Tag Archives: Flinders University

Dr Parappilly with physics Lego race car

LEGO® race cars put physics students in pole position

LEGO® race cars put physics students in pole position

A new teaching approach involving racing cars made of LEGO® has transformed the way that students at Flinders University are learning the fundamentals of science and has significantly reduced early dropout rates for introductory physics.     

The approach, outlined in the American Journal of Physics[1] by Flinders academics, has shown that tailored activities involving LEGO® race cars not only help students grasp theoretical concepts such as measurement error and variability, but also improve their lab reporting skills, engagement and confidence. 

“Many undergraduate students come to our introductory physics course without basic science skills or any prior exposure to physics or mathematics at high school level,” explains lead researcher of the LEGO® teaching model, Dr Maria Parappilly.

“This can make lab work exceptionally challenging, and is a major factor in the high early drop-out rate we witness for this topic.”

As a consequence, Dr Parappilly and her team were inspired to design a teaching approach that introduced students enrolled in first-year physics to pivotal scientific ideas in a real-world way, and that helped them grasp the very important but abstract concept of uncertainty in physics.

“We devised a series of experiments involving LEGO® race cars, which students could relate to and which helped them relax and feel more capable of utilising the tools of science.

“Initially students were asked to measure the time taken for a LEGO® race car to travel a set distance, using different starting points.

“Then we introduced a ramp of variable height, with either a smooth, low-friction surface or a rough, high-friction surface, and invited students to conduct the experiment again.

“Later the students were given cars of different designs that had different wheels, weights and heights, and were asked to repeat their car race.

“Throughout these exercises, students were encouraged to consider the limitations of their equipment, the impact of gravity and outside factors on the experiment results, the sources and magnitude of uncertainty, the role of constants and variables, and the validity of the experiment design and how it could be changed to improve its reliability,” Dr Parappilly says.

“Students were able to grasp fundamental concepts such as the formulae for speed, velocity and acceleration, potential and kinetic energy, and how to calculate track angles,” Dr Parappilly says.

As a result of the LEGO® teaching model, students reported that they felt less anxious about participating in lab sessions and more prepared to continue with scientific study.

They also reported improved skills in preparing lab reports and objectively evaluating lab results. 

“Importantly, all the students who attended our first round of LEGO® sessions continued on in the topic,” says Dr Parappilly. 

“Since then, the student attrition rate for the introductory physics topic at Flinders University has significantly slowed year-on-year.

“The use of LEGO® race cars sounds simple, but it has afforded our students a unique opportunity to relate a familiar educational toy to the process of scientific enquiry, and observe, record and analyse phenomena in a way that is more meaningful and concrete than ever before,” Dr Parappilly says.

The LEGO® physics approach pioneered at Flinders University is currently being rolled-out at universities interstate and is also being used by some South Australian high schools.


Parappilly M., Hassam C. and Woodman R. (2018). ‘Race to improve student understanding of uncertainty: Using LEGO® race cars in the physics lab’, American Journal of Physics, vol. 86, no. 1, pp. 68-76.

About Dr Maria Parappilly

Dr Maria Parappilly is an award winning Physics Educator and Research Section Head for STEM Education at Flinders University.  Her pioneering teaching innovations have been recognised with state and national awards, and internationally with the only international D2L Innovation Award in Teaching and Learning (Physics, Canada, 2017).  Dr Parappilly is the chair of Physics Education of Australian Institute of Physics (AIP). This year she joined the South Australian Women’s Honour Roll for 2017.

[1] Parappilly, Hassam & Woodman (2018). ‘Race to improve student understanding of uncertainty: Using LEGO® race cars in the physics lab’, American Journal of Physics, vol. 86, no. 1, pp. 68-76.

Graphene: an energy storage alternative

Super-thin, super-capacity, clean batteries from graphene oxide

An energy storage alternative using technology better than lithium or even solar is under development as researchers work to efficiently capture the energy of graphene oxide (GO).  

Under a new $3.45 million Cooperative Research Centre Project (CRC-P) grant, researchers at Swinburne University of Technology and Flinders University will partner with Australian industry to commercialise the world’s first alternative to lithium-ion battery (LIB) technology as an energy storage alternative.

The industry collaboration, with Australian Stock Exchange-listed First Graphene Ltd and  Victorian manufacturer Kremford Pty Ltd, aims to make inroads into the production of a new super-capacity GO-powered battery, an energy storage alternative to the emerging LIB technology.  

Researchers at Swinburne’s Centre for Micro-Photonics are working on a commercially viable, chemical-free, long-lasting safe GO-based supercapacitor which offers high performance and low-cost energy storage capabilities.  

Graphene is the lightest, strongest, most electrically conductive material available and has been predicted to generate revolutionary new products in many industry sectors. But so far unreliable quality and poor manufacturing processes has prevented an industrial graphene market.

Last year First Graphite entered into a research agreement with Professor Raston’s research group at Flinders University to improve GO processing and production.     

The new national CRC Project via the Australian Government’s Advance Manufacturing Fund will expand Flinders University’s clean technologies and nanotech research focus.

Professor Colin Raston, the South Australian Premier’s Professorial Research Fellow in Clean Technology, says there is significant global research to improve energy storage capability to support its role in the development of sustainable energy storage systems.

“For example, we’re seeing the rapid rise of LIB around the world, notably with South Australia’s significant investment in the new storage facility near Jamestown in this State.”

The ‘High performance energy storage alternative to lithium ion batteries’ project seeks to advance the GO-based supercapacitor that has promising superior energy density, flexibility and environmental sustainability ahead of traditional batteries.

“This project aims to develop the manufacturing specifications for the commercial production of a graphene oxide (GO) super-capacitor with the ‘look and feel’ of a LIB but with superior performance across weight, charge rate, lifecycle and environmental footprint factors,” Professor Raston says.

“The production of GO from graphite ore, without generating lots of waste, is an important part of this collaborative project.”

First Graphene (ASX code: FGR) managing director Craig McGuckin says the $1.5 million in CRC-P funding, to be matched by the partner organisations and in-kind, would propel the company’s innovative approach to finding real-world applications for graphene.

“The success in the fourth round of the CRC-P funding demonstrates the high regard in which the company’s research efforts are held,” Mr McGuckin said.

“It also shows the robustness of the programs designed by FGR’s university partners.”

First published by Flinders University, 12 December 2017

Image: By AlexanderAlUS – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11294534

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seaweed snack

Building healthy bones

Developed in South Australia by researchers at Flinders University in collaboration with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the lobster shell and seaweed snack aims to be a highly nutritious alternative to dairy products.

Known as SeaNu, it is being created to address the increasing number of children who shun milk products because of cultural or personal reasons. The jelly is aimed for commercial release in Australia in early 2018 with an Asian launch to follow soon after.

Director of the Centre for Marine Bioproducts Development at Flinders University Professor Wei Zhang says SeaNu will target global health markets but is best suited for Asia because of the high regard for Australian marine products.

“In Australia, one in six people avoid diary and that applies to children also,” he says.

“In general, calcium deficiency is a global issue and there is a need for products that have no dairy.

“Many Asian countries also do not typically eat large amounts of dairy products and we are hoping to definitely target there soon after we commercialise the product in Australia.”

SeaNu  is a product of Flinders University technology that reconstitutes biological material to make it suitable for human consumption.

The biorefinery technology takes the seaweed and lobster shell, formulating it into a small jelly for children to take to school in their lunchboxes.

Professor Zhang, who is president of the Australia-NZ Marine Biotechnology Society, says farmed and wild seaweed are widely used in Asian countries and some parts of Europe as vitamin and mineral supplements.

Seaweed is not only rich in trace minerals, calcium and vitamins but is a low-calorie source of protein and fibre, responsible for up to 20 per cent of the Asian diet. The seaweed food ingredients business is worth an estimated US$1 billion dollars. Lobster shell is also high in calcium and protein.

Professor Zhang says while seaweed has a major nutritional benefit in food, the research team is working on developing a range of different products including cosmetics and biofuel.

SeaNu was presented in Melbourne at the end of the CSIRO’s 12-week ON Accelerate Program, which pairs researchers with mentors to help them move their ideas from the lab, out to investors, and then to consumers.

The ON Demo Night in April gave teams the opportunity to pitch their innovations to an audience of industry experts, investors and potential partners for further funding and support for commercialisation.

Seaweed researcher Peng Su and nutritionist Dr Rebecca Perry from Flinders Partners, along with Dr Michael Conlon and Dr Damien Belobrajdic from CSIRO were also part of the SeaNu team.

The seaweed snack is still in its prototype phase but is being refined for taste and texture so it can meet its projected launch date of January 2018.

– Caleb Radford

This article was first published by The Lead. Read the original article here.

luxury watch

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

DNA technology

Micro-Swab enables DNA evidence

Featured image above: prototype of the Micro-Swab, a new DNA technology. Credit: Flinders University

The pen-like device is set to help forensic experts extract relatively large amounts of DNA evidence from previously challenging surfaces.

Micro-Swab was developed by researchers at Flinders University in Adelaide, South Australia, and uses fibres soaked in a surfactant to bind to the DNA in fingerprints.

The fibres are attached to a flexible pen-like device, which allows police to obtain genetic material from hard-to-reach surfaces such as gun triggers, ammunition cartridges and the spaces between keys on computer keyboards.

According to a study on its effectiveness published in National Center for Biotechnology Information, the device extracts about 60 per cent more DNA than conventional methods and only takes about 30 seconds to swab, compared with a few hours for current methods.

Micro-Swab lead researcher Professor Adrian Linacre says DNA profiling is essential for building criminal prosecutions. He says the new device will reduce cases of inadmissible evidence.

“Currently only about seven per cent of touch DNA worldwide generates a meaningful profile,” Linacre says.

“That extraction process, even using the best methods, loses about 75 per cent of DNA and if you start off with only enough DNA to start a profile that leaves you with almost nothing.

“It was to the point where police said they no longer bothered trying to test for DNA because it didn’t work. But this is an effective way of building a profile in a single go.”

Linacre says it will not only be effective in obtaining more biological material, it will also reduce the chance of contamination.

The Micro-Swab includes a PCR tube filled with a detergent attached to the head, similar to a cap on a pen.

During extraction, the tube is removed and the fibres rub over the fingerprint, picking up substantial amounts of biological material.

The head is ejected back into the tube using a small piston at the rear of the device and then the tube, which still has residual amounts of the surfactant, is sealed and ready for quantitative PCR.

The standard process for DNA extraction begins with a foam or cotton extraction and takes about two hours before it is taken to the lab.

“We found that if you had the swab moisturised with one per cent Triton-X, a surfactant, that helps encourage the DNA to come off,” Linacre says.

“The downside to this is that you can’t repeat the test but because it is more accurate than doing the normal method, you are far more likely to get something substantial.”

DNA from fingerprints, known as touch DNA, remains the most common type of forensic evidence used in convictions. However, these methods have not been modified in decades and there have been numerous cases of insufficient or false DNA profiling because of inadequate testing or clinical errors.

Linacre says the Micro-Swab will increase the reliability of touch DNA profiling and is also capable of collecting DNA from hair follicles.

He says the device is simple to manufacture and could be 3D printed to increase availability worldwide.

The new DNA technology is expected to be launched in mid-2017.

This article on the new DNA technology Micro-Swab was first published by The Lead on 24 October 2016. Read the original article here.

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diagnosing dysphagia

Diagnosing dysphagia without radiation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

diagnosing dysphagia
Associate Professor Taher Omari with the AIMplot software

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Caleb Radford

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

remote mobile

Remote mobile communication

Building telecommunication infrastructure in third world countries and remote locations has been a key issue for a number of years.

About 1.5 billion people in developing nations have no reliable phone service and up to 80% do not have access to internet.

Researchers at Flinders University in South Australia have developed a highly secure mobile system to assist emergency service units worldwide.

The Serval Project includes a free app for Android devices and a mesh extender. The extender, which runs on USB power, is a small box that acts as a Wi-Fi hub or radio transmitter.

Project leader Paul Gardner-Stephen says the device was intended as a simple and inexpensive remote communication alternative that could help people in the event of a crisis.

“It has Wi-Fi so your phone can talk to the box, and then the box can talk to other boxes by Wi-Fi but also by long-range VHF radio that can go many kilometres under ideal conditions,” he says.

“The combination of these things creates networks that can cover large areas and people without requiring any infrastructure at all.”

remote mobile
Serval Mesh Extender

The aim of the project is to give the Serval mesh extenders to emergency relief teams in disaster situations so they can establish communication channels in remote areas.

Gardner-Stephen says users who do not have the app in times of crisis could download it with the help of the extender and have it ready for immediate use.

“The combination that we’re doing is really quite unique in giving people the opportunity to build a communications network anywhere,” he says.

“We want this to be something that is easier to use than any one of these other communication apps that you can get on smart phones.

“For this to help as many people as it can in the world it needs to be free. To do it any other way is to put unnecessary and undesirable barriers between people.”

The software is completely open sourced and gives people the freedom to develop their own app to work with the system or build their own Serval mesh box.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineer’s (IEEE) Humanitarian Technology Challenge lists data connectivity and communication resources for isolated health offices as one of the top three solutions of reducing poverty and improving health services.

Serval first trialled its technology at the 610 kmArkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary in the rugged Flinders Ranges, 600 km north of Adelaide.

It was developed in conjunction with the New Zealand Red Cross with further support coming from the Networked Infrastructureless Cooperation for Emergency Response (NICER) project in Germany.

The project was one of five winners in the Pacific Humanitarian Challenge where it received AUD$279,000, which will be used to make technical improvements. It has also received grants from the United States and the Netherlands.

Countries in the Pacific region are highly susceptible to natural disasters including tropical cyclones, floods, and earthquakes.

The mobile phone system will extend testing to pilot the program in the Pacific over the next 18 months ahead of its first large scale rollout in the region.

Fiji, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands have been shortlisted as potential destinations.

Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary Co-Director Margaret Sprigg said Arkaroola’s rugged mountainous terrain was the perfect location to test the Serval system.

“To have a system that can be field-based and portable for search-and-rescue scenarios is absolutely amazing,” she said.

“To be able to get some sort of antenna or base station up on a hill gives you access to so much more country. Its design is remarkable.”

– Caleb Radford

This article was first published by The Lead on 11 May 2016. Read the original article here.