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.
Four in 10 Australians miss out on a good night’s sleep, with inadequate rest costing over $60 billion a year in lost productivity. But research from the Alertness CRC into diagnosis and treatment for sleep disorders promises big benefits to our society and economy, Bianca Nogrady reports.
A bad night’s sleep can ruin your day, but imagine if every night for a year you suffer from a condition that prevents you from getting a full and satisfying night’s rest.
Then imagine that condition affecting four out of 10 Australians and you begin to get a sense of the enormity of our national problem of inadequate sleep.
Theme leader Professor Doug McEvoy says the Alertness CRC is searching for new tools and approaches to diagnose sleep problems with improved, targeted treatments. “While we talk about sleep apnoea and insomnia, within those conditions there is an amazing variety of presentations and causes of them,” he says. “To get good solutions for patients, you have to understand those differences so you can refine and personalise treatments.”
The Alertness CRC focuses on two leading causes of daytime sleepiness: insomnia and sleep apnoea. Each sleep disorder affects 10% of the population.
Insomnia is defined as difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep, and it can last from a few weeks to several years. It can be triggered by a stressful event, or related to conditions such as anxiety, depression, chronic pain and heart failure.
Sleep apnoea is a breathing problem whereby people don’t get enough oxygen during sleep so their brain periodically kicks them awake so they can breathe properly again. It’s often related to obesity, but some people have unexplained problems regulating their breathing while asleep.
Part of the challenge with sleep disorders like insomnia and sleep apnoea is diagnosis, which requires complex tests performed by a specialist. Both conditions are also usually under-diagnosed.
One research focus of the Alertness CRC is developing simpler diagnostic tests that can be administered by a GP, nurse, psychologist or pharmacist.
“We start to involve community practitioners in the identification and management of the condition, and the specialists can then act as more of a tertiary referral system for difficult cases,” says McEvoy.
Another challenge for the Alertness CRC is finding effective treatments for sleep disorders. The current gold standard treatment for sleep apnoea is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), which requires patients to wear a face mask during sleep. It’s effective, but awkward, and many people can’t or won’t use it.
Patients with insomnia invariably end up being prescribed sleeping medication, which carries the risk of side effects and ‘hangover symptoms’ the next day.
In collaboration with an industry partner and Australian researchers, the Alertness CRC is trialling new solutions to the significant problem of sleepiness.
“Sleep disorders are impacting the health and wellbeing of sufferers, and because they are so prevalent, they’re also impacting productivity and safety of the Australian community,” says McEvoy.
A ‘sun shield’ made from an ultra-thin surface film is showing promise as a potential weapon in the fight to protect the Great Barrier Reef from the impacts of coral bleaching.
Great Barrier Reef Foundation Managing Director Anna Marsden said the results from a small-scale research trial led by the scientist who also developed Australia’s polymer bank notes were very encouraging.
“The ‘sun shield’ is 50,000 times thinner than a human hair and completely biodegradable, containing the same ingredient corals use to make their hard skeletons – calcium carbonate. It’s designed to sit on the surface of the water above the corals, rather than directly on the corals, to provide an effective barrier against the sun.
“While it’s still early days, and the trials have been on a small scale, the testing shows the film reduced light by up to 30%.
“The surface film provided protection and reduced the level of bleaching in most species.”
With the surface film containing the same ingredient that corals use to make their skeletons, the research also showed the film had no harmful effects on the corals during the trials.
“This is a great example of developing and testing out-of-the-box solutions that harness expertise from different areas. In this case, we had chemical engineers and experts in polymer science working with marine ecologists and coral experts to bring this innovation to life,” Ms Marsden said.
“The project set out to explore new ways to help reduce the impact of coral bleaching affecting the Great Barrier Reef and coral reefs globally and it created an opportunity to test the idea that by reducing the amount of sunlight from reaching the corals in the first place, we can prevent them from becoming stressed which leads to bleaching.
“It’s important to note that this is not intended to be a solution that can be applied over the whole 348,000 square kilometres of Great Barrier Reef – that would never be practical. But it could be deployed on a smaller, local level to protect high value or high-risk areas of reef.
“The concept needs more work and testing before it gets to that stage, but it’s an exciting development at a time when we need to explore all possible options to ensure we have a Great Barrier Reef for future generations.”
The research team comprised of Professors Greg Qiao and David Solomon and Dr Joel Scofield from the University of Melbourne, Dr Emma Prime (formerly University of Melbourne, now Deakin University), and Dr Andrew Negri and Florita Flores from the Australian Institute of Marine Science. Professor Solomon (AC) was the winner of the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science in 2011 for his exceptional contributions to polymer science.
First published by the Great Barrier Reef Foundation
The Commercialising Research forum on Monday 16 October from 2 pm at Sydney School of Entrepreneurship in Ultimo is a chance for the research, startup and business communities to come together with people from different professional backgrounds to discuss the process of research commercialisation and how scientists translate cutting edge research in a variety of settings.
Thriving economies need both blue sky and applied research. Some research begins and doesn’t necessarily end. There’s no telling where blue sky research may lead, and the open-endedness of academia has led to some of the world’s most profound discoveries.
Other research lends itself more easily to commercialisation. Academia and business might be like chalk and cheese, but these sectors are increasingly collaborating to create new products and services, using scientific knowledge to benefit the community. This forum, developed in partnership with Sydney’s research community, looks at culture and collaboration between researchers and the business/startup world.
Discuss the issues with science and engineering researchers that have founded companies and are collaborating with industry and entrepreneurs to progress exciting scitech innovation – both within and outside of universities and medical research environments.
Networking drinks and canapés will be served at the end of formal proceedings. Don’t miss this chance to meet people from diverse professional backgrounds and discover how to take advantage of the assistance available to help commercialise research knowledge.
Date and Time: 2:00 pm – 7:30 pm, Monday 16 October, 2017
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.
When we speak of innovation we increasingly couple it with collaboration. Collaboration is regularly promoted as a positive attribute and a productive means to an end.
In my own research, I promote collaboration as a mechanism for including more women in scientific teams in male-dominated fields, and as a mechanism to sustain research when individuals are juggling the competing demands of life and family.
In this context, at one end of the spectrum we might be speaking of the collaboration that characterises teamwork within an organisation, while at the other end of the spectrum we might be speaking of international scientific collaboration that draws geographically dispersed networks together.
My research over the past decade on women in the academy and women in science has heightened my interest in the art of collaboration and how it might encapsulate ‘the way we do things around here’ – our organisational culture.
I am particularly interested in the way in which men are sponsored and socialised into strategic relationships, particularly with business and industry – an opportunity not readily available to most women.
Yet we know little about the social processes that sit behind the scientific production of knowledge, and most of our recognition and reward systems focus on the outstanding individual.
The myth of individual creative genius is a myth that my colleagues who work with remote Indigenous communities – just like those in large international scientific research teams – know is culturally and historically specific.
Those who are privileged to work with Indigenous communities know that collaboration based on deep respect of different ‘ways of seeing,’ encoded in art, language and religion and formulated over extremely long periods of time, is central to sustaining collaborative relationships. Longevity of relationship is particularly highly valued, and the time taken to build respectful collaborative relationships and trust is a critical part of this sustained engagement.
They also know that while knowledgeable individuals are involved, the knowledge is collectively owned and accessible only through well-established protocols.
The art of collaboration is far more than a set of pragmatic, instrumental practices. With a degree of candour, I should state that I am not always a great collaborative partner. I put this down to my academic identity being formed in the discipline of anthropology where the ‘rite de passage’ was years of field research alone in a remote village.
This prepares the aspiring researcher for collaboration from a position of heightened ignorance but not necessarily with academic peers with a common knowledge base. I also evidence deficiencies in two attributes essential to collaboration: time and discomfort with failure.
Innovation demands the time to build teams, network, establish cross-sectoral collaborative relationships, generate and test ideas, fail, learn and start again, and to translate research findings and disseminate these to a range of audiences. It also requires the time for reflection and exercise of the imagination.
Collaboration at its best generates this time and, at its best, offers a safe space to fail.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Professor Fiona Stanley is well known for her work in using biostatistics to research the causes and prevention of birth defects, including establishing the WA Maternal and Child Health Research Database in 1977.
In 1989 Professor Stanley and colleague Professor Carol Bower used another database, the WA birth defects register, to source subjects for a study of neural tube defects (NTDs). The neural tube is what forms the brain and spine in a baby. Development issues can lead to common but incurable birth defects such as spina bifida where the backbone does not close over the spinal cord properly.
The researchers measured the folate intake of 308 mothers of children born with NTDs, other defects, and no defects. They discovered that mothers who take the vitamin folate during pregnancy are less likely to have babies with NTDs. Their data contributed to worldwide research that found folate can reduce the likelihood of NTDs by 70%.
After the discovery Professor Stanley established the Telethon Kids Institute where she continued to research this topic alongside Professor Bower. Together they worked on education campaigns to encourage pregnant women to take folate supplements.
Their great success came in 2009 when the Australian government implemented mandatory folic acid fortification of flour. The need for such legislation is now recognised by the World Health Organisation.
A 2016 review conducted by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found that since the flour fortification program’s introduction, levels of NTDs have dropped by 14.4%.
Read next: Big data, big business. Whether it’s using pigeons to help monitor air quality in London or designing umbrellas that can predict if it will rain, information is becoming a must-have asset for innovative businesses.
Promising results have been reported from a world-first study of cochlear implant electrodes designed to stimulate hearing nerves and slowly release drugs into the inner ear.
HEARing Cooperative Research Centre (HEARing CRC) CEO Professor Robert Cowan said research using a cochlear implant electrode array that slowly releases anti-inflammatory drugs into the cochlear following implantation could lead to new benefits for cochlear implant users.
“The beauty of this approach is that it is based on use of the standard cochlear implant electrode array inserted into the inner ear that delivers sound sensations to the brain via the electrical stimulation of hearing nerve cells,” says Cowan.
“The cochlear implant electrode array used in the research study was modified to slowly release a cortico-steroid after implantation. This drug is intended to reduce inflammation and the growth of fibrous tissue around the electrode array triggered by the body’s immune response.”
After completing extensive biosafety studies, HEARing CRC researchers progressed to a study of the experimental electrode in ten adult patients, eight at the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital in Melbourne (RVEEH) and two at the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children – Sydney Cochlear Implant Clinic (SCIC).
ENT surgeons Professor Rob Briggs and Professor Catherine Birman reported no compromise in surgical insertion characteristics with the experimental array.
Initial results confirm lower electrical impedance levels for the drug-eluting array patients, as compared with control groups from both clinics. Impedance levels continue to remain lower 12 months post-implantation.
“The suppression of the inflammatory reaction in the cochlear following electrode insertion is likely responsible for these lower impedance levels and may potentially contribute to preservation of an implant user’s residual hearing abilities when combined with slimmer electrode designs and newer surgical techniques,” Cowan explains.
“Hearing preservation is important, as many candidates for cochlear implants have significant residual acoustic hearing, and want to be assured that they can use their residual acoustic hearing together with their cochlear implants.”
“Our hope is that this breakthrough will result in more people now considering cochlear implants as a viable way to manage their hearing loss”.
This drug-eluting electrode research has been made possible through the collaboration of Cochlear, RVEEH, and RIDBC-SCIC as members of the HEARing CRC, supported through the Commonwealth Governments CRC Programme.
“The HEARing CRC collaboration has contributed to commercial cochlear implant technologies that are now in world-wide use, as well as fitting technologies for both cochlear implants and hearing aids, helping to maintain Australia’s preeminent international standing in hearing research and service delivery,” says Cowan.
Featured image: A computer generated image of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope dish antennas in South Africa. Credit: SKA Project Office.
What is dark matter? What did the universe look like when the first galaxies formed? Is there other life out there? These are just some of the mysteries that the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) will aim to solve.
Covering an area equivalent to around one million square metres, or one square kilometre, SKA will comprise of hundreds of thousands of radio antennas in the Karoo desert, South Africa and the Murchison region, Western Australia.
The multi-billion dollar array will be 10 times more sensitive and significantly faster at surveying galaxies than any current radio telescope.
The massive flow of data from the telescope will be processed by supercomputing facilities that have one trillion times the computing power of those that landed men on the Moon.
Phase 1 of SKA’s construction will commence in 2018. The construction will be a collaboration of 500 engineers from 20 different countries around the world.
Featured image above: CSIRO has received significant budget cuts in recent years. Credit: David McClenaghan
The election is rapidly approaching, and all major parties – Liberal, Labor and Greens – have now made announcements about their policies to support science and research.
But how are we doing so far? Here we look at the state of science and research funding in Australia so you can better appreciate the policies each party has announced.
The latest OECD figures show that Australia does not fare well compared with other OECD countries on federal government funding research and development.
As a percentage of GDP, the government only spends 0.4% on research and development. This is less than comparable nations.
But looking at total country spending on research and development, including funding by state governments and the private sector, the picture is not so bleak: here Australia sits in the middle among OECD countries.
Over the years, there have been hundreds of announcements and new initiatives but this graph indicates that, in general, it has been a matter of rearranging the deck chairs rather than committing to strategic investments in research.
The Paul Keating Labor government made some investments. During the John Howard Liberal government’s years, there were ups and downs. The Kevin Rudd/Julia Gillard Labor governments were mostly up. And in Tony Abbott’s Liberal government, the graph suggests that it was mostly down with science.
Over the past decade, there have been some minor changes in funding to various areas, although energy has received the greatest proportional increase.
This pie chart reminds us that the higher education sector is a major provider of research and is highly dependent on government funding. It also tells us that business also conducts a great deal of research.
But, sadly, one must remember that funding is effectively being shifted from one domain to another, and it has seldom been the case that significantly new commitments are made. The balance of red and blue shows how one hand gives while the other takes funding away.
This is remarkable, given that the ARC funds all disciplines, including sciences, humanities and social sciences, while the NHMRC essentially focuses on human biology and health.
This graphic also highlights the lack of any sustained funding strategy. The only clear trend is that the investment in the ARC has gradually declined and the NHMRC has grown.
This, in part, reflects the undeniable importance of health research. But it is also indicative of effective and coherent organisation and communication by health researchers. This has been more difficult to achieve in the ARC space with researchers coming from a vast array of disciplines.
The agenda states that our future prosperity and well-being are intimately tied to the nation’s ability to innovate, that is, to draw on new ideas to develop new products and services.
This is of course not a new concern. For more than three decades governments have noted that Australia languishes at the low end of international measures of innovation and, in particular, lags well behind other developed nations when it comes to links between university research and the world of business.
“There is clearly a great deal more that can and must be done if we are to truly make the most of our national potential, and if we are to remain competitive in a knowledge-intensive global economy.”
Over the years many programs have been developed to remedy this state of affairs, and across the country we can see the fruits of these endeavours. Webs of connections have developed among our universities nationally, and from universities to the wider world of industry, government, professionals and the wider community.
But there is clearly a great deal more that can and must be done if we are to truly make the most of our national potential, and if we are to remain competitive in a knowledge-intensive global economy.
The fact that we remain behind the international pack in building productive links between our university researchers and those who might put research to practical use indicates that concerted efforts are needed at all levels to overcome some persistent barriers.
One of those barriers comes from what might be thought of as ‘business as usual’ within universities. One of the strengths of universities is that they provide a home for independent-minded and highly intelligent people to pursue their passions and to delve at depth into their areas of speciality.
This strength can be a weakness, however, if universities as a whole are unable to coordinate and support academic expertise in ways that make the whole more than the sum of the parts.
Even the most powerful universities, such as Harvard in the U.S., have long struggled with this issue.
At QUT we have sought to break the mould by making partnerships an integral feature of our research by, for example, establishing research institutes which are not stand-alone ‘research hotels’ but instead bring together researchers from multiple disciplines to work on carefully selected themes, alongside people who can make best use of the research findings.
The goal is not just to translate research into better health products and practice, but also to develop new interdisciplinary models of education and training. Particular examples are the following:
Examples of interdisciplinary models
1. The Centre for Emergency and Disaster Management within IHBI has been developing its international links, hosting 14 present and future leaders from the Maldives, the Philippines and Pakistan for a five-week intensive training program in 2014 to advance disaster risk reduction and management.
2. QUT’s Medical Engineering Research Facility (MERF) at the Prince Charles Hospital Chermside provides a comprehensive suite of research and training facilities in one location. MERF allows researchers in medical and healthcare robotics to develop applications that will be able to be translated directly to human use. Fellowships have been supported by orthopaedics company Stryker to provide training and research in hip and knee replacement surgery, and Professor Ross Crawford has supervised more than 40 PhD students in orthopaedic surgery techniques, with many of these students working in robotics.
Many of these initiatives are relatively new, and sustaining them will require commitment from all partners and ongoing innovation in our own models of working. QUT is determined to see that not only these efforts flourish, but that they also provide a model for innovation and partnerships in other fields. This is evidenced through the following examples.
Providing a model for innovation and partnerships in other fields
1. QUT has put considerable investment over time not only into the institutes but also into ensuring they integrate seamlessly with the rest of the university. For example, developing models of funding and recognition of research outputs that work across institute and faculty boundaries. This enables researchers to move between their academic “home” and the research institute, in contrast to the usual stand-alone model of a research institute.
2. Within IHBI, research is being translated into improved therapies and support services for patients. Professor David Kavanagh launched a $6.5 million e-mental health initiative in 2014 to train primary health practitioners in the use of e-mental health services. Professor Kenneth Beagley led the development of a new oral vaccine that shows promise for protection against herpes simplex virus and Dr Willa Huston has developed a new chlamydia diagnostic for infertility in women.
3. The IFE’s Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities researchers have had a significant breakthrough with the world’s first human trial of pro-vitamin A-enriched bananas. The genetically modified bananas have elevated levels of betacarotene to help African children avoid the potentially fatal conditions associated with vitamin A deficiency. This work has been supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
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.
R&D company Fibrotech Therapeutics has the goal of treating fibrosis, which results from persistent tissue damage and leads to organ failure in more than 45% of diseases. Fibrotech develops orally active anti-fibrotic inhibitors designed to treat underlying pathological fibrosis in kidney and heart failure.
Their goal was to take compounds through early safety studies in animals and humans, before selling on to a pharmaceutical company. They designed compounds off the structure of tranilast, an anti-fibrotic compound, reducing its toxicity and increasing its potential.
Fibrotech was sold to global specialty biopharmaceutical company Shire in 2014 for an upfront US$75 million and further milestone payments of US$482.5 million.
In May 2015, Kelly launched OccuRx to develop drugs to treat ophthalmic disorders associated with retinal fibrosis and inflammation, and aims to take them to Phase 2 clinical trials. “We licensed the technology to administer anti-fibrotics to people with eye disease and fibrosis.”
“An excellent intellectual property position is a key starting point. This is in addition to having a proven concept or great technology. A quality team to back up project execution is paramount. Understanding and being able to explain where your commercialised projects will fit into a market segment in terms of the need they will meet is also important.”
“SmartCap Technologies is a spinoff from CRCMining. CRCMining carries out industry directed research, which ensured that the research into fatigue management technologies was a high priority for the mining industry at the project’s inception.
In SmartCap’s case, the industry support was sufficiently high that Anglo American, one of the world’s largest mining companies, in conjunction with CRCMining, co-funded the development of the prototype commercial SmartCap products.
This ‘incubation’ of the SmartCap technology by a significant end user was extremely important to advancing from research into prototype products.
The prototype products performed sufficiently well for SmartCap to be selected by two other large mining companies for large supply contracts for fatigue monitoring technology.
So the support of significant end users, along with the commercial contracts the company had in place at that time, provided potential investors with the confidence to invest in SmartCap Technologies.”
“Pharmaxis has been restructured following a regulatory setback for our lead product. Rebuilding investor confidence has been critical to our longer term success. To do this we focused on three things:
1. transparency – explaining the business model and being clear about the risks as well as the opportunity;
2. building in meaningful milestones which marked development steps that significantly reduced risk and provided opportunities to realise value;
3. hitting milestones and delivering realistic objectives.”
“I think there are a number of reasons investors are drawn to our business: Admedus has two technology platforms which diversifies the risk for investors; we have a product on market; and we are generating revenue.
The first of the two platforms is our regenerative tissue platform, where we use our proprietary ADAPT tissue engineering process to turn xenograft tissue into collagen bio-scaffolds for soft tissue repair. The second is our Immunotherapies platform, where we work with renowned scientist Professor Ian Frazer and his team to develop therapeutic vaccines for the treatment and prevention of infectious diseases and cancers.
Our lead regenerative tissue product CardioCel, which is used to repair and reconstruct congenital heart deformities and more complex heart defects, has made the journey from prototype to commercial product and is on the market in the USA, Europe and parts of Asia.
Frazer’s previous success with the human papillomavirus vaccine (HPV) program that lead to the USD$2 billion product, Gardasil, is well-recognised and gives investors further confidence in our immunotherapy work.
As a result, Admedus has a good balance of validated science via approved products and an exciting product pipeline working with successful scientists. This balance, along with our diversified program portfolio, gives investors confidence in our business. “
Because the technology was engineered to take elite athlete monitoring from the laboratory to the field, value was seen in the data immediately as there was no precedent for this type of information. A new product category had been formed and Australian Olympians were now able to train in their performance sweet spot without getting injured because their coaches had objective data to guide their lead up to big events.
So this combination of pioneering a new industry in a popular space (elite sport), with the ability to create immediate value, certainly helped with the initial funding.”
“Neuropathic pain is a large unmet medical need because the currently available drug treatments either lack efficacy and/or have dose-limiting side-effects.
Due to this, my patent-protected angiotensin II type 2 (AT2) receptor antagonist technology – encompassing a potentially first-in-class novel analgesic for the treatment of often intractable neuropathic pain conditions – attracted initial seed capital investment from the Symbiosis Group, GBS Ventures and Uniseed Pty Ltd. In total $3.25M was raised and in mid-2005 the spin-out company, Spinifex Pharmaceuticals was formed by UniQuest Pty Ltd, the main commercialisation company of The University of Queensland.
The raison d’etre for Spinifex Pharmaceuticals at that time was to develop AT2 receptor antagonists as efficacious, well-tolerated first-in-class novel analgesics for relief of neuropathic pain.
In 2006, I discovered that AT2 receptor antagonists also alleviated chronic inflammatory pain in a rat model. This was quite unexpected as clinically available drug treatments for neuropathic pain, such as tricyclic antidepressants and newer work-alikes as well as gabapentin and pregabalin, do not alleviate chronic inflammatory pain conditions such as osteoarthritis. Thus the potential for small molecule AT2 receptor antagonists to alleviate chronic inflammatory pain conditions was patent protected by UniQuest Pty Ltd in 2006 and subsequently in-licensed to Spinifex Pharmaceuticals for commercialisation.
As both neuropathic pain and chronic inflammatory pain are large unmet medical needs, Spinifex Pharmaceuticals was able to raise additional venture capital from the initial investors as well as from Brandon Capital to fund Investigational New Drug (IND)-enabling Good Laboratory Practice (GLP) toxicology and safety pharmacology studies, as well as early phase human clinical trials. “
– 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
“Investors understood that the intellectual property would be generated in-house and there was no “stacking” from the beginning.
We were fortunate at the outset to meet two venture capitalists and a number of high net worth individuals who saw the potential upside in our business plan, had already had some success with investing in biotech – e.g. Biota – and did not ask ‘who else is in?’.
That being said, we had very limited time and money to show proof of concept, and only after that and our first patent, did we convince those investors that we had something viable.”
– Dr Jennifer Macdiarmid, pictured above with Dr. Himanshu Brahmbhatt, joint Chief Executive Officers and Directors
Increasing carbon emissions in the atmosphere from activities such as the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation are changing the chemistry in the ocean. When carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is absorbed by seawater, it forms carbonic acid. The increased acidity, in turn, depletes carbonate ions – essential building blocks for coral exoskeletons.
There has been a drastic loss of live coral coverage globally over the past few decades. Many factors – such as changing ocean temperatures, pollution, ocean acidification and over-fishing – impede coral development. Until now, researchers have not been able to isolate the effects of individual stressors in natural ecosystems.
“Our oceans contribute around $45 billion each year to the economy”
The international team – led by Dr Rebecca Albright from Stanford University in the USA – brought the acidity of the reef water back to what it was like in pre-industrial times by upping the alkalinity. They found that coral development was 7% faster in the less acidic waters.
“If we don’t take action on this issue very rapidly, coral reefs – and everything that depends on them, including wildlife and local communities – will not survive into the next century,” says team member Professor Ken Caldeira.
Destruction of the GBR would not only be a devastating loss because it’s considered one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World, but would be a great economic blow for Australia.
Our oceans contribute around $45 billion each year to the economy through industries such as tourism, fisheries, shipping, marine-derived pharmaceuticals, and offshore oil and gas reserves. Marine tourism alone generates $11.6 million a year in Australia.
Impact of acidification on calcification
Corals absorb carbonate minerals from the water to build and repair their stoney skeletons, a process called calcification. Despite the slow growth of corals, calcification is a rapid process, enabling corals to repair damage caused by rough seas, weather and other animals. The process of calcification is so rapid it can be measured within one hour.
Manipulating the acidity of the ocean is not feasible. But on One Tree Island, the walls of the lagoons flanking the reef area isolate them from the surrounding ocean water at low tide – allowing researchers to investigate the effect of water acidity on coral calcification.
“We were able to look at the effect of ocean acidification in a natural setting for the first time,” says One Tree Reef researcher and PhD candidate at the University of Sydney, Kennedy Wolfe.
In the same week, an independent research team from CSIRO published results of mapping ocean acidification in the GBR. They found a great deal of variability between the 3851 reefs in the GBR, and identified the ones closest to the shore were the most vulnerable. These reefs were more acidic and their corals had the lowest calcification rates – results that supported the findings from One Tree Reef.
Marine biologists have predicted that corals will switch to a net dissolution state within this century, but the team from CSIRO found this was already the case in some of the reefs in the GBR.
“People keep thinking about [what will happen in] the future, but our research shows that ocean acidification is already having a massive impact on coral calcification” says Wolfe.
For a country that makes up just 0.3% of the world’s population, Australia packs a heavyweight punch in science – generating 3.9% of the world’s research publications. However taking that research to market has proved a broader challenge.
Fostering the commercialisation of research success and encouraging collaboration between industry and researchers is at the forefront of the government’s renewed focus on scientific innovation, with over $1.1 billion earmarked to kickstart the “ideas boom” as part of the National Innovation and Science Agenda.
Fibrotech develops novel drug candidates to treat fibrosis (tissue scarring) associated with chronic conditions such as heart failure, kidney and pulmonary disease, and arthritis. The company spun out of research by Professor Darren Kelly at the University of Melbourne in 2006, and its principal asset is a molecule, FT011, which helps prevent kidney fibrosis associated with diabetes. In May 2014, in one of Australia’s biggest biotech deals at the time, Fibrotech was acquired by Shire, a Dublin-based pharmaceutical company, for an initial payment of US$75 million. Further payments, based on a series of milestones, will bring the total value of the sale to US$557.5 million, and the deal was awarded Australia’s best early stage venture capital deal in 2014. At the time of the sale, FT011 was in Phase 1b trials for the treatment of renal impairment in diabetics – a market worth US$4 billion annually.
SOLD FOR:acquired by Novartis for US$200 million up-front payment plus milestone payments
Spinifex Pharmaceuticals was launched in 2005 to commercialise chronic pain treatments developed by Professor Maree Smith of The University of Queensland. Pharmaceuticals giant Novartis acquired the company in 2015 for a total of US$725 million, based on the promising results in Phase 1b and Phase 2 clinical trials. Spinifex’s treatment targets nerve receptors on peripheral nerves rather than pain receptors in the brain, making it possible to treat the pain from causes such as shingles, chemotherapy, diabetes and osteoarthritis without central nervous system side-effects such as tiredness and dizziness.
Admedus is a diversified healthcare company with interests in vaccines, regenerative medicine, and the sale and distribution of medical devices and consumables. Currently, the company is developing vaccines for herpes simplex virus and human papillomavirus based on Professor Ian Frazer’s groundbreaking vaccine technology. In the regenerative medicine field, Admedus is the vendor of CardioCel®, an innovative single-ply bio-scaffold that can be used in the treatment of congenital heart deformities and complex heart defects.
For more than 25 years, ResMed has been a pioneer in the treatment of sleep-disordered breathing, obstructive pulmonary disease and other chronic diseases. The company was founded in 1989 after Professor Colin Sullivan and University of Sydney colleagues developed nasal continuous positive airway pressure – the first successful, non-invasive treatment for obstructive sleep apnoea. Today, the company employs more than 4000 people in over 100 countries, delivering treatment to millions of people worldwide.
BioDiem specialises in the development and commercialisation of vaccines and therapies to treat infectious diseases. The Live Attenuated Influenza Virus vaccine technology provides a platform for developing vaccines, including one for both seasonal and pandemic influenza. BioDiem’s subsidiary, Opal Biosciences, is developing BDM-I, a compound that offers a possible avenue for the treatment of infectious diseases that resist all known drugs.
Vaxxas is pioneering a needle-free vaccine delivery system, the Nanopatch, which delivers vaccines to the abundant immunological cells just under the skin’s surface. Preclinical studies have shown that vaccines are effective with as little as one-hundredth of a conventional dose when delivered via a Nanopatch. In 2014, Vaxxas was selected by the World Economic Forum as a Technology Pioneer, based on the potential of Nanopatch to transform global health.
Biotech company Acrux was incorporated in 1998 after researchers at Monash University developed an effective new spray-on drug delivery technology that improved absorption through the skin and nails. In 2010, Acrux struck a US$335 million deal with global pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly for AxironTM, a treatment for testosterone deficiency in men. It was the largest single product licensing agreement in the history of Australian biotechnology.
With a focus on ophthalmology, Opthea’s main product is OPT-302 – a treatment for wet age-related macular degeneration – which is currently in a Phase 1/2a clinical trial. Wet macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in the Western world. Opthea was formerly known as Circadian Technologies, acting as a biotechnology investment fund before transitioning to developing drugs in 2008.
Benitec Biopharma’s leading product is DNA-directed RNA interference (ddRNAi) – a platform for silencing unwanted genes as a treatment for a wide range of genetic conditions. ddRNAi has broad applications, and can assist with conditions as diverse as neurological, infectious and autoimmune diseases, as well as cancers. The company’s current focus inludes hepatitis B and C, wet age-related macular degeneration and lung cancer.
Using a wearable electroencephalograph (EEG), SmartCap monitors driver fatigue by measuring changes in brain activity without significant discomfort or inconvenience. It notifies users when they are fatigued and what time of day they’re most at risk. SmartCap was formally EdanSafe, a CRCMining spin-off company.
Founded by the CSIRO in 2007 to commercialise the UltraBattery, Ecoult was acquired by the East Penn Manufacturing Company in 2010. The UltraBattery makes it possible to smooth out the peaks and troughs in renewable power, functioning efficiently in a state of partial charge for extended periods.
Composite materials company Quickstep was founded in 2001 to commercialise their patented manufacturing process. Working with the aerospace, automotive and defence industries, Quickstep supplies advanced carbon fibre composite panels for high technology vehicles. In 2015, the company increased its manufacturing capacity, establishing an automotive production site in Victoria in addition to their aerospace production site in NSW.
The EDV is a nanocell mechanism for delivering drugs and functional nucleic acids and can target tumours without coming into contact with normal cells, greatly reducing toxicity. Above all, the EDV therapeutic stimulates the adaptive immune response, thereby enhancing anti-tumour efficacy. More than 260 patents support the technology, developed entirely by EnGeneIC, giving the company control over its application.
Snap’s FMx is a unique approach to video surveillance that forms cameras into a network based on artificial intelligence that learns relationships between what the cameras can see. It enables advanced real-time tracking and easier compilation of video evidence. Developed at the University of Adelaide’s Australian Centre for Visual Technologies, the system is operational at customer sites in Australia, Europe and North America.
Orthocell develops innovative technologies for treating tendon, cartilage and soft tissue injuries. Its Ortho-ATI™ and Ortho-ACI™ therapies, for damaged tendons and cartilage, use the patient’s cells to assist treatments. Its latest product, CelGro™, is a collagen scaffold for soft tissue and bone regeneration.
As the demand for effective energy storage grows, RedFlow’s zinc-bromide flow batteries are gaining attention. RedFlow has outsourced its manufacturing to North America to keep up with demand, while the company’s research and development continues in Brisbane.
Since 2002, precision engineering company MiniFAB has completed more than 900 projects for customers across the globe. MiniFAB provides a complete design and manufacturing service, and has developed polymer microfluidic and microengineered devices for medical and diagnostic products, environmental monitoring, food packaging and aerospace.
RayGen’s power generation method involves an ultra high efficiency array of photovoltaic cells, which receive focused solar energy from heliostats (mirrors) that track the sun, resulting in high performance at low cost. In December 2014, RayGen and the University of New South Wales (UNSW) collaborated to produce the highest ever efficiency for the conversion of sunlight into electricity. The independently verified result of 40.4% efficiency for the advanced system is a game changer, now rivalling the performance of conventional fossil power generation.
CSL is Australia’s largest biotechnology company, employing over 14,000 people across 30 countries. The company began in 1916, when the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories was founded in Melbourne. It was incorporated in 1991, and listed on the ASX in 1994. Since that time, CSL has acquired established plasma protein maker CSL Behring, and Novartis’ influenza vaccine business, and has become a global leader in the research, manufacture and marketing of biotherapies.
Dyesol Limited (ASX: DYE) is a renewable energy supplier and leader in Perovskite Solar Cell (PSC) technology – 3rd Generation photovoltaic technology. The company’s vision is to create a viable low-cost source of electricity with the potential to disrupt the global energy supply chain and energy balance.
EvoGenix began as a startup in 2001 to commercialise EvoGene™, a powerful method of improving proteins, developed by the CSIRO and the CRC for Diagnostics. It acquired US company Absalus Inc in 2005, then merged with Australian biotechnology company Peptech in 2007, to form Arana Therapeutics. In 2009, Cephalon Inc bought the company for $207 million.
With a vision to create sustainable energy through renewable biofuels, Muradel is a joint venture between the University of Adelaide, Murdoch University and SQC Pty Ltd. Their $10.7 million Demonstration Plant converts algae and biosolids into green crude oil. Muradel has plans for upgrades to enable the sustainable production of up to 125,000 L of crude oil, and to construct a commercial plant capable of supplying over 50 megalitres of biocrude from renewable feedstocks.
iCetana’s ‘iMotionFocus’ technology employs machine learning to determine what is the ‘normal’ activity viewed by each camera in a surveillance system and alerts operators when ‘abnormal’ events occur. This enables fewer operators to monitor more cameras with greater efficiency.
Phylogica is a drug discovery service, and the owner of Phylomer® Libraries, the largest and most structurally diverse suite of natural peptides. It has worked with some of the world’s largest drug companies, including Pfizer and Roche, to uncover drug candidates.
The research compiled by Refraction was judged by a panel comprising of: Dr Peter Riddles, biotechnology expert and director on many start-up enterprises; Dr Anna Lavelle, CEO and Executive Director of AusBiotech; and Tony Peacock, Chief Executive of the Cooperative Research Centres Association. The panel considered the following: total market value, annual turnover, patents awarded and cited, funding and investment, growth year-on-year, social value, overseas expansion and major partnerships.
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:
Stories of ‘unicorn’ Initial Public Offerings and billionaires in their 30s are great. But it’s the creation of quality jobs that truly makes innovation a national priority.
A recent report from the Office of the Chief Economist showed Australia added about one million jobs from 2006–11. Start-up companies added 1.4 million jobs, whereas older companies shed 400,000 jobs over the same period. But it’s not any start-up that matters; only 3.2% of start-ups take off in a dramatic fashion, providing nearly 80% of those new jobs. While Australia has a relatively high rate of companies starting up, the key seems to be getting more of them into high-growth mode.
When Israel faced a massive influx of immigrants after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, it turned to innovation as a means of providing jobs. Given the country’s lack of natural resources, they didn’t have a choice. A population of four million people taking in one million more meant Israel had to become an innovative economy.
They grew their investment in research and development dramatically – to the point where Israel is now one of only two countries consistently spending more than 4% of GDP on R&D.
Israel has translated that spending into high-tech export success. Now, multinational technology company Intel employs over 10,000 Israelis. The Israeli Government is hands-on in its approach to de-risking early stage companies. But this is not achieved through government spending alone. In fact, the Israeli Government’s share of total R&D spending is just one-third of that of Australia, and its higher education sector is just one half. Business carries the lion’s share of R&D spending in Israel, making up 80% of the total, compared with 60% in Australia.
If we want jobs, we need innovation. We are in a unique period when there seems to be complete political agreement on this point. If we want innovation, we should take lessons from wherever we can learn them to develop the Australian system. A lesson from Israel is to use government spending more effectively at the early stages of company development to shift more start-ups into high-growth mode. If we could double the current 3.2% of today’s start-ups that become high-growth companies, we could provide more rewarding jobs for Australia’s future.
Israel concentrates almost 100% of its government innovation support for business on small and medium-sized enterprises. The comparable figure for Australia is 50% – a big hint for what we could do differently to fire up our start-up sector.
Dr Withawat Withayachumnankul from the University of Adelaide helped conceive the idea and says the potential applications of the technology included creating new high-performance devices that connect to the internet.
“With advanced techniques to control the properties of surfaces, we can dynamically control their filter properties, which allow us to potentially create devices for high data rate optical communication or smart contact lenses,” he says.
“There is also the potential for it to have Wi-Fi access points and connection to external devices.”
The small lenses could also be used to gather and transmit information on a small display.
While there are numerous possible applications of the device, Withayachumnankul says the original purpose of the lens was an alternative to radiation protective goggles.
“We used a stretchable material called PDMS (Polydimethylsiloxane) and put some nano-material structures inside that layer which interacts with light,” he says.
“The functionality of the device is that the lens filters the light while maintaining a fully transparent structure, and can protect the eyes from radiation.”
Tiny artificial crystals termed “dielectric resonators” were used to help manipulate the waves of light.
The resonators are a fraction of the wavelength of light (100–500 nanometres) and are 500 times thinner than human hair.
“The current challenge is that the dielectric resonators only work for specific colours, but with our flexible surface we can adjust the operation range simply by stretching it,” Withayachumnankul says.
The materials used to make the lens have proven to be biocompatible and do not create any irritation to the eyes, making the device safe to wear.
An estimated one in 50 children have an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Research from La Trobe University’s Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre (OTARC) shows that the majority of these children are not diagnosed until they are four years old, more than two years after they can be reliably diagnosed and receive life-changing intervention.
The technique underlying ASDetect has been used over the past decade by hundreds of maternal and child health nurses in Australia, as well as early childhood professionals around the world. It has proven to be more than seven times more accurate than the next best tool in the early identification of autism.
Salesforce developed the ASDetect app on a pro bono basis as part of the company’s 1-1-1 integrated philanthropy model, where the company donates 1% of its employee’s time, its products and its equity to support the not-for-profit sector. A team of Salesforce engineers, designers and developers volunteered their time to build the app on the Salesforce platform.
The app uses questions drawn from breakthrough research by La Trobe’s Dr Josephine Barbaro. It gives parents access to video footage from actual clinical assessments and clearly demonstrates the context and expected key behaviours of children at each age.
“ASDetect is an empowering tool for parents who may feel their children are developing differently than expected and are looking for answers. The new ASDetect app is an ideal way to share proven techniques with thousands of parents,” says Barbaro.
Through a series of videos and questions, ASDetect guides parents through the identification of potential “red flag” signs of ASD. These “red flags” can be raised when young children repeatedly do not:
make consistent eye contact;
show their toys to others;
play social games;
point to indicate interest;
respond when their name is called.
“All typically developing infants are motivated to be social, look at other people’s faces, learn from them and copy. Children with ASD are not doing this – and we can now accurately identify this at a much younger age and take action, with the help of parents,” says Barbaro.
The app combines Barbaro’s assessment questions with videos demonstrating the ‘red flag’ behaviours critical in determining the likelihood of ASD in children as young as 12 months. Parents view two videos: one showing a child with ASD, the other showing a typically developing child. Parents then answer questions regarding their own child. The information entered by the parents is automatically sent to OTARC’s database, which also runs on the Salesforce platform, where analysis of individual results is completed. Parents are then sent information via a notification through the app, with advice as to whether they should seek professional help. As ASD can emerge over time, ASDetect includes assessments for children aged 12, 18 and 24 months.
“This is not a replacement for professional assessment; however ASDetect will provide parents with an indication as to whether they should seek a professional opinion from a doctor at a time when intervention will have the biggest impact,” says Barbaro.
Dan Bognar, Senior Vice President, Salesforce APAC says: “The ASDetect app is a great example of leveraging the power of the Salesforce platform to improve the capabilities of health providers and treatment for individuals. Being able to deploy on a global scale means that organisations like OTARC can make a significant impact on society.”
“The development of ASDetect highlights our ethos of giving back as well as our commitment to improving the local communities we operate in. It has been incredibly rewarding for everyone involved, and we look forward to seeing the results of this important initiative,” says Bognar.
Watch ASDetect in action:
This information was first shared in a press release by La Trobe University on 14 February 2016. Read the press release here.
For the first time, scientists have observed ripples in the fabric of spacetime called gravitational waves, arriving at the earth from a cataclysmic event in the distant universe. This confirms a major prediction of Albert Einstein’s 1915 general theory of relativity and opens an unprecedented new window onto the cosmos.
Gravitational waves carry information about their dramatic origins and about the nature of gravity that cannot otherwise be obtained. Physicists have concluded that the detected gravitational waves were produced during the final fraction of a second of the merger of two black holes to produce a single, more massive spinning black hole. This collision of two black holes had been predicted but never observed.
Leader of the Australian Partnership in Advanced LIGO Professor David McClelland from ANU, says the observation would open up new fields of research to help scientists better understand the universe.
“The collision of the two black holes was the most violent event ever recorded,” McClelland says.
“To detect it, we have built the largest experiment ever – two detectors 4000 km apart with the most sensitive equipment ever made, which has detected the smallest signal ever measured.”
Associate Professor Peter Veitch from University of Adelaide says the discovery was the culmination of decades of research and development in Australia and internationally.
“The Advanced LIGO detectors are a technological triumph and the discovery has provided undeniable proof that Einstein’s gravitational waves and black holes exist,” Veitch says.
“I have spent 35 years working towards this detection and the success is very sweet.”
Professor David Blair from UWA says the black hole collision detected by LIGO was invisible to all previous telescopes, despite being the most violent event ever measured.
“Gravitational waves are akin to sound waves that travelled through space at the speed of light,” Blair says.
“Up to now humanity has been deaf to the universe. Suddenly we know how to listen. The universe has spoken and we have understood.”
With its first discovery, LIGO is already changing how astronomers view the universe, says LIGO researcher Dr Eric Thrane from Monash University.
“The discovery of this gravitational wave suggests that merging black holes are heavier and more numerous than many researchers previously believed,” Thrane says.
“This bodes well for detection of large populations of distant black holes research carried out by our team at Monash University. It will be intriguing to see what other sources of gravitational waves are out there, waiting to be discovered.”
The success of LIGO promised a new epoch of discovery, says Professor Andrew Melatos, from The University of Melbourne.
“Humanity is at the start of something profound. Gravitational waves let us peer right into the heart of some of the most extreme environments in the Universe, like black holes and neutron stars, to do fundamental physics experiments under conditions that can never be copied in a lab on Earth,” Melatos says.
“It is very exciting to think that we now have a new and powerful tool at our disposal to unlock the secrets of all this beautiful physics.”
Dr Philip Charlton from CSU says the discovery opened a new window on the universe.
“In the same way that radio astronomy led to the discovery of the cosmic microwave background, the ability to ‘see’ in the gravitational wave spectrum will likely to lead to unexpected discoveries,” he says.
Professor Susan Scott, who studies General Relativity at ANU, says observing this black hole merger was an important test for Einstein’s theory.
“It has passed with flying colours its first test in the strong gravity regime which is a major triumph.”
“We now have at our disposal a tool to probe much further back into the Universe than is possible with light, to its earliest epoch.”
Australian technology used in the discovery has already spun off into a number of commercial applications. For example, development of the test and measurement system MOKU:Lab by Liquid Instruments; vibration isolation for airborne gravimeters for geophysical exploration; high power lasers for remote mapping of wind-fields, and for airborne searches for methane leaks in gas pipelines.
This information was first shared by Monash University on 12 February 2016. Read their news story here.