Tag Archives: RMIT

chemical industry

Harnessing light for a solar-powered chemical industry

RMIT University researchers have developed a nano-enhanced material that can capture an incredible 99% of light and convert it to power chemical reactions.

As well as reducing the environmental impact of chemical manufacturing, the innovation could one day be used to deliver technologies like better infrared cameras and solar-powered water desalination.

Published today in ACS Applied Energy Materials, the research addresses the challenge of finding alternative energy sources for chemical manufacturing, which accounts for about 10% of global energy consumption and 7% of industrial greenhouse gas emissions.

In the US, chemical manufacturing uses more energy than any other industry, accounting for 28% of industrial energy consumption in 2017.

While photo catalysis – the use of light to drive chemical reactions – is growing in the industry, efficiency and cost remain significant obstacles to wider take-up.

Lead investigator Associate Professor Daniel Gomez said the new technology maximised light absorption to efficiently convert light energy into chemical energy.

“Chemical manufacturing is a power hungry industry because traditional catalytic processes require intensive heating and pressure to drive reactions,” Gomez, an ARC Future Fellow in RMIT’s School of Science, said.

“But one of the big challenges in moving to a more sustainable future is that many of the materials that are best for sparking chemical reactions are not responsive enough to light.”

“The photo catalyst we’ve developed can catch 99% of light across the spectrum, and 100% of specific colours.

“It’s scaleable and efficient technology that opens new opportunities for the use of solar power – moving from electricity generation to directly converting solar energy into valuable chemicals.”

Nano-tech for solar power

The research focused on palladium, an element that’s excellent at producing chemical reactions but usually not very light responsive.

By manipulating the optical properties of palladium nanoparticles, the researchers were able to make the material more sensitive to light.

While palladium is rare and expensive, the technique requires just a miniscule amount – 4 nanometres of nano-enhanced palladium is enough to absorb 99% of light and achieve a chemical reaction. An average human hair, for comparison, is 100,000 nanometres thick.

Daniel Gomez with a disc covered in the nano-enhanced palladiumARC Future Fellow, Associate Professor Daniel Gomez, holding a disc covered in the nano-enhanced palladium (Image: RMIT).

 

Beyond chemical manufacturing, the innovation could be further developed for a range of other potential applications including better night vision technology by producing more light-sensitive and clearer images.

Another potential use is for desalination. The nano-enhanced material could be put in salty water then exposed to sunlight, producing enough energy to boil and evaporate the water, separating it from the salt.

Gomez, who leads the Polaritonics Lab at RMIT, said the new technology could significantly increase the yield in the emerging photo-catalysis sector, with leading firms currently producing about 30kg of product each day using light as the driving force.

“We all rely on products of the chemical manufacturing industry – from plastics and medicines, to fertilisers and the materials that produce the colours on digital screens,” he said.

“But much like the rest of our economy, it’s an industry currently fuelled by carbon.

“Our ultimate goal is to use this technology to harness sunlight efficiently and convert solar energy into chemicals, with the aim of transforming this vital industry into one that’s renewable and sustainable.”

The research, with collaborators from CSIRO, the Melbourne Centre for Nanofabrication and University of Melbourne, is published in ACS Applied Energy Materials (DOI: 10.1021/acsaem.8b01704).

A paper demonstrating similar technology using gold nanoparticles will be published in a forthcoming edition of the journal ACS Photonics.

Gosia Kaszubska

This article was originally published by RMIT.

growth centres

The bigger picture

Featured image above: the Medical Technologies and Pharmaceuticals Industry Growth Centre, MTPConnect

The Growth Centres launched in October 2015 with $250 million in government funding to 2019/2020. With six now up and running, new collaborations, with the CRCs and others, are beginning to bear fruit.

Take the pioneering idea of using a 3D printer to build joints and limbs damaged through cancer or trauma. The Medical Technologies and Pharmaceuticals (MTP) Industry Growth Centre, MTPConnect, extended BioFab3D@ACMD a grant to set up Australia’s first robotics and biomedical engineering centre within a hospital.

A group of researchers, clinicians, engineers and industry partners will work together to build organs, bones, brain, muscle, nerves and glands – almost anything that requires repair – for patients based at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne. One of the big benefits is that the 3D printing will be more cost-effective for patients.

The path for BioFab3D from clever research to commercial success is still a long, complicated one. Collaboration is key and BioFab3D is working with St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, University of Melbourne, University of Wollongong, RMIT University and Swinburne University of Technology.

According to Sue MacLeman, CEO of MTPConnect, Australia has many strong and innovative medical and health groups that are on the cusp of realising their full commercial potential.

This is where CRCs come in. “CRCs already have research before it is picked up by the multinationals,” she explains. MacLeman says MTPConnect works with 12 CRCs and aims to help drive their commercial success.

“The MTP sector is hindered by constraints including a lack of collaboration between business and research, skills shortages, the need for more focused investment, and the need for more streamlined and harmonised regulatory and market access frameworks,” says MacLeman.

To meet these challenges the Australian government has provided six Growth Centres (see “Six of the best” below) with funding to help smart projects realise their full potential.

“Growth Centres have an enormous range of things to do. Everyone wants them to do everything. They work in tight timeframes,” explains Professor Robert Cowan, CEO of The HEARing CRC, which has been meeting with MTPConnect.

“We have 48,000 people in our sector, but we can’t speak to all of those people,” explains MacLeman. The MTP is well served by membership organisations such as Medicines Australia, the Medical Technology Association of Australia, and ARCS Australia (previously the Association of Regulatory and Clinical Scientists), adds MacLeman. It has signed a number of memorandums of understandings (MOUs) with membership associations to appreciate what is important in the sectors, particularly global best practice.

But Growth Centres need to remain independent, not heavily skewed to certain groups, says MacLeman.

“What is important is that we don’t take paid membership. You can sign up and showcase your work, but we want to keep it independent and not to be seen as a lobby group.

“That is very powerful for us. To have a strategic voice and a lot of alignment.”

Collaboration was essential for The HEARing CRC when it recently trialled an electrode that released an anti-inflammatory drug into the cochlear post-implantation. The trial brought together devices, drugs, analysts and the ethical and regulatory approvals.

“This new electrode array helps reduce inflammation and the growth of fibrous tissue around the electrode array triggered by the body’s immune response,” says Cowan.

Unlike a drug trial that involves hundreds and thousands of patients, the trial could be tested on a small number of people undergoing surgery. The world-first study was only possible through an interdisciplinary team of researchers, engineers and clinicians from Cochlear, the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital, the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children’s Sydney Cochlear Implant Centre, The University of Melbourne and the University of Wollongong.

Cowan says he expects MTPConnect will provide assistance to med-tech companies and research institutes in finding and developing new markets, collaborators and investors for Australian medical technologies.

Growth centres for the future of mining

The mining industry is also tapping into groundbreaking research coming out of universities through CRCs and engaging with the new mining equipment, technology and services (METS) growth centre, METS Ignited.

Extracting minerals from the Earth has become much more challenging. Mineral grades are dropping as reserves are being used up and environmental issues are impacting on mining operations. As a result, mining companies are looking at new ways to extract minerals, using technology as cost-effectively as possible.

“The downturn in the mining market is really focusing the mind,” explains Clytie Dangar, general manager, stakeholder engagement at the CRC for Optimising Resource Extraction (CRC ORE). “We can’t afford to stand still.”

CRC ORE has around 20 active research programs that span robotics, mathematics, data science, predictive modelling as well as broad engineering that focuses on blasting techniques and efficiently extracting minerals from waste. Dangar says the CRC has total funding of $110 million up until mid-2020. This is made up of $37 million from the government and the balance from industry.

CRC ORE and METS Ignited signed a MOU in January to work together to improve commercialisation and collaboration outcomes for Australian METS companies.

Australia has the world’s largest reserves of diamonds, gold, iron ore, lead, nickel, zinc and rutile (a major mineral source of titanium), according to METS Ignited. “Australia is at the forefront of mining innovation over the years. A lot of countries have looked at Australia, certainly over the boom years. The challenge is to stay there when the money isn’t there and the nature of the reserves has changed. One way is to utilise the skill set,” says Dangar.

With sharp falls in commodity prices, mining companies are keen to participate in game-changing technology, she says. CRC ORE is engaging with big miners, such as Newcrest and BHP Billiton. It’s also tapped into the $90 billion mining sector, together with universities and PhD students who are carrying out innovative research.

The role of the Growth Centre is to link up all the stakeholders and capture the research, says Dangar.

“It is important to be well engaged. Our job as a CRC is to translate the needs of the miners to the researchers and make sure the researchers are addressing those issues.

“It is very applied because we have a short timeline. We must meet our guidelines and we provide small buckets of funds in grants,” says Dangar.

The key is being nimble as well as courageous in supporting research, even though it may not always work, says Dangar. CRC ORE is not in the business of funding long-term research with a horizon of seven to 10 years, but prefers a two- to three-year timeframe.

“In the past, there was a natural tension between METS and miners, but now they can’t wait until it is up and running,” explains Dangar. “Miners need to support METS earlier.”

Some of Australia’s step-change advances in mining include flotation to separate materials, bulk explosives, mechanised mining and large mills. One of the biggest issues for miners is how to separate metal from rock more efficiently. Dangar says CRC ORE is working on solving this problem to lower unit costs, and reduce energy and water consumption. Some of these approaches helped Newcrest Mining get better mineral grades at a cheaper cost at its Telfer mine in Western Australia.

“A lot of mining companies had their own research departments, but some of the issues are industry-wide issues, and it is better to be collaborative than go it alone,” says Dangar.

Six of the best

1. The Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre Ltd (AMGC) is working with the Innovative Manufacturing CRC, which kicked off in the 2015 CRC funding round. In February, the AMGC funded Geelong’s Quickstep Holdings, a manufacturer of advanced carbon fibre composites, to the tune of $500,000. The AMGC believes the project has the potential to generate export revenue in excess of $25 million.

2. The Australian Cyber Security Growth Network is an industry-led organisation that will develop the next-generation products and services required to live and work securely in our increasingly connected world.

3. Food Innovation Australia Ltd (FIAL), based at the CSIRO in Victoria, works closely with the relevant CRCs. CRCs have a long history of work in food and agriculture and have included the Seafood CRC, Future Farm CRC, CRC for Innovative Food products and many more.

4. MTPConnect covers the medical technologies and pharmaceuticals sector and includes the Wound Management Innovation CRC, Cancer Therapeutics CRC and HEARing CRC as members, among others.

5. National Energy Resources Australia (NERA) is the Oil, Gas and Energy Resources Growth Centre, and will work with the CRC for Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the Environment (CRC CARE) to “encourage industry-focused research and unlock commercial opportunities”.

6. NERA also has links with the mining equipment, technology and services growth centre, METS Ignited, which works closely with the CRC for Optimising Resource Extraction (CRC ORE).

– Susan Hely

supercomputer study

Supercomputer study unlocks secrets of brain

In the seven-year study just released, RMIT University researchers – led by Professor Toby Allen and including Dr Bogdan Lev and Dr Brett Cromer – modelled how protein “switches” are activated by binding molecules to generate electrical signals in the brain. 

The findings, which involved hundreds of millions of computer processing hours, pave the way for understanding how brain activity can be controlled by existing and new drugs, including anaesthetics.

General anaesthetics work by blocking “on” switches and enhancing “off” switches in the brain, leading to loss of sensation and the ability to feel pain. 

“Even though anaesthetics have been used for more than 150 years, scientists still don’t know how they work at the molecular level,” says Allen.

“General anaesthetics are a mainstay of modern medicine, but have a small safety margin, requiring skilled anaesthetists for their safe use. They may also have long-term effects on brain function in both newborns and the elderly.

“Our study has uncovered details of the switching mechanism that will help in the design of new anaesthetics that are safer, both immediately and for long-term brain function, as well as more effective and more targeted use of anaesthetics.”

Allen says the computer models, using the Victorian Life Sciences Computation Initiative, provide an unprecedented level of understanding of the nervous system.

“These protein switches, called ligand-gated ion channels, are primary electrical components of our nervous systems. Understanding how they work is one of the most important questions in biology,” he says.

“Our computer models show something that’s never been seen before. We have discovered how ion channels bind molecules, such as neurotransmitters, and are activated to generate electrical signals in neurons.

“We are now using these models to make important predictions for how the binding of drugs and anaesthetics may control electrical signalling.”

The findings also unlock a range of other potential applications including understanding how ion channel mutations cause diseases like epilepsy and startle disease, as well as new treatments for anxiety, alcoholism, chronic pain, stroke and other neural conditions.

And because all living organisms share similar proteins, the findings could also open up possibilities for safer and more effective insecticides and anti-parasitics, while the computer modelling developed in the study reduces the need to test new drugs on animals.

The study was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council, as well as the Medical Advances Without Animals Trust.

The findings have been published this month in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.

This article was first published by RMIT on 22 May 2017. Read the original article here.

hyperloop

Hyperloop fires up Aussie students

Featured image above: rendering of the VicHyper hyperloop pod on the streets of Melbourne 

A team of Australian university students is playing a major role in revolutionising the future of transportation technologies. They are working on what futurist entrepreneur Elon Musk describes as a ‘cross between a Concorde, a railgun and an air hockey table’ – the Hyperloop. 

The group, from RMIT University in Melbourne, is led by engineering graduates Matthew O’Callaghan and Zachary McClelland, and is one of 30 finalists from 1,700 entrants from around the world working on a Hyperloop pod design.

Musk, known for his roles with PayPal, Tesla Motors and SpaceX, was inspired to explore the viability of Hyperloop technologies after being frustrated by the lack of cost-effective high-speed trains in the US. 

SpaceX – Musk’s rocket and spacecraft company – subsequently sponsored a global Hyperloop competition to design a transportation pod that will travel at speeds of up to 1,200 kilometres per hour levitated on a cushion of air or magnets inside a vacuum-sealed tube. 

It is envisaged the pods will eventually carry goods and people across large distances in a short time, providing greater efficiency than cars, trains and aircraft. Imagine, advocates say, ordering a pizza from your favourite restaurant 600 kilometres away and having it delivered to your home in 30 minutes. 

“What this can provide for the world is just amazing,” says 24-year-old O’Callaghan, who was inspired to enter the competition after growing up in the regional Australian city of Mildura. 

“It could transfer goods, and connect cities, particularly in Australia where they are so far apart. All of our cities can become suburbs. You could live in Melbourne and work in Sydney and commute every day.”

Hyperloop poised to become reality

hyperloop
VicHyper Co-founders L-R Matthew O’Callaghan and Zachary McClelland

O’Callaghan’s and McClelland’s project, named VicHyper, is supported by RMIT University and several Australian corporate partners. It is focused on building a braking system for the high-speed pods – a crucial part of the vehicle’s design.

The team travelled to Texas for the first in-person judging event in January 2016 where 115 designs, narrowed down from the almost 2,000 initial entries, were in competition. VicHyper returned to Melbourne with the ‘Braking Subsystem Technical Excellence Award’ and advanced to the next round. 

In late January 2017, the VicHyper team will return to the US as the only team from the Southern Hemisphere and compete in tests at the SpaceX track facility in Los Angeles. Other teams represent universities from the US, Canada, Spain, Germany, India and Japan, as well as a non-student team formed by members of the social media platform Reddit.

The VicHyper pod resembles a futuristic bobsleigh: 3.6 metres long, 1.3 metres wide and approximately one-metre high. It will demonstrate an electromagnetic braking system and friction brakes for low speeds or emergencies. 

As O’Callaghan explains, the system is more complicated than it sounds – or appears on paper. The team has spent several sleepless nights trying to bridge the gap between theory and reality. 

 

Motivated by innovation and change for good 

O’Callaghan graduated from RMIT with an aerospace engineering degree keen to pursue a career where he could “push the boundaries of innovation.

“I wanted to put my expertise into something that could benefit the greater community,” he says. “There is all this amazing technology out there we can use in amazing ways. I really want to help make a change.”

O’Callaghan read a white paper written by Musk about Hyperloop technology and was hooked by the concept. When SpaceX announced its competition for students, O’Callaghan knew this was an opportunity he couldn’t miss. 

He coaxed friend Zachary McClelland to join the him on the project and, with backing from RMIT, their paper sketches became reality.

“RMIT has been a huge support, providing access to technical staff and facilities, financial help, workspaces, logistics and transportation,” O’Callaghan says. “Without RMIT we wouldn’t be heading to the US. 

“I think they liked that it wasn’t just two guys with an idea on a piece of paper. We knew it was important to win people over and show them we really were going to do this. It is not just a pipe dream – pardon the pun.”

The Hyperloop concept has evolved beyond plans and may soon be reality. One company investing in Hyperloop technology has a development partnership with the city of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, and another has announced an agreement to explore constructing a link between Bratislava in Slovakia and Prague in the Czech Republic.

Diverse team brings hyperloop best talent 

Hyperloop
RMIT University’s VicHyper team

VicHyper is now a 30-strong team boasting electrical and mechanical aerospace engineers, industrial designers, graphic and website designers, and a media and public relations team. All team members are graduates or current students at RMIT.

“We really pushed to have a good gender, racial, skill and cultural balance on the team,” O’Callaghan says. “If you have a diverse environment, everybody has something unique to bring to the table.”

It’s not yet known what will happen after the competition. According to O’Callaghan, success can be measured in many ways. Primarily, he’s satisfied that Australian ideas have been recognised in a global competition where the majority of talent is from the US and Europe. 

“We wanted to show that Australia is at the forefront of this kind of technology – and that our team is straight out of university,” O’Callaghan says. 

“Nobody really knows what happens next but I am looking forward to what the outcome is. I definitely want to continue working on this technology and bring it to fruition.”

– Matthew Hall

This article was first published by Australia Unlimited on 26 Jan 2017. Read the original article here

gemstones-nanomaterials

Tiny gemstones advance nanoscale imaging

Featured image above: Nanomaterials composed of tiny diamonds and rubies can be used to light up and image a long chain of proteins. Credit: Carlo Bradac

A research team at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics (CNBP) – led by Dr Philipp Reineck from RMIT University’s School of Science – tested the ruby and diamond particles, more than a thousand times smaller than the diameter of a hair, alongside other nanoparticles for use in biological imaging, and found that they have a higher degree of stability, critical to achieving imaging success.

“Fluorescing nanoparticles can be used as ‘tiny lamps’ that when placed in the body, are able to light up cells and their internal processes.”

“We shine light at the biological sample of interest in a very controlled way and the nanomaterials send light back, helping us to see very specifically what is happening, right down to a molecule and protein level.”

“This is the area we’re focused on, exploring how the ‘very small’ can help us in answering some of the very big questions in biology.”

In the study published in the journal Advanced Optical Materials, the team compared seven types of fluorescent nanomaterials – organic dyes, semiconductor quantum dots, fluorescent beads, carbon dots and gold nanoclusters, as well as the nano sized diamonds and rubies.

Characteristics tested for included levels of fluorescence brightness and photostability (resistance to change under the influence of light), as well as how efficiently these new materials can be imaged using standard microscopes used in biology.

“Nanomaterials have widely differing characteristics and we need to determine which materials will work best in which imaging application,” Reineck said.

“What our study clearly shows is that nanodiamonds and nanorubies are excellent materials for long-term biological imaging.

“These two materials provide acceptable levels of brightness and the best photostability by far, when compared to the other materials that were tested.”

In other study findings, Reineck noted clear trade-offs in many of the nanomaterials examined.

“We found that ideal levels of photostability generally mean a sacrifice in brightness and vice versa,” he said.

“For example, during testing, the organic dyes and carbon dots were much brighter than the rubies and the diamonds – but photobleaching (or fading) was a major issue, impacting their practical imaging use.”

Reineck’s next step will be to work closely with biologists and medical researchers within the CNBP to develop selected nanomaterials so that they can be used with the needed precision and reliability to light-up real-world biological environments.

Future application of the materials will relate to fertility, chronic pain and heart disease research, key focus areas for the CNBP.

“The real treasure isn’t the rubies or the diamonds,” concluded Reineck.

“It will be the way in which we use these materials to shed new light on the incredibly complex processes taking place in the living body, helping us understand a whole host of matters relating to health, wellbeing and disease.”

The Centre for Nanoscale BioPhotonics (CNBP) is an Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence, with research focussed nodes at the University of Adelaide, Macquarie University and RMIT University.

A $40 million initiative, the CNBP is focused on developing new light-based imaging and sensing tools, that can measure the inner workings of cells, in the living body.

– Petra van Nieuwenhoven

This article was first published by RMIT University on 20 July 2016. Read the original article here.

Australian automotives

Transforming Australian automotives

More than $3 million in Australian Research Council (ARC) funding has been awarded to RMIT to establish a new centre that will support the transformation of the nation’s automotive industry.

Funded by the ARC Industrial Transformation Research Hub scheme, the RMIT Centre in Lightweight Automotive Structures brings together 31 world-leading scientists and industrial engineers from 16 organisations from Australia, Germany, the United Kingdom and the USA.

Professor Calum Drummond, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research and Innovation and Vice-President at RMIT, says the grant builds on the university’s commitment to help shape a vibrant Australian manufacturing sector in the global economy.

“RMIT’s distinctive approach to connected education and research links creative ideas with technical knowledge and focuses on the challenges and opportunities emerging around the world,” says Drummond.

“Australia’s automotive industry is undergoing a major structural change, due to the cessation of motor vehicle assembly by the end of 2017.

“This places more than 260 local component manufacturers, which form Australia’s automotive supply chain, under extreme pressure.

“The new centre aims to assist the transformation of Australia’s automotive industry from vehicle production to exporting engineering services and locally manufactured high-value products.”

The strategic partnership with Ford Motor Company, Deakin University, the Australian National University, Australian Rollforming Manufacturers, Composite Materials Engineering, Quickstep Automotive, Capral Aluminium, MTM Automotive Components, CSIRO, dataM, Sheet Metal Solutions, Shape Corporation, University of Bristol, Michigan Technological University, Friedrich Alexander University of Erlangen, and Imperial College London will collectively invest $11.6 million over five years to train industry-focused researchers.

The Centre’s Director is Professor Chun Wang from the School of Engineering, who is also the Director of the Sir Lawrence Wackett Aerospace Research Centre at RMIT.

Wang says the aim is to develop new lightweight materials, advanced manufacturing processes, energy storage designs, and rapid non-destructive evaluation techniques, which are a key to reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in transportation.

“More importantly, we hope the centre will accelerate the transformation of Australia’s automotive industry – now facing unprecedented structural adjustment – from vehicle production to the export of design and engineering services, high-value products and novel technology solutions.”

The ARC Industrial Transformation Research Hub scheme is designed to engage Australia’s best researchers in issues facing the new industrial economies and training the future workforce.

The scheme supports collaborative research activity between the Australian higher education sector and industry designed to focus on strategic outcomes not independently realisable.

 Petra van Nieuwenhoven

This article was first published by RMIT University on 17 May 2016. Read the original article here.

Smart Contact Lens

Smart Contact Lens

The University of Adelaide in South Australia worked closely with RMIT University to develop small hi-tech lenses to filter harmful optical radiation without distorting vision.

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.

Findings of the research were published in leading nano-science journal ACS Nano and were undertaken at RMIT’s Micro Nano Research Facility.

The discovery comes after scientists from the University of South Australia’s Future Industries Institute this month successfully completed “proof of concept” research on a polymer film coating that conducts electricity on a contact lens, with the potential to build miniature electrical circuits that are safe to be worn by a person.

– Caleb Radford

This article was first published by The Lead on 19 February 2016. Read the original article here.

Search engine collaboration

Search engine collaboration

Lead researcher Associate Professor Falk Scholer is delighted with the $US56,000 Google Faculty Research Award for the project in the area of information retrieval, extraction, and organisation.

“It’s particularly exciting to receive support for this kind of research into search engine effectiveness from a leader in web search, like Google,” Scholer says.

The Google award will fund user-study experiments and support a top research student to work on the project, titled “Magnitude Estimation for the Evaluation of Search Systems”.

Scholer is running the project in collaboration with Professor Andrew Turpin, now of the University of Melbourne, but a former leader of RMIT’s celebrated Information, Search and Retrieval group (ISAR), which is ranked second in Asia/Oceania for Information Retrieval research.

“The project will be looking at a new approach for measuring whether users are satisfied with the results that they get from search engines,” he says.

“The aim is to enable more precise measurement of search effectiveness, and therefore allow future improvements to search systems to be identified more easily and reliably, supporting the faster development of impactful search technology.”

The current leader of ISAR, Professor Mark Sanderson, said the award underlined how information retrieval research at RMIT was well regarded internationally.

“Understanding how to improve search engines is an important research field here at RMIT, and getting support from Google is a big boost for us,” he says.

“I’m sure we’d all join in congratulating Falk, and wish him the best of luck with the project.

“It’s great to receive global recognition like this, especially as it follows on from his paper being selected as one of the top five presented at SIGIR 2015 – the world’s foremost information retrieval conference.”

SIGIR, the Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Information Retrieval, is the major international forum for the presentation of new research results and for the demonstration of new systems and techniques in Information Retrieval.

Scholer’s SIGIR paper, “The Benefits of Magnitude Estimation Relevance Assessments for Information Retrieval Evaluation”,  foreshadowed the project that has now won the Google award.

“The paper at SIGIR reported on an initial study in the area and the Google grant will enable us to investigate evaluation using magnitude estimation more deeply, in particular in the context of web search,” he says.

RMIT is ranked in the world’s top 100 universities for computer science and information systems. Find out more.

This article was first published by RMIT on 1 February 2016. Read the original article here.

Researchers ride new sound wave to health discovery

Researchers ride new sound wave to health discovery

Feature image: RMIT researcher Dr Amgad Rezk

Acoustics experts at RMIT University have created a new class of sound wave – the first in more than half a century – in a breakthrough they hope could lead to a revolution in stem cell therapy.

The RMIT team combined two different types of acoustic sound waves called bulk waves and surface waves to create a new hybrid: “surface reflected bulk waves”.

The first new class of sound wave discovered in decades, the powerful waves are gentle enough to use in biomedical devices to manipulate highly fragile stem cells without causing damage or affecting their integrity, opening new possibilities in stem cell treatment.

Dr Amgad Rezk, from RMIT’s Micro/Nano Research Laboratory, said the team was already using the discovery to dramatically improve the efficiency of an innovative new “nebuliser” that could deliver vaccines and other drugs directly to the lung.

“We have used the new sound waves to slash the time required for inhaling vaccines through the nebuliser device, from 30 minutes to as little as 30 seconds,” Rezk says.

“But our work also opens up the possibility of using stem cells more efficiently for treating lung disease, enabling us to nebulise stem cells straight into a specific site within the lung to repair damaged tissue.

“This is a real game changer for stem cell treatment in the lungs.”

The researchers are using the “surface reflected bulk waves” in a breakthrough device, dubbed HYDRA, which converts electricity passing through a piezoelectric chip into mechanical vibration, or sound waves, which in turn break liquid into a spray.

“It’s basically ‘yelling’ at the liquid so it vibrates, breaking it down into vapour,” Rezk says.

Bulk sound waves operate similar to a carpet being held at one end and shaken, resulting in the whole substrate vibrating as one entity. Surface sound waves on the other hand operate more like ocean waves rolling above a swimmer’s head.

“The combination of surface and bulk wave means they work in harmony and produce a much more powerful wave,” says Rezk, who co-authored the study with PhD researcher James Tan.

“As a result, instead of administering or nebulising medicine at around 0.2 ml per minute, we did up to 5 ml per minute. That’s a huge difference.”

The breakthrough HYDRA device is improving the effectiveness of a revolutionary new type of nebuliser developed at RMIT called Respite. Cheap, lightweight and portable, the advanced Respitenebuliser can deliver everything from precise drug doses to patients with asthma and cystic fibrosis, to insulin for diabetes patients, and needle-free vaccinations to infants.

The HYDRA research has been published in the scientific journal Advanced Materials.

This article was first shared by RMIT University on 8 January 2016. Read the original article here.

Traditional Chinese medicine

Evaluating Chinese medicine

The China-Australia International Research Centre for Chinese Medicine is a joint initiative between RMIT’s School of Health Sciences, Guangdong Provincial Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences and the Guangdong Provincial Hospital of Chinese Medicine.

Researchers at the centre based at RMIT and Guangdong have published two monographs through World Scientific that will inform tertiary education and clinical practice by providing a reference of clinically-evaluated Chinese medicine treatments for 26 common medical conditions.

Professor Charlie Xue, Centre Co-Director and Head of the School of Health Sciences, says the monographs were a significant contribution to the field.

“This publication is a major milestone in the international development of Chinese medicine as a form of evidence-based integrative healthcare,” Xue says.

“Chinese medicine practitioners can refer to these books for guidance on the herbal medicine formulas, specific herbs and acupuncture points that can best treat their patients, and be informed by the current best evidence for their decision-making.

“These publications are also of significant value for students of evidence-based Chinese medicine and for academics involved in teaching or in clinical studies of Chinese medicine.”

“We have chosen the conditions that are commonly treated by Chinese medicine practitioners as our priorities and adopted a ‘whole evidence assessment’ approach.”

Updates to the publications will be conducted every five years to ensure currency of evidence.

Formed in 2013 after five years of successful collaboration between the partners, the China-Australia International Research Centre for Chinese Medicine aims to conduct high impact traditional and complementary medicine research that contributes to the provision of evidence-based health care to the community.

RMIT Vice-Chancellor and President, Martin Bean CBE, says the University had made significant contributions to the promotion of evidence-based Chinese medicine development over the last seven years.

“By engaging deeply with Guangdong Provincial Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences we’re helping to advance the cause of Chinese medicine globally,” Bean says.

“Australia leads the international development of Chinese medicine in the western world through effective partnerships with key institutions in China.”

Martin says as more people around the world used acupuncture and herbal medicine, scientific validation of Chinese medicine therapies was absolutely essential.

“This will provide a base for effective integration of Chinese medicine international healthcare systems as stipulated in the World Health Organisation’s traditional medicine strategies.”

The publications, Evidence-Based Clinical Chinese Medicine: Vol 1 Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and Evidence-Based Clinical Chinese Medicine: Vol 2 Psoriasis Vulgaris, offer an up-to-date “whole evidence” analysis of the Chinese medicine management of disease, with references to classical Chinese medicine literature and contemporary clinical literature, as well as clinical trial outcomes and reviews of experimental studies.

Rebecca McGillivray

This article was first shared by RMIT on 20 November 2015. Read the original article here.

Flexible electronic devices

The RMIT scientist behind stretchy UV sensors has the chance to work with international partners and turn her flexible electronic devices into commercial products, after winning a Victoria Fellowship.

With a fascination for flexible electronic devices, Dr Madhu Bhaskaran has dedicated her research to bringing science fiction gadgets closer to real life.

“My research focus has been to design flexible electronic devices with highly functional characteristics while being optically transparent,” Bhaskaran, co-leader of the RMIT Functional Materials and Microsystems Research Group, says.

Her concepts and designs have been rewarded with a life-changing opportunity – a prestigious Victoria Fellowship awarded by the Victorian Government.

The fellowship recognises innovation and skill in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Bhaskaran is one of 12 Victorian Fellows in 2015, who each receive a travel grant of up to $18,000 for a short-term overseas study mission to assist in developing a commercial idea or to undertake specialist training or career development not available in Australia.

Together with Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research and Innovation and Vice-President, Professor Calum Drummond – who won the Victoria Prize for Science and Innovation in the Physical Sciences – Bhaskaran represented RMIT at last week’s Victorian Endowment for Science, Knowledge and Innovation awards ceremony.

“I am thrilled to have won this fellowship as it is a wonderful way for me to expand my collaborative network and learn new aspects of my field of research,” she says.

“The state-of-the-art equipment at the MicroNano Research Facility at RMIT has made this research a possibility.”

Earlier this year, together with PhD researcher Philipp Gutruf, Bhaskaran made her mark in the media internationally with her incredible wearable sensor patches, which detect harmful UV radiation known to trigger melanoma and dangerous toxic gases such as hydrogen and nitrogen dioxide.

Much like a nicotine patch, the sensor can be worn on the skin and, in the future, will be able to link to electronic devices to continuously monitor UV levels and alert the user when radiation hits harmful levels.

The sensors are cheap and durable – attributes which could see flexible electronics and sensors eventually become an integral part of everyday life.

“This new class of electronics is promising for designing novel systems such as in vitro pH sensors, transient and printable electronic devices, sensory robotic skin, and wearable flexible electronic devices,” Bhaskaran says.

Functional oxides, or metal oxides, used in electronic devices, are known for their versatility and high performance, but are notorious for their fragility and high temperature synthesis.

“With the demand for flexible electronics, the challenge remains in the integration of these functional oxides with polymeric plastics like in bank notes,” Bhaskaran says.

“I have developed a unique transfer process which would help overcome this challenge, and with this process, I have also created gas and UV sensors.”

Bhaskaran says the Victoria Fellowship would give her a valuable opportunity to gain international exposure at leading research institutions in the US, UK, Switzerland, and would lead to discussions with industry partners to potentially commercialise the product.

“The insights gained by visiting these research groups and industries will enable me to realise practical technology and open up more opportunities for research funding and industry linkages benefitting RMIT and Victoria,” she says.

Flexible electronic devices
Bhaskaran was presented the 2015 Victoria Fellowship in Physical Sciences by Victorian Minister for Industry, Lily D’Ambrosio.

Be true to you: Applications are open to study the Master of Engineering (Micro-Nano Engineering) in July 2016.

– Chanel Bearder

This story was originally published by RMIT University on 19 October 2015. Read the original story here.