Tag Archives: Macquarie University

science communication

Science communication in the “alternative facts” era

Panel members (left-right): Ketan Joshi,  Heather Catchpole, Lucinda Beaman and Amy Coopes,

From climate change to vaccination and alternative medicine, researchers face problems when they seek to turn evidence into actions through science communication. On the 1st June, 2017, Macquarie University held a public workshop called “Science, Misinformation, and Alternative Facts”.

The interdisciplinary workshop brought together a diverse group of panelists to discuss science and media in our “post-truth” era. Panelists included Ketan Joshi, a communications consultant specialising in clean energy technologies; Heather Catchpole, founder of STEM content producer Refraction Media; Lucinda Beaman, editor of FactCheck at the Conversation and Amy Coopes, journalist turned medical student and cancer researcher.

The panelists discussed the challenges of science communication and potential strategies for closing the gap between evidence and public opinion.

They described how the emergence of anxiety-inducing terms such as “post-truth” and “fake news” have influenced how the general public perceive scientific information, as well as the increasingly curated nature of news by social media. Further challenges discussed included the use of facts out of context and the increasingly politicised nature of science, particularly in climate change and health.

One of the most important takeaways was the emphasis on building relationships between scientists, academics and journalists in order to make the best decisions on how to assess and report scientific information. The panel members also recommended that teachers focus on helping students understand the scientific process so that the next generation is equipped with critical thinking skills.

The recording of the workshop by Jon Brock is now available via the link here. The workshop was coordinated by the Macquarie Research Enrichment Program and co-sponsored by the Faculty of Human Sciences, the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, and the ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders.

Read more about the workshop at Inspiring Australia.

genome sequencing

Quest for missing proteins in rice genome sequencing

The international team of scientists from Australia, Iran and Japan say there’s an estimated 35,000 proteins encoded by the rice genome sequencing, and yet we still don’t have experimental evidence for 82 per cent of them.

This is important because rice is the major food source for more than half the world’s population, and in order for it to grow in warmer climates and with less water we will need to better understand rice at the molecular level, which means carrying out genome sequencing.

“The genome of rice was completed and published in 2001,” says Professor Paul Haynes from Macquarie University, and a co-author of the new study. “So surely we know enough about it now that we should be able to manipulate how it grows to meet our needs? Well, we don’t.”

“What we have for rice, like most of the well-studied plant and animal species, is a good first approximation of what the gene sequence actually encodes for, but there is still a very large amount of information yet to be confirmed.”

Rice is Australia’s ninth largest agricultural export and generates approximately $800 million in revenue each year, but this productivity comes at a significant cost.

Australian farmers use large amounts of water to irrigate their crops. The increasing demand for this water is threatening the sustainability of their rice production.

“It is imperative that we find ways to make rice better adapted to environments with warmer climates and less available water,” says Paul.

One way to do this would be to give commercial rice varieties some of the characteristics of native Australian varieties of rice, he says.

These plants grow vigorously in many wild areas across Australian without additional watering, in part because their roots grow longer and penetrate deeper into the soil allowing the plants better access to underground reserves of both water and nutrients.

“If we could somehow transform commercial rice varieties so that they grow deeper roots, thereby increasing water uptake efficiency while still retaining high grain yields, we could produce more sustainable plants that would help to future-proof the Australian rice industry,” says Paul.

And that’s why finding rice’s remaining missing proteins and completing the genome sequencing is so critical.

Missing proteins are ones that appear to be encoded in the rice’s genes but have not been experimentally confirmed to exist in the rice itself.

The idea of missing proteins originally arose from researchers working on human genome sequencing, says Paul, but it’s equally applicable to important cereal crops like rice.

The Human Proteome Project is making a map of all the proteins encoded by the human genome, to advance the diagnosis and treatment of disease.

Paul’s team took a similar approach when they looked at rice.

Initially they found that 98.5 per cent of the proteins in rice are considered missing. However by mining publicly available datasets and matching this data with information from the rice genome they were able to reduce this percentage of missing proteins to 82 per cent.

“If we are to continue to feed the ever-increasing number of people on our planet, we really need to produce rice which is more sustainable in terms of better water use and better nutrient uptake, while still maintaining current levels of grain production,” says Paul.

“This will require us to understand rice at the molecular level in a way that we have never done previously.

“It is only by understanding in great detail what happens inside a particular cell that we can really understand what goes on at the whole organism level, and how we can potentially change how that particular organism responds to an external set of circumstances or stimuli.”

The team hopes this study will form the basis of a large-scale scale international collaborative project aimed at identifying all the remaining missing proteins in rice.

The study was published in Molecular Plant and co-authored by researchers from Macquarie University, the Agricultural Biotechnology Research Institute of Iran, the University of Tehran, and the University of Tsukuba.

Originally published via Science in Public.

preventing soil erosion

Preventing soil erosion with nuclear know-how

Scientists from the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) and Macquarie University have combined their respective backgrounds in nuclear science and geomorphology to determine rates of soil erosion across catchments in Asia and the Pacific.

The study, using fallout radionuclides, is part of a technical cooperation project under the Regional Cooperative Agreement for Asia and the Pacific, funded by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Soil erosion reduces land productivity and degrades soil, and can be caused by poor agricultural practices. Understanding the causes and rates of soil erosion is essential for maintaining productive agricultural landscapes, food security and the surrounding environment.

“Nuclear techniques give us an opportunity to look at the longer term patterns of soil erosion and deposition through strategic sampling and analysis,” says Dr Tim Ralph, senior lecturer at Macquarie University’s Department of Environmental Sciences. “Instead of monitoring soil erosion for many years, selective samples can be used to interpret the pattern of erosion over the past 10 or 20 years, or longer.”

The soil samples were analysed by ANSTO scientists for radioactive isotopes, such as naturally occurring Lead 210 (210Pb). “Within your soil profile, you can also see high levels of 210Pb in the top of your profile, and then the deeper you go, the more it has decayed away,” says Professor Henk Heijnis, senior principal research scientist and leader of environmental research within the Nuclear Science and Technology cluster at ANSTO.

“If you have soil erosion, you don’t see that decay of 210Pb with the profile. You might see very low values right at the top; that means the top has disappeared and nothing is accumulating at that time,” explains Heijnis.

Samples were also analysed for compound specific stable isotopes of carbon, oxygen and nitrogen, which are produced by various crops in different amounts. These elements accumulate in deposition sites at the bottom of a catchment and can help determine, particularly across larger catchment areas, which crops are contributing to erosion.

“The analysis at the deposition site for compound-specific stable isotopes will give you a list of crops and land uses,” Heijnis says. “The relative abundance of these compounds will tell you the contribution of each of the types of land use and crops.”

Understanding the causes and rates of erosion and which agricultural practices are contributing to erosion will inform steps to mitigate the effects of these practices, such as terracing slopes or planting crops that can assist in soil stability.

“One of the big things this project did was to build a regional database of soil erosion based on these radionuclide techniques, so that we can now get a picture of the extent of erosion throughout Asia and the Pacific,” Ralph explains.

Scientists are continuing to construct the database of natural and unnatural erosion rates across different catchments. Ralph says the data to date shows that erosion rates were hugely variable between countries and even between different land uses within a single catchment.

There are plans for a future project to look at soil and water quality and soil structure, which would further add to the erosion database.

Find out more at ansto.gov.au

– Laura Boness 

prizes for science

Prestigious science prizes winners announced

Featured image above: Professor Richard Shine is the winner of the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science. The PM’s prizes for science celebrate excellence in scientific research, innovation and teaching. Credit: Terri Shine

Meet the winners of this year’s Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science, worth a total of $750,000.

Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science

Richard Shine – defending Australia’s snakes and lizards

Prizes
Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear

Prime Minister’s Prize for Science

Northern Australia’s peak predators—snakes and lizards—are more likely to survive the cane-toad invasion thanks to the work of Professor Richard Shine.

Using behavioural conditioning, Shine and his team have successfully protected these native predators against toad invasion in WA.

He has created traps for cane toads, taught quolls and goannas that toads are ‘bad,’ and now plans to release small cane toads ahead of the invasion front, a counterintuitive ‘genetic backburn’ based on ‘old school’ ideas that his hero Charles Darwin would have recognised.

Following in the footsteps of Darwin, Shine loves lizards and snakes.

“Some people love model trains, some people love Picasso; for me, it’s snakes.”

For his work using evolutionary principles to address conservation challenges, Professor Richard Shine from The University of Sydney has been awarded the 2016 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science.

Michael Aitken—fairness underpins efficiency: the profitable innovations saving Australia billions

Prizes
Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear

Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation

Global stock markets are fairer and more efficient thanks to the work of Professor Michael Aitken. Now he’s applying his information technology and markets know-how to improve health, mortgage, and other markets. He says there are billions of dollars of potential savings in health expenditure in Australia alone, that can go hand in glove with significant improvements in consumers’ health.

Aitken and his team created a service that captures two million trades per second, enabling rapid analysis of markets.

Then he created the SMARTS system to detect fraud. Bought by Nasdaq Inc., it now watches over most of the world’s stock markets.

One of the companies he established to commercialise his innovations was sold for $100 million and the proceeds are supporting a new generation of researchers in the Capital Markets Cooperative Research Centre.

Now his team of IT researchers are taking on health and other markets with a spin-off company and large-scale R&D program that are identifying large-scale inefficiencies and fraud in Australia’s health markets.

A powerful advocate of scientific and technological innovation, Professor Michael Aitken from the Capital Markets Cooperative Research Centre has been awarded the 2016 Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation for creating and commercialising tools that are making markets fair and efficient.

Colin Hall – creating new manufacturing jobs by replacing glass and metal with plastic

Prizes
Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear

Prize for New Innovators

Dr Colin Hall and his colleagues have created a new manufacturing process that will allow manufacturers to replace components made from traditional materials like glass, in cars, aircraft, spacecraft, and even whitegoods—making them lighter and more efficient.

Their first commercial success is a plastic car wing-mirror. The Ford Motor Company has already purchased more than 1.6 million mirror assemblies for use on their F-Series trucks. The mirrors are made in Adelaide by SMR Automotive and have earned $160 million in exports to date. Other manufacturers are assessing the technology. And it all started with spectacles.

Hall used his experience in the spectacle industry to solve a problem that was holding back the University of South Australia team’s development of their new technology. He developed the magic combination of five layers of materials that will bind to plastic to create a car mirror that performs as well as glass and metal, for a fraction of the weight.

For his contribution to creating a new manufacturing technology, Dr Colin Hall from the University of South Australia receives the inaugural Prize for New Innovators.

Richard Payne – re-engineering nature to fight for global health

Prizes
Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear

Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year

Richard Payne makes peptides and proteins. He sees an interesting peptide or protein in nature, say in a blood-sucking tick. Then he uses chemistry to recreate and re-engineer the molecule to create powerful new drugs, such as anti-clotting agents needed to treat stroke.

His team is developing new drugs for the global challenges in health including tuberculosis (TB), malaria, and antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections. They’re even developing synthetic cancer vaccines. His underlying technologies are being picked up by researchers and pharmaceutical companies around the world and are the subject of four patent applications.

For his revolutionary drug development technologies, Professor Richard Payne from The University of Sydney has been awarded the 2016 Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year.

Kerrie Wilson – conservation that works for governments, ecosystems, and people

Prizes
Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear

Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year

What is the value of the services that ecosystems provide—services such as clean air, water, food, and tourism? And what are the most effective ways to protect ecosystems? Where will governments get the best return on their investment in the environment? These questions are central to the work of Associate Professor Kerrie Wilson.

Wilson can put a value on clean air, water, food, tourism, and the other benefits that forests, rivers, oceans and other ecosystems provide. And she can calculate the most effective way to protect and restore these ecosystems. Around the world she is helping governments to make smart investments in conservation.

For example, in Borneo she and her colleagues have shown how the three nations that share the island could retain half the land as forest, provide adequate habitat for the orangutan and Bornean elephant, and achieve an opportunity cost saving of over $50 billion.

In Chile, they are helping to plan national park extensions that will bring recreation and access to nature to many more Chileans, while also enhancing the conservation of native plants and animals.

On the Gold Coast, they are helping to ensure that a multi-million-dollar local government investment in rehabilitation of degraded farmland is spent wisely—in the areas where it will have the biggest impact for the natural ecosystem and local communities.

For optimising the global allocation of scarce conservation resources Associate Professor Kerrie Wilson receives the 2016 Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year.

Suzy Urbaniak – turning students into scientists

Prizes
Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear

Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools

Geoscientist Suzy Urbaniak combined her two loves—science and education—by becoming a science teacher 30 years after finishing high school. But she couldn’t believe it when she saw how little the teaching styles had changed over the years.

“I decided then that I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to turn the classroom into a room full of young scientists, rather than students learning from textbooks,” Urbaniak says.

Starting out as a geoscientist, Urbaniak found that while she knew all the theory from school and university, she didn’t have any hands-on experience and didn’t feel as though she knew what she was doing.

She realised there needed to be a stronger connection between the classroom and what was happening in the real world, out in the field, and took this philosophy into her teaching career at Kent Street Senior High School.

“The science in my classroom is all about inquiry and investigation, giving the students the freedom to develop their own investigations and find their own solutions. I don’t believe you can really teach science from worksheets and text books.”

For her contributions to science teaching, and inspiring our next generation of scientists, Suzy Urbaniak has been awarded the 2016 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools.

Gary Tilley – creating better science teachers

Prizes
Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear

Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools

Gary Tilley is mentoring the next generation of science and maths teachers to improve the way these subjects are taught in the classroom.

“In over 30 years of teaching, I’ve never seen a primary school student who isn’t curious and doesn’t want to be engaged in science. Once they’re switched onto science, it helps their literacy and numeracy skills, and their investigative skills. Science is the key to the whole thing,” Tilley says.

Tilley recognised a long time ago that the way science was taught in primary schools needed to change. So he has taken it upon himself to mentor the younger teachers at his school, and helps train science and maths student teachers at Macquarie University through their Opening Real Science program.

At Seaforth Public School, he and his students have painted almost every wall in their school with murals of dinosaurs and marine reptiles, and created models of stars and planets, to encourage excitement and a love for science. The school is now known by local parents as the ‘Seaforth Natural History Museum’.

“Communicating science, getting children inspired with science, engaging the community and scientists themselves with science to make it a better place for the kids—that’s my passion,” Tilley says.

For his contributions to science teaching, and mentoring the next generation of science teachers, Gary Tilley has been awarded the 2016 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools.

This information on the 2016 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science was first shared by Science in Public on 20 October 2016. Read the original article and the full profiles here.

You might also enjoy: 

Eureka Prize Winners of 2016

role models

The power of non-linear role models

The world around us is undergoing rapid transformation by people finding innovative ways to use information and technology to better serve our needs. At the heart of these disruptive innovations are people with deep groundings in science, technology, engineering and maths – the STEM disciplines.

Critically, the number of kids studying subjects in school that lead to STEM courses is decreasing. According the Australian Bureau of Statistics only 29% of STEM graduates are women, and in the key disciplines of IT and engineering this falls to 14%. Low enrolment numbers for women in STEM have been a consistent factor since I was an undergraduate in engineering.

Today, Australia competes in the global race for innovative ideas with only half the team – the male half. If we are to develop new industries that move us beyond Australia’s traditional industries and allow us to be globally competitive, we have to change.

For a start, we have to help our kids, and in particular our girls, understand the wealth of opportunities open to them with a STEM foundation. We need to address any perceived or real bias in our high school exam systems and marking arrangements that discourage kids from taking up studies in maths and science. With the highly competitive nature of the results from high school assessments, we need to work to change views that taking STEM subjects could lead to any disadvantage.

We also have to recognise – as a positive – the fact that many STEM graduates will work in roles outside of the classical STEM disciplines. These are role models for a future in which interdisciplinary graduates are able to contribute to the transformation of traditional industries such as the finance, automotive and healthcare sectors.

In an effort to stimulate interest in STEM early on in schooling, Macquarie University runs the FIRST Robotics program in Australia for children in years K–12, with key sponsorship by Google and Ford. This program gives all participants a chance to work as teams that bring together mechanics, electronics, information processing, design and software development skills to build robots and compete with them.

This is an example of how we can not only inspire school students’ interest in STEM, but create pathways for them to pursue these fields into further study, careers, and entrepreneurship in a variety of areas. Today the program involves 5000 kids from 600 schools, and the total numbers of participants across Australia is rapidly growing.

Having stimulated interest at school, we need examples at universities and in the workplace that highlight the important roles that women with STEM backgrounds occupy. This is vital to improving the pull of women through universities and into industries where they are able to make meaningful contributions.

At Macquarie University, we are actively focused on building women’s participation in world-leading research programs through the Science in Australia Gender Equality (SAGE) program. We are able to celebrate the achievements of our world-leading female researchers, including role models such as Macquarie University’s Professor Ewa Goldys (recent winner of a Eureka Award) and Professor Nicki Packer.

Having shining examples of where STEM can take our young women is key to closing the gender gap. We need to expose women to the right kinds of images and messages, which involves having conversations around the non-traditional and non-linear career pathways available to them.

Professor Barbara Ann Messerle

Executive Dean, Faculty of Science and Engineering, Macquarie University

Read next: Deloitte Partner Elissa Hilliard says raising Australia’s STEM IQ means teaching girls foundational skills in their formative school years.

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

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

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

research commercialisation

Research commercialisation is push and pull

‘It’s not me, it’s you’, is the message from universities to industry in terms of success in partnering and commercialisation of research and development.

Dr Leanna Read, Chief Scientist of South Australia and the founder and former CEO of TGR BioSciences, says universities are unfairly “bagged” for not pulling their weight in collaborating with industry and in fostering the development of research commercialisation partnerships.

“Our surveys have shown there is a strong interest in commercialisation and a willingness [in university research] to engage with industry,” she told the Australian Financial Review’s Innovation Summit in Sydney today.

“One of the issues is the nature of our industry sector. We are dominated by small to medium enterprises and we tend to be low in the level of innovation happening at this level. We have a problem here where research has all the will in the world to knock on doors of industry – the trouble is they’re not going to get a terribly good reception,” she says.

“We need to grow an innovative culture in these companies.”

TGR BioSciences focuses on drug discovery assay technologies and applies its core skills in cell biology to the development of new biodetection technologies.

Universities willing to engage

Emeritus Professor Jim Piper AM, President of Science and Technology Australia, and previously from Macquarie University, says there is a “high awareness” in universities to “encourage commercialisation”.

“There are impediments, however.

“One of the issues is the silo-isation of research which has been aided and abetted by the funding mechanism of universities.”

Many people forget that the university system is a service industry driven by international reputation, Piper points out. International students choose universities based on their impact factor and international reputation, and Australian universities rely heavily on liquidity from international students.

Shifting to a focus towards research commercialisation-based funding, or key performance indicators based on partnership success, the so-called ‘partner or perish’ is a massive shift in this context, he says – but one that universities are willing to make.

“One thing you can say about university researchers is they really chase the money. If that is in collaboration, then that is where they will chase it.

“One of the issues with unis is that, in most cases, commercialisation officers don’t have critical mass and there are challenges.”

For example, there are challenges in sharing and applying intellectual property (IP), he says.

“At Macquarie University, students at the start are invited to assign their intellectual property rights to the university so the uni can negotiate on their part. Often [in other universities] students keep their IP and this can be very complicated,” he told the summit.

Practice makes perfect

The problem may lie in experience in negotiations, says Professor Ian Frazer AC, Chair of the Medical Research Future Fund and inventor of the cervical cancer vaccine.

“We probably aren’t experienced enough at this negotiation [between academia and industry],” says Frazer. “There are excellent examples of industry-uni partnerships working, but there needs to be a lot of talk to make this happen.

“We’ve got to change both sides of the equation, for industries and universities. For example, the health sector relies on unis to provide input to research. We need to ensure that there is engagement between health researchers and industry, but industry needs to realise that research is critical to what it does,” he says.

Dr Steve Jones, global head of research and development at Australian R&D spin off cancer company Sirtex – a medical device company providing a radioactive treatment for inoperable liver cancer – agrees that universities have “had a rough ride” to make dramatic changes to the way they incentivise research to promote collaboration and research commercialisation.

Sirtex has approached universities to work on research but found that it worked best when they had an identifiable problem to take to the researchers, he told Science Meets Business.

Unis have work to do too

Read acknowledges that universities also have work to do, with funding for projects traditionally focussed on research project grants rather than looking to the issues faced by customers, the business approach controversially emphasised by CSIRO CEO Dr Larry Marshall, who also spoke at the summit.

“We need more of a ‘what is the problem and how do I solve it’ approach – this is what Cooperative Research Centres do well and we need more of that kind of research,” says Read.

More pull less push towards research commercialisation

Chief Defence Scientist Dr Alex Zelinksy says any successful negotiation “needs to be win-win” for both university and industry.

“There is a push and a pull element. There is a pioneering spirit (do it yourself) rather than an entrepreneurial spirit in terms of business and commercialisation of research. We need everyone to come together.”

He agrees that one of the barrier is around intellectual property. “Access to IP needs to be on fair and commercial terms.”

– Heather Catchpole

Read more: Collaborate or Crumble

research startups

Research startups accelerate CSIRO science

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Elise Roberts


ON Accelerate Research Startups

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

1. Hovermap

The future of asset inspection.

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

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

2. Suricle

Changing the face of polymers.

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

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

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

3. RapidAIM

Supporting and growing global fruit and vegetable export markets

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

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

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

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

4. ExByte

Predictive data analytics for preventative maintenance of infrastructure assets including water 

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

5. Future Feed

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

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

6. elumin8

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

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

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

7. Coviu

An online face-to-face business transaction platform.

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

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

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

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

8. Reflexivity

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

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

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

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

9. Meals by Design

Healthy convenience never tasted so good!

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

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

10. ePAT

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

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

11. Modular Photonics: big fast data

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

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

Text mining gold

Text mining gold

Karin Verspoor, Associate Professor in the Department of Computing and Information Systems at the University of Melbourne and Deputy Director of the University of Melbourne Health and Bioinformatics Centre, describes her early fascination with computers and exposure to multiple languages as key drivers for her becoming a computational linguist.

“When I was nine years old my parents bought me a programmable games console, and I discovered that I really enjoyed getting computers to do things from my imagination – it appealed to my logic and creativity.”

Karin went on to study BASIC – a high-level computer programming language developed for non-scientists that was popularised in the 1980s when the home computer market exploded.

Born in Senegal on the west coast of Africa to Dutch parents, Karin’s formative experience with the games console drove her study for an undergraduate degree with double major in Computer Science and Cognitive Sciences at Rice University in Houston, Texas. “I was drawn to the question of how to get computers to think and understand language,” Karin says.

“It was the perfect course because it combined computing, psychology, philosophy and linguistics.”

On completing her undergraduate studies, Karin swapped the heat of Texas for the cooler climate of Scotland, where she undertook a Master’s degree and PhD in Cognitive Science and Natural Languages at the University of Edinburgh. After finishing the PhD and doing a short stint as a research fellow at Macquarie University in Sydney working on the Dynamic Document Delivery project, which looked at generating natural language texts on demand, Karin left academe for a very different world: the business of start-ups.

“It was arguably the most exciting period of my career – I was involved in two start-ups with amazing ideas,” Karin says. “One of them was trying to build a thinking machine that was going to predict the stock market. It was crazy and so much fun, but it died after the dotcom bubble crash.”

Although the second start-up was much more successful, Karin missed the world of research and so took up a position at the prestigious Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, where she was able to leverage her business experience and pursue applied research in computational methods for the extraction and retrieval of knowledge from databases and information systems.

“Los Alamos was the home of the human genome project, and it was there I got into computational biology,” explains Karin, “I started working on text mining in the published molecular literature, which eventually led me to the University of Colorado and an opportunity to work exclusively in biomedical text mining.”

Text mining is the analysis of a natural language text – like English or French – by a computer. It’s used to discover and extract new information by linking together data from different written sources to generate new facts or hypotheses.

Karin’s current work at the University of Melbourne involves applying text mining to the field of biomedical research. “The rate of scientific publications is dramatically increasing in the biomedical space,” explains Karin, “The most important biomedical research repository called PubMed, hosted by the United States National Library of Medicine, has indexed over 25 million research publications.”

The multi-disciplinary nature of current biomedical research combined with the huge amounts of published material means that scientists today must stay abreast of a much broader range of literature to stay up-to-date.

“We’re looking to develop an automated computer system that analyses words to discover the relationships between them – to provide researchers with a tool that allows them to ask more structured questions and receive more targeted information,” Karin says.

– Carl Williams