Research Update

From coral to colliders: The Australian Research Council invests in our researchers

17 August, 2018

The biggest threat to the Great Barrier Reef and coral reefs around the world is climate change. But what if there was a way to forearm the reef to withstand ocean temperature increases?

That, in essence, is the thinking behind a bold proposal by Professor Madeleine van Oppen who was awarded a 2018 Australian Research Council Laureate Fellowship this month. Professor van Oppen’s program will seek to bioengineer the microalgae and bacteria that are integral to coral tissue, giving them characteristics that make them more resilient to climate change.

Two other ARC Laureate Fellowships were also awarded to our researchers. One was to Professor Dan Li who will use materials that consist of a single layer of atoms, such as graphene, to understand and manipulate ions at the nanoscale for use in next-generation batteries, water purification, mineral extraction and biomedical devices. The other, to Professor Jonathan Barnett, will investigate how communities on low-lying islands successfully adapt to climate change.

Of course, the University does not simply support research leaders; a central tenet of our mission is the training of future research leaders, including development of our graduate researchers. So, too, is growing our research impact. Hence, it is with great pleasure I tell you of the new ARC Training Centre for Medical Implant Technologies led by Professor Peter Lee.

Announced by Minister Simon Birmingham, the new centre will train engineers in a unique industry-university-hospital environment. This new generation of engineers will learn to work hand-in-glove with clinicians to develop jaw, hip, knee and shoulder implants exquisitely engineered and 3-D printed to fit individual patients for improved cost, appearance and performance.

To help deliver this technology to patients, the trainee engineers will also develop a deep understanding of the regulatory environment, and the industry, innovation and entrepreneurship needed to bring a medical implant to market.

The University will not be doing this alone. The Training Centre for Medical Implant Technologies includes three Australian Universities, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, 12 small companies from around the globe, large scale manufacturers, ethics and regulatory affairs experts and no less than six hospitals, including the Royal Children’s Hospital in the Melbourne Biomedical Precinct.

Last week also saw the announcement of ten Future Fellowships, supporting University research in areas of critical importance to Australia.

This year’s Future Fellowships include projects to:

  • investigate how regulation can improve the practice of poorly performing legal and health practitioners to prevent them doing further harm (Associate Professor Matthew Spittal)
  • discover how and why beetles and butterflies reflect near-infrared light, which is expected to create opportunities to develop bio-inspired materials for enhanced energy efficiency (Associate Professor Devi Stuart-Fox)
  • develop machine learning techniques to help analyse particle physics results from the Large Hadron Collider, which will increase the chances of discovering new subatomic phenomena, and of ruling out incorrect theories in particle physics (Dr Matthew Dolan)

The full list of Future Fellowships, all equally as compelling, can be seen at the ARC website.

In total the ARC has invested over $20 million in University of Melbourne researchers and their collaborators. My very best wishes to all ARC-funded research teams around the country, and to the professional staff that support them. I look forward to following their research journeys.

Professor James McCluskey – Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research)

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