Fellows’ research projects feature in ARC funding

February 06, 2018
Professor Rick Shine is Chief Investigator for two projects funded under the ARC's Linkage Projects scheme. Photo: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear

The Australian Research Council has announced support for 22 research projects totalling more than $9 million, with the aim of developing research–industry collaborations.

Thirteen of the projects supported so far through the 2017 ARC Linkage scheme involve Academy Fellows, a clear demonstration of the extraordinary contributions that Fellows make to Australian science and innovation.

The Linkage Projects scheme supports university researchers to find practical solutions to problems and challenges in real-world, industry-based settings.

The projects also rely on significant cash and in-kind support from industry partners, governments and community organisations.

Fellows’ projects

Professor Rick Shine (CI)—Buffering the ecosystem impact of invasive cane toads. This project aims to address the devastating ecological problems caused by invasive species, by developing a novel approach that does not rely upon eradicating the invader through training vulnerable native predators not to eat toxic cane toads. Expected outcomes of this project include building a broad coalition of conservation-focused groups, from private land-owners and local businesses through to Indigenous groups and government and non-government agencies across the entire Kimberley region. It will also result in the evaluation of methods for deployment of taste-aversion at a landscape scale. This should provide significant benefits by conserving vulnerable fauna and building a powerful network within a region of high biodiversity in tropical Australia.

Professor Rick Shine (CI)—Cane toads in southern Australia: invasion dynamics and options for control. This project aims to investigate the spread of cane toads through southern Australia, an invasion front that has attracted far less research than the same species’ expansion through tropical regions, even though toads severely impact native wildlife in both areas. This project expects to generate new knowledge to determine why the rate of toad invasion is so much slower in New South Wales than in the tropics, and how best to modify newly-developed approaches to toad control to the conditions in southern Australia. Expected outcomes include predicting future trajectories of expansion, and identifying optimal approaches to toad control and impact mitigation. This should provide significant benefits for biodiversity conservation.

Professor Benjamin Eggleton (CI) et al.—Integration of broadband microwave photonic frequency convertors. This project aims to develop microwave photonic processors with increased bandwidth and unprecedented radio frequency signal processing. The new technology will enhance radar systems and electronic-warfare capabilities, and allow more flexible delivery of bandwidth for mobile communication systems. Benefits for Australian end-users and industry include improved surveillance for defence and revenue growth in companies working with the Australian defence forces.

Professor Lorenzo Faraone (CI) et al.—Defect engineering in molecular beam epitaxy-grown mercury cadmium telluride. This project aims to develop high quality mercury cadmium telluride (HgCdTe) materials with lower defect density and lower background doping levels. This will enable future, high-performance, lower-cost infrared sensors with the unique features of higher yield, larger array size and higher operating temperature. The project will generate new science and technologies on defect engineering in the epitaxial growth of semiconducting HgCdTe on cadmium zinc telluride (CdZnTe) substrates. This will contribute to the development of core Australian industry sectors such as defence, environmental monitoring, medical imaging, earth remote sensing, mining, and oil and gas.

Professor Andrew Gleadow (CI) et al.—Dating the Aboriginal rock art sequence of the Kimberley in north-west Australia. This project aims to develop a robust time scale for the known Aboriginal rock art sequence in the Kimberley, Western Australia (WA). The project will use new knowledge of complex processes on sandstone surfaces across the north Kimberley, and an innovative combination of four scientific dating methods developed through our earlier work. The project expects to provide a well-dated sequence for Kimberley rock art based on replication of results, confirmation across different methods, and a large interdisciplinary dataset. The project will allow rigorous analysis of the relationship between dating results and rock art styles that has not previously been possible, and give new insights into Australia’s deep Indigenous heritage. This will have a significant impact for future efforts in rock art conservation, and lay a foundation for cultural tourism, with important benefits for the local economy and health of regional Indigenous communities.

Professor John Gooding (CI) et al.—Bioinks for the 3D printing of cells made from off-the-shelf components. This project aims to develop a simple method for creating complex, multiple-cell-type three-dimensional (3D) cell cultures for in vitro cell-based assays. Using 3D printing technology, this project will develop a versatile polymer system, made from entirely commercially available components, that gels upon printing and has functionality to assist cells in adhering, growing and migrating. The 3D printing of multiple cell types will provide biological scientists with more realistic in vitro cell assays to those found in vivo. Applications of the research are in cell biology, studying diseases and developing new drugs.

Professor Graham Goodwin (CI) et al.—Control strategies for bagasse-fuelled boiler units. This project aims to improve sugar production and electricity cogeneration capabilities in the sugar industry by utilising novel control ideas for boiler units. In the sugar industry, sugarcane residue is used as biofuel for boiler units. Boilers use steam to crystallise sugar and generate electricity. However, variable steam demand and poor fuel consistency severely hinder production. The project aims to improve safe operation of boilers, reduce downtime, and maximise electricity generated to the grid. This will provide significant benefits to sugar manufacturing and, more broadly, biofuel energy generation in Australia.

Professor Richard Hobbs (CI) et al.—Innovative seed technologies for restoration in a biodiversity hotspot. This project aims to develop and implement innovative and practical methods to improve native plant establishment within a global biodiversity hotspot. As restoration efforts worldwide are hindered by altered substrates and invasive species, the greatest challenge is to reconstruct plant communities that are resistant to invasion and resilient within disturbed landscapes. The development of advanced technologies to enhance restoration success will benefit ecological communities impacted by urban expansion, agriculture and resource development, and their associated practitioners, government agencies, private landowners and primary Australian industry.

Professor David Lindenmayer et al.—Fauna, fuel and fire: effects of animals on bushfire risk. This project aims to determine the extent that animals influence fire regimes through effects on fuel load and characteristics. Minimising the risk of large, severe bushfires, while conserving native species is one of the greatest challenges facing managers of fire-prone ecosystems globally. Using a powerful combination of landscape-scale field observations, experimental manipulations of animal densities, and modelling, the project expects to quantify interactions between animals, bushfire fuel and fire regimes in south eastern Australian forests, woodlands and scrublands. This evidence should benefit the design of integrated, efficient, and complementary strategies for fire and fauna management in Australia’s extensive fire-prone ecosystems.

Professor Craig Moritz et al.—Building resilience to change for mammals in a multi-use landscape. This project aims to identify critical habitat and dispersal corridors for mammals by applying a novel, interdisciplinary landscape genetics approach to genetic and spatial data. The project expects to generate new knowledge on the evolutionary significance of landscapes in the Pilbara that have facilitated species persistence. Expected outcomes are the incorporation of evolutionary processes into multi-species, systematic conservation planning and enhanced capacity to inform conservation and sustainable development in the Pilbara. Significant benefits include alignment of conservation approaches across industry and government stakeholders, and implementation of best-practice conservation science in a biodiversity hotspot.

Professor John Endler et al.—Nutritional requirements of the critically endangered corroboree frog. This project aims to test the effect of dietary carotenoids on an extensive range of fitness-determining traits in the endangered southern corroboree frog. Unprecedented rates of species extinction have been reported for all vertebrates, with amphibians most severely affected. Captive breeding programs play a key role in amphibian conservation, yet there is a lack of knowledge regarding the nutritional requirements of threatened species. Manipulating captive nutrition is a cost-effective action that will permit recovery teams to more efficiently implement conservation actions. The findings will be of major benefit to amphibian conservation globally.

Professor Peter Lay et al., including Professor Emma Johnston—Clothes, fibres and filters that reduce pollution by micro and nano debris. This project aims to provide scientifically verified methods to avoid, intercept and redesign products that cause the most abundant type of marine plastic pollution—clothing fibres—which has increased by over 450% in 60 years. It will determine how natural and plastic fibres, clothing brands and washing machine filters, alter fibre emissions and ecological impacts. This will enable protocols to improve products and the environment, and reduce health risks that will benefit the public, government regulation and companies in designing ‘eco-friendly’ products.

Professor Roger Tanner et al.—Emulsion explosives for rock blasting in extreme geothermal environments. This project aims to understand the underlying mechanisms behind the physical and chemical breakdown of ammonium nitrate based emulsion explosives used for mining in geothermally active regions. It will apply this knowledge to develop a new class of high temperature- and pressure-resistant emulsion explosives. The resulting technology will be used in the safe and efficient mining of precious mineral deposits, such as gold, in geothermally active regions worldwide. The project will benefit the Australian mining industry by allowing mining of resources at deep levels, creating more jobs and increasing Australia's export earnings.

© 2018 Australian Academy of Science

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