Tag Archives: engineering

Mining the skies

Just three kilometres in diameter, asteroid 1986DA is a fairly tiny affair by astronomical standards. Yet it contains astonishing wealth. Using radar, astronomers have discovered 1986DA is mainly made up of iron and nickel.

“Essentially, it is a ball of naturally occurring stainless steel,” says Serkan Saydam, a UNSW expert on the mining of off-Earth objects.

Asteroid 1986DA is also estimated to contain more than 10,000 tonnes of gold and 100,000 tonnes of platinum.

The prospect of such mineral riches excites some entrepreneurs. These visionaries picture a fleet of robot spaceships crossing the Solar System to mine its interplanetary resources. This would also open worlds like the Moon and Mars to human colonisation.

With its vast mining experience, Australia is keen to ensure it is in the vanguard of these operations. Hence the appointment of Saydam as an associate professor of mining at UNSW, where he is putting together a small team of off-Earth mining experts. The work of Saydam’s honours student Georgia Craig on asteroid 1986DA highlights the importance of the careful planning that will be needed in future – and the problems that lie ahead.

Named after the year in which it was discovered, asteroid 1986DA orbits the Sun 75 million kilometres from Earth and is rated by the International Astronomical Union as a Near Earth Object, or NEO. But calculations by Saydam show that 1986DA is still too remote to be mined economically. On the other hand, his research suggests that if the asteroid were half its current distance from Earth, it could be viable to exploit.

That is good news because there are about two million other near-Earth asteroids orbiting the Sun. If we can find a better-placed candidate, it could become a target for mining operations. Hence the activities of companies like Planetary Resources (see ‘Frontier horizon’, above) which is preparing to carry out detailed surveys of NEOs to find one best suited for mining operations.

Asteroids like 1986DA are not the only targets for future missions. Other types of asteroids contain far less mineral wealth, but much more water. That could be crucial, says Saydam. “Water will be our prime source of fuel in space, and finding sources will be a priority. Hydrolysis of water produces hydrogen and oxygen, which can be burned together as fuel, and used in space shuttles and/or satellites. To put it bluntly: water is going to be the currency of space.”

Worlds like Jupiter’s moon Europa, which has a vast ocean below its frozen surface, and Saturn’s tiny Enceladus, which vents water into space, would be good targets but are too remote.

“We will have to find water much nearer to home, and given that we have to start somewhere, Mars is the logical place to begin our hunt for water on another world,” says Sophia Casanova, a geologist and PhD candidate who is now studying off-Earth mining at UNSW. “Finding and extracting water will be crucial for setting up colonies there.”

The trouble is that, while the poles of Mars have ice, they are too cold and inhospitable to provide homes for early colonists. By contrast, Mars’s equatorial region is warmer and more amenable but lacks water – at least on the surface. “That means we will have to seek it underground,” says Casanova, whose research is now focused on finding ways to pinpoint rich deposits of clays and hydrate deposits at lower latitudes on Mars. “There could be some kind of artesian wells, but we have no evidence of their existence as yet. So we will probably have to use hydrate minerals.”

But how can we extract water from rocks? Casanova explains: “You could put your minerals in a chamber and heat them to extract the water. Alternatively, you could use microwave generators that heat the underground to break up the rocks and release the water that way.”

At NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, Saydam’s team has developed models to evaluate multiple off-Earth mining scenarios.

Another practical problem concerns the use of seismic detectors. On Earth, a charge is set off and seismic waves that bounce off subterranean deposits reveal their presence. But as a tool for exploring other worlds, the technique is poorly developed. “Some seismic measurements were taken of the Moon by Apollo astronauts, and that’s about it,” says Michael Dello-Iacovo, a former geophysicist and now a PhD candidate at UNSW. “An early Mars lander was designed to do that but crashed. Now the Mars InSight Mission is being prepared to carry out seismic studies but will not be launched until 2018.”

Seismic waves may behave very differently on asteroids or other planets, says Dello-Iacovo. “There will be no atmosphere, and virtually no gravity, and we have no idea how that will affect seismic wave behaviours. My research is aimed at tackling that problem,” adds Dello-Iacovo, who is spending a year at JPL working on methods for improving our understanding of asteroid interiors.

“We still don’t know if asteroids have solid cores or are just piles of rubble held together loosely,” Dello-Iacovo says. “If the latter, they might break apart if only a small force is applied to them during a mining operation.”

A host of ethical and legal issues also need to be overcome, says Saydam. “What treaties are we going to have to set up to exploit space? And what would happen if we suddenly turned a rare metal like platinum into a commonplace one by bringing huge chunks back to Earth? We could trigger a crash in international metal markets.

“On the other hand, off-Earth mining has the potential to trigger great expansion in the global economy and we must make sure that Australia can influence that through its research capabilities. We also need to make sure we have trained manpower to take advantage of this great adventure.”

– Robin McKie

Silicon champions

Imagine a soccer grand final where a team of fully autonomous humanoid robots beats the latest winners of the World Cup, all within the official guidelines of FIFA.  

This is the long-term vision for RoboCup, an international robot soccer championship that highlights the latest developments in artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics research. 

Since first entering RoboCup in 1999, UNSW’s team rUNSWift has been a consistent leader in the competition. The team, made up of a mix of the university’s top engineering students and robotics experts, has taken out five world titles, most recently in 2014 and 2015. Only one other team, Germany’s B-Human (a joint team from the University of Bremen and the German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence, or DFKI) have managed to equal them.

“This is the ‘space race’ of robotics,” says Maurice Pagnucco, Deputy Dean (Education) of UNSW’s Faculty of Engineering and Head of the School of Computer Science and Engineering. “What we learn from robots playing soccer can be applied to industry and help us solve difficult, real-world problems.”  

The competition is a standard platform league of fully autonomous Nao humanoid robots, which compete against each other in teams of five. With no physical advantage, what differentiates the teams from each other is the software and AI the engineers create in the months leading up to the competition. Once the game kicks off, the robots are on their own. 

 “The design process is challenging, as we have to create software that’s robust enough to handle the different situations a soccer player may face,” says software engineer Sean Harris, rUNSWift’s successful leader in 2014 and 2015. “The robot must react quickly and effectively in a variety of unknown situations.”  

It’s this ability to respond quickly that has set rUNSWift apart from other teams competing for the world title. Over hours of simulations and machine learning tests, the UNSW squad has developed a walking code that enables the robots to walk faster than most of their competitors.  

“We start by designing the larger components, and then work our way down to the details of how each component will operate,” says Harris, who now creates software for Cruise GM’s self-driving cars. “We test several different approaches on a weekly basis and fine-tune the best for each task.”

RoboCup winners cannot rest on their laurels. Each year, the software developed by the winning team is shared with all other teams, forcing the technology to accelerate to stay ahead.

RoboCup attracts interested scouts from leading technology brands, such as Google, Microsoft and Dell. It will be held in Sydney in 2019 and is expected to attract up to 600 teams and 20,000 spectators.

– Gemma Conroy

UNSW Women in Engineering Awards

They are named for some of Australia’s top research leaders and exemplify commercial outcomes from research. Yet the UNSW Women in Engineering Awards night this year also showed how far there is to go in approaching gender equity in one of the most inequitable fields of employment in Australia.

While some of the world’s leading engineers – responsible for world record solar efficiencies, in high performing perovskite solar cells for example – were recognised through the awards; students, research leaders and industry also heard of the barriers that persist in recruiting young women into engineering.

Engineering skills are central to leadership – trained in analytical approaches, problem solving and focussed on the big picture, it’s a critical path for tomorrow’s leaders.

A problem of supply

In 2016 just 13% of Australian engineers were women. Many come to engineering careers through UNSW Sydney, which as the largest engineering faculty accounts for 20% of the Australian engineering graduates that fill just one-third of the 18,000 engineering positions available each year.

The UNSW Women in Engineering Awards are designed to showcase excellence in engineering and also provide clear role models for young women. The university goes to considerable lengths to improve diversity in student intakes – making individual calls to women offered places at the university to encourage them to accept the offer. 

UNSW Women in Engineering Awards showcases strong role models

The Ada Lovelace Medal for an Outstanding Woman Engineer was awarded to Kathryn Fagg, Reserve Bank board member and President, Chief Executive Women. The Maria Skyllas-Kazacos Young Professional Award for Outstanding Achievement was won by Narelle Underwood, Director of Survey Operations at Spatial Services, a division of the NSW Department of Finance, Services. Prof Cordelia Selomulya, Professor, Monash University was awarded The Judy Raper Award for Leadership.

The UNSW Women in Engineering Awards are named after two of Australia’s leading engineer researchers, Maria Skyllas-Kazacos and Judy Raper.

Maria Skylass-Kazacos is one of Australia’s first female professors in chemical engineering. Judy Raper is ‎Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) at University of Wollongong.

The award attributions are included below.

The Ada Lovelace Medal for an Outstanding Woman Engineer

Kathryn Fagg is a chemical engineer by training who has held technical and leadership roles in the petroleum, banking, steel-making and logistics sectors. She now serves on the board of the Reserve Bank of Australia, is Chairman at Melbourne Recital Centre, and holds Non-executive Director roles at Boral, Djerriwarrh Investments, Incitec Pivot and Breast Cancer Network of Australia. She also serves as President of Chief Executive Women and speaks publicly on issues relating to gender equity in business.

The Judy Raper Award for Leadership

Cordelia Selomulya UNSW women engineering awards

Professor Cordelia Selomulya leads the Monash Biotechnology and Food Engineering group and is director of both the Australia-China Joint Research Centre for Future Dairy Manufacturing, and the Graduate Industry Research Partnership for the Food and Dairy industry. Professor Selomulya leads the Monash Advanced Particle Engineering Laboratory in interdisciplinary research on the design of nanoparticle vaccines and mesoporous materials. She has designed a more efficient DNA vaccine delivery system for malaria using magnetic nanoparticles, revealed the role of nanoparticle adjuvants for ovarian cancer vaccines, and developed multi-stage vaccines for malaria.

The Maria Skyllas-Kazacos Young Professional Award for Outstanding Achievement

Narelle Underwood UNSW women engineering awards

Narelle Underwood is the Surveyor-General of NSW and Director of Survey Operations at Spatial Services, a division of the NSW Department of Finance, Services and Innovation. She is the first woman to ever be appointed to the role in any Australian state. As Surveyor General she is the President of the Board of Surveying and Spatial Information (BOSSI), Chair of the Geographical Names Board, NSW Surveying Taskforce and the Surveying and Mapping Industry Council.

Laying the foundations

In response to Innovation and Science Australia’s recent performance review of Australia’s innovation, science and research system, I am producing a series of posts about improving industry-research collaboration, to share lessons from my experience leading collaborations for Cochlear, as well as recent research into best practice.

This blog series describes five steps to build industry-research partnerships for successful technology transfer. If you missed it, you can learn about Step 1 – develop a culture and practices that promote partnership – in my previous post. When you’re ready, here’s Step 2…

2. Build a strong foundation for your partnership

This stage of the potential collaboration follows the introduction and is about getting to know each other and building trust and understanding. These intangible assets take time to develop and are essential for a positive, productive relationship. Therefore, spending time in regular contact with potential partners, especially face-to-face, is critical and will pay dividends.

While informal meetings help potential collaborators get to know each other at a human level, face-to-face time should not be entirely unstructured. Every interaction should work towards answering two critical questions about motivations and expectations:

  • What does the company hope to achieve through the industry-research collaboration?
  • What does the research organisation seek to accomplish? 

Answering these questions will minimise the risk of disappointment and conflict later.  Also, when the tech transfer office and other administrators step in to draft the contract, having a clear, shared understanding of the purpose of the collaboration will simplify their negotiations. It’s useful to have these parties meet face-to-face as early as possible, so that they have time to build empathy too.

At Cochlear, when my colleagues and I met face-to-face with potential research collaborators, we planned an agenda in advance, identifying the issues we needed to discuss. We also spent time over lunch or dinner getting to know each other personally.

When members of the research team visited our office to learn more about Cochlear’s operations, we invited them to explain their research interests, achievements and experiences to all staff in a lunchtime seminar. These interactions helped both parties and their wider organisations develop trust and understanding.

Industry-research collaboration brings a sudden injection of new colleagues. Before commitment, each party should understand the strengths and weaknesses of their potential co-workers, and what they would contribute to the collaboration, i.e:

  • Who is in each team and what is their role?
  • What is each team member’s experience and expertise? 
  • How does each team measure up against their peers and competitors?
  • Has either team ever collaborated with others on the opposite side of the industry-research divide before? If so, what was the outcome?

As companies need to keep a watchful eye on their competitors, while sniffing out new market opportunities, they will also ask the research team the following questions:

  • Where is the science heading and on what timeframe?
  • What are the critical questions that remain unanswered in the field and what will it take to answer them?
  • What do the researchers know about any relevant industry collaborations involving their peers?

One of the best ways to understand technological trends and the R&D strategy of competitors is by analysing their patenting and publishing activities.  At Cochlear, we readily shared knowledge of competitors’ activities with our research collaborators, so they could be our ‘eyes and ears’ in the research sector.

Potential collaborators must discuss the following:

  • What problem are we seeking to solve? 
  • Who are the end users / customers and how can we improve value for them?
  • What are our time and budget constraints and what is achievable within them?

This phase of the industry-research collaboration is the time to identify any flaw in the research direction. In one case in my experience, the research had merit in its aims, but the proposed solution was impractical. Cochlear’s engineering expertise redirected the research, leading to a significant leap in the field and demonstrating the benefit of the collaboration.

By taking time: to build a personal relationship based on trust; to understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses; to share information about threats and opportunities; to nail down the problem and how it may be solved practically; and above all, to clarify the expectations of each party; collaborators will lay down a solid foundation on which to build successful commercialisation projects.

The next steps in best practice industry-research collaboration for technology transfer are:

  1. Manage risk
  2. Use your teams to best effect and
  3. Measure your impact

To learn more about these, please watch this space for subsequent posts.

– James Dalton, gemaker

research-industry collaboration

How to move mountains

Collaboration has long been identified as an important requirement for success in business and indeed wider society. As the world changes, however, this requirement is changing too, and in many instances it is not just important, but vital for success.

Those organisations that struggle to make it central to their operations can be at a serious disadvantage. It is a case of collaborate or crumble.

We live in a world that is very complex and getting more so. This means today’s societal challenges are also getting harder to resolve. And as much as we would like simple solutions to complex problems, they usually don’t exist. Sophisticated, multi-faceted solutions are more often the only way to address complex challenges.

At Cochlear we are very familiar with such a challenge: hearing loss. Hearing loss is already a recognised global public health issue, with the World Health Organisation estimating that over 360 million people worldwide suffer from disabling hearing loss.

It is a health issue with significant medical, social and economic impacts. And with populations in many countries getting older, the problems are likely to get amplified.

Addressing the hearing loss challenge requires a sophisticated, multidisciplinary approach. The technology challenge alone involves over 30 different science and engineering specialities required to develop an implantable hearing solution that addresses severe to profound hearing loss.

And that is just the product, which on its own won’t do anything. It needs to be clinically validated for different age segments and approved by more than 20 regulatory bodies around the world. Policy makers and health insurers need to be convinced of the technology’s efficacy in order to improve access and funding. And we need to work with industry organisations, consumer groups, government and media to elevate the importance of hearing loss and the treatments available.

This of course can’t happen by a single person or team – it requires collaboration between numerous disciplines and professionals who contribute to different parts of the problem at different stages.

As we work to address more complex problems, we are also facing a paradox: on the one hand we need deeper and deeper expertise in specific areas because breakthroughs in one specialty area can have huge impacts on the total solution. And on the other hand we need some breadth too – specialists who can reach out from their niche to the broader teams that they are working with, both locally and globally, to understand the big picture problem and to help construct the end-to-end solution. Collaboration and being able to connect the dots are critical skills as they allow the solution to work in the real world.

Collaboration is vital in today’s world. It enables problem solvers to work together, extract value from diverse speciality areas and focus on large, important challenges. Without it we would crumble, but with it we can build a better future.

Jan Janssen

Senior Vice President, Design & Development, Cochlear

Read next: Professor Ken Baldwin, Director of the Energy Change Institute at ANU and founder of Science meets Parliament, offers a way forward for evidence-based policy in Australia.

Spread the word: Help Australia become a collaborative nation! Share this piece on a multidisciplinary approach to collaboration using the social media buttons below.

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

Luxury watch brand partners with nanotech

Featured image above: Christophe Hoppe with his new Bauselite luxury watch casing. Credit: Flinders University/Bausele.

In 2015, Bausele became the first Australian luxury watch brand to be invited to Baselworld in Switzerland – the world’s largest and most prestigious luxury watch and jewellery expo. Its success is, in part, thanks to a partnership with nanotechnologists at Flinders University and a unique new material called Bauselite.

Founded by Swiss-born Sydneysider Christophe Hoppe, Bausele Australia bills itself as the first “Swiss-made, Australian-designed” watch company. 

The name is an acronym for Beyond Australian Elements. Each watch has part of the Australian landscape embedded in its crown, or manual winding mechanism, such as red earth from the outback, beach sand or bits of opal.

But what makes the luxury watches unique is an innovative material called Bauselite developed in partnership with Flinders University’s Centre of NanoScale Science and Technology in Adelaide. An advanced ceramic nanotechnology, Bauselite is featured in Bausele’s Terra Australis watch, enabling design elements not found in its competitors.

NanoConnect program fosters industry partnership

Flinders University coordinates NanoConnect, a collaborative research program supported by the South Australian Government, which provides a low-risk pathway for companies to access university equipment and expertise.

It was through this program that Hoppe met nanotechnologist Professor David Lewis, and his colleagues Dr Jonathan Campbell and Dr Andrew Block.

“There were a lot of high IQs around that table, except for me,” jokes Hoppe about their first meeting.

After some preliminary discussions, the Flinders team set about researching the luxury watch industry and identified several areas for innovation. The one they focused on with Hoppe was around the manufacture of casings.

Apart from the face, the case is the most prominent feature on a watch head: it needs to be visually appealing but also lightweight and strong, says Hoppe, who is also Bausele’s chief designer.

The researchers suggested ceramics might be suitable. Conventional ceramics require casting, where a powder slurry is injected into a mould and heated in an oven. The process is suitable for high-volume manufacturing, but the end product is often hampered by small imperfections or deformities. This can cause components to break, resulting in wasted material, time and money. It can also make the material incompatible with complex designs, such as those featured in the Terra Australis.

New material offers ‘competitive edge’

Using a new technique, the Flinders team invented a unique, lightweight ceramic-like material that can be produced in small batches via a non-casting process, which helps eliminate defects found in conventional ceramics. They named the high-performance material Bauselite.

“Bauselite is strong, very light and, because of the way it is made, avoids many of the traps common with conventional ceramics,” explains Lewis.

The new material allows holes to be drilled more precisely, which is an important feature in watchmaking. “It means we can make bolder, more adventurous designs, which can give us a competitive advantage,” Hoppe says.

Bauselite can also be tailored to meet specific colour, shape and texture requirements. “This is a major selling point,” Hoppe says. “Watch cases usually have a shiny, stainless steel-like finish, but the Bauselite looks like a dark textured rock.”

Bauselite made its luxury watch debut in Bausele’s Terra Australis range. The ceramic nanotechnology and the watch captured the attention of several established brands when it was featured at Baselworld.

Advanced manufacturing hub in Australia

Hoppe and the Flinders University team are currently working on the development of new materials and features.

Together they have established a joint venture company called Australian Advanced Manufacturing to manufacture bauselite.  A range of other precision watch components could be in the pipeline.

The team hopes to become a ‘centre of excellence’ for watchmaking in Australia, supplying components to international luxury watchmaking brands.

But the priority is for the advanced manufacturing hub to begin making Bausele watches onshore: “I’ve seen what Europe is good at when it comes to creating luxury goods, and what makes it really special is when people control the whole process from beginning to end,” says Hoppe. “This is what we want to do. We’ll start with one component now, but we’ll begin to manufacture others.”

Hoppe hopes the hub will be a place where students can develop similar, high-performance materials, which could find applications across a range of industries, from aerospace to medicine for bone and joint reconstructions.

– Myles Gough

This article was first published by Australia Unlimited on 10 November 2016. Read the original article here

Science key to U.S. standing

Aside from Hillary Clinton’s brief mentions of the need to focus on developing technology and clean energy jobs and addressing climate change, science issues were absent from the first presidential debate.

Unfortunately, this is indicative of how things went throughout the 2016 campaign. Amid all the talk from the leading presidential candidates about how crucial this election was to the future of the United States, science education and research funding – issues directly tied to the U.S. economic standing in the world and to national security – received scant attention from either of the two major candidates.

Science and engineering have driven the U.S. economy since World War II and contributed significantly to American growth during that time. Progress in research paves the way for advancements in health, economic prosperity and national security.

U.S. science
NOAA researcher sampling the atmosphere using an innovative, tethered weather balloon. Credit: Patrick Cullis/NOAA-CIRES, CC BY

Researchers make life-changing discoveries daily. A Boston University engineer is developing a wearable bionic pancreas that could help millions of people with type 1 diabetes (thanks to National Institutes of Health support). National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researchers are figuring out how quickly the sun converts oil and gas facility emissions to ozone pollution that harms human health. A collaborative group of scientists, including those here at the University of Kansas-based Centre for Remote Sensing of the Ice Sheets, discovered a vast ice sheet in Greenland was melting faster than believed, with implications for global sea level rise for decades to come.

These are successes – and there are thousands more to point to in fields ranging from biotech to medical research to clean energy. Without such advancement, we risk stagnation in all these areas, threatening the nation’s well-being and international standing, while eroding the role of the U.S. as global leaders in innovation. But recent low levels of federal funding impede the pace of scientific discovery.

A decades-long decline

Years of neglect and unstable funding pushed a 2005 National Academies commission led by retired Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine to recommend increased investments in research and innovation and enhancement of STEM education from elementary to graduate levels. Their seminal report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm, was a wake-up call for policymakers that spurred new ideas and new legislation. Five years later, despite some progress, a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine special report echoed many of Augustine’s findings and showed the United States lost even more ground. That trend continues unabated today.

Numerous statistics illustrate this decline. In 2014, the United States had slipped to 10th in research and development investment rankings. Although the U.S. still spends more than any other country on research, its relative investment has declined. If current trends persist, China will likely surpass the U.S. in percentage of GDP investment in R&D within eight years and will outpace U.S. research spending in a decade.

In 2009, for the first time, non-U.S. companies received more than half of the U.S. patents awarded. In high-tech exports – think aircraft, computers, pharmaceuticals – China bypassed the United States as the world leader in patents and is gaining ground as the second-leading publisher of biomedical research journal articles. While increased research and innovation in other countries partially account for some of this trend, many observers also point to real declines in U.S. productivity. For example, the United States approved 157 new drugs from 1996 to 1999, but only 74 from 2006 to 2009.

NOAA researcher sampling the atmosphere using an innovative, tethered weather balloon. Credit: Patrick Cullis/NOAA-CIRES, CC BY

Prioritising U.S. science means funding it

Despite its crucial role in driving economic growth, research and development in the STEM fields accounts for only a small portion of the federal budget – currently less than 4%. That’s down from nearly 12% in 1965, during the height of the Space Race.

The Association of American Universities and National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine have called for sustained 4% annual increases in research funding for key federal agencies, including the NSF, DOE, NIH, NASA and the DOD. The ultimate goal should be a return to investing around 12% of the federal budget in research.

This type of aggressive and sustained growth in research funding provides a second benefit: it sends a signal that the U.S. is serious about holding on to its status as a leader in scientific and engineering innovation. More funding lays the groundwork for long-term stability in the field, especially as the next generation of scientists and engineers make their career-path choices.

Increasing investment and strengthening the pipeline of future scientists and engineers won’t matter, however, if we don’t translate their work into products and services that improve lives. The new president of the United States should prioritise interdisciplinary research and connecting university research with the marketplace in a way that creates new products, technologies and services.

Future scientists must be trained

Uncertain funding opportunities discourage potential scientists and academic researchers – people think twice about signing on to careers that demand decades of training with no guarantee the necessary resources for conducting research will be waiting at the finish line. Adequate and sustained investment in research would address this problem. But another factor has played a major role in the research innovation gap we face: the inadequacy of basic science and math education in the U.S.

U.S. students have slipped to 27th in math and 20th in science in the ranking of 34 nations in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. To catch up will take time and investment.

U.S. science
NOAA researcher sampling the atmosphere using an innovative, tethered weather balloon. Patrick Cullis/NOAA-CIRES, CC BY

Industry already feels the repercussions of this underinvestment in U.S. science and engineering. American manufacturers have voiced concern about a skills gap in the coming decade. They expect to have 3.5 million jobs to fill, but estimates suggest only about 1.5 million workers are prepared to step in for example with electrical and mechanical technical skills to maintain complex machines for production.

The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology has called for improved STEM education programs. Maths intervention programs and expanded recruitment and training programs for STEM teachers can help. There is still a way to go, but steps like these and strengthening standards even on the K–12 level take us in the right direction. Federal leadership – and funding – can keep improving STEM education on the national agenda.

Eliminate inefficient regulation

Federal support for research is key. But there are also some obstacles posed by current federal regulations. The new president’s leadership could help clear away some of these well-intentioned but burdensome regulations that can hinder or undercut R&D efforts.

President Trump should work with Congress to streamline and eliminate redundant regulations and reporting requirements that even the federal government has already identified as problematic. Studies have found around 40% of time faculty spend on research goes to administrative duties instead of the actual research.

We need to ensure that the most talented foreign-born, U.S.-educated individuals, especially in STEM fields, have the opportunity to become American citizens and contribute to the economy. In addition, with all the talk during the campaign about immigration policy, the candidates should expand their platforms to phase out the 7% cap per country that limits employment-based green cards. I’d argue to replace it with a first-come, first-served system for qualified highly skilled immigrants.

Other forms of regulation can also be costly. Politically motivated intrusions into research funding, such as the ban on federal support for gun violence research, mean we miss the opportunity to address major issues facing society.

Gearing up for a new golden age of research

Trump and Clinton said little about U.S. science and engineering research in their first debate. But science and engineering issues are vital to U.S. prosperity, well-being, status as a global leader and national security. My hope is that we can address these crucial issues – and in essence, determine whether we can avoid the “gathering storm.”

– Bernadette Gray-Little
Chancellor, University of Kansas

This article was first published by The Conversation on 4 October 2016. Read the original article here.

Women in STEM: the revolution ahead

On September 8, 70 days after the end of the financial year, Australia marked equal pay day. The time gap is significant as it marks the average additional time it takes for women to work to get the same wages as men.

Optimistically, we’d think this day should slowly move back towards June 30. And there are many reasons for optimism, as our panel of thought leaders point out in our online roundtable of industry, research and government leaders.

Yet celebrating a lessening in inequity is a feel-good exercise we cannot afford to over-indulge in.

While we mark achievements towards improving pipelines to leadership roles, work to increase enrolments of girls in STEM subjects at schools and reverse discrimination at many levels of decision making and representation, the reality is that many of these issues are only just being recognised. Many more are in dire need of being addressed more aggressively.

Direct discrimination against women and girls is something I hear about from mentors, friends and colleagues. It is prevalent and wide-reaching. There is much more we can do to address issues of diversity across STEM areas.

Enrolments of women in STEM degrees vary from 16% in computer science and engineering to 45% in science and 56% in medicine. These figures reinforce that we are teaching the next generation with the vestiges of an education system developed largely by men and for boys. There is a unique opportunity to change this.

Interdisciplinary skills are key to innovation. Millennials today will change career paths more frequently; digital technologies will disrupt traditional career areas. By communicating that STEM skills are an essential foundation that can be combined with your interest, goals or another field, we can directly tap into the next generation. We can prepare them to be agile workers across careers, and bring to the table their skills in STEM along with experiences in business, corporates, art, law and other areas. In this utopian future, career breaks are opportunities to learn and to demonstrate skills in new areas. Part-time work isn’t seen as ‘leaning out’.

We have an opportunity to redefine education in STEM subjects, to improve employability for our graduates, to create stronger, clearer paths to leadership roles, and to redefine why and how we study STEM subjects right from early primary through to tertiary levels.

By combining STEM with X, we are opening up the field to the careers that haven’t been invented yet. As career areas shift, we have the opportunity to unleash a vast trained workforce skilled to adapt, to transition across fields, to work flexibly and remotely.

We need to push this STEM + X agenda right to early education, promoting the study of different fields together, and creating an early understanding of the different needs that different areas require.

This is what drives me to communicate science and STEM through publications such as Careers with Science, Engineering and Code. We want to convey that there are exciting career pathways through studying STEM. But we don’t know what those pathways are – that’s up to them.

Just think how many app developers there were ten year ago – how many UX designers. In 10 or even five years, we can’t predict what the rapidly growing career areas will be. But we can create a STEM aware section of the population and by doing so now, we can ensure that the next generation has an edge in creating and redefining the careers of the future.

Heather Catchpole

Founder and Managing Director, Refraction Media

Read next: CEO of Science and Technology Australia, Kylie Walker, smashes all of the stereotypes in her campaign to celebrate Women in STEM.

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

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

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

Introducing the world’s largest radio telescope

Featured image: A computer generated image of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope dish antennas in South Africa. Credit: SKA Project Office.

What is dark matter? What did the universe look like when the first galaxies formed? Is there other life out there? These are just some of the mysteries that the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) will aim to solve.

Covering an area equivalent to around one million square metres, or one square kilometre, SKA will comprise of hundreds of thousands of radio antennas in the Karoo desert, South Africa and the Murchison region, Western Australia.

The multi-billion dollar array will be 10 times more sensitive and significantly faster at surveying galaxies than any current radio telescope.

The massive flow of data from the telescope will be processed by supercomputing facilities that have one trillion times the computing power of those that landed men on the Moon.

Phase 1 of SKA’s construction will commence in 2018. The construction will be a collaboration of 500 engineers from 20 different countries around the world.

– Gemma Conroy

Engineering music video inspires girls

Featured video above: NERVO’s engineering music video aims to get girls switched onto careers in engineering. 

Eight top universities – led by the University of New South Wales – have launched a song and music video by Australia’s twin-sister DJ duo NERVO to highlight engineering as an attractive career for young women.

NERVO, made up of 29-year-old singer-songwriters and sound engineers Miriam Nervo and Olivia Nervo, launched the video clip for People Grinnin’ worldwide on Friday 15 July.

In the futuristic video clip, a group of female engineers create android versions of NERVO in a high-tech lab, using glass touchscreens and a range of other technologies that rely on engineering, highlighting how it is embedded in every facet of modern life.

The song and video clip are part of Made By Me, a national collaboration between UNSW, the University of Wollongong, the University of Western Australia, the University of Queensland, Monash University, the University of Melbourne, the Australian National University and the University of Adelaide together with Engineers Australia, which launched on the same day across the country.

It aims to challenge stereotypes and shows how engineering is relevant to many aspects of our lives, in an effort to to change the way young people, particularly girls, see engineering. Although a rewarding and varied discipline, it has for decades suffered gender disparity and chronic skills shortage.

NERVO, the Melbourne-born electronic dance music duo, pack dancefloors from Ibiza to India and, according to Forbes,  are one of the world’s highest-earning acts in the male-dominated genre. They said the Made by Me project immediately appealed to them.

“When we did engineering, we were the only girls in the class. So when we were approached to get behind this project it just made sense,” they said.

“We loved the chance to show the world that there is engineering in every aspect of our lives,” they said. “We’re sound engineers, but our whole show is only made possible through expert engineering:  the makeup we wear, the lights and the stage we perform on.”

“Engineering makes it all possible, including the music that we make.”

Alexandra Bannigan, UNSW Women in Engineering Manager and Made By Me spokesperson, said the project highlights the varied careers of engineers, and the ways in which engineers can make a real difference in the world. 

“When people think engineering, they often picture construction sites and hard hats, and that perception puts a lot of people off,” she said. “Engineering is more than  that, and this campaign shows how engineering is actually a really diverse and creative career option that offers strong employment prospects in an otherwise tough job market.”

She noted that the partner universities, which often compete for the best students, see the issue as important enough to work together.

“We normally compete for students with rival universities, but this is such an important issue that we’re working together to break down those perceptions,” she said.

Made By Me includes online advertising across desktop and mobiles, a strong social media push, a website telling engineering stories behind the video, links to career sites, as well as the song and video, to be released by Sony globally on the same day. Developed by advertising agency Whybin/TBWA, the campaign endeavours to change the way young people, particularly girls, see engineering.

“We needed to find a way to meet teenagers on home turf and surprise them with an insight into engineering that would open their minds to its possibilities,” said Mark Hoffman, UNSW’s Dean of Engineering. “This is what led to the idea of producing an interactive music video, sprinkled with gems of information to pique the audience’s interest in engineering.”

UNSW has recently accelerated efforts to attract more women into engineering, more than tripling attendance at its annual Women in Engineering Camp, in which 90 bright young women in Years 11 and 12 came to UNSW from around Australia for a week this year to explore engineering as a career and visiting major companies like Google, Resmed and Sydney Water. It has also tripled the number of Women in Engineering scholarships to 15, valued at more than $150,000 annually.

Hoffman, who became Dean of Engineering in 2015, has set a goal to raise female representation among students, staff and researchers to 30% by 2020. Currently, 23% of UNSW engineering students are female (versus the Australian average of 17%), which is up from 21% in 2015. In industry, only about 13% of engineers are female, a ratio that has been growing slowly for decades.

“Engineering has one of the highest starting salaries, and the average starting salary for engineering graduates has been actually higher for women than for men,” said Hoffman. “Name another profession where that’s happening.”

Australia is frantically short of engineers: for more than a decade, the country has annually imported more than double the number who graduate from Australian universities.

Some 18,000 engineering positions need to be filled annually, and almost 6,000 come from engineering students who graduate from universities in Australia, of whom the largest proportion come from UNSW in Sydney, which has by far the country’s biggest engineering faculty. The other 12,000 engineers arrive in Australia to take up jobs – 25% on temporary work visas to alleviate chronic job shortages.

“Demand from industry has completely outstripped supply, and that demand doubled in the past decade,” said Hoffman. “In a knowledge driven economy, the best innovation comes from diverse teams who bring together different perspectives. This isn’t just about plugging the chronic skills gap – it’s also a social good to bring diversity to our technical workforce, which will help stimulate more innovation. We can’t win at the innovation game if half of our potential engineers are not taking part in the race.”

UNSW has also created a new national award, the Ada Lovelace Medal for an Outstanding Woman Engineer, to highlight the significant contributions to Australia made by female engineers.

This information was first shared by the University of New South Wales on 14 July 2016. Read the original article here.

Facing the future

As the world becomes more urbanised, with 70% of people now living in cities, “there is an urgent need to make them more sustainable, more energy efficient, safer and cleaner,” says Dr Marlene Kanga, iOmniscient’s director. “Our products enable this to be done intelligently using video data from different sources to complement text and numerical data.”

The company’s technology can analyse images from anywhere – TV, YouTube, security cameras and personal and public sources – and from that provide real-time responses in complex and crowded environments. The technology can be employed wherever there are cameras.

It pinpoints faces in a crowd, counts people, manages crowds, detects abandoned objects, recognises license plates, and matches drivers to their vehicles. The technology works in more than 120 languages, including Arabic scripts and numerals and can operate indoors or outdoors, even in the harshest climates. It also accepts inputs from audio and chemical sensors.

The system has already been installed in oil and gas plants from Azerbaijan to Mexico, in airports, on railway systems including China’s High Speed Rail network, on campuses such as the University of San Francisco, and in Iraq’s Karbala mosque. As Rustom Kanga, CEO of iOmniscient puts it: “We can do everything that any video analysis supplier can do and do it better – and many things that no one else can do.”

Using mobile devices, iOmniscient’s software can also “monitor garbage and vandalism, understand traffic congestion, assess riots and commotions and provide inputs for big data systems analysing information relevant to a city,’’ adds Kanga. “The technology has its own ‘smarts’, with the ability to minimise nuisance alarms, diagnose itself, and determine whether all cameras are working effectively.”

Dr Marlene Kanga
Dr Marlene Kanga

The starting point for this remarkable technology was a single patent acquired in 2001 from the CRC for Sensor Signal and Information Processing. Founders Marlene and Rustom Kanga and Ivy Li then invested extensively in the company to expand its scope and product range. Today, it has 26 patents covering multiple technologies. Sales are mainly made through major systems integrators such as Siemens and Motorola. They also partner with other major technology providers like Microsoft, EMC and Oracle.

The company is working on improving its technology through four engineering centres in Sydney, Toronto, Chennai and Singapore, where they continue to develop robust in-house technology, train postgraduates, and maintain a strong lead in the ownership of its intellectual property.


Name: iOmniscient

HQ: Sydney

R&D: 26 patents covering multiple technologies

Reach: Azerbaijan, Canada, China, India, Iraq, Mexico, USA, Singapore

At a glance: Established in 2001, iOmniscient is one of Australia’s great software export success stories. 95% of sales are overseas and it has offices in Canada, Singapore, India and more.

– Paul Hendy