Open to Talent

Fresh partnerships - From lab to market place

A $4.5 million research project to boost healthy food choices is just one of a number of initiatives to bear fruit this year

Jemina Stuart-Smith
Reef Life Survey diver Jemina Stuart-Smith.
The citizen-science marine survey project
won a prestigious 2014 Eureka Prize.

By Peter Cochrane

The University of Tasmania's reputation as a generator of fresh ideas took on new meaning earlier this year when a $4.5 million horticultural research collaboration was announced.

The collaboration will see the University's Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture working with Woolworths, local producer Houston's Farm and CSIRO to develop, among other things, fresh fruit and vegetables with improved shelf life and, more broadly, expand the healthy product choices for consumers.

A $2.1 million grant from the Australian Research Council (ARC) and more than $1 million worth of support from Woolworths will facilitate the recruitment of 10 doctoral students and three post-doctoral researchers.

This year has seen many richly rewarding research endeavours at the University. Researchers here have been buoyed by a series of federal funding successes, technology commercialisation deals and other initiatives.

The University secured $12.4 million for nine collaborative projects in the latest ARC Linkage Projects round (Linkage grants are made available for collaborations between higher education researchers and at least one partner organisation, usually from the private sector); $17.4 million for a unique research hub to drive improvement in the nation's mining sector; and more than $4 million in the form of four ARC Future Fellowships.

"Collectively these outcomes can be seen as a ringing endorsement of the standard of research undertaken at this University and the global impact of our work," the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Paddy Nixon, said.

"We are a national leader in industry led research, with more than 400 industry partners and collaborators in 117 countries."

Those partners range from multinational household names such as BHP Billiton, Woolworths and IBM to local icons such as Incat, Tassal and MONA.

Paul Harker, Paul Lupo, and Associate Professor Tom Ross
Salad days: Woolworths head of produce Paul
Harker, Houston's Farm CEO Paul Lupo
and TIA Associate Professor Tom Ross. A team effort
to produce fruit and vegetables with improved shelf life.

The University has also launched a major new research institute, the Institute for the Study of Social Change, and begun the first full-scale trial of the Sense-T system, which will see thousands of sensors being installed on farms across Tasmania.

Sense-T, a partnership between the University, CSIRO, the Tasmanian Government and IBM, received $13 million in Australian Government funding in June (see "Sensors make good sense" in this issue of O2t).

In the applied research field, the University has licensed three developments – Scantex and CEScan, which can detect homemade explosives – and MilliSpot, a blood-sampling technology which will allow laboratories to carry out many common analyses with greater accuracy. CEScan is the first comprehensive instrumentation in the world to detect the full range of explosives, including military, commercial and home-made inorganic and peroxide explosives, overcoming the limitation of existing screening techniques that struggle to detect modern explosives. Using the same base technology, Scantex has been designed as a field deployable version.

"Now we can detect trace levels of inorganic explosives, as well as the other more routine classes of dangerous materials, in under a minute," explains Professor Michael Breadmore, whose team from the University's Faculty of Science, Engineering and Technology invented the technology.

Once commercially available, the MillispotTM polymeric material developed by Professor Emily Hilder's team will be well positioned to replace the paper-based blood-spot medium – opening up a valuable market for the University.

"Now we can detect inorganic explosives in under a minute."

The University's defence industry ties have been strengthened with the launch of the $3.8 million ARC Training Centre for Transforming Australia's Naval Manufacturing Industry at the Australian Maritime College.

The success of Australia's ambitious multibillion dollar naval shipbuilding program – the largest commitment this nation has ever made to defence – relies on training highly qualified engineers to solve key research and development questions and that's where the new training centre will play its part. A collaboration with two other universities, the private sector and the Federal Government's Defence Science and Technology Organisation and Defence Materials Technology Centre, the training centre provides an opportunity for 10 research higher degree students and three postdoctoral fellows to undertake a combination of research and professional training in an industrial environment. Specifically, they will support the design and manufacture of the new submarine fleet to replace the ageing Collins-class subs.

"These researchers will focus on developing advanced techniques to efficiently design, construct and sustain the naval platforms, providing significant economic benefits to the nation," the University's Vice-Chancellor, Professor Peter Rathjen, said at the launch.

Another recent launch was that of the Tasmanian eResearch Cloud, which will store important scientific data collections and also allow researchers to access enormous computing power from a standard PC. It is an $8.75 million collaboration between the University, CSIRO and Australian Antarctic Division.

National recognition has not been restricted to funding outcomes. Last month the Reef Life Survey project won a prestigious Eureka Prize. The 2014 NSW Office of Environment and Heritage Eureka Prize for Environmental Research went to RLS co-founders Professor Graham Edgar and Dr Rick Stuart-Smith. The Reef Life Survey team has harnessed the efforts of more than 200 volunteer recreational divers to survey more than 2000 reefs around Australia and in more than 40 other countries since 2008.


Case Study 1 - At the Forefront of innovation

Paul Harker, Paul Lupo, and Associate Professor Tom Ross
Breakthrough: Scantex detects
traces of inorganic compounds at
about 1000 times the sensitivity of
current systems.

By David Reilly

Sophisticated new bomb-detection technology is set to become commonplace at security checkpoints around the world.

Tasmania is not often thought of as a global leader in the fight against terrorism, but researchers at the University of Tasmania are changing that perception.

The Scantex and CEScan systems were conceived and developed by Dr Michael Breadmore and his team at the Faculty of Science, Engineering and Technology to detect improvised explosives such as those used to unleash terror in London, Madrid, Bali and Boston.

While current detection technologies are mainly tuned to military and commercial explosives such as TNT and C4, these are the first systems able to reliably detect inorganic compounds such as nitrates and peroxides. The devices can detect trace levels of dangerous inorganic materials in less than a minute, with about 1000 times the sensitivity of any other device on the market.

The $3 million project received about a third of its funding from the Federal Government and one third from the US Department of Homeland Security. Working with Grey Innovation, the University hopes to see Scantex appearing as standard technology at airports, public events and other security checkpoints within a few years.


Case Study 2 - Full steam ahead

Paul Harker, Paul Lupo, and Associate Professor Tom Ross
In-depth: The AMC's
Cavitation Research Laboratory
is used for testing the hydrodynamic
behaviour of submerged structures.

By David Reilly

The University of Tasmania's Australian Maritime College is a global brand leader in marine and maritime research, and training. Its impacts have been transformative.

With world-leading testing facilities and global industry links, the Australian Maritime College is at the heart of an exciting and strategic growth area for the University of Tasmania. Through its international links, AMC researchers have tackled leading-edge goals that include boosting the propulsive efficiency of multi-hull ships and developing new ocean-wave and tidal-energy technologies.

Alongside its research in the civilian maritime sector, AMC has a working relationship with Australia's defence agencies that spans more than 25 years. In 2014, AMC started a new high-level research initiative in partnership with the Defence Science and Technology Organisation aimed at designing quieter, stealthier submarines.

The $5 million Future Submarine Hydrodynamics Research project will investigate the forces, flow fields and flow-induced noise around submarine hulls, control surfaces and propellers. The experimental work will be carried out in the AMC's Cavitation Research Laboratory. The team, led by Associate Professor Paul Brandner, expects the findings will also have widespread civilian applications. The scientific advances made in AMC's towing tank and other facilities have brought big benefits to industries from offshore oil and gas to shipping, fishing, renewable energy and marine safety. AMC embodies the University's vision for the future in which scientific research contributes to prosperity and addresses the critical issues facing our society and environment.