Chapter 3 Outcome
The ARC's Outcome statement is: 'Growth of knowledge and innovation through managing research funding schemes, measuring research excellence and providing advice'. The case studies in this chapter provide examples of new knowledge and innovation arising from the three activities.
Managing research funding schemes
By funding excellent research through a range of research funding schemes, the ARC supports the achievement of:
- economic, environmental, social, health and cultural benefits to Australia
- growth in Australia's research capacity (through support for research training, national and international collaboration, and building scale and focus in areas of priority).
The funding scheme case studies are drawn from both the Discovery and Linkage programmes of the National Competitive Grants Programme (NCGP). Unless otherwise indicated, they relate to research projects awarded funding under the NCGP in previous years that have achieved outcomes in 2014–15.
Measuring research excellence
By measuring research excellence through Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA), the ARC supports the achievement of strategic research outcomes for Australia.
In this report one ERA case study is provided as the outcomes of the evaluation currently underway (ERA 2015) will not be announced until 2015–16. The case study outlines how the outcomes of previous ERA evaluations have been used to inform policy development during 2014–15.
By providing advice on research matters, the ARC supports the effective and efficient delivery of its responsibilities for managing research funding schemes and measuring research excellence.The policy case studies describe areas of ARC policy analysis during 2014–15 aimed at ensuring the NCGP continues to contribute to building research capacity in Australia.
List of case studies in this chapter
Building research capacity—Inspiring women: Science 50:50
Using funding from her Georgina Sweet Fellowship and with support from The University of New South Wales, ARC Australian Laureate Fellow, Professor Veena Sahajwalla, has established a new campaign (Science 50:50) aimed at changing attitudes to science for young women and reinforcing that science and technology offer great opportunities for girls.
Girls are still under-represented in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. This has a lot to do with their perception of science as a career. To secure Australia's future prosperity girls need to hear real stories from women whose own pathways to success make it abundantly clear that science and technology really is for girls.
Named after a distinguished and inspiring female researcher, the Georgina Sweet Australian Laureate Fellowship for science and technology is offered to outstanding female researchers. This prestigious fellowship, along with the Kathleen Fitzpatrick Australian Laureate Fellowship for the humanities, arts and social sciences, provides additional funding to support an ambassadorial role for the recipient to promote women in research and to mentor early career researchers, particularly women, to encourage them to enter and establish careers in research in Australia.
Aimed at encouraging more young women to take up STEM degrees and careers, the Science 50:50 programme is focused on networking, mentoring and industry engagement opportunities. This includes a New Innovators Competition offering university scholarships to the girls who submit the most original and innovative ideas for solving real world problems. The programme will also showcase extraordinary women in research, industry, media and politics through videos and its web portal as well as engaging girls with science and technology via school visits. The initiative was launched on 15 January 2015 at the National Youth Science Forum in Canberra.
Building research capacity—Attracting and retaining the world's best researchers
Professor Michelle Simmons is a Scientia professor and ARC Australian Laureate Fellow at The University of New South Wales, where she leads the ARC Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology. Quantum computing is recognised as having the potential to transform information processing, by calculating solutions to incredibly complex problems infinitely faster than ever before. It also has many applications, including: medical diagnostics, drug design, new materials, energy, logistics and big data analytics.
Professor Simmons and her team of 170 researchers from six universities have become global leaders in quantum computing. They are the only group in the world that can make precise electronic devices atom by atom in silicon. Professor Simmons plans to capitalise on her centre's international lead in this area to develop new commercial opportunities and industries for Australia. Professor Simmons was initially attracted to Australia to pursue her postdoctoral research through the award of an ARC Research Fellowship in 1999 and in 2003 she became a founding member of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computer Technology at The University of New South Wales. Her ground-breaking research in quantum computing has long been recognised and supported by the ARC through the award of two ARC Federation Fellowships, her current Australian Laureate Fellowship and numerous research projects funded under the ARC's Discovery and Linkage programmes.
Professor Simmons has been widely recognised for her research and has received numerous prizes and awards for her outstanding research achievements. Most recently, in 2014, she received the 2015 Thomas Ranken Lyle Medal for research in mathematics or physics from the Australia Academy of Science.
Generating benefits for Australia—Providing insight into Indigenous place names
The south-western corner of Western Australia is known as Nyungar Boodjar to the local Nyungar people. Over 50 per cent of town names in the region, as well as numerous geographical features, are indigenous in origin. Very few people, however, know what these place names actually mean.
Professor Len Collard, from The University of Western Australia, has developed an online resource from his research into Nyungar place names and their meanings as part of a project funded under the Discovery Indigenous Researchers Development scheme. The website which is named 'Boodjar', meaning 'Country', has an interactive map of the area where many names are Nyungar, even today (http://www.boodjar.sis.uwa.edu.au). The map is divided into the ancient Nyungar regions and visitors can click on places to find the meanings of place-names and to learn more about the contribution made to history of that region by Australia's Indigenous peoples.
The meaning behind Nyungar place names often reveals cultural and environmental features of the location. 'Karrinyup' is 'the place of spiders', while Dwellingup means 'foggy and misty place'. Professor Collard's research redresses the lack of information about indigenous place names and creates a common ground for understanding the local Indigenous geographical heritage.
Generating benefits for Australia—Managing pests on the Great Barrier Reef
Sections of the Great Barrier Reef have been decimated in recent years by outbreaks of Crown-of-Thorns starfish. It is estimated that the starfish is responsible for 42 per cent of coral cover loss on the reef in the past 30 years. Researchers from the University of the Sunshine Coast and researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science have recently discovered that the scent of one the predators of the Crown of Thorns starfish is enough to scare them away.
Dr Scott Cummins, an ARC Future Fellow at the University of the Sunshine Coast and an expert in marine animal chemical communication, said the confirmation that the Crown-of-Thorns starfish was terrified by the scent of the giant triton snail could provide a breakthrough in the management of the pest.
'Giant tritons only eat about one Crown-of-Thorns starfish a week, so breeding enough of them to control big populations is not really feasible,' says Dr Cummins. 'But we know the giant tritons release this scent that makes starfish scurry away. We hope to identify exactly what the scent molecule is and chemically synthesise it, then use slow release baits to dispense the scent compound to control the movements of the starfish. It won't kill the starfish, but if we can disperse aggregations, particularly during spawning season where they need to be near each other to breed, that might significantly reduce numbers.'
Generating benefits for Australia—Improving health outcomes for children
Rotavirus is a common cause of viral gastroenteritis for babies and young children, with all children having had at least one infection by the age of five. While the introduction of rotavirus vaccines has significantly reduced the number of hospital presentations in Australia, the virus remains prevalent and can have significant socioeconomic impact on communities. Internationally the virus kills up to half a million children each year.
A multidisciplinary team involving researchers from Griffith University and The University of Melbourne is significantly advancing understanding of how the rotavirus causes infection. They have published a paper in the international journal, Nature Communications, to reveal their findings about how the virus attacks cells through carbohydrate receptors present on a child's intestinal cells. The group, which is jointly funded by the ARC and National Health and Medical Research Council, includes ARC Future Fellow, Dr Thomas Haselhorst, and ARC-funded researcher, Professor Mark von Itzstein (a former ARC Federation Fellow).
Through a better understanding of which carbohydrates are important for the virus to attach to for successful infection, the research is providing a new direction in potential drug discovery. This is an important step in developing novel anti-rotaviral vaccines and improving health and socioeconomic outcomes associated with childhood susceptibility to rotavirus disease.
Generating benefits for Australia—Molecular biology discovery could lead to better treatment of nerve injuries
Nerve injuries, which can take on many forms, may permanently or temporarily impair a person's sensory and motor control functions. Until now, neurosurgery—where broken nerves are stitched back together—alone has had limited success in treating injuries of the nervous system or neurodegenerative diseases.
ARC Future Fellow, Dr Massimo Hilliard and his team at The University of Queensland's Queensland Brain Institute are undertaking research aimed at developing more successful approaches to treat nerve injuries. As a critical first step, Dr Hilliard has successfully led an ARC-funded project aiming to discover, using a genetic approach and a simple animal model system, the molecular mechanisms underlying nerve degeneration and regeneration. In January 2015, in a paper published in the renowned scientific journal Nature, Dr Hilliard and his team revealed the discovery of the molecular mechanisms that allow severed nerves in roundworms to fuse back together.
His fundamental research will now be built upon to transfer this knowledge to mammalian neurons. By delivering molecules that act as a glue to enable nerve healing, they hope to produce an environment that is much more conducive for nerve regeneration. In the long term, Dr Hilliard's discovery is expected to lead to improved clinical outcomes for patients with nerve injuries, including those with spinal cord injuries or vascular damage to healthy neurons.
Generating benefits for Australia—Looking back to predict future climate patterns
Official climate records in Australia commenced in 1908. So, until now, natural weather occurrences during Australia's early settlement period had been missing from our nation's climate history. However, a world-first interdisciplinary research project—spanning the sciences and the humanities—brought together a team of leading climate scientists, water managers and historians to uncover historical weather records for south-eastern Australia dating as far back as 1788.
Dr Linden Ashcroft, Dr Joelle Gergis and Professor David Karoly have used historical records, including First Fleet logbooks, farm records, newspapers and government gazettes, to reconstruct the weather experienced by settlers from 1788 to 1859. In their paper, published during 2014 in the Geoscience Data Journal, they reveal over 70 years of additional natural climate patterns and identify prolonged dry and wet periods as well as anomalously cold periods, including the first snowfall recorded in Sydney since European settlement in 1836.
The study was part of an ARC-supported Linkage project—South-Eastern Australia Recent Climate History (SEARCH)—led by Dr Gergis, an ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Award recipient at The University of Melbourne. The results provide a broader historical context in which to understand Australia's natural climate variability, providing Australia's water managers with crucial information for managing future water security and more complete data to inform climate modelling studies.
Dr Gergis and her SEARCH team won the 2014 University of New South Wales Eureka Prize for Excellence in Interdisciplinary Scientific Research for their success in mapping a thousand years of Australia's climate history.
Generating benefits for Australia—Low-cost, super-efficient offshore wind turbines
A conventional offshore wind turbine currently costs around $15 million to build. They are also extremely heavy and difficult to ship to their final location and require extensive maintenance due to a complicated gearbox. However, each offshore wind turbine can harness energy to power over 3000 households.
A team at the Institute for Superconducting and Electronic Materials at the University of Wollongong has developed a new super-conductor turbine which could significantly improve current turbines. Their design replaces the existing turbine gearbox with a magnesium diboride superconducting coil. This innovation is expected to significantly improve the efficiency of turbines to capture wind energy and convert it into electricity, as well as reduce the size and weight of turbines by 40 per cent and lower manufacturing and maintenance costs by up to two thirds. Unlike conventional copper wire, where 7 to 10 per cent of energy in an electric current is lost due to resistance, a superconducting material like magnesium diboride can conduct electricity with no resistance and therefore no loss of energy. Magnesium diboride is also cheap and easy to manufacture, with the estimated cost for the new super-conductor turbines to cost around $3–5 million per turbine.
The team includes Dr Shahriar Hossain, from the University of Wollongong, who received a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award in 2013.
Generating benefits for Australia—Impact of domestic violence
In the 2013ARC-funded a three-year study by researchers at the University of South Australia and Curtin University under the Discovery Projects scheme to investigate the impact of domestic violence on mental health, housing and employment.
The research team, led by Adjunct Professor Suzanne Franzway from the University of South Australia, surveyed 658 women from across Australia who had experienced domestic violence. They found that the majority of women reported that they did not regain the levels of mental health, the quality of housing or the employment status, which they had achieved before their experiences of domestic violence.
Domestic violence was experienced for a range of one-to-seven years with an average time of 3.25 years. The majority (79 per cent) of the women surveyed had children and almost half were forced to live in temporary dwellings immediately after leaving a violent relationship. Just over 42 per cent reported having to make a significant move because of domestic violence. During domestic violence 50.8 per cent owned their home, however, after leaving domestic violence only 13.4 per cent owned their home.
"Many women indicated that domestic violence had made it difficult for them to keep a job and 30 per cent of women could not continue in their place of employment because of safety reasons" Professor Franzway said. The results of this research are informing housing, health, employment and domestic violence systems and services in Australia.
Generating benefits for Australia—Changing the understanding of the origins of art
Ground breaking research conducted by Dr Maxime Aubert and Dr Adam Brumm from Griffith University has been included in the journal Science's 'top ten scientific achievements of 2014' for revolutionising current thinking on symbolic art and human evolution.
Supported by the Discovery Early Career Researcher Award scheme, Drs Aubert and Brumm have discovered that paintings of hands and animals from limestone caves in southern Sulawesi are contemporaneous with, or even older, than the earliest European cave art. This discovery has challenged current theories of Europe as the birthplace of modern human creative expression and enhanced understanding of a key stage of development of the human mind.
The researchers examined 12 images of hands and two figurative animals using a technique, known as U-series dating, which uses uranium decay to date small stalactite-like growths called 'cave popcorn' which had formed a crust over the art. The minimum dates produced ranged from 39 900 to 17 400 years ago and make the art up to four times older than originally thought. These results make the hand images the oldest known stencilled outlines of human hands in the world, while the painting of a babirusa, a pig deer, is comparable or even older than the earliest figurative cave paintings from France. These findings dispute the long held view that Western Europe was the centre for a creative explosion in the development of human artistic expression. Rather it suggests that the ability to create representational art had its origins further back in human history in Africa, before modern humans spread out across the rest of the world or even that it evolved independently in the region.
Generating benefits for Australia—Investigating the depths of the ocean
Scientific drilling of the ocean floor is one of the Earth Sciences' longest running and most successful international collaborations. The International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) was built on the scientific success and international partnerships associated with previous international drilling programmes and now has an annual operating budget of $180 million funded by 26 member countries. The ARC has supported Australian membership in the programme under the Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities scheme since 2001 (the first year of ARC funding).
Australia, forming a consortium with New Zealand, has been very successful in attracting drilling expeditions in our region. In 2014, eight Australian scientists took part in six IODP expeditions.
Professor Richard Arculus from The Australian National University has been instrumental in attracting expeditions, writing scientific proposals that led to three expeditions in the region and was invited to be co-chief scientist on one of them. The expedition investigated the origins of the Izu-Bonin-Mariana volcanic arc, which is of particular interest in establishing how continental crusts are formed and subduction zones are initiated.
Ongoing collaboration—university-industry success story
Strategic Energy Resources Ltd is a publicly owned company and the major shareholder in the only graphite producing mine in Australia, which makes it an ideal partner for the Monash research team led by Associate Professor Mainak Majumder. Dr Majumder and his team are investigating the uses of graphite derived graphene including outcomes for medicine, energy generation and storage, and environmental decontamination.
Graphene is one of the strongest materials known to man. A two-dimensional sheet of carbon one atom thick, graphene's honeycomb structure makes it 100 times stronger than steel, as well as highly conductive and flexible. Last year the team discovered that graphene oxide sheets can change structure to become liquid crystal droplets spontaneously, without any specialist equipment. This opens up possibilities for its use in drug delivery and disease detection.
The team is also working on supercapacitor miniaturisation, predominantly used in consumer electronics, but with increasing applications in transport, construction, medicine, food and defence. Supercapacitors enable electronic devices to hold much more energy in the same or lesser volume, deliver higher peak power and can be recharged in minutes.
Monash University and Strategic Energy Resources Ltd have a five year research collaboration partnership supported by two ARC Linkage Projects grants awarded in 2011 and 2014. The partnership is going so well that it is expected that Ionic Industries will demerge from Strategic Energy Resources Ltd to form a new company, Ionic Industries, and a new pilot plant facility for production of graphene will be established.
Generating benefits for Australia—Taking advantage of disease to study immunity
If you ask Professor Bill Heath what he does, he'll tell you he works on infectious diseases, particularly malaria and Herpes simplex, the virus that causes cold sores. But that's only half the answer. Professor Heath, a former ARC Federation Fellow, is actually an immunologist, who uses these infectious diseases to study how the immune system functions.
With the support of ARC Discovery Projects and Linkage, Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities funding, Professor Heath's research group at The University of Melbourne, working closely with long-term collaborator Professor Frank Carbone and his team, have been involved in changing the view of how the immune system's foot soldiers, the T cells, 'remember' an infection—so they can fight it more efficiently if it recurs. Professor Heath is also a chief investigator involved in the ARC Centre of Excellence for Advanced Molecular Imaging, so has access to technology and collaborators which allow him to probe the interactions of the major players of the adaptive immune system and directly see what happens.
It used to be thought that all memory T cells circulated around the body to be on hand if the same microorganism attempted to reinvade. Professor Heath's group has found that a previously unrecognised group of 'memory' T cells remains at the site of the original infection or can be localised within specific organs. These resident memory T cells are located at the coal-face where reinfections are likely to occur and are able to mount a stronger response when it happens.
One practical outcome of this research could be the development of more effective vaccines. Vaccines work by prodding the immune system to generate these memory T cells, typically by initiating an easily overcome infection—if a vaccine was able to target development of resident memory T cells it would be more effective.
Generating benefits for Australia—Revolutionising Australia's sewer systems
Australia's sewer infrastructure is worth more than $35 billion, but sewer corrosion and odour emissions cost Australian water utility companies hundreds of millions of dollars a year. In collaboration with eleven industry partners (who collectively provide wastewater services to around two-thirds of Australians), Professor Zhiguo Yuan and his team from The University of Queensland and four other Australian universities have been developing sustainable solutions to support the cost-effective management of complex sewer corrosion and odour problems.
The project team developed a tool called 'SeweX'. Using sophisticated mathematical modelling, SeweX can pinpoint corrosion or odour 'hotspots' in sewer infrastructure, determine the service life of sewers, and optimise mitigation strategies. This gives utilities the ability to tackle potential problems before they become catastrophic failures. The impact of their research on the water industry has been recognised worldwide, including, most recently, by the International Water Association which awarded their project the 2014 Global Project Innovation Award (Applied Research).
The team is now working on 'Cloevis', a patented mix of chemicals that kills bacteria associated with both odour and corrosion. Using SeweX modelling, the chemicals can be delivered to targeted areas where it is most needed, further substantially reducing sewer maintenance costs and lessening environmental impact.
Collaborators include The University of New South Wales, The University of Newcastle, The University of Sydney, Curtin University of Technology, Barwon Region Water Corporation, CH2MHILL, City of Gold Coast, Hunter Water Corporation, Melbourne Water Corporation, South Australian Water Corporation, Sydney Water Corporation, South East Water Limited, Veolia Water Australia and New Zealand, Water Research Australia Limited, and Western Australia Water Corporation.
Generating benefits for Australia—iLetter: digital communication and the war experience
A major collaboration between researchers from The University of New South Wales (UNSW) and ABC Radio has resulted in an innovative digital archive which captures the personal experiences of Australian Defence Force veterans. The archive explores the impact of the war in Afghanistan on defence personnel and their families to create a unique portrayal of how war is experienced in the era of digital communication.
The Retrospect: War, Family, Afghanistan website examines the impacts of the war in Afghanistan, and is part of a larger collaborative project, iLetter, led by Scientia Professor Dennis Del Favero. The project explores new digital forms of war memorial and new ways of incorporating the experiences of veterans and their families into the national story of war at a time when the 'conventional letter home' has been replaced by interactive forms of digital communication.
With defence personnel no longer producing the letters and diaries that documented the experiences of the conflicts of earlier generations, iLetter is creating a major interactive and immersive war archive which collates the next generation of 'oral history' for conflicts in the 21st century. These interactive databases will be accessible by both specialist researchers and the veteran community, which will be an invaluable resource for historians in the future and will increase public understanding of the veteran experience.
The project has a dedicated website and series of six radio documentaries broadcast on ABC Radio, a partner organisation on the project. There is also an interactive cinema exhibition set to be launched on Armistice Day 2015 at UNSW's iCinema that will allow access to a huge digital database of veteran and family memories which can be collated using artificial intelligence in the 360 degree three-dimensional cinema.
Using ERA results
In 2014–15 ERA data and results were used to inform policy advice across government, as well as the strategic research agendas of higher education institutions.
During the period, ERA data and results were used to inform policy advice across government and more broadly, including:
- Research Engagement for Australia: Measuring Research Engagement between Universities and End Users, by the Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE)
- mapping Australia's Science and Research Priorities (Department of Industry and Science)
- development of the Defence Trade Controls Act (Department of Defence).
This project explored options for developing metrics to measure Australian universities' research engagement with private and public sector partners.
The report focussed on developing metrics from existing data collections of Australian university research that could serve as indicators for research engagement, knowledge transfer and/or collaboration. The key and simplifying principle used in the report was to use external dollars attracted to support research from industry and other end users, as a direct measure of research engagement. Using existing data that is submitted by universities to the ARC for inclusion in ERA, three metrics were developed: a metric for 'Engagement per Full Time Equivalent (FTE)', a metric demonstrating the 'Share of National Engagement Activity' and a metric of 'Engagement Intensiveness'. These three metrics are derived by using income that is earned by university researchers for research done in collaboration with and/or for public and private sector partners.
Using the Australia and New Zealand Standard Research Classification Field of Research (FoR) codes, each metric was applied to two-digit research disciplines (e.g. Mathematical Sciences – FoR 01) for each Australian university, using de-identified data provided by the ARC.
Research Integrity and Misconduct
The ARC expects the highest standards of integrity in all aspects of research it funds. Research must be conducted according to appropriate ethical, legal and professional frameworks, obligations and standards in a research environment underpinned by a culture of integrity. Instances of research misconduct have the potential to undermine public confidence in ARC processes, funding recommendations, research outcomes and the value of publicly funded research.
Under the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research, institutions are responsible for the investigation of allegations of breaches of the code and research misconduct.
To strengthen its ability to monitor and, where appropriate, take action on research integrity and research misconduct matters related to ARC-funded researchers, in 2014–15 the ARC released a revised Research Integrity and Research Misconduct Policy. Previously, research misconduct procedures were embedded in the ARC Complaints Handling Policy and Procedures.
The ARC Research Integrity and Research Misconduct Policy provides guidance to institutions on reporting requirements, outlining what information should be provided to the ARC and when it should be provided; as well as to report allegations of research integrity breaches or research misconduct to the ARC. The policy also outlines the circumstances in which sanctions—for example, ceasing funding or the progression of ARC grant proposals—can be considered by the ARC.
ARC funding agreements made after the release of this policy will include clauses to reflect the new requirements. The policy is published on the ARC website.
Conflict of Interest
In order to maintain and promote public confidence in the ARC's processes the ARC released a revised Conflict of Interest and Confidentiality Policy in December 2014.
The revised policy aims to ensure that conflicts of interest are identified, disclosed and managed in a transparent and rigorous way. The policy applies to individuals involved in ARC business including, but not limited to, committee members, reviewers, researchers, ARC employees and contractors.
The policy's content enables streamlined and effective communication of the ARC's management of conflict of interest across the agency. In acknowledging the differences between ARC business areas, the policy is underpinned by standard operating procedures for Corporate Services; ICT Services; Programmes; Research Excellence; and Strategy branches. These procedures outline the responsibilities and processes specific to each area, in order to ensure compliance with the policy across all areas of the agency's business.
A review of the Conflict of Interest and Confidentiality Policy will be undertaken in 2016.
In 2014–15 the ARC continued to contribute to public policy formulation in regard to gender equity for women in research.
Representatives of the ARC attended national forums including, the Science in Australia Gender Equality Forum and the National Health and Medical Research Council Women in Health Sciences Workshop.
Substantial progress was made towards the development of an ARC Women in Research Statement and Gender Equality Action Plan which details the mechanisms the ARC has in place as well as actions planned for the coming year.
A key policy change was introduced into the Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) scheme funding rules (for funding commencing in 2016). Specifically the window of eligibility for DECRA candidates was adjusted to recognise caring responsibilities and their impact on a researcher's career. The new provisions allow researchers with career interruptions due to caring for dependent children, to extend their eligibility by up to two years for a dependent child and up to a maximum of four years for two or more dependent children.
Additionally the ARC Centres of Excellence scheme introduced a requirement in the most recent funding round (for funding commencing in 2017) for the development of a centre-specific equity plan to position the centre as a flexible and family friendly work environment.