On Friday 2nd November, the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, the Hon Karen Andrews, MP formally launched the Careers with STEM: Code magazine fifth anniversary edition.
Attending Palm Beach Currumbin State High School in Queensland, Heather Catchpole, Head of Content at Refraction Media lead a panel discussion on the state of future careers and the necessity of STEM skills for tomorrow’s workforce.
“We started Careers with STEM in 2014 in response to an industry need for skilled graduates for the future of work,” says Catchpole.
“Since then we’ve profiled more than 250 people’s paths into STEM careers, reached 250,000 people through our digital platforms and sent 1.25 million magazines to students in Australia, New Zealand and the USA.”
Joining Minister Andrews on the panel was Sally-Ann Williams, Engineering Community and Outreach Manager for Google Australia, Sharon Collins, Head of Future Talent Strategy, Community and Inclusion at Commonwealth Bank, and Jennifer May, Graduate Engineer at Commonwealth Bank and cover star of Careers with STEM: Engineering 2018.
Careers with STEM: Code magazine is one of four annual magazines in the Careers with STEM series produced by Refraction Media. The magazines provide educators, students and parents with employer insights, industry trends, career pathways and inspiring and diverse role models who share their STEM journey.
“By combining skills in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) with students’ ‘X’ – their interests, goals and another field, we’re connecting with the students who traditionally might not have seen themselves in a STEM role,” says Catchpole.
Currently, there are 300,000 vacancies in global cybersecurity careers, and it’s expected that we will require 200,000 ICT jobs filled in the next five years in Australia alone. Despite this growing demand, there are fewer than 5000 Australian ICT graduates per year. The latest issue of Code magazine explores opportunities within the fast-growing careers of the entire tech industry, with a bonus flip-issue of Careers with STEM: Cybersecurity.
Since the launch of Careers with STEM: Code magazine 5 years ago, Refraction Media has distributed over 1.25 million copies – for free – to Australian, New Zealand and American high schools.
Minister Andrews’ launch of the latest magazine will celebrate a nationwide delivery of 225,000 copies to 3000 high schools around Australia.
One of the greatest strengths of Australia’s CRC Program, now in its 28th year, is how it brings together research and commerce — bridging the gap between discovery research and industry-ready innovation — in the form of an innovative product. Here are three recent CRC-driven Australian innovative product success stories.
The drug is a PRMT5 inhibitor, with potential to treat both cancer and non-cancer blood disorders. PRMT5 (protein arginine methyltransferase 5) is an enzyme that protects against cancer-causing mutations. Abnormality in PRMT5 is linked to many cancers. MSD is not just developing and commercialising the PRMT5 inhibitors, but also funding an ongoing collaboration with CTx.
“What MSD realised was the background science here in Australia was such high quality, they continued to support it to help advance the development,” says Dr Warwick Tong, CEO of CTx.
One key to the success of the project was how CTx managed their intellectual property, says Tong. “It’s almost a cliché, but if you don’t own it you can’t sell it,” he explains.
Tong also believes it’s important to share the rewards. “We do lots of drug discovery projects and many of them will fail,” he says. “To benefit from commercial return, researchers need to have contributed to the CRC but not necessarily to the successful project.”
Australia’s first electric bus
The first Australian-designed and manufactured electric bus is now part of a Transit South Australia trial. The result of a partnership between the Automotive Australia CRC (Auto-CRC), Swinburne University of Technology and Bustec, the electric bus can travel at 80 km per hour and has batteries that can be charged to 80% in 10 minutes.
The ultra-modern interior includes electronics that report their own faults, as well as integrated electronics, making it possible to know where the bus is, how the driver is driving it and if anything is wrong during the trip.
This information can be used to improve the efficiency of the bus network and user experience, such as reporting traffic jams and advising users to take an alternative bus. The results from this trial are expected by the end of the year.
With Auto-CRC’s funding term completed, the Electric Vehicle (EV) Laboratory at Swinburne University is continuing the research, and is now developing an electric harvester in conjunction with the Malaysian Automotive Institute.
“We are also looking at linking with Indian manufacturers to use
the electric technology in India for harvesters, buses and cars,” says Professor Ajay Kapoor, Swinburne’s Pro Vice Chancellor for International Research Engagement and leader of the EV Laboratory.
Kapoor believes the whole innovative product development process should involve learning more about consumer needs.
“There is a big disconnect between what experts tell us consumers would like and what they actually would like,” he says.
One in four Australian children have tooth decay, while one in 25 Australians over 15 have no natural teeth at all. In 2012–2013, $8.7 billion was spent on dental care in Australia. Tooth decay occurs when bacteria attach to sugars from foods to make acid that softens and eats away tooth enamel. But now we can prevent it.
Your regular dentist-applied fluoride treatment is likely the result of breakthrough research by an Australian team who developed and commercialised ‘Tooth Mousse Plus’ through the Oral Health CRC (OH-CRC). This discovery helps reverse the damage decay can cause to teeth, by improving the absorption of fluoride.
The innovative product is based on a component found in dairy milk that hardens teeth — another Australian find and one that’s responsible for protecting the oral health of millions. The potential savings are estimated to be more than $12 billion in dental work to date worldwide.
Thirty years ago CEO of OH-CRC, Professor Eric Reynolds and his team at Melbourne University indentified that casein peptide complex (casein phosphopeptide amorphous calcium phosphate) found in dairy milk can strengthen and remineralise teeth.
The milk extract was developed into an innovative product called Recaldent, which is used in sugar-free gum and the Tooth Mousse product. “Recaldent took many years of research and support to develop but it is now in a range of products that benefit millions around the world,” says Reynolds.
Recaldent is patented by OH-CRC and is produced in Melbourne using Australian milk by GC Corporation, a Japanese company and OH-CRC partner. For his tireless work in inventing and commercialising Recaldent, Reynolds was awarded the 2017 Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation.
The OH-CRC has also developed a vaccine for gum disease and is now working on its commercialision.
The proverb that “two heads are betterthan one” has been in use since at least medieval times. James Surowiecki’s 2005 book The Wisdom of Crowds showed how aggregating the decision of a group of individuals generally leads to better decision-making than any single member of the group. When companies collaborate, they make more money. Governments have recognised this and are encouraging more collaboration in industry and science programs.
One of my standard slides when I’m presenting just says “2 + 2 = 5”. I use it when I’m talking about the power of collaboration to illustrate that whole is greater than the sum of the parts. I’ve got no doubt it is true. But is it always true? Is it possible that collaboration can be taken for granted?
We’ve all been in situations where a ‘team’ is thrown together for a task or project but just doesn’t work that well. Just because better choices can be made through a group doesn’t necessarily mean using a group is always the best way forward. There is growing evidence that when creativity is involved, individuals will often outperform a group.
Professor Leigh Thompson of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University argues that there are tools and methods to lead to better collaboration. She goes further, providing evidence that creativity is stifled in teams that don’t introduce some formalised methods to collaborate well. For example, Thompson argues that brainwriting, where individuals writing down their own ideas for 10 minutes will yield many more ideas than a similar amount of time of group brainstorming.
Dr Mark Elliott of Melbourne company Collabforge says that collaboration is a way of working that you can learn. His company provides services to teach teams and organisations when and how to collaborate.
When Government offer to pay for collaboration, such as in the CRC Program, they encourage more of it. The financial leverage of requiring industry to match government dollars is a great way to ensure the resulting collaboration has a strong purpose. Just how a sector collaborates to bid and then run a Cooperative Research Centre is largely up to them. We know some do it better than others.
I argue that once a funding round is announced, it is almost too late to concentrate on the quality of collaboration. Deadlines loom; there is a tonne of work to be done. Rounding up resources becomes the priority. That’s why it is so good to see major CRC and CRC-P proposals taking a longer time to really develop the quality of their collaborations well ahead of a funding announcement. The CRC Associationis trying to assist this process by teaming up with Collabforge to run workshops on Collaboration for Industry Impact. We try to provide ways of enhancing the creativity of collaboration, while not forgetting that there are lots of practical issues that must be addressed in a CRC or CRC-P bid.
Whether you can participate in one of our workshops or not, don’t assume that all collaboration is good, all of the time. Taking the time and effort to think through collaboration itself will help increase its ultimate impact.
A range of mining companies, plus mining equipment, technology and service suppliers, and research organisations collaborated on the development of these technologies with funding from the Federal Government. It comes at a critical time for the industry, which faces increasing pressure to become more profitable and environmentally sustainable.
Conventional extraction methods are becoming harder and more expensive to implement as ore quality drops, mines get deeper and water becomes scarcer.
In an ideal scenario, miners could target the mineral they are after. However, mineral-bearing ores are heterogeneous with different levels of concentration. The challenge is to find ways to extract and process the ores and reject waste early in the extraction process.
Bringing tech to the process
Grade Engineering is an integrated approach to extracting metal more efficiently and improving the overall recovery of valuable ores from individual deposits. “It goes beyond the industry mindset that simply increasing throughout will bring more profit for a mining operation,” says Dr Ben Adair, CEO of CRC ORE. “It factors in the ore quantity and quality.”
Rejecting waste as early as possible in the mining process can significantly decrease the operating costs of a mine. Grade Engineering utilises a range of techniques and strategies that sorts and separates mined materials throughout all stages of the mining process.
Adair says the power Grade Engineering offers is a targeted assessment tailored to specific ores, which determines what lever has the potential to best maximise mine performance. Benefits include decreased costs; improved investment rate of return; reduced energy and water use with fewer emissions; delivery of higher feed grades and lower capital expenditure for start-up or expansion.
The next generation of mining simulation
CRC ORE’s Integrated Extraction Simulator provides insight into the entire process, from the mine to the mill. It combines existing industry standard simulation models with new models from diverse research and development sources. “It is the next generation of fast, reliable and accurate simulation across the value chain,” says Adair.
Research at ANSTO into innovative technologies for the repair and maintenance of military aircraft will have implications on the service life of commercial and passenger aircraft, Brendan Fitzpatrick reports.
Over 4.3 million passengers will fly this year and every day about 104,000 flights bring people and goods to their destination. The global economy relies heavily on aviation with $17.5 billion of goods travelling by air every day representing 35% of global trade by value.
Fatigue and corrosion damage to aircraft structural components are a major threat to the safety and airworthiness of civil and military aircraft, particularly those pushed past their intended service life.
Dr Anna Paradowska, Senior Research Scientist and Industrial Liaison Manager at ANSTO, worked with a team led by DST Group’s Dr Wyman Zhuang to test different technologies used to repair damaged aircraft structural components.
“Structural integrity requirements for aircraft parts are of the highest level. The repaired components need to demonstrate that the restored component shall have a structural strength condition, equivalent or better than its original configuration,” says Zhuang.
Zhuang’s team applied advanced repair techniques to aluminium alloy 7075–T651 — a lightweight, high-strength metal used in the aeronautical industry since 1943.
DST Group used laser cladding to deposit aluminium-silicon powders onto damaged surfaces of 7075 plates. They then applied post-heat treatment to reduce detrimental residual stresses, making the alloy stronger.
Following these processes, the team applied Deep Surface Rolling (DSR) — a surface enhancement technique that can introduce beneficial compressive residual stresses and enhance fatigue performance of repaired components.
After the treatment, Paradowska and the team at ANSTO used a sophisticated neutron diffraction instrument, the strain scanner KOWARI, to compare measurements of 3-D residual stresses on samples treated with different repair methods.
“We used this instrument because it can provide sub-surface information about residual stresses non-destructively with high resolution measurements. Often this information can’t be obtained by other techniques.
Neutrons can penetrate deep into materials to acquire data about localised stresses in the deformed material,” says Paradowska.
“This powerful tool gives researchers a unique capability to study the same specimens going through various stages of manufacturing process.” The neutron diffraction measurements showed that DSR caused deeper and higher magnitude compressive residual stresses at the surface and into the substrate. These stresses increased both the yield and ultimate strength of the tested plates.
Fatigue tests confirmed that DSR increased the average fatigue life by over 500% compared to plates that were only laser-clad, while the post-heat treatment increased fatigue life by 40%.
While research is currently focussed on military applications, it will have ongoing implications to aircraft service life in the broader aviation industry.
Autonomous 3D mapping drones are being utilised to improve efficiencies in agtech, a key growth area for Australian businesses.
Tapping into state-of-the-art research at UNSW has helped startup company Agronomeye develop sophisticated drone technology that provides precision monitoring data that can be used in agriculture.
Connecting business with research
Co-founder Stu Adam said that by flying drones across large crop areas, Agronomeye enables farmers to survey large areas of land to analyse crop and livestock health. These metrics greatly assist in agriculture management.
“With some farmers needing to survey around 10,000 hectares, you can imagine how much crop health can vary on one agriculture business,” said Adam, who developed the technology in partnership with UNSW through the TechConnect program.
TechConnect is part of the NSW Government’s $18 million Boosting Business Innovation Program designed to provide small businesses access to research organisations. The program’s objective is to build strong local business communities and stimulate economic growth in metropolitan and regional NSW.
TechConnect enabled Adam to tap into research knowledge, technical skills and world-class facilities to develop sophisticated, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software.
How to partner with a university
A key challenge for Agronomeye was to develop robust systems for monitoring vast amounts of land and creating accessible pixel data. Another was manufacturing lightweight drone technology that could also withstand climate variables and harsh environmental conditions.
“We spoke to developers across the globe and no one was able to provide the solution we required and the team at UNSW ended up being a perfect fit,” said Adam.
“Partnering with the university exposed us to the best minds and technology available and has given us the tools we require to create efficiencies across cropping regimes.”
Adam says that by capturing accurate and actionable data for farmers, Agronomeye provides the information for highly targeted testing rather than random sampling. Drones can fly over large swathes of crop and use cameras and sensors to find variability in the planting area.
This allows the farm manager or agronomist to pinpoint possible problem sites and do highly targeted tests such as soil sampling, leaf-tissue testing and better manage their problems through variable rates of inputs such as fertilizer to meet the nutritional requirements of the crop.
“The technology provides massive efficiencies, better management of inputs and increased crop yield as a result,” he added.
UNSW’s Entrepreneur in residence Danielle Neale said that similar engagements between business and researchers are starting to develop long term relationships.
“All of NSW’s universities use the NSW Government’s “Boost” funding in different ways. At UNSW, our strategy is to find industry partners who can work with our researchers to spark new commercialisation journeys,” she said.
“Businesses are asked to make a contribution that is matched by the university through Tech Vouchers.”
UNSW industry partners also gain access to free courses at the Michael Crouch Innovation Centre, from design thinking and lean startup to digital fabrication.
TechConnect provides eligible businesses with up to $15,000 funding through TechVouchers. Businesses can also access other funding programs through the TechConnect initiative that gives start-up entrepreneurs, regional and metropolitan SMEs an ecosystem to innovate the future of technology.
More about Boosting Business Innovation
The $18 million Boosting Business Innovation Program is designed to provide small businesses access to research organisations. Its objective is to foster:
a networked innovation ecosystem across NSW
additional external funding
more small to medium enterprises that can scale up and innovate
more regional start-up sectors
innovation clusters across the state
access to high tech equipment and technical expertise research by SMEs and start-ups through TechVouchers
Collaboration between industry and research is vital. We know that unlocking the commercial value of Australian research will result in world-first, new-to-market innovation and new internationally competitive businesses. Cooperative Research Centres (CRCs) are an excellent, longstanding example of how industry and researchers can work together to create these growth opportunities.
The CRC Programme supports industry-led collaborations between researchers, industry and the community. It is a proven model for linking researchers with industry to focus research and development efforts on progress towards commercialisation.
Importantly, CRCs also produce graduates with hands-on industry experience to help create a highly skilled workforce. The CRC Programme has been running for more than 25 years and has been extremely successful.
Since it began in 1990, more than $4 billion in funding has been committed to support the establishment of 216 CRCs and 28 CRC Projects. Participants have committed an additional $12.6 billion in cash and in-kind contributions.
CRCs have developed important new technologies, products and services to solve industry problems and improve the competitiveness, productivity and sustainability of Australian industries. The programme has produced numerous success stories; far too many for me to mention here. A few examples include the development of dressings to deliver adult stem cells to wounds; creating technology to increase the number of greenfields mineral discoveries; and spearheading a world-leading method for cleaning up the potentially toxic chemicals found in fire-fighting foams.
These examples demonstrate not just the breadth of work being done by the CRCs, but also the positive benefits they are delivering.
Collaboration is a simple idea. You can teach it to a child: ask a child to share something and soon enough they will. Although they may initially react by turning away or looking down, given enough impetus they’re soon leaping around enjoying the benefits and challenges of shared play.
Scale it up to groups, organisations, industries, and academia, and it can seem complex. Industry has a commercial imperative; traditionally researchers sought more lofty goals or truths. Both universities and industry want to protect their IP. Working out the details is a legal wrangle; ensuring a shared vision when you don’t share the same location is a constant gamble.
Successful collaborations must have some form of flexibility or adaptability, yet large organisations can be slow in moving together, and in moving forward.
Technology has shifted the pace, as well as the level of expectation in terms of team collaboration. Tech companies have collaboration in their DNA, and cloud technology and automation are driving us faster towards collaborating closely – often with people we have never physically met.
Our level of trust is changing, and is threatened by a jumpy global attitude towards people who are different from us, and the prevalence in our lives of internet connected devices. Yet as the Hon Philip Dalidakis MP points out, cybersecurity is a collaboration opportunity as much as it is a shared risk.
To remain relevant, to keep pace in this shifting landscape – to compete in a global marketplace and as part of the world’s fast-moving network of research that forms the global brains trust – that will not happen unless we dramatically shift our perspective.
Technology has tethered us to the world and taken away the scourge of distance. Suddenly we’re accessible as a country in a way we have never been before.
Collaboration opens up opportunities as well as presenting challenges. It has long been happening at the level of individuals, as people from industry, research, community and government form alliances of interests. Our challenge is now to upscale. And it’s a tough one.
We may not have the same processes and infrastructure as other countries in developing the impetus to push our burden of change, Sisyphus-style, up this mountain. But as these thought leaders demonstrate, we are taking some great strides – and are at least like the reluctant child, now looking up towards the benefits of collaboration.
Australia’s future health and economy is a vibrant, interactive ecosystem with science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) at its core. STEM is central – and essential – to Australia’s ongoing success in the next 50 years. Australia is considered an incredible place to do cutting-edge research, pursue blue-sky ideas and commercialise innovative products. Pioneering discoveries fuel the innovation process. Students cannot wait to enrol in science and maths. Policies are developed using peer-reviewed evidence and broad consultation. Aspirational goals are backed by practical solutions and half of our STEM leaders are women – it’s the norm.
Sounds good doesn’t it?
To excel in science and innovation, however, Australia needs a major culture shift. We can all ‘talk the talk’, but as OECD figures demonstrate, we cannot ‘walk the walk’. Australia rates lowest compared to other OECD countries when it comes to business-research collaborations – not just large businesses, but small to medium-sized enterprises as well.
Academia blames industry. Industry blames academia. Everyone blames the government. It’s time to turn the pointing finger into a welcoming handshake and engage across sectors to actually make innovation happen.
Literally thousands of researchers in this country want to see our academic and industry leaders reach across the divide and make change happen. With every decision made, their future is impacted.
Paradigm-shifting science and innovation takes time and requires a diverse workforce of highly-skilled researchers and professionals that specialise in these fields.
The lack of a skilled workforce and poor collaboration are significant barriers to innovation. As part of the National Innovation and Science Agenda, the industry engagement and impact assessment aims to incentivise greater collaboration between industry and academia by examining how universities are translating their research into social and economic benefits.
Australian academic institutions have begun to break down silos within their own research organisations with some success. In medical research for example, the breadth and scale of interdisciplinary collaborative projects has expanded exponentially – spanning international borders, requiring a range of skills and expertise, terabytes of data, and years of research.
Research teams have become small companies with synergistic subsidiaries – diagnostic, basic, translational and clinical teams – working toward a common goal.
Yet their engagement with industry is low. Industry struggles to navigate the ever-changing complex leadership structures in higher education and research. When you speak one-on-one with researchers and industry leaders, however, they seem almost desperate to cross the divide and connect! It’s a detrimental dichotomy.
How can we harness the full potential of our research workforce?
We can energise innovation by fostering a culture that values basic research as well as translation of discoveries to product, practice and policy. A culture that opens the ivory tower and is not so sceptical of industry-academia engagement. That responds to failure with resilience and determination rather than deflating, harsh judgement. That sees the potential of our young researchers.
We need to lose the tall poppy syndrome and openly celebrate the success and achievement of others. We must hold ourselves to higher standards and in particular, women must be equally recognised and rewarded for their leadership.
As a nation, we must ensure we are prepared and resourced for the challenges ahead. Not only do we need the best equipment and technologies, but we also need a readily adaptable workforce that is highly-skilled to address these issues.
To facilitate a culture shift and increase engagement with business and industry, we need to provide researchers the skills and know-how, as well as opportunities to hone these skills. Young researchers are ready to engage and hungry to learn; and they must be encouraged to do so without penalty.
They then need to be connected with industry leaders to identify the qualities and expertise they need to strengthen, and to extend their network.
We can change this now. The solution is not expensive. It is simply about letting down our guard and providing real opportunities to meet, to connect, to network, to exchange ideas and expertise – and to share that welcoming handshake.
Australia produces great research. But despite this, we somehow still manage to rank last in the OECD for collaboration between research and business.
It’s a disconnect that is well documented: a 2014 Department of Education report noted a low proportion of researchers working in business and academic industry research publications. A report by the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering revealed a distinct lack of university research collaboration with industry and other end users. And the recently released Innovation and Science Australia report declared Australian industry unable to commercialise research.
Though the naysayers may abound, all hope is certainly not lost. There are steps that Australian research institutions and the startups that represent the future of business can take to overcome the disconnect and engage in effective research collaboration.
1. Establish a direct link between research institutions and startups
Working in research and industry silos will always present a challenge to collaboration. So, the first step to bridging the research collaboration gap is to create a direct line of access between universities and startups.
The easiest way to reach the largest number of startups is to create direct lines to innovation hubs, such as technology-focused incubators that work with startups and scale-ups that could benefit from accessing the research capabilities that are nurtured within Australian universities.
This could take the form of a mutually-beneficial partnership, such as an industry secondment program for PhD students. Students would benefit from industry experience, while industry gains access to cutting-edge research capabilities and a potential talent pool for recruitment.
Whatever the partnership might look like in practice, by finding mutually beneficial solutions and cementing them within a concrete program, collaboration will likely be a natural outcome.
2. Understand and account for your differences
In any collaboration, working together requires working around the limitations of the other party.
As an example, the open nature of academic science can at times conflict with industry needs to protect the technologies they use. Academic research often moves more slowly due to its long-term focus, compared to industrial R&D that is driven by commercial deadlines and time-sensitive product development.
Understanding these differences upfront will allow collaborative measures and hedges to be set in place when forming a research collaboration to ensure neither party’s prerogatives are being infringed upon.
3. Identify and work towards common ground in your research collaboration
Once links have been created and differences understood and catered for, common ground can be identified, interests aligned and goals established.
Research could listen to the pain points of industry and formulate research that addresses the pain points, rather than trying to pitch a predefined project.
Conversely, industry might consider involving university research throughout the lifecycle of a project, rather than in an ad hoc fashion, to create a long-term culture of interdisciplinary collaboration and give greater meaning to research projects.
Regular interaction in the form of formal and informal meetings will ensure the research collaboration stays on track to meeting the objectives of both parties – particularly as they are likely to evolve.
By implementing all the above, our startups may have some chance of tapping into the brains of our prized research institutions to achieve sustainable and accelerated growth in the future.
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.
Intellectual property has had a large role to play in moving wheat breeding from being almost entirely publicly funded in the 1990s to being completely funded by the private sector today.
Wheat accounts for more than a quarter of the total value of all crops produced in Australia. In terms of all agricultural commodities produced nationwide, wheat is second only to cattle. In the 2015/16 season, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences forecasted the gross value of wheat to be $7.45 billion, with exports worth $5.8 billion.
Western Australia leads the way in wheat exports, generating half of Australia’s total annual wheat production and sending more than 95 per cent offshore. A major export avenue for Western Australian growers is the wheat used for the production of noodles. One million tonnes of Udon noodle grain is exported to Japan and Korea every year at a value of $350 million.
The Australian wheat industry has gone through significant transformation in the last 20 years and the Australian IP Report 2015 shows innovation in wheat breeding is quite healthy. Over the past decade, Triticum (the scientific genus for wheat) has had the third highest number of plant breeder’s rights (PBR) applications submitted in Australia, behind only Rosa (roses) and Prunus (trees and shrubs).
The Plant Breeder’s Rights Act 1994 (PBR Act) allows an owner of a plant variety the ability to not only sell their variety, but also to collect royalties at any point in its use. This provision led to the introduction of end point royalties (EPR) in the years following the PBR Act’s ratification. For wheat growing, this is a royalty paid on the total grain harvested by the growers of a PBR protected variety.
Kerrie Gleeson of Australian Grains Technologies explains how EPR have invigorated the wheat industry saying, “Prior to the year 2000, 95 per cent of wheat breeding programs were in the public sector, either funded by universities, Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) levies, or state governments.”
Moving ahead to the present day, Australian wheat breeding is now completely funded by the private sector due to the income generated by EPR.
Before EPR, royalties were paid to breeders when they sold their seed to farmers. Tress Walmsley, CEO of InterGrain, estimates that while a new variety of grain costs around $3 million to breed, under the old seed-based royalty system breeders only received around $50 000 per variety. This was a commercially unsustainable system and saw a decline in public investment for developing new varieties.
The EPR system radically changed the commercial value of developing new grain varieties in Australia. By deferring collection of royalties to the time of harvest, the initial cost of purchasing seed is lower.
An example of the EPR system in action is ‘Drysdale’, a wheat variety developed by CSIRO to cope with Australia’s low rainfall. Currently a royalty of $1 is charged to famers for every tonne produced. While this may not seem like much, considering the production of wheat averages around 25 million tonnes per year, the return from EPR really adds up.
Income received from EPR helps support the continuing research into developing new varieties and reduces the reliance on public funding.
The advantage of the EPR system is that plant breeders share the risk with farmers. If a harvest is low, for example during a drought, the farmers will be affected, and as a result the returns to the breeders through the EPR will be down. This gives breeders an incentive to develop varieties that are resilient and high yielding; the more successful the crop is, the bigger the return for both breeders and growers.
THE AUSTRALIAN WHEAT INDUSTRY HAS GONE THROUGH SIGNIFICANT TRANSFORMATION IN THE LAST 20 YEARS.
Wheat breeding in Australia is now a highly competitive industry. The major wheat breeding companies now have access to new technologies and resources through foreign investment and partnerships.
The EPR system in Australia has been dominated by wheat. The first EPR variety was released in 1996. Over 260 EPR varieties are listed for the 2015/16 harvesting season. Of these varieties, over 130 are wheat.
However, implementing the EPR system has seen its share of challenges. “When we first launched back in 1996…we actually had almost two competing systems”, Tress says. “We had one system commence in Western Australia which I was responsible for, and then we also had a company start an end point royalty system on the east coast.”
“Initially each plant breeding company, each state government and each seed company worked independently. We really made the big gains when we came together and worked it out collectively”, she says.
The development of an EPR industry collection system began in 2007 when a number of Australia’s major plant breeding organisations formed the EPR Steering Committee.
“The key component is working with the grain growers and listening to their feedback and making changes to how we collect the EPR so it is actually an easier system for them to utilise”, says Tress. “The industry standard license was one of our first achievements.”
The EPR is ultimately reliant on the honesty of farmers declaring the varieties they are growing. “Our system works in finding ways where the PBR Act gives you the level of protection you need, and you dovetail in contract law where you need some extra assistance”, adds Tress.
The integrity of EPR collection is maintained in various ways, including harvest declaration forms and reports from grain traders and bulk handlers. An industry standard contract has also been developed to simplify the collection process. The competitive nature of the EPR system means farmers are given a choice when deciding on which grain to grow. If they are paying a royalty on seed they are growing, they want to be confident the crop is high yielding, disease resistant and suitable for their region.
Even though research and development into wheat has been growing in recent years, the industry faces ongoing challenges. While Australia has so far avoided the notoriously devastating Ug99, a fungal wheat stem rust which can cause entire crops to be lost, farmers do tackle other varieties of stripe, stem and leaf rusts across the country. Nationwide, 72 per cent of Australia’s wheat growing area is susceptible to at least one rust pathogen.
This highlights the importance of continued investment into the development of new wheat breeds.
“We need the research to create high-yielding, disease and pest resistant agricultural crops,” Professor Philip Pardey says, who was a keynote speaker at the 2015 International Wheat Conference held in Sydney.
The International Year of Pulses aims to raise awareness of the nutritional benefits of pulses as part of sustainable food production. The celebration is an opportunity to encourage connections throughout the food chain – and one Australian team of researchers is ahead of the game.
Murdoch University professor John Howieson is now working on a new licence structure for the upcoming release of lebeckia. This grain, originally from South Africa, is considered the ‘holy grail’ breakthrough to rectify the shortage of summertime feed for livestock.
The new National Innovation and Science Agenda will support further agricultural research both with research funds and through programs that bring together universities, researchers and producers. You can find out more at innovation.gov.au.
This article was originally published by IP Australia in IP – Your Business Edge Issue 1 2016. Read the original article here.
Video above: Murdoch University researchers Steve Wilton and Sue Fletcher discuss their new drug for Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
The powerful US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given the green light to a drug developed by Western Australia researchers Sue Fletcher and Steve Wilton for treating Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
The Murdoch University scientists developed an innovative treatment to help sufferers of Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a crippling muscle-wasting disease that affects about one in 3500 boys worldwide.
The FDA decision is a huge win for the global pharma company Sarepta Therapeutics, which has developed the drug under the name Eteplirsen.
In their breakthrough research, Fletcher and Wilton had devised a way to bypass the faulty gene responsible for the disease, using a technique called exon skipping.
The FDA’s approval follows an emotional campaign by sufferers, their families, and supporters of Eteplirsen.
Earlier this year, some 40 sufferers in wheelchairs and their families flew to Washington from around the US, and from as far as the UK, to show their faith in the treatment after authorities questioned aspects of the drug’s clinical trial.
Fletcher’s and Wilton’s innovative discovery had already won the 2012 WA Innovator of the Year Award.
In 2013, the researchers, then with UWA, signed a multi-million dollar deal with Sarepta to develop Eteplirsen.
Under the deal, they would get up to US$7.1 million in upfront and milestone payments, as well as royalties on the net sales of all medicines developed and approved.
Read next: CtX forges $730 m deal for new cancer drug. A promising new cancer drug, developed in Australia by the Cancer Therapeutics CRC (CTx), has been licensed to US pharmaceutical company Merck in a deal worth $730 million.
Featured image above: BAE Systems new e-textile could benefit a wide variety of professions, including the military. Credit: BAE Systems
A wireless conductive fabric that allows soldiers to plug electronic devices directly into armour is making a commercial push into Southeast Asia.
BAE Systems has developed the Broadsword Spine garment, which is being distributed throughout the Asia Pacific region by its Australian arm, based in Adelaide.
It was designed using a unique e-textile created by Intelligent Textiles Limited in the United Kingdom and can be inserted inside vests, jackets or belts.
BAE Systems’ wireless connector promises a range of benefits for multiple professions including the emergency services.
Broadsword Spine is on display this week at the Land Forces 2016 event in Adelaide, the capital of South Australia.
Program manager David Wilson said the technology was extremely lightweight and was able to pass power from any source, which made it adaptable to an assortment of devices.
“It’s revolutionary in terms of how it can pass power and data through USB 2.0,” he says.
“It reduces the weight and cognitive burden of the soldier because it is doing a lot of power and data management automatically.
“It also has no cables, which means you’ve got no snag hazard and no issue in terms of the breaking of cables and having to replace them.”
Broadsword Spine has been designed to replace contemporary heavy portable data and power supplies used by the military as well as firefighters, paramedics and rescue personnel.
The lack of cables and additional batteries make the new material 40 per cent lighter than other systems.
The e-textile was also developed to withstand harsh environments and is water, humidity, fire and shock resistant.
The material uses highly developed yarns that act as the electricity and data conductor.
It is able to connect to a central power source to support all electronic devices and is easily recharged in the field using simple batteries or in-vehicle charging points.
There are eight protected data or power ports that are capable of supplying 5A and operate at USB 2.0 speeds.
The management of power and data is automated and is performed by a computer that is embedded into the e-textile loom.
Users also have the option of monitoring and controlling the technology manually using a smartphone app.
Wilson said contemporary models were often heavy could be highly complicated products that required special maintenance.
“It’s unique in that regard in that we don’t sell the whole system, we sell the middle architecture and allow the customer to decide what they want and how to integrate that system,” he says.
“We’ve published the pin-outs and connections so they can create their own integration cables. They don’t have to keep coming back to us and that way they can support it themselves.”
Low rate production of the Broadsword Spine has begun in the United Kingdom.
Wilson said when production increased, the company would work to distribute the product to the Asia-Pacific region from its Adelaide base next year.
Land Forces is the Southern Hemisphere’s premier defence industry exhibition and has more than 400 participating exhibition companies from about 20 countries as well as about 11,000 trade visitors.
South Australian exhibitors at the event include University of South Australia, which has developed camouflage cells for tanks, and Supashock, which has unveiled damping technology taken from race cars for use in army trucks.
The Turnbull Government has announced that twenty businesses across Australia will be offered $11.3 million in Entrepreneurs’ Programme grants to help boost commercialisation and break into new international markets.
A 3-D printed jaw joint replacement, termite-proof building materials and a safer way to store grain outdoors are amongst the diverse products and services that will be fast-tracked.
The grants range from $213,000 to $1 million and are matched dollar-for-dollar by recipients.
So far, the Government has invested $78.1 million since commencement of this initiative – helping 146 Australian businesses to get their products off the ground.
The grants help businesses to undertake development and commercialisation activities like product trials, licensing, and manufacturing scale-up—essential and often challenging steps in taking new products to market.
Projects supported by today’s grant offers will address problems and meet needs in key industries including food and agribusiness, mining, advanced manufacturing and medical technologies.
The 20 projects to receive commercialisation support include:
a safer, cheaper and more efficient outdoor grain storage solution for the agricultural industry
recycling technology for fats, oils and greases from restaurants that will save money and reduce pollution
a lighter, stronger and more flexible concrete product
an anti-theft automated security system for the retail fuel industry
a cheaper, faster and safer decontamination process for mine drainage
smaller, cheaper and more patient-friendly MRI technology used for medical diagnostics
a 3-D printed medical device for jaw joint replacements that reduces surgery risk and improves patient quality-of-life
insect and termite-proof expansion joint foam for the building industry, combining a two-step process into a single product.
The Entrepreneurs’ Programme commercialisation grants help Australian entrepreneurs, researchers and small and medium businesses find commercialisation solutions.
It aims to:
• accelerate the commercialisation of novel intellectual property in the form of new products, processes and services; • support new businesses based on novel intellectual property with high growth potential; and • generate greater commercial and economic returns from both public and private sector research and facilitate investment to drive business growth and competitiveness.
Featured image above: Cancer research at the Cancer Therapeutics Cooperative Research Centre has received a funding boost. Credit: CTx
The Chief Executive of the Cancer Therapeutics Cooperative Research Centre (CTx), Dr Warwick Tong, announced last week that a majority of its current partners have chosen to reinvest their share of the recent cash distribution from CTx back into the organisation.
In January 2016 CTx licensed its PRMT5 Project to MSD (known as Merck in the US and Canada) in a landmark deal and received over $14 million dollars as its share of the signature payment. Novel drugs arising from the project will be developed and commercialised by Merck. Potential future milestone payments and royalties will also be shared within the partnership.
“Our 2013 application to the Department of Industry CRC Programme outlined the intent to actively secure reinvestment of funds from any commercialisation success back into our cancer drug development activities”, said Tong. “To have this commitment from our partners is the validation and support we wanted.
“The more than seven million dollars will boost our ability to deliver new cancer drugs for adults and children”.
“CTx has made great use of its partnership network to deliver this project,” said Professor Grant McArthur Chair of the CTx Scientific Advisory Board. “The reinvestment is a very positive recognition by the partners that CTx will continue to provide benefits for patients and strengthen translational cancer research in Australia”.
Featured image above from the Australia’s STEM Workforce Report
Australians with qualifications in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are working across the economy in many roles from wine-makers to financial analysts, according to a new report from The Office of the Chief Scientist.
Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel says Australia’s STEM Workforce is the first comprehensive analysis of the STEM-qualified population and is a valuable resource for students, parents, teachers and policy makers. The report is based on data from the 2011 Census, the most recent comprehensive and detailed data set of this type of information. The report will serve as a benchmark for future studies.
“This report provides a wealth of information on where STEM qualifications – from both the university and the vocational education and training (VET) sectors – may take you, what jobs you may have and what salary you may earn,” Finkel says.
“Studying STEM opens up countless job options and this report shows that Australians are taking diverse career paths.”
The report investigates the workforce destinations of people with qualifications in STEM fields, looking at the demographics, industries, occupations and salaries that students studying for those qualifications can expect in the workforce.
The report found that fewer than one-third of STEM university graduates were female, with physics, astronomy and engineering having even lower proportions of female graduates. Biological sciences and environmental studies graduates were evenly split between the genders. In the vocational education and training (VET) sector, only 9% of those with STEM qualifications were women.
Finkel says that even more worrying than the gender imbalance in some STEM fields, is the pay gap between men and women in all STEM fields revealed in the report. These differences cannot be fully explained by having children or by the increased proportion of women working part-time.
The analysis also found that gaining a doctorate is a sound investment, with more STEM PhD graduates in the top income bracket than their Bachelor-qualified counterparts. However, these same STEM PhD holders are less likely to own their own business or work in the private sector.
Finkel says that preparing students for a variety of jobs and industries is vital to sustaining the future workforce.
“This report shows that STEM-qualified Australians are working across the economy. It is critical that qualifications at all levels prepare students for the breadth of roles and industries they might pursue.”
Click here to download the full Australia’s STEM Workforce report.
Click here to read Alan Finkel’s Foreword, or click here to read the section of the report that interests you.
Featured image above: Associate Professor Ian O’Hara at the Mackay Biocommodities Pilot Plant. He is pictured inside the plant with the giant vats used for fermentation. Credit: QUT Marketing and Communication/Erika Fish
At the same time, says O’Hara, there are opportunities to add value to existing agricultural products. “Waste products from agriculture, for example, can contribute to biofuel production.”
QUT funded a study in 2014 examining the potential value of a tropical biorefinery in Queensland. It assessed seven biorefinery opportunities across northeast Queensland, including in the sorghum-growing areas around the Darling Downs and the sugarcane-growing areas around Mackay and Cairns.
O’Hara says they mainly focused on existing agricultural areas, taking the residues from these to create new high-value products.
But he sees more opportunity as infrastructure across north Queensland continues to develop.
The study found the establishment of a biorefinery industry in Queensland would increase gross state product by $1.8 million per year and contribute up to 6500 new jobs.
“It’s an industry that contributes future jobs in regional Queensland – and by extension, opportunities for Australia,” O’Hara says.
The biorefineries can produce a range of products in addition to biofuels. These include bio-based chemicals such as ethanol, butanol and succinic acid, and bio-plastics and bio-composites – materials made from renewable components like fibreboard.
O’Hara says policy settings are required to put Queensland and Australia on the investment map as good destinations.
“We need strong collaboration between research, industry and government to ensure we’re working together to create opportunities.”
The CTCB has a number of international and Australian partners. The most recent of these is Japanese brewer Asahi Group Holdings, who CTCB are partnering with to develop a new fermentation technology that will allow greater volumes of sugar and ethanol to be produced from sugarcane.
“The biofuels industry is developing rapidly, and we need to ensure that Queensland and Australia have the opportunity to participate in this growing industry,” says O’Hara.
Leveraging the knowledge of researchers from the CSIRO and five of Australia’s top universities, as well as experts in the field, the CRCLCL is heading up efforts to deliver a low carbon built environment in Australia. Its ambitious aim is to cut residential and commercial carbon emissions by 10 megatonnes by 2020.
“The CRCLCL is at the forefront of driving technological and social innovation in the built environment to reduce carbon emissions,” says Prasad.
“We’re looking to bring emissions down, and in the process we want to ensure global competitiveness for Australian industry by helping to develop the next generation of products, technologies, advanced manufacturing and consulting services,” says Prasad.
CRCLCL activities range from urban sustainable design and solar energy to software and community engagement.
“By working effectively with government, researchers and industry, we employ an ‘end-user’ driven approach to research that maximises uptake and utilisation,” says Prasad.
1. Make sure there is a viable, readily accessible market that is sufficiently large to support a spin-off company.
2. The actual invention is only the trigger to start a company – you are establishing a company that will need to innovate on an ongoing basis if it wants to be successful. Make sure that innovation capability and desire exists and thrives in the spin-off.
3. Identify competent board and management capability to direct the business and generate revenue for the company. Most often the management capability is not the same people who carried out the research, but sometimes it can be. Without the right people running the show, the spin-off will not be successful.
4. Make sure you have sufficient funding available to get the company through to a viable revenue stream, and ideally flexible funding arrangements. Unexpected things will happen and you need capability to accommodate those changes.“
“Most start-ups are focused on development plans that contain binary events and marginal financing. This makes them vulnerable to unforeseen delays and additional development steps that require additional funding.
I believe that we should be looking to generate portfolios of innovation under experienced management teams that give our projects the best chance of success – and adequate funding to reach proof of concept in whatever market we are targeting – but at the same time help to spread risk.“
“Ensuring a strong board, CEO, and a quality management team will be critical to success. The availability of funds for programs is an often-discussed barrier to rapid progress. Underfunded companies and poorly thought-out product concepts or technologies are more likely to fail early.“
“1. For biotechnology R&D spin-off start-ups in Australia, major hurdles are the dearth of seed capital as well as access to large follow-on venture funds that are needed to build successful biotechnology companies.
2. There is a mismatch between the 10-year life span of a venture capital fund in Australia and the 15+ years needed to translate research findings into a novel drug or biologic product for improving human health.
3. Hence, these systemic issues are major impediments to building successful biotechnology companies in Australia and these issues need to be addressed.”
– Professor Maree Smith, Executive Director of the Centre for Integrated Preclinical Drug Development and Head of the Pain Research Group at The University of Queensland
There are two potential ‘valleys of death’ for R&D spin-off companies. One is in translating their research concepts into prototype products. The other is in maturing from prototype to full commercialisation.
“Taking the prototype through to full commercialisation was probably more difficult for us due to the complexities involved.
This included high-tech scale-up manufacturing, which we do at our bio-manufacturing facility in Malaga. Today, we have the ability to expand production as necessary, as well as refine and develop our processes in-house to accommodate new products and product improvements.
There was also a focus on generating sales once CardioCel was commercialised. Just because a product is approved doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be used straight away by the intended customers.
We’ve focused on educating the market about the benefits of CardioCel, such as its biocompatibility and lack of calcification (hardening) at the site of surgery. We’ve also built a strong global sales and marketing team who work closely with our customers to understand their needs.
As a result, we’ve seen continued quarter-on-quarter growth in CardioCel sales, and the product is now used in over 135 heart centres globally.“
“For pharmaceuticals the so called ‘second valley of death’ is by far the most significant.
Lack of funding often prevents companies from attempting to cross this valley and causes them to license their technology at an earlier stage and to realise rewards as the licensor takes their innovation to market.
For a small company with limited resources, the key to success here is to understand the commercialisation risks, link the higher-risk projects with partners and try to make that step themselves for markets with lower entry costs and higher clinical need.
If done well, they should end up with a portfolio approach with the risks mitigated but still significant opportunity for value appreciation.”
“SmartCap Technologies had substantial industry support to develop the prototype products, however even with this it was a very challenging process to deliver working prototypes.
SmartCap was exceedingly fortunate in that CRCMining provided substantially more financial support for SmartCap than originally envisaged, enabling it to finally deploy the prototype products. Those prototypes were sufficiently effective to generate commercial interest from some large mining companies.
So despite having robust plans in place, it always helps to have access to further funding, via investors or other stakeholders with a high level of commitment as well as deep pockets, to overcome unforeseen eventualities.”
“The biggest hurdle may be the combination of the two – translating research concepts (i.e. technical information associated with the technology) following commercialisation into an immature market.
Catapult‘s technology is not a consumer product and therefore is very high touch in terms of its service and client support. Due to the perceived complexity of the information obtained from the technology, part of the trick is to simplify the underlying research concepts to new markets that need a low touch product.”
“I would argue that you should have a prototype – before any spin-off. That way you can at least prove technical viability of your concept. Ideally you would also have done some level of customer validation.
The next step of full commercialisation is definitely the hardest.
In our case it was a matter of finding early customers that were willing to spend time assessing the product and its benefits – even though it was too early to commit to a purchase and full roll-out. This phase was key to understanding the market and adjusting our path.”
“The first phase is the most difficult – a poor prototype will show its deficiencies later in development. A prototype needs to demonstrate a safe and efficacious profile, and that it will meet the need you have defined in the target market.”
“We are in the middle of our valley of death translating our platform into the clinic and we have not yet overcome it. Data is key, but one needs the funds to produce the results! So, we are seeking investors wherever we can find them and buddying up to big pharmaceuticals who have the muscle to progress our technology.”
– Dr Jennifer Macdiarmid, pictured above with Dr. Himanshu Brahmbhatt, joint Chief Executive Officers and Directors
Bookshelves in offices around Australia groan under the weight of unimplemented reports of research findings. Likewise, the world of technology is littered with software and gadgetry that has failed to gain adoption, for example 3D television and the Apple Newton. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
The best are not always adopted. To change that, says Brown, developers need to know how their research solutions will be received and how to adapt them so people actually want them.
“Physical scientists, for example, benefit from understanding the political, social and economic frameworks they’re operating in, to position the science for real-world application,” she says.
The big-picture questions around knowledge and power, disadvantage and information access, political decision-making, community needs and aspirations, policy contexts and how values are economised – these are the domains of the social sciences. When social science expertise is combined with that of the physical sciences, for example, the research solutions they produce can have a huge impact. In the case of the CRC for Water Sensitive Cities, such solutions have influenced policy, strategy and regulations for the management of urban stormwater run-off, for example. Brown and her colleagues have found it takes a special set of conditions to cultivate this kind of powerful collaborative research partnership.
The CRC for Water Sensitive Cities has seen considerable growth. It started in 2005 as a $4.5 million interdisciplinary research facility with 20 Monash University researchers and PhD students from civil engineering, ecology and sociology. The facility grew over seven years to become a $120 million CRC with more than 85 organisations, including 13 research institutes and other organisations such as state governments, water utilities, local councils, education companies and sustainability consultancies. It has more than 230 researchers and PhD students, and its work has been the basis for strategy, policy, planning and technology in Australia, Singapore, China and Israel.
In a 2015 Nature special issue, Brown and Monash University colleagues Ana Deletic and Tony Wong, project leader and CEO respectively of the CRC for Water Sensitive Cities, shared their ‘secret sauce’ on bridging the gap between the social and biophysical sciences, which allowed them to develop a partnership blueprint for implementing urban water research.
8 tips to successful collaboration
Cultivating interdisciplinary dialogue and forming productive partnerships takes time and effort, skill, support and patience. Brown and her colleagues suggest the following:
1 Forge a shared mission to provide a compelling account of the collaboration’s overall goal and to maintain a sense of purpose for all the time and effort needed to make it work;
2 Ensure senior researchers are role models, contributing depth in their discipline and demonstrating the skills needed for constructive dialogue;
3 Create a leadership team composed of people from multiple disciplines;
4 Put incentives in place for interdisciplinary research such as special funding, promotion and recognition;
5 Encourage researchers to put their best ideas forward, even if unfinished, while being open to alternative perspectives;
6 Develop constructive dialogue skills by providing training and platforms for experts from diverse disciplines and industry partners to workshop an industry challenge and find solutions together;
7 Support colleagues as they move from being I-shaped to T-shaped researchers, prioritising depth early on and embracing breadth by building relationships with those from other fields;
8 Run special issues of single-discipline journals that focus on interdisciplinary research and create new interdisciplinary journals with T-shaped editors, peer-reviewers or boards.
A recent Stanford University study found almost 75% of cross-functional teams within a single business fail. Magnify that with PhD research and careers deeply invested in niche areas and ask people to work with other niche areas across other organisations, and it all sounds impossible. Working against resistance to collaborate requires time and effort.
Yet as research partnerships blossom, so do business partnerships. “Businesses don’t think of science in terms of disciplines as scientists do,” says Brown. “Researchers need to be able to tackle complex problems from a range of perspectives.”
Part of the solution lies in the ‘shape’ of the researchers: more collaborative interdisciplinary researchers are known as ‘T-shaped’ because they have the necessary depth of knowledge within their field (the vertical bar of the T), as well as the breadth (the horizontal bar) to look beyond it as useful collaborators – engaging with different ways of working.
Some scholars, says Brown, tend to view their own discipline as having the answer to every problem and see other disciplines as being less valuable. In some ways that’s not surprising given the lack of exposure they may have had to other disciplines and the depth of expertise they have gained in their own.
“At the first meeting of an interdisciplinary team, they might try to take charge, for example talk but not listen to others or understand their contribution. But in subsequent meetings, they begin to see the value the other disciplines bring – which sometimes leaves them spellbound.
“It’s very productive once people reach the next stage in a partnership where they develop the skills for interdisciplinary work and there’s constructive dialogue and respect,” says Brown.
In a recent article in The Australian, CSIRO chief executive and laser physicist Dr Larry Marshall describes Australians as great inventors but he emphasises that innovation is a team sport and we need to do better at collaboration. He points out that Australia has the lowest research collaboration rates in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and attributes this fact to two things – insufficient collaboration with business and scientists competing against each other.
“Overall, our innovation dilemma – fed by our lack of collaboration – is a critical national challenge, and we must do better,” he says.
Brown agrees, saying sustainability challenges like those addressed by the CRC for Water Sensitive Cities are “grand and global challenges”.
“They’re the kind of ‘wicked problem’ that no single agency or discipline, on its own, could possibly hope to resolve.”
The answer, it seems, is interdisciplinary.
There’s a wealth of great advice that CRCs can tap into. For example the Antarctic Climate & Ecosystems CRC approached statistical consultant Dr Nick Fisher at ValueMetrics Australia, an R&D consultancy specialising in performance management, to find the main drivers of the CRC’s value as perceived by its research partners, so the CRC could learn what was working well and what needed to change.
Fisher says this kind of analysis can benefit CRCs at their formation, and can be used for monitoring and in the wind-up phase for final evaluation.
When it comes to creating world-class researchers who are T-shaped and prepped for research partnerships, Alison Mitchell, a director of Vitae, a UK-based international program dedicated to professional and career development for researchers, is an expert. She describes the Vitae Researcher Development Framework (RDF), which is a structured model with four domains covering the knowledge, behaviour and attributes of researchers, as a significant approach that’s making a difference to research careers worldwide.
The RDF framework uses four ‘lenses’ – knowledge exchange, innovation, intrapreneurship [the act of behaving like an entrepreneur while working with a large organisation] and entrepreneurship – to focus on developing competencies that are part and parcel of a next generation research career. These include skills for working with academic research partners and industry.
Gaining industry experience and seeing how their research can have practical applications is important to early career researchers. Universities and industry are now working together to help provide graduates with the opportunity to work on commercial solutions for real-life problems.
“The partnership allowed me to do things that haven’t been done before, like use optical fibres as sensors instead of electrical sensors,” says Allwood, who will work with Bombora Wave Power to test the sensors.
There are other, similar Australian programs. CRCs offer a number of scholarships across 14 different fields of research, giving PhD students a chance to gain industry experience.
The Chemicals and Plastics GRIP has 20 industry partners offering training and funding, including Dulux and 3M. One student is treating coffee grounds to create a fertiliser to improve the soil quality of agricultural land.
CEO of Vinehealth Australia, Alan Nankivell, who is leading the project, says phylloxera had a significant economic impact on the wine industry, as “the quality of our wines is based on the quality of our vines”. Eighty per cent of Australia’s vineyards have vines that are own-rooted, rather than grafted onto resistant rootstock; some are very old and the wines produced from these are highly sought after.
Phylloxera (Daktulosphaira vitifoliae) feeds on grapevine roots and leaves them open to bacterial infection, which can result in rot and necrotic death due to cell injury. It destroyed substantial areas of vines in France in the mid-19th century and has affected several winegrowing areas of Australia; the only effective treatment is removing infested vines and replanting with resistant rootstock.
Financially, the cost of managing a vineyard with phylloxera is estimated to range from 10–20% in additional operating costs.
The current method of detection uses a shovel and magnifying glass to inspect sites in areas of low vigour; however, phylloxera may have been present for some time and the test is usually conducted in summer, one of the industry’s busiest seasons.
The new DNA-based test requires 10-cm soil core samples to be taken 5 cm from the vine’s trunk. The samples are then sealed and sent to a lab where they are dried and tested for the presence of phylloxera DNA.
Nankivell says the incidence of finding phylloxera using the test was very high (around 98%), even when the amounts of phylloxera present were low.
“At the moment, we’re able to find phylloxera at sites any time of the year.”
The new DNA-based test could help prevent the spread of phylloxera in Australia, as those who have it on their property can determine where it is and whether it is spreading.
Sampling in vineyards across Australia over time will establish a baseline for the maintenance of area freedom. Nankivell says with this baseline in place, the quarantine management and farm-gate hygiene of vineyards will improve industry knowledge about where phylloxera is and isn’t.
PBCRC researchers are currently working to establish the most suitable grid pattern for taking the soil core samples.
They will also compare the DNA sample method with two other methods: the ‘shovel method’ and another using emergence traps to catch insects inside an inverted container placed on the soil, to determine performance against selected criteria.
This research strongly supports the wine industry’s focus on identifying and managing biosecurity threats to ensure the ongoing health of grapevines. Healthy vines are the foundation for a prosperous Australian wine industry.
To learn more about phylloxera, click here or watch this video about the Phylloxera Rezoning Project carried out in Australia: