tailored energy information via a unique communication channel, allowing homeowners to directly engage with their home in a human and personable way as though it was another member of the family. Elumin8 also guides the household step by step along the journey to energy independence by improving energy efficiency and taking the risk and confusion out of installing solar and batteries.

We do this by collecting electricity data from a single sensor and use unique algorithms to disaggregate the data and determine appliance level consumption. Social media applications and advanced analytics are then utilised to connect the homeowner with their home allowing instant and humanised communication to ensure they are engaged with their energy use.”

7. Coviu

An online face-to-face business transaction platform.

“The way we work is changing. We need tools to enable those changes.

Traditional video conferencing tools are clunky and do not support experts like coaches, clinicians or lawyers in delivering and charging for their professional services online.

Coviu is the solution. Professionals get a frictionless and easy-to-use solution for setting up online consulting rooms and invite clients to rich interactive consults. One click and your client is talking to you in their browser – no software installations, no complicated call setup.

Coviu is a groundbreaking new video and data conferencing technology that works peer-to-peer allowing for massive scalability, speed and affordability.”

8. Reflexivity

A process that helps mining companies proactively manage community sentiment before conflict occurs.

“When resources companies lose the trust of the communities they work alongside, conflict occurs. Projects take twice as long to develop as they did a decade ago and cost 30 per cent more than they should because of social conflict. Companies don’t have the tools to systematically understand what their communities think about them, and communities have few constructive ways to feel heard.

Reflexivity has solved this problem by providing our customers with a sophisticated data analytic engine that translates community survey data we collect into prioritised opportunities for trust building and risk mitigation strategies. Our analytics identify those factors that build and degrade trust in a company, in the minds of community members; our customers are then able to invest resources and energy into the issues that matter most. Using mobile technology, our data streams to our customers in real time via a subscription model.

We have engaged over 14,000 community members in eight countries, and generated $1.5m in revenue in the last three years. And while we started in mining, our process is valuable wherever these relationships are important. We are building a service delivery platform to scale up our process and we are seeking support and advice to turn our successful global research program into a successful global business.”

9. Meals by Design

Healthy convenience never tasted so good!

“Ready-to-eat convenience doesn’t have to result in dissatisfaction and guilt. By bringing together the latest innovations in food manufacturing, including High Pressure Thermal processing, and an understanding of the nutritional needs of a diverse population, cuisine favourites can be prepared in a convenient format without compromising eating satisfaction or, importantly, nutrition.

Meals by Design develops premium and customisable meal solutions that cater to nutritional and functional needs, offering healthy convenience without compromise.”

10. ePAT

Real-time pain assessment through facial recognition technology for patients that cannot verbally communicate.

“Imagine you are in excruciating pain, but you can’t tell anyone. This is the reality for millions of non-communicative people world-wide, such as those with moderate to severe dementia. ePAT’s point of care apps utilise facial recognition technology to detect facial micro-expressions which are indicative of pain, to provide these people with a voice.”

11. Modular Photonics: big fast data

Passive fibre-optic technology that significantly increases data transmission capacity.

“Modular Photonics uses a novel integrated photonic chip to enhance the data rate across existing multimode fibre links by 10x and more. The technology enables multiple data channels in parallel without the length restrictions imposed by conventional multimode fibre links.”

microgrid

Disruptive microgrid clusters

Microgrids are independently managed, locally-generated energy grids that allow communities to supply and manage their own power supply.

A prime example of a microgrid is WA’s Alkimos Beach project, which will use lithium-ion batteries and rooftop solar to power a new housing development.

“Microgrids are becoming more of a reality than ever before, and not only for remote communities, but also on an urban and utility scale,” Curtin University’s Professor Arindam Ghosh says.

“They’re reliable, energy-diverse and environmentally friendly, and these advantages are driving microgrid research and development.”

Because urban microgrids can connect or disconnect from the main grid as required, they can also provide backup when the main grid goes down, Ghosh says.

For example, when Japan’s 2011 tsunami knocked out Sendai City’s power grid for weeks, the microgrid at its local university didn’t blink, using fuel cells, solar panels and natural gas turbines to power its way through the entire disaster.

But any grid can be knocked out when demand exceeds supply.

Cooperative resource sharing

“The main problem with microgrids is that you have limited resources,” Ghosh says.

“You might not have sufficient backup to cope with peak energy loads, which means there’s the possibility that your grid will go down.”

The answer is to create microgrid clusters, Ghosh says.

His research indicates that connecting independently managed microgrids enables mutual support during peak demand periods.

“Say you know you’re able to supply your microgrid with four generators, but for some reason—maintenance or failure—you lose one generator, you might have a shortfall of twenty or thirty kilowatts, and that’s enough for your microgrid to collapse,” he says.

“That’s when you need to ask your neighbour for help.”

If your microgrid is connected with a neighbour’s microgrid, you could fill your shortfall with their excess supply, but managing this sharing can become complicated, especially where grids are connected using a simple switch.

Ghosh’s simulations employed the more sophisticated option of connecting with a back-to-back converter.

“With a back-to-back converter, I have control over how much power I can take from my neighbour, and how much power I can send…it allows me to give you ‘X’ amount of power, but to keep the rest for myself,” he says.

Ghosh says reducing power demand during peak times is also essential.

– Cris Burne

This article was first published by ScienceNetwork WA on23 April 2016. Read the original article here.

type-1 diabetes

Microcapsules for type-1 diabetes

Curtin University researchers are a step closer to establishing a way for people with type-1 diabetes to introduce insulin into the body without the need for injections, through the development of a unique microcapsule.

People with type-1 diabetes, a condition where the immune system destroys cells in the pancreas, generally have to inject themselves with insulin daily and test glucose levels multiple times a day.

Dr Hani Al-Salami from Curtin’s School of Pharmacy is leading the collaborative project using cutting-edge microencapsulation technologies to design and test whether microcapsules are a viable alternative treatment for people with type-1 diabetes.

“Since 1921, injecting insulin into muscle or fat tissue has been the only treatment option for patients with type-1 diabetes,” Al-Salami says.

“The ideal way to treat the illness, however, would be to have something, like a microcapsule, that stays in the body and works long-term to treat the uncontrolled blood glucose associated with diabetes.”

The microcapsule contains pancreatic cells which can be implanted in the body and deliver insulin to the blood stream.

“We hope the microcapsules might complement or even replace the use of insulin in the long-term, but we are still a way off. Still, the progress is encouraging and quite positive for people with type-1 diabetes,” Al-Salami says.

Researchers say the biggest challenge in the project to date has been creating a microcapsule that could carry the cells safely, for an extended period of time, without causing an unwanted reaction by the body such as inflammation or graft failure.

“We are currently carrying out multiple analyses examining various formulations and microencapsulating methods, in order to ascertain optimum engineered microcapsules capable of supporting cell survival and functionality,” Al-Salami says.

The research was conducted in partnership with the University of Western Australia. Click here to read the scientific paper, published in Biotechnology Progress.

– Susanna Wolz

This article was first published by Curtin University. Read the original media release here.

 

Mining money-saver

Mining money-saver

, which took out Curtin University’s science and engineering category last September, finds optimal waste rock dumping and haulage solutions using trade secret algorithms developed by a small team led by Professor Erkan Topal.

With material haulage costs typically accounting for up to half of a West Australian open cut mine’s operational costs during the recent boom years, Topal says the costs of building waste dumps are often neglected by mining operations.

“Yet it presents great potential to reduce costs and to generate environmentally friendly waste dumps if we schedule the waste rock dump using a smarter scheduler,” he says.

“It is definitely a good tool to use at the mining downturn, as cost cutting becomes a focus point, and good planning and scheduling will become a key to achieve this target.”

The conventional waste rock dumping practice of using the shortest route possible in the early years of mining is not likely to stack up economically over the longer term.

TopDump tackles this issue but also manages how reactive and non-acid forming rocks are layered in the dumps to minimise acid rock drainage – an industry-wide challenge when rain and oxidisation generate environmentally damaging sulphuric acid from waste rock.

The software was trialled in the modelling of a WA gold mining project with a mine life of 10 years including four open pits that encompassed more than 4 km in total length.

“The results have demonstrated significant improvement on cost saving with an environmentally friendly waste dump design,” Topal says, with the project since becoming a mining operation.

“The TopDump model is ideal for greenfield deposit, but can be used for any open pit mining operations.”

Another trial found that a TopDump-generated plan gave an existing mine the opportunity to save at least 20% in waste-related haulage costs compared to the mine’s existing dump scheduling plan.

Negotiations with prospective industry customers remain underway, and how TopDump is implemented and marketed is subject to change at this early stage of commercialisation.

“It can be an add-in tool for any mining design software suite but we are also considering the licensing option in a cloud system,” Topal says.

“Currently, we have a software interface that any mining professional can use without detailed optimisation knowledge.”

– Blair Price

This article was first published by Science Network Western Australia on 20 March 2016. Read the original article here

Watch Curtin University’s video about TopDump:

Connecting graduates with businesses

Connecting graduates with businesses

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.

Sally Bradford won the 2015 Showcasing Early Career Researchers competition, and is a PhD candidate in clinical psychology at the University of Canberra. She developed an electronic mental health assessment app allowing physicians to diagnose and support their patients’ previously undisclosed issues. Bradford’s research is part of a larger collaborative project with the Young and Well CRC.

Perth-based cancer immunotherapy research group Selvax Pty Ltd has entered a commercial partnership with Curtin University. They signed a two-year contract to develop anti-cancer immunotherapy treatments in November 2015, after CEO Tony Fitzgerald saw value in Curtin Senior Research Fellow Dr Delia Nelson’s ten years of research into immunological agents.

“We want access to innovative research to make practical use of what researchers are discovering,” says Fitzgerald.

These industry partnerships aren’t new. “It’s a well-trodden path in the USA,” says Fitzgerald.

“But it’s not as common in Australia – we’re great at innovating, but not great at commercialising our work.”

Perth-based energy company Bombora Wave Power needed to know what sensors would work underwater with its unique wave energy converter (WEC), so they partnered with Edith Cowan University (ECU) through the university’s Industry and PhD Research Engagement Program, which matches Western Australian PhD candidates with industry. ECU graduate Gary Allwood researched ways of using optical fibre sensors to measure load and stress on the WEC system’s membrane.

“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.

Monash University started its Graduate Research Interdisciplinary Programs (GRIPs) in early 2015, allowing PhD students to solve real-world problems through collaborative research.

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.

“This is an exciting and innovative model for postgraduate education that encourages interdisciplinary and industry-engaged practice,” says Monash University’s Vice-Provost for Graduate Education, Professor Zlatko Skrbis.

– Marisa Wikramanayake

Water resources

Oceans of wealth

As the driest inhabited continent, and the country with the sixth largest coastline, Australia is poorly endowed with freshwater but fringed by huge expanses of ocean.

We often take it for granted but access to clean drinking water is a critical issue in a growing number of regions around the world. In Perth, drinking water has traditionally been sourced from surface water dams and groundwater reserves. But these supplies have significantly diminished since the 1980s through the combined impacts of rapid urban growth and protracted drought conditions. And with the southwest of Australia expected to suffer more severely than other parts of the continent from the impact of climate change, the situation is only expected to worsen.

The Water Corporation of Western Australia has been intensively exploring diversified options for boosting Perth’s drinking water, focusing on climate-independent sources. The most innovative option has been to use advanced treated wastewater to replenish groundwater resources impacted by the drying climate.

To help with their investigations, they turned to Curtin experts, including water chemist Dr Cynthia Joll. As Deputy Director of the Curtin Water Quality Research Centre (CWQRC), Joll is part of a team that researched the performance of the wastewater treatment procedures to make the process both safe and viable. Joll explains there are a large number of potential micropollutants that might need to be removed from a city’s wastewater before it can be safely recycled as drinking water. These include residual pharmaceuticals such as antibiotics, hormones and pain relief medications found in urine.

“The Centre developed the vast majority of the analytical methods for detecting these chemicals in treated wastewaters and then looked to see whether they were in secondary and tertiary – or advanced – treated wastewater,” says Joll.

The research ensured the WA Department of Health approved a pilot water recycling plant. The plant produced advanced treated wastewater of drinking quality, which was pumped into the groundwater aquifer. As a result, they completed a successful groundwater replenishment trial by the end of 2012, which was dubbed a “highly viable” option for securing WA’s drinking water supplies in the drying climate.

In late 2013, the WA government announced that groundwater replenishment was to go ahead as a major new climate-independent water source for Perth. It’s predicted that, by 2060, as much as 20% of Perth’s drinking water is likely to be supplied using this approach. The advanced treated wastewater will be used to replenish groundwater supplies that won’t be drawn for drinking purposes for decades. By the time it is added to Perth’s water supply and subjected to the drinking water treatment process, it will have been naturally filtered by passing through groundwater aquifers, Joll explains.

The CWQRC is also involved in a wide range of fundamental and applied research into other water quality issues. For Joll, who’s been fascinated by water quality chemistry for many years, it’s been particularly thrilling as a scientist to be involved in work of such high public significance. “To help bring it to full scale has been fabulous,” she says, adding that the success of the research means the work of the CWQRC is creating interest in other regions around the world that are already, or are anticipating, experiencing drinking water limitations.

Water resources
Ocean colour image from the MERIS instrument, European Space Agency (ESA).

Engineers at Curtin are also working on a water supply issue. As drinking water is pumped into cities, or wastewater is pumped out, small bubbles can form as the result of a drop in pressure from falling supplies in reservoirs or fluctuations in wastewater usage. These bubbles can damage the pumps that control supply.

Dr Kristoffer McKee, a lead researcher in Curtin’s rotating machine health monitoring project, and colleagues are analysing the vibrations made by the bubbles as they form. When the bubbles enter a pump, the pump applies pressure to the liquid, causing the bubbles to pop (implode) which releases energy. At its peak, millions of bubbles pop within milliseconds of each other.

“This popping eats away at the metal on the ‘impeller’ blades in the pump,” says McKee. As a result, this phenomenon decreases the pump’s ability to apply pressure and push the liquid in the desired direction. “It sounds like you’re pumping gravel.”

The process makes holes in the impeller blades, causing the pumps to seize up. But by the time technicians can detect the telltale sounds, the damage has already begun, says McKee. “It can cost many thousands of dollars to take a pump offline and change an impeller.” He says their approach has been to try to detect the start of the process, called cavitation, before damage becomes significant.

Building on the results of work by a University of Western Australia colleague, and in collaboration with Queensland University of Technology researchers, the Curtin University engineers placed accelerometers (sensors which measure acceleration associated with vibrations) on pumps in Queensland towns. They found they could use the data to map cavitation in 3D to show how a pump changes as cavitation occurs, says McKee.

“Once you see cavitation starting, you can stop your pump and make sure the pressure is correct,” he adds. It’s early days yet and the work needs more field testing, but the research could cut industry costs significantly.

“By 2060, as much as 20% of Perth’s drinking water is likely to be supplied by groundwater replenishment.”

Water resources
Ocean colour image from the MODIS instrument, NASA.

The push to apply research outcomes is strong across Curtin, including in the field of marine and freshwater research. Much of this work is carried out at the university under the auspices of the Australian Sustainable Development Institute, which brings Curtin researchers together on research proposals that relate to sustainable development.

“It’s all about tackling the key issues facing society,” explains the Institute’s Executive Director, Mike Burbridge. “We know that there’s increasing pressure on water and water resources. The cross-disciplinary approach is hugely important at Curtin, but especially in the sustainability space. Major innovations have come about by taking ideas from one area and applying them in another.”

An interdisciplinary approach to solving oceanographic problems has become a hallmark of Curtin’s Centre for Marine Science and Technology (CMST), which fosters research connections across the university’s Departments of Imaging and Applied Physics, Applied Geology, and Environment and Agriculture, as well as with external organisations such as the Western Australian Energy Research Alliance, the Integrated Marine Observing System and the Australian Maritime College.

“It sets us apart from other marine science groups around Australia. We seem to have carved quite a niche for doing that within the Southern Hemisphere and beyond,” says Dr Christine Erbe, Director of the CMST. Erbe is working with a multidisciplinary team at the CMST within Curtin’s physics department in the area of bioacoustics to monitor and analyse the sounds made by marine animals and people at the beach (see News, p6).

Water resources
Perth drinking water will be replenished with reclaimed and treated wastewater.

In one project, researchers are looking at how to detect sharks in the water using off-the-shelf sonar systems – the type used by private and commercial fishermen that work by emitting acoustic signals reflected off objects in the water. “Many of us have engineering and physics backgrounds and apply that to biology,” says Erbe.

Professor David Antoine, head of Curtin’s Remote Sensing and Satellite Research Group, applies his expertise in the opposite direction, combining his background as a biologist with the use of highly sophisticated physics techniques to interpret changes in ocean colour.

Ocean colour activity is affected by the amount and type of particulate matter present – from phytoplankton to sediment. This matter affects how light penetrates into, and is scattered by, water. It can be expressed in physical terms such as the absorption (how much light is taken in by the water itself, as well as the particles or dissolved substances it contains) and reflectance (how much light is being scattered back compared to how much enters at the surface).

“If you have strong absorption, the water will look darker and you will have less light coming out of the water,” explains Antoine. Less absorption results in more scattering of light and different ocean hues. Understanding the changing spectral signatures that result from this play of light enables scientists to quantify, for example, amounts of phytoplankton – the tiny plants that float in ocean surface waters and drive marine food chains.

“Like terrestrial plant life, phytoplankton contains many pigments, particularly chlorophyll,” says Antoine. “And chlorophyll absorbs preferentially in the blue range on the visible light spectrum.”

As phytoplankton concentration increases in an area of ocean, the spectral signature of the water shifts from deep to light blue, then to green or brown, indicating a very large concentration of phytoplankton and highly productive waters. This can be measured in surface waters using an instrument called a radiometer – deployable from a ship, for example, or across huge areas via satellites.

While referred to as ‘satellite imagery’, it involves more than looking at nice pictures, Antoine says. His team is doing a rigorous quantitative analysis of the measured signal on each pixel of the image to look at geophysical properties and determine attributes such as phytoplankton concentration. “That can mean millions of individual observations on just one image, and billions of them when many years of observations are collected over the entire planet.”

This kind of understanding can be applied, for example, in the local and global management of fish stocks, which rely on patterns of phytoplankton production. And because phytoplankton carry out photosynthesis – absorbing CO2 and releasing oxygen – understanding where, when and how much of this resource there is can provide vast amounts of information about the global carbon cycle. This, in turn, has major implications for managing climate change.

The potential significance of phytoplankton in this area is enormous, says Antoine, explaining that huge numbers of tiny plants floating across the world’s oceans act as a major sink for atmospheric carbon, sequestering around 50 gigatonnes of carbon per year. This is as much carbon fixation as is carried out by terrestrial plants, and the plankton uses about 500 times less biomass because it is more efficient at photosynthesis. A significant part of the CO2 released in the atmosphere by human activity is absorbed by this process and eventually sinks to the deep ocean and is buried in the ocean floor.

There’s perhaps no better indicator of how all of Earth’s habitats – marine, freshwater and terrestrial – are all intimately linked.

Karen McGhee

Telescope project funding boost

Featured photo above by Rob Millenaar

The Curtin University-led Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) radio telescope project has been awarded an Australian Research Council (ARC) grant to upgrade its performance by a factor of ten.

The $1,000,000 grant, part of the ARC Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities (LIEF) scheme, announced today by the Minister for Education and Training, Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham, will double the number of telescope antennas to 256 and quadruple the footprint of the MWA to 28 square kilometres.

Professor Steven Tingay, Director of the MWA at Curtin University, says the upgrades would make the telescope ten times more powerful in its exploration of the evolution of the Universe.

“By increasing the number of telescope antennas and the surface area of the MWA, the telescope will strengthen tenfold, like a weightlifter capable of lifting 100 kg suddenly being able to lift 1000 kg,” says Tingay.

Tingay described the MWA as a ‘time machine’ designed to look back in time more than 12 billion years, to watch the formation of the first stars and galaxies in the Universe, less than one billion years after the Big Bang.

“The MWA has been operating for almost three years and has collected over seven petabytes of data already, the equivalent of almost half a million High Definition movies,” he says.

“With the upgrade that this grant provides, we will able to collect even more and better data, helping to advance our understanding of the last unstudied phase of cosmic evolution.”

An international consortium of 15 organisations from Australia, USA, India and New Zealand built and operate the MWA, led by Curtin University.

As a result of the new funding, two new organisations will be added to the MWA consortium; Western Sydney University and the University of Toronto, Canada, increasing the MWA’s national and international reach.

The MWA is one of three official precursor telescopes for the much larger, billion-dollar scale Square Kilometre Array (SKA) and is the only SKA precursor to be fully operational for science. Half of the SKA will be built at the same site as the MWA, the CSIRO’s Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory, over the next decade.

Key science, engineering and computing developments for the SKA are being tested and verified by the MWA, providing critical expertise to the SKA project. This includes working closely with key national initiatives such as the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre.

In the last two years, more than 70 scientific publications have been developed from MWA data. The MWA team also recently won a prestigious award for the telescope’s scientific impact from Thomson Reuters.

– April Kleer

This article was first published on 30 October by Curtin University. Read the original article here.

Measuring change

Using a combination of satellite data and ground observations, spatial scientists are able to measure water use, land changes and climate variability with greater accuracy than ever before. Professor of Geodesy Will Featherstone at Curtin is measuring the rate at which land in Perth is sinking due to water drawn from the city’s underground aquifers.

“As the water gets pulled out, the weight of the rocks on top causes the land to subside,” he says. “We’re using satellite techniques, GPS, plus a radar technique called InSAR, where we take a radar picture of Perth every 11 days. We stack all these images together to deduce the subsidence.”

The study is also being used to correct records of sea level rise in Perth, which have been exaggerated in some places because of the sinking land. The team is also working further afield, using precision satellite measurement techniques to stave off conflict over water distribution in Northeast Africa.

Using data from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites, spatial scientist Associate Professor Joseph Awange has been able to show that between 2002 and 2011, Egypt over-extracted water from the Nile Basin for irrigation purposes.

The satellite data also showed a sharp drop in rainfall across the region in November and December 2010 and a decline in rainfall over the 10-year study period in the Ethopian Highlands.

Awange says measuring water use in the Nile Basin can determine if countries are abiding by the 1929 Nile Water Agreement to share the world’s longest river.

Analysing satellite data could show which countries are over-extracting water from the Nile. “If the upstream countries use a lot of the water, then the chance is that the downstream countries such as Egypt will not have enough to sustain them,” says Awange.

“Egypt has threatened several times that they’re ready to go to war if the upstream countries extract more than is necessary,” he says.

Michelle Wheeler

mass extinction

Molecular detective studies mass extinction events

When the Earth warmed and the oceans turned toxic with hydrogen sulfide about 250 million years ago, up to 95% of marine life and 70% of terrestrial species were wiped out – the largest of five mass extinction events in Earth’s history. Much of what we know about these is thanks to research by John Curtin Distinguished Professor Kliti Grice – organic and isotope geochemist and founder of Curtin’s WA-Organic and Isotope Geochemistry Centre within the Institute for Geoscience Research and the John De Laeter Centre for Isotope Research. Grice studies the molecular signatures of chemicals that have been made by micro-organisms, plants and animals, and deposited in lakes and oceans, thousands or even hundreds of millions of years ago.

Her work requires a deep knowledge of biochemical pathways, geology, chemistry, ecology, stable isotopes within organic molecules, and cutting edge analytical techniques in order to interpret clues left behind in rocks and determine which organisms lived in certain aquatic regions and when.

“I look at everything from about 2.3 billion years ago, through to the present day, including recovery after the mass extinction events,” she says. “Most people know about the dinosaur mass extinction, which was unique because it was due to a meteorite impact,” she says. But the other mass extinctions were caused by changes in the atmosphere and oceans.

Grice is working on the Triassic-Jurassic extinction, which occurred about 200 million years ago when supercontinent Pangaea began to break up. “There was a lot of carbon dioxide and flood basalts from volcanic eruptions. We established that the same conditions existed in the oceans then as they did in the largest mass extinction event 50 million years earlier,” she says. These events were biochemically driven, with environmental events leading to high carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide in bodies of water.

Grice’s research is also relevant to petroleum and mineral exploration, as well as to modern day climate and environmental changes. “We work with people across disciplines including geologists, engineers, mathematicians, biologists and geographers,” she says.

Grice is passionate about working with PhD students and early and mid-career scientists and helping them develop. “I like sharing my enthusiasm and ideas – seeing young scientists grow, helping them with their research and providing opportunities, including visits to different parts of the globe.”

Michelle Wheeler

The role of science and innovation in a 21st century government

Australia’s new prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has announced what he calls a “21st-century government”. This article is part of The Conversation’s series focusing on what such a government should look like.

Change is in the air. According to our new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, his will be a 21st century government. But what does this entail? And what is the role of science and innovation in such a government?

The challenge for a genuinely 21st century Australian government is how to wrap its arms around the future in such a way that it improves Australia’s ability to capitalise on its research capacity and create new jobs, industries and opportunities for the coming century.


A 21st century ministry

The expanded Industry, Innovation and Science portfolio will now encompass digital technology and engineering, which together comprise the engine that has driven explosive growth in Silicon Valley, Israel and other forward-looking places.

We need to invest broadly in science research to feed the technology and engineering engine. But how do we bridge the funding “valley of death” between research and industry, and convert our excellent research outcomes into proven technologies?

We have companies aplenty that can pick up and commercialise proven technologies, but they are rightly cautious about licensing the rights to research outcomes. To address this problem, the US government directly invests nearly ten times more than we do as a percentage of GDP to fund business feasibility studies intended to convert research outcomes into proven technologies.

To drive our innovation agenda harder, a 21st century government could consider grants and development contracts specifically to support the translation of research outcomes into proven technologies.

Private sector investment into Australian start-up companies is lacking. In the US and Israel, more than 10% of GDP derives from venture-capital backed companies. In Australia it is 0.2%.

If we could increase the contribution to the economy by these companies from 0.2% to, say, 2%, then the benefits would be significant. To do so we will need to encourage new domestic and international sources of private funding, teach skills in technology assessment, and give further consideration to the rules around employee stock options and crowd-sourced funding.


Thinking big

At the same time, the fresh line-up of political leaders can help advance the national psyche beyond a state of gloom. They can acknowledge the fantastic benefits innovation has already brought to established industries.

Banking and resources, for example, have invested heavily in innovation to improve efficiency, and the largest iron mining companies in Australia continue to operate with positive operating margins despite depressed international prices.

Science and technology advances operate across broad sectors of the economy, contributing to accelerated growth in major export industries such as agriculture. Improvements to farm machinery and practices will make our farming more efficient, while adoption of digital technology to track our goods from field to retail outlet will provide the proof of origin that will allow our exporters to charge premium prices.

To the extent that the government will invest in new programs to support innovation, they should be carefully conceived, long term and national in scope, and large in scale. At the same time, existing programs could be consolidated to focus on those that have the most impact.


Sink or swim

I sometimes hear criticism of the Australian workforce, but I strongly disagree with that criticism. I have employed many engineers and scientists in the US and in Australia, and the Australian staff have been every bit as talented and dedicated as their US counterparts.

Unfortunately, unlike in the US, a substantial fraction of our creative workforce is locked out of commercial development activities because of the lack of mobility between university and industry jobs.

A 21st century government could help by adopting ratings systems that measure and reward engagement between universities and industry, and value time spent by research staff working in industry as much as they value publications and citations.

Of course, like footballers, innovators thrive when the rules of the game are clear and consistently applied. Industry is as one with government in recognising the importance of strong regulations. What is needed in most industries is a lead regulator to coordinate the regulatory oversight.

This approach does not replace the expertise of the various regulators, it just coordinates them. The key is for regulations to enable rather than stifle innovation while ensuring that community concerns and safety requirements are properly addressed.

We are already operating in an era of digital disruption. Science and technology will further dominate our future as we build a world ever more like those imagined by science fiction. In this world, machines offer their services to each other, buy and sell products and exchange information in real time. Manufacturing and service provision will be highly flexible and products will be individualised to customer needs.

Our industries must be agile and ready to transform, so that they will add value in a complex global supply chain, thereby creating new wealth that will be invested in services, health and other industries, with net creation of jobs.

The only thing we know for sure is that the next ten years will change more rapidly than the past ten years. I am confident that as the newly appointed Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Christopher Pyne, recognises the urgency to embrace these changes and will introduce policies and practices to capture the opportunities in what is proving to be a sink or swim world. The latter is preferable.

– , Chancellor, Monash University

This article was first published by The Conversation US on 27 September 2015. Read the original article here.

Big data to solve global issues

Curtin University’s spatial sciences teams are using big data, advanced processing power and community engagement to solve social and environmental problems.

Advanced facilities and expertise at Perth’s Pawsey Supercomputing Centre support the Square Kilometre Array – a multi-array telescope due to launch in 2024 – and undertake high-end science using big data.

Individual computers at the $80 million facility have processing power in excess of a petaflop (one quadrillion floating point operations per second) – that’s 100,000 times the flops handled by your average Mac or PC.

Curtin University is a key participant in iVEC, which runs the Pawsey Centre, and a partner in the CRC for Spatial Information. As such, it is at the forefront of research efforts to use big data to solve global issues.

For instance, says the head of Curtin’s Department of Spatial Sciences Professor Bert Veenendaal, the university’s researchers are using Pawsey supercomputers to manage, compile and integrate growing volumes of data on water resources, land use, climate change and infrastructure.

“There is a rich repository of information and knowledge among the vast amounts of data captured by satellites, ground and mobile sensors, as well as the everyday usage information related to people carrying mobile devices,” he says.

“Increasing amounts of data are under-utilised because of a lack of knowhow and resources to integrate and extract useful knowledge,” he explains.

“Big data infrastructures coupled with increasing research in modelling and knowledge extraction will achieve this.”

Curtin’s projects include mapping sea-level rise and subsidence along the Western Australian coastline near Perth, generating high-resolution maps of the Earth’s gravity field and modelling climate over regional areas, such as Bhutan in South-East Asia, across multiple time scales.

Some research projects have the potential to expand and make use of big data in the future, particularly in the area of community development.

In one such project, the team worked with members of a rural community in the Kalahari Desert, Botswana, to collect information and map data using geographic information science. 

This helped the local community to determine the extent of vegetation cover in their local area, water access points for animals and how far the animals travelled from the water points to food sources.

Using this data, one local woman was able to create a goat breeding business plan to develop a herd of stronger animals. 

According to Veenendaal, there is potential for big data to be used for many regional and national issues. 

“Projects like this have the potential to provide data acquisition, analysis and knowledge that will inform intelligent decision-making about land use and community development on local, regional and national scales,” he says.

While procuring more funding for the Botswana project, Curtin’s researchers are planning future big data projects, such as applying global climate change models to regional areas across multiple time scales, and bringing together signals from multiple global navigation satellite systems, such as the USA’s GPS, China’s BeiDou and the EU’s Galileo. – Laura Boness

www.curtin.edu.au

www.crcsi.com.au 

www.ivec.org

Out of this world

The secrets of Earth, the Moon and Mars are being uncovered by detailed studies of zircon crystals in ancient rocks.

John Curtin Distinguished Professor Simon Wilde and Associate Professor Alexander Nemchin, with colleagues from Curtin’s Department of Applied Geology, undertake in situ isotopic analyses of zircons and other chemically complex materials.

To do this they use Curtin’s two Sensitive High Resolution Ion Micro Probes (SHRIMPs) in the John De Laeter Centre for Isotope Research.

“The oldest zircons on Earth, the Moon and Mars – which are all close to 4.4 billion years old – have been dated using the Curtin SHRIMPs,” says SHRIMP Manager Dr Allen Kennedy.

While Wilde primarily focuses on terrestrial zircons, Nemchin – who divides his time between Curtin and the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm – has analysed zircons from the Moon and Mars.

“Previous research in the seventies discovered abundant zircon in many lunar samples delivered by the Apollo missions,” Nemchin says. “So we used zircon samples from the Moon to gain a better understanding of how to interpret our terrestrial zircon data.”

The results were illuminating: “We found the currently oldest known zircon on the Moon with an age of 4.417 billion years
– which provides the youngest limit to the formation of the lunar magma ocean.” This vast ‘ocean’ of partially melted rock
is thought to have swamped the Moon shortly after it formed.

In addition, Nemchin and his international collaborators, including NASA, identified a series of features in zircon grains that allow major lunar impact events to be dated.

They have also developed novel methods of analysing phosphates from the Moon with a precision close to a few million years. “Together, this resulted in our questioning of the terminal lunar cataclysm hypothesis.”

Out of this world embed 300
Zircon research by a team at the John De Laeter Centre for Isotope Research found that dramatic changes on Mars 1.7 billion years ago resulted in its barren landscape today.

Also known as the Late Heavy Bombardment, the lunar cataclysm concept was put forward in the 1970s. It suggests that asteroids barraged the Moon for a short time approximately 3.9 billion
years ago, causing much of the cratering seen today on the lunar surface and having geological consequences for Earth.

Nemchin’s results instead suggest multiple cataclysmic spikes of impacts occurred throughout the history of the Solar System, separated by relatively quiet periods.

The team also dated zircon found in an ancient Martian meteorite known as Black Beauty, which was discovered in the Sahara Desert in 2011 by Bedouin tribesmen.

After they determined that the meteorite’s zircon crystals were 4.43 billion years old, the team took precise measurements that provided additional ideas about how the Martian atmosphere has changed through time.

They found that water on Mars was more abundant when the crystals formed, but something dramatically changed prior to 1.7 billion years ago, leaving the barren Martian desert that persists to this day.

– Ben Skuse

Desert fireballs

Pieces of rock from space land on Earth every hour, says Professor Phil Bland of Curtin’s Department of Applied Geology, who has set up an ambitious project to match meteorites with their cosmic origins.

‘Shooting stars’ are not stars at all, explains Bland. They are meteors – streaks of light caused by small pieces of rock that burn up as they enter Earth’s atmosphere. Most are destroyed during their descent, but bigger rocks can make it to the ground.

“When one of these things lands on Earth, you’ve got a chunk of asteroid,” says Bland. “We’re amazingly lucky to get these samples, basically for free, from a whole bunch of different objects in the asteroid belt, even from Mars or the Moon.”

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A new smartphone app enables the general public to record and report sightings.

Bland and his team have set up a network of 32 cameras, 130 km apart, across much of remote Western Australia and South Australia, with the aim of triangulating meteorite trajectories as they approach Earth. From the photos, they can determine where in the Solar System the rock originated.

“It’s a lot trickier to work out where it will land on Earth,” says Bland. Factors like the size of the rock and whether or not it breaks up into fragments, as well as wind conditions, all affect where the pieces land. If it lands in the desert and the team gets to it quickly, it should be in pristine condition.

A sister project, Fireballs in the Sky, involves a smartphone app that the general public can use to record and report meteor tracks. If several people send in reports of the same meteor, Bland’s team can respond with details of its origin. “If you are out on a clear night, look up – I guarantee that in an hour you’ll see something amazing!” he says.

– Clare Pain