4.1 Case studies in support of the Annual Performance Statement

This section provides detailed case studies illustrating outcomes achieved or key projects undertaken against the ARC’s three key activities:

  • Key Activity 1: Funding the highest quality research
  • Key Activity 2: Assessing the quality, engagement and impact of research
  • Key Activity 3: Providing advice on research matters
This figure shows three circles:
.	Key Activity 1 – funding the highest quality research
.	Key Activity 2 – Assessing the quality, engagement and impact of research
.	Key Activity 3 – Providing advice on research matters.
The circles for Key Activity 1 and Key Acting 2 overlap with the circle for Key Activity 3, indicating that policy advice underpins the delivery of the other two activities.

Case study 1

Breakthrough technology makes batteries safe and sustainable

Professor Baohua Jia

Swinburne University of Technology Discovery Early Career Researcher Award and Discovery Projects schemes DE120100291; DP150102972

Black and white photograph of Professor Baohua Jia.
Professor Baohua Jia is driven by the desire to change lives and shape industries. Her work on solar batteries represents a major breakthrough in energy storage technology and now is being commercialised.
Image Credit: Swinburne University of Technology

The goal of producing environmentally friendly, safe, efficient batteries is a step closer to being realised owing to the innovative work of Professor Baohua Jia, Research Leader of Nanophotonics Solar Technology at Swinburne University of Technology.

Professor Jia, a 2012 ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Award recipient, Australian L’Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science Fellow and member of The League of Remarkable Women in Australian Science, has worked with colleagues at Swinburne’s Centre for Micro-Photonics to develop the battery. Known as the Bolt Electricity Storage Technology Battery, or BEST Battery for short, the technology makes use of a graphene oxide-based supercapacitor.

A three-year ARC Discovery Projects grant enabled Professor Jia and her research team to undertake direct laser printing of thin films of graphene oxide, creating a significantly larger surface area on which to store electrical charges. This resulted in a battery which physically stores energy rather than chemically, offering high-performance and low-cost energy storage. The battery is also highly flexible and is able to function without overheating, making it a very attractive component for use in smart phones, portable devices and electric vehicles.

A patent on this technology has already been filed and a commercial prototype is being developed through project partners, Graphene Solutions, a joint venture between graphite miner, First Graphite Resources (FGR), and Melbourne electronics company, Kremford Pty Ltd. If successful, the battery will quickly charge and discharge energy, in theory, millions of times and store power for longer. This is a significant advancement compared to traditional, non-rechargeable chemical batteries, which are toxic to the environment.

Case study 2

Sustaining the arts and cultural sector in remote Australia

Associate Professor Brydie-Leigh Bartleet

Griffith University
Linkage Projects scheme

Black and white photograph of Associate Professor Brydie-Leigh Bartleet, the Creative Barkly Team Leader, with Warumungu Elder, Traditional Owner and Advisor to the project, Rosemary Plummer.
The Creative Barkly Team Leader, Associate Professor Brydie-Leigh Bartleet, with Warumungu Elder, Traditional Owner and Advisor to the project, Rosemary Plummer.
Image Credit: Griffith University
Black and white photograph of Lindy Brodie, a renowned Barkly artist. Lindy Brodie is painting the Creative Barkly logo.
Renowned Barkly artist, Lindy Brodie, painting the Creative Barkly logo at Barkly Regional Arts.
Image Credit: Griffith University

Cultural and creative sectors are playing an increasingly crucial role in Australia’s economic and cultural development, particularly in regional areas. Associate Professor Brydie-Leigh Bartleet, Director of the Queensland Conservatorium Research Centre and 2014 Australian University Teacher of the Year, is working with researchers at Griffith University, Southern Cross University and the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education, to examine how the arts and cultural sector is currently functioning in remote Australia and where its growth potential lies.

Researchers are mapping the arts and cultural sectors in the Barkly region in the Northern Territory, surrounding Tennant Creek. Utilising a range of mechanisms, including surveys, interviews and direct consultations with artists, elders, local organisations and community arts workers, the Creative Barkly project will focus on how artistic and creative activities contribute to developing Barkly communities and the region.

Project partners include Barkly Regional Arts—the region’s hub for the arts, which works with over 800 artists in 12 very remote communities to facilitate arts activities—along with Regional Development Australia Northern Territory, a local not-for-profit supporting the sustainable development of the Northern Territory.

The three-year project, funded under the ARC Linkage Projects scheme will contribute to a better understanding of the role of the arts and cultural sectors in remote Australian communities, recognising the unique demographics of these areas. The project aims to create resources to inform current policies, strategies and initiatives to support ongoing development of creative industries, and investment, in remote communities in Barkly and across Australia.

Case study 3

Nanoscale sensor to spot disease

Associate Professor Guozhen Liu

Macquarie University
ARC Centres of Excellence and Future Fellowships schemes
CE140100003; FT160100039

Black and white photograph of Associate Professor Guozhen Lieu holding up test tubes.
Associate Professor Guozhen Liu, creating new windows into the body with her innovative  nanoscale biosensor research.
Image Credit: Tony Crawshaw, CNBP

A new generation of nanoscale ‘biosensors’, developed by researchers at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics (CNBP), are capable of detecting the early signs of inflammatory disorders and even cancer. Further development could mean that the sensor becomes a common tool in early diagnosis and treatment monitoring, leading to improved health outcomes.

Associate Professor Guozhen Liu, an ARC Future Fellow and CNBP researcher based at Macquarie University, has been leading a team that has developed a nano-sensor to detect cytokines—a category of small proteins that govern basic activities of cells and coordinate cell actions.

Cytokines also play critical roles in chemically-induced tissue damage repair, in cancer development and progression, in the control of cell replication and apoptosis, and in many other aspects of physiology. Consequently, monitoring cell functions and cell-to-cell communication by using cell cytokine secretions has enormous value in biology and medicine.

Due to their low abundance, cytokines are hard to measure and quantify. Consisting of a modified graphene quantum dot (GQD) attached to cytokine sensing DNA molecules known as aptamers, the new sensor is so small that it is easily able to penetrate inside cells and to identify ultra-small levels of cytokines.

While some years away from clinical study, this GQD sensing technology has the potential to develop new diagnostic tools to monitor multiple health conditions. The sensor could also be applied in other biomedical research areas which would benefit from the ability to track and monitor a variety of cellular activities.

Case study 4

Smart windows to save energy

Professor Huijun Zhao

Griffith University
Linkage Projects scheme

Black and white photograph of Professor Huijun Zhao holding laboratory equipment.
Professor Huijun Zhao in the laboratory
Image Credit: Fotomedia

The amount of energy exchange through a conventional window can be almost 10 times that of insulated walls and can account for more than 50 per cent of the energy consumed for heating, ventilation and air-conditioning.

With the support of an ARC Linkage Projects grant, Professor Huijun Zhao, Director of the Centre for Clean Environment and Energy at Griffith University, is leading a research project, in collaboration with Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, to develop ‘smart’ windows that will contribute to significant energy savings in a building.

By creating new functional nanomaterials, Professor Zhao and his team aim to develop a low-cost smart window that is able to change its colour and the amount of light or heat it transmits.

“The intended outcomes of this project will facilitate the widespread adoption of energy-saving smart windows, alleviate pressure on the rising energy demand and contribute to the goal of sustainable working and living environment,” Professor Zhao said.

Additional financial and in-kind support from industry partner, Confirmation Australia Pty Ltd—a company that produces glass and glass coatings—is assisting researchers to incorporate the new materials into the glass manufacturing process and will facilitate commercialisation of the new windows.

With the move towards incorporating more automation technology in building design, the development of smart windows has the potential to have a significant impact on both the residential and commercial building industries.

Case study 5

Honouring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander military service

Professor Michael Dodson

The Australian National University Linkage Projects scheme

Black and white photograph of attendees at the conference.
Serving our Country researchers, staff and delegates at the Defending Country: Sharing Stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Service Conference, December 2014, The Australian National University.
Image Credit: Magali McDuffie

Prominent Australian academic and member of the Yawuru peoples, Professor Michael ‘Mick’ Dodson AM, is leading an ARC Linkage Project to document the contributions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander veterans and ex-service personnel. The project, Serving our Country: a history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in defence of Australia, was supported by research partners from The Australian War Memorial, National Archives of Australia and the Departments of Veterans’ Affairs and Defence.

In addition to holding a large conference in 2014, the research team visited communities across Australia to hold Yarn Ups—oral, video and photo history recordings sessions with Indigenous defence personnel and their families. These were a vital part of the project and allowed individuals to tell their story, their way, helping researchers to gain a richer, deeper history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s service. A record of all Yarn Ups and interviews is available on the project website at www.ourmobserved.anu.edu.au/yarn-ups.

The project culminated in a variety of outcomes, including several books, published articles and a major exhibition at the National Archives of Australia, Facing Two Fronts. This exhibition blends images, historical records and video portraits to tell not just the stories of Indigenous soldiers who served in various theatres of war, but also how they fought for social justice on their return.

Professor Dodson is Director of the National Centre for Indigenous Studies at The Australian National University. The project also involved collaboration with researchers from the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, the Australian Catholic University and The University of Newcastle. Key partner organisations included the Departments of Veterans’ Affairs, Department of Defence, National Archives of Australia and the Australian War Memorial.

Case study 6

A golden chance to discover dark matter

Professor Elisabetta Barberio

The University of Melbourne
Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities scheme
LE170100162; LE160100080; LP150100705

Black and white photograph of mobile laboratory within the Stawell Gold Mine.
Serving our Country researchers, staff and delegates at the Defending Country: Sharing Stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Service Conference, December 2014, The Australian National University.
Image Credit: Mark Killmer

One of the greatest puzzles of modern physics—directly detecting dark matter—is a step closer to being solved with a new project funded through the ARC Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities scheme. The funding is being used to build an incredibly sensitive dark matter signal detector system known as SABRE (Sodium-iodide with Active Background REjection) at the Stawell Underground Physics Laboratory in Western Victoria.

Building the detector more than one kilometre underground in an operating gold mine will reduce interference from cosmic rays, allowing researchers to more easily discern dark matter signals. Experiments performed using SABRE will enable Australia to become a world leader in an exciting new field.

The lab’s low-radiation environment also provides an ideal setting for ground-breaking work in other areas such as chemistry, biology and defence science. The detector system could even lead to improved gold mapping techniques. Because certain forms of cosmic radiation cannot penetrate gold, researchers will be able to use the detector system to take an ‘X-ray’ of land around a mine, pinpointing the exact location of gold deposits.

Led by Professor Elisabetta Barberio of The University of Melbourne, the project sees Australian physicists team up with local and international partners from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Particle Physics, the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation and the Italian National Institute of Nuclear and Particle Physics. The Victorian Government and the Federal Government have also provided $1.75 million each towards the project.

Case Study 7

Exploring Australia’s past

Professor Alistair Paterson

The University of Western Australia
Linkage Projects scheme

Black and white photograph of skull.
Individual SK14.
Image Credit: Ambika Flavel, University of Western Australia
Black and white photograph of researchers gathered around dig revealing skeleton.
Image Credit: Jeremy Green, WA Museum

A reassessment of some of the earliest shipwrecks in Australian waters using new technologies and techniques has expanded our understanding of the past. Researchers have investigated seven European shipwrecks as part of an ARC Linkage Project, including the ill-fated Dutch East India Company vessel Batavia, which was wrecked on a reef in 1629 near the Houtman Abrolhos Islands 60 kilometres off the coast of Western Australia. Many of the 340 people on board managed to make their way over the reef to nearby islands, only to become embroiled in a bloody mutiny. What ensued remains one of the darkest and most remarkable chapters in the story of Australia’s early maritime history.

The multidisciplinary collaboration, led by Professor Alistair Paterson at The University of Western Australia (UWA), involves state, national and international partners from Europe and Australia including the British Museum, the Cultural Heritage Agency and National Archives of the Netherlands and the Western Australian (WA) Museum.

As part of the study, geoscientific investigations and archaeological excavations conducted by the team on Beacon Island led to the discovery of several victims of the 1629 mutiny. Forensic analysis of the remains provided further insight into the lives and untimely demise of the victims. Isotopic analyses are revealing their life histories in Europe before joining the fateful voyage. Researchers also developed a virtual reality simulation of the island, enabling members of the public to explore and understand the tiny island’s dramatic place in Western Australian history.

This research has led to exhibitions at the WA Museum and UWA galleries, and will be featured on national free-to-air media in 2017 and 2018. The project has strengthened our understanding of the ways scientific approaches enhance our understanding of Australia’s wrecks and their associated artefacts, helping to inform better protection and management of Australia’s maritime history and heritage.

Case study 8

Nanotech technology to reduce car exhaust pollution

Professor Yusuke Yamauchi

University of Wollongong
Future Fellowships scheme

Black and white photograph of Professor Yusuke Tamauchi and Dr Md Shahriar Hossain.
ARC Future Fellow, Professor Yusuke Yamauchi from the Australian Institute for Innovative Materials (AIIM) at the University of Wollongong (UOW), with fellow AIIM researcher, Dr Md Shahriar Hossain.
Image Credit: Paul Jones, UOW

ARC Future Fellow, Professor Yusuke Yamauchi, is part of a team of researchers from the University of Wollongong’s Australian Institute for Innovative Materials (AIIM) and Australian Nuclear Science Technology Organisation that, in collaboration with researchers in Japan, Turkey and Bangladesh, have created a new nanomaterial with the potential to significantly reduce pollution from vehicle exhaust.

The team created porous rhodium on a nanoscale. Rhodium is a chemical element commonly used in catalytic converters—the emissions control device in vehicles that converts toxic gases and pollutants in exhaust gas to less toxic pollutants. Making the material porous increases its surface area, thereby making it more effective. While the new material can already be used to replace conventional catalytic converters, the team is looking to develop a hybrid system that can decompose nitrogen oxide (NOx) and sulphur oxides (SOx) as well as carbon dioxide. The team is also looking at the efficiency of other metals.

The technology could play a big role in reducing air pollution around the world, but may be of particular benefit in South Asian countries like Bangladesh and other parts of the developing world. While there is a move towards electric cars, in these countries petrol and diesel engines will continue to dominate for decades. As high levels of NOx and SOx in the atmosphere have a detrimental environmental effect and is toxic to plants, this new technology has the potential to improve health outcomes as well as food and nutritional security.

The aim of the Future Fellowships scheme is to attract and retain the best and brightest mid-career researchers. In 2015, Professor Yamauchi joined AIIM from Japan’s National Institute of Materials Science. As well as support from the ARC, this research has received support from the University of Wollongong and the World Bank.

Case study 9

A world of opportunity for pattern recognition in big data

Professor Svetha Venkatesh

Deakin University
Australian Laureate Fellowships scheme

Black and white photograph of Professor Svetha Venkatesh.
ARC Australian Laureate Fellow, Professor Svetha Venkatesh.
Image Credit: Deakin Univeristy

Professor Svetha Venkatesh at Deakin University has been awarded a prestigious Australian Laureate Fellowship to further her ground-breaking work in pattern recognition. Designed to reflect Australia’s commitment to excellence in research, this prestigious award celebrates pre-eminent scientists and their leadership and mentoring contribution to Australia’s research community.

As one of Australia’s leading experts in computer science, Professor Venkatesh, who also is the Director of Deakin University’s Centre for Pattern Recognition and Data Analysis (PRaDA), has pioneered the development of new technologies that recognise patterns in big data.

With the support of numerous ARC grants, her research has contributed to a range of industries and has led to start-ups such as iCetana, an information and technology system that finds anomalies through video analytics to detect potential security threats in large data sets; and Toby Playpad, an application for children with autism. Another of Professor Venkatesh’s achievements is the development of a health analytics program to help doctors predict suicide risk in patients. This project has resulted in iHosp, a start-up that promises to improve efficiency and patient care in hospitals around the world.

Professor Venkatesh’s latest project aims to accelerate scientific innovation through pattern analysis. Expected outcomes of the project include advancing the theory and practice of pattern recognition, transforming the way complex experimental explorations can be done and establishing Australia as a leader in innovation-led productivity in the fourth industrial revolution.

Case study 10

Sequencing ancient DNA to understand modern diseases

Dr Laura Weyrich

The University of Adelaide
Discovery Early Career Researcher Award scheme

Black and white photograph of neanderthal bones.
The assembled Neanderthal skeletal remains from the Spy Cave site, Belgium. DNA from the dental calculus reveals the Neanderthals had been eating woolly rhino, mouflon sheep and mushrooms, reflecting the local environment at the edge of the mammoth steppe, which stretched across to Alaska.
Image Credit: Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences

Ancient dental plaque is being used by researchers to unlock the evolutionary history of the human microbiome—the collection of bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms that live on and within the human body. Investigating how these bacterial communities are established and how they respond to changes in diet, environment, culture and location can help us understand their role in human health and disease management.

Paleomicrobiologist, Dr Laura Weyrich from The University of Adelaide’s Australian Centre for Ancient DNA, examined ancient bacterial communities preserved in 48,000-year-old Neanderthals as part of an ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Award project. By sequencing ancient DNA within the preserved dental plaque of Neanderthals from Spain and Belgium, Dr Weyrich and her colleagues have revealed fascinating insights into the interactions, behaviour, culture and knowledge of Neanderthals.

Findings from Dr Weyrich’s research identify significant differences in the Neanderthals’ microbiome based on their diets. In addition, the research found that Neanderthals and humans share a number of microbes, indicating that interactions between the two could have been more intimate and ancient than previously thought. In contrast to their typical depiction as club wielding oafs, the research also suggests that Neanderthals maintained an extensive knowledge of treatments for ailments and were self-medicating with natural remedies, such as aspirin sourced from poplar trees and antibiotics from mould.

Cultural changes, dietary shifts, and disease have shaped the evolution of the microbiome through the course of human history. According to Dr Weyrich, tracking changes in how bacteria and pathogens have changed over time, and investigating the microbiome interchange between Neanderthals and modern humans, can provide a better understanding of today’s diseases.

Case study 11

Creating ultra-hard hexagonal diamonds

Associate Professor Jodie Bradby

The Australian National University
Future Fellowships scheme
DP140102331; FT130101355; LE140100104; LE0775679

Black and white photograph of Associate professor Jodie Bradby looking through a microscope.
Associate Professor Jodie Bradby.
Image Credit: Jamie Kidston, The Australian National University

An international team of scientists have artificially produced a type of diamond previously only found in nature at the site of meteorite impacts. The ultra-hard diamond, known as lonsdaleite, was the result of an international collaboration led by ARC Future Fellow, Associate Professor Jodie Bradby, from The Australian National University.

The research team produced lonsdaleite when they compressed a form of pure carbon in a diamond anvil cell, a device in which two opposing diamonds apply super-high pressures. When they examined the results, the research team realised that the carbon atoms in the diamond had a hexagonal arrangement. While the arrangement of carbon atoms in normal diamonds is cubic, the hexagonal structure of this nanocrystalline lonsdaleite makes it even harder than regular diamonds.

Named after pioneering crystallographer, Dame Kathleen Lonsdale, artificial lonsdaleite could be used for a variety of applications. According to the researchers, lonsdaleite’s comparative hardness means that the material could be used at mining sites and in other industrial processes that require cutting ultra-solid materials. “Any time you need a super-hard material to cut something, this new diamond has the potential to do it more easily, and more quickly,” Associate Professor Bradby said.

Co-researcher, Professor Dougal McCulloch an ARC-funded researcher from RMIT University, suggested that the success of the project was due to the teamwork of world-leading scientists and the use of cutting-edge technology. The research team involved in this discovery included scientists from RMIT University (using microscopes funded through the ARC Linkage infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities scheme) and The University of Sydney, along with collaborators from the United States. Associate Professor Bradby was awarded an ARC Future Fellowship in 2014 to study materials at extreme pressures.

Case study 12

Safeguarding the future of the elusive platypus

Professor Richard Kingsford

The University of New South Wales
Linkage Projects scheme

Black and white photograph of platypus.
Dr Bino processing an anaesthetized platypus—just about to take a food sample from the animal’s cheek pouch.
Image Credit: Dan Lunney
Black and white photograph of hands with tape measure over platypus.
Dr Gilad Bino, measuring bill width of a female platypus on the Severn River NSW.
Image Credit: Dan Lunney

Despite the platypus being an iconic Australian animal, in 2016 it was listed as ‘near-threatened’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. To maintain healthy and viable populations, platypuses need to be able to move around and between river systems and deep pools. However, in many areas the degradation and modification of Australia’s riparian ecosystems and rivers through the building of dams, and other pressures, has resulted in platypus populations coming under threat.

In response to the reported decline in platypus numbers, Professor Richard Kingsford, Director of the Centre of Ecosystem Science at The University of New South Wales, is leading a project to assess the status of platypus populations. The Platypus Conservation Initiative, funded by an ARC Linkage Projects grant, is a multidisciplinary collaboration involving three universities, six federal and state environmental agencies and departments and other key stakeholders. The project aims to safeguard the future of this elusive animal by identifying threats and effective conservation actions to mitigate the risk of platypus extinction.

Due to their predominantly nocturnal nature, data on platypus populations has been difficult to collect and often relied on anecdotal and archival documents. In collaboration with technology giant Google, Cesar Australia one of the partners in the research team have developed platypusSPOT, an app where the public can become citizen scientists and help better understand the status of platypuses by submitting a photo and observations of a platypus sighting. To date, over 360 observations have been submitted through the app.

In May 2017, the ‘best platypus minds’ came together for a conference and workshop at Taronga Zoo to discuss their research and to develop a conservation plan for the future.

Case study 13

The triggers of evolution and extinction of life on Earth

Distinguished Professor Ross Large

University of Tasmania
ARC Centres of Excellence and Discovery Projects schemes
CE0561595; DP150102578

Black and white photograph of Distinguished Professor Ross Large in a laboratory.
Distinguished Professor Ross Large, ARC Centre of Excellence in Ore Deposits.
Image Credit: Karen Brown

A multidisciplinary research project led by renowned expert in ore deposit geology, Distinguished Professor Ross Large from the University of Tasmania (UTAS), is providing new insights into the fields of biology and evolution.

The Trace Elements in Past Oceans (TEPO) project won the 2016 UNSW Eureka Prize for Excellence in Interdisciplinary Research for ground-breaking work in understanding the connections between plate tectonics, past ocean chemistry and the evolution and extinction of life on Earth. The project is a collaboration of international researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Ore Deposits, Flinders University, the Russian Academy of Science, and the University of California Riverside, utilising analytical chemistry, geology, palaeontology, evolutionary biology and toxicology. Key infrastructure for this project has included the ARC Centre of Excellence laboratory for Laser Ablation Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry analysis funded jointly by the ARC, industry and UTAS. This is one of a handful of global laboratories capable of this type of micro analysis of sulphide minerals.

In a result that may change the way we understand evolution, the research team has shown that almost every major growth period or extinction in the Earth’s history correlates with a change in the amount of the trace element selenium in the ocean—high levels of selenium show growth and low levels indicate extinctions.

The team made the remarkable finding when they analysed pyrite, or fool’s gold, in core samples, which are sections of rock drilled from deep below the ocean floor. Using innovative laser-based analysis, the team found that many trace elements in the ocean dropped to very low concentrations during particular short time intervals over the past 500 million years, correlating precisely to the timing of three of the five biggest mass extinction events on Earth.

Distinguished Professor Ross Large has been awarded a Discovery Projects grant to conduct further work in this area and to better understand changes in atmosphere oxygen, triggers for the evolution of life and to support targeted mineral exploration in metal-rich basins across Australia.

Case study 14

Using silk to fix eardrums

Professor Xungai Wang

Deakin University
Linkage Projects scheme

Black and white photograph of Deakin University team members working together.
Professor Xungai Wang (Centre) with Deakin team members Dr Ben Allardyce (Left) and Dr Rangam Rajkhowa (Right).
Image Credit: Deakin University

One of Australia’s foremost experts in the area of fibre science, Professor Xungai Wang from Deakin University, has been the recipient of a number of ARC grants. The funding, from both the ARC’s Discovery and Linkage Programs, has supported the work of Professor Wang and his team and has contributed to major advancements in materials science and engineering research. Research conducted by Professor Wang, who is also Director of the ARC Research Hub for a World-class Future Fibre Industry, has supported Australia’s multi-billion dollar fibre industry and is now finding applications in new and novel products.

A collaboration between Professor Wang and Ear Science Institute Australia (ESIA) has resulted in an innovative silk membrane that could soon assist the estimated 330 million people worldwide who suffer chronic eardrum perforation due to infection. Development of a thin, transparent membrane dubbed ‘ClearDrum’ has been supported by an ARC Linkage Projects grant. When inserted into the ear, the ClearDrum membrane acts as a bio-scaffold, allowing cells to grow on and into it, helping with the healing process.

Professor Wang and his team’s expertise in silk fibres, together with the ESIA team’s work on protein functionality and application, facilitated the use of silk proteins called ‘fibroin’ to produce the membrane. According to Winthrop Professor Marcus Atlas, a specialist in ear and hearing disorders and a research collaborator from ESIA, they made contact with Professor Wang due to his extensive experience in silk materials.

In an indication of the significance of this product, the Wellcome Trust Translation Fund recently awarded ESIA and Professor Wang’s team nearly $4 million to bring ClearDrum to market as quickly as possible.

Case study 15

Laser technology to weed out farmers’ problems

Professor Kamal Alameh

Edith Cowan University
Linkage Projects scheme

Black and white photograph of Professor Kamal Alameh with a piece of equipment – the spectral laser-based weed sensor.
Spectral laser-based weed sensor.
Image Credit: Kamal Alameh, Edith Cowan University

A system that uses lasers to identify and discriminate between crop and weed could soon be saving Australia’s agricultural sector hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Funding from an ARC Linkage Projects grant was awarded to Professor Kamal Alameh from Edith Cowan University’s Electron Science Research Institute to refine and commercialise the technology. A decade in the making, the ‘Photonic Weed Detection System’ will enable farmers to better manage their crops and increase their farm productivity.

The system works by shining laser beams of different wavelengths onto plants. Information from the reflected light is then matched against a specific weed or crop, providing farmers with real-time discrimination between differing types of vegetation. According to Professor Alameh, field tests show that the system can discriminate between crop and weed with an accuracy of more than 95 per cent.

The first-of-its-kind system sees a dramatic improvement over current approaches to weed management, allowing precise herbicide spraying of targeted weeds. Introduction of the system is expected to result in increased crop yields with reduced environmental impacts. With the cost of weeds to Australian agriculture estimated to be around $4 billion per annum, the technology could mean a decreased risk of herbicide resistance and substantial long-term cost savings.

Case study 16

Continuous application process under the Linkage Projects scheme

The Linkage Projects scheme opened for continuous applications on 1 July 2016. The continuous process means that proposals may be submitted at any time in the ARC’s Research Management System (RMS) and that assessment commences as soon as they are submitted. To enable the ARC to inform applicants of outcomes as soon as possible, high and low-ranked proposals are fast-tracked through the assessment process with outcomes announced as early as possible after submission. All proposals are expected to be announced within six months of proposal submission.

The purpose of moving to a continuous cycle is to allow for Linkage Projects proposals to be submitted at a time suitable to partners, rather than fitting in with a structured application cycle. One of the performance indicators identified for this initiative is that the Linkage Projects scheme supports greater industry participation in collaborative research projects funded under the scheme.

A comparison of the results over the past four selection rounds is provided in Table 2.

Table 2: Type of partner organisation, proportion of total number (2014 to 2016)
Type of partner organisation 2014 2015 2016 Rd1 2016 Rd2
Australian company 33% 25% 28% 35%
Australian Federal Government 5% 4% 6% 5%
Australian non profit 14% 17% 13% 15%
Australian state, local government 28% 30% 31% 20%
International government 1% 1% 1% 0%
International higher education 3% 4% 2% 1%
International company/ industry body 11% 9% 9% 15%
International non profit 1% 2% 3% 0%
Other 2% 8% 8% 7%
Total 100 100 100 100
% Industry organisations 45% 34% 37% 50%

The ARC will undertake a post implementation review in 2017–18 and a more comprehensive evaluation in early 2021. The post implementation review will consider preliminary outputs of the scheme (for example, the number and type of collaborations supported) as well as stakeholder satisfaction with the new arrangements.

Case study 17

Building Australia’s research capacity in priority areas

Special Research Initiative for Antarctic Gateway Partnership

Special Research Initiative for Type 1 Juvenile Diabetes

Special Research Initiative for Tropical Health and Medicine

Black and white photograph of the nupiri muka being deployed into the water. Nupiri muka is the name of the University of Tasmania’s new autonomous underwater vehicle. Nupiri muka means 'Eye of the Sea' in palawa kani, the language of Tasmanian Aborigines.
Cross-section of nupiri muka being deployed into the water
Image Credit: Dr Damien Guihen
Black and white photograph of Ms Judi Moyan, Mr Mike Wilson and Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham standing in front of a Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation sign.
Ms Judi Moylan, Chair Diabetes Australia (L) with Mr Mike Wilson, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham.
Image credit: Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Photo by Mark Graham

In 2016–17, the ARC also provided ongoing funding for a number of initiatives in priority areas that commenced in previous years.

Antarctic research

In May 2017, the Antarctic Gateway Partnership took delivery of its autonomous underwater vehicle and are organising a number of field activities where it will collect both data and physical samples around and below the Antarctic ice shelves.

With the successful completion of several research voyages in the 2016–17 Antarctic field season, the Antarctic Gateway Partnership was able to undertake significant research into glacial ice shelf melting, Southern Ocean biomass and Antarctic geology. These voyages were undertaken in collaboration with the Australian Antarctic Division, the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre and CSIRO.

Type 1 Juvenile Diabetes

In April 2016, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) called for applications for the Innovation Awards. The Innovation Awards sought innovative proposals from collaborative teams outside existing Type 1 diabetes research areas. In February 2017, Ministers Birmingham and Hunt announced $4.5 million in funding for the Innovation Awards. In 2016, JDRF partnered with several institutes in Australia working in the field of diabetes, bringing together scientists, clinicians, patients and government.

Tropical Health and Medicine

In October 2016, the Queensland Premier opened newly completed facilities commissioned by the Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine (AITHM) at the Townsville campus of James Cook University. A total of $8 million of ARC Special Research Initiative funding was directed to its construction. A second tropical health research and training facility in Cairns is under construction using $18 million of ARC Special Research Initiative funding, with completion expected later in 2017.

AITHM continues to collaborate widely internationally, working with key international organisations such as the World Health Organisation and the Asia Pacific Malaria Elimination Network. In total, AITHM collaborated with 35 countries in 2016, including Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Thailand, Brazil, Mexico, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Mali and Mozambique.

Case study 18

State of Australian University Research 2015–16: Volume 2 Institutional Insights

ERA 2015 Volume 2 cover

The State of Australian University Research 2015–16: Volume 2 Institutional Insights looks at selected topics to provide further understanding of the state of Australian university research.

With three rounds of Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) now complete, the ERA dataset covers all Australian university research outputs, staffing and activity from 2003 to 2013, and research income and research application data from 2006 to 2013. It is now possible to analyse this longitudinal data.

The topics covered in this report are:

  • ERA ratings
  • gender and the research workforce
  • open access
  • volume of submitted outputs in ERA 2015
  • changes in percentage of contribution to the national landscape.

Use of gender data

As part of the ARC Gender Equality Action Plan 2017, the ARC undertook to consider NCGP gender data within the context of research data collected through ERA.

NCGP gender data collected in 2016 showed that the submission rate by gender varies significantly by discipline and by scheme. For example in 2016 Engineering (Field of Research Code 09) proposals involved 3379 men and 448 women. However, in Language, Communication and Culture (Field of Research Code 20), the gender balance was more even and 257 men and 239 women were involved in proposals. Notably, in this field, the success rate of women (16.3 per cent) was much greater than the success rate of men (12.8 per cent).

Data collected as part of ERA 2015 can be used as a reference point. In that collection, 57.1 per cent of researchers were male and 42.7 per cent female. ERA showed that different fields of research have different participation rates for men and women. At the two-digit Field of Research level, five out of 22 codes have a greater proportion of female participants than male participants.

Case study 19

ARC statement of support for interdisciplinary research

In October 2016 the ARC released a Statement of Support for Interdisciplinary Research outlining processes the ARC has in place to ensure equitable assessment and evaluation of interdisciplinary research under the NCGP and ERA. The statement also includes actions that the ARC will implement in 2016–17 to further support interdisciplinary research.

Initiatives highlighted in the statement of support are the introduction of an option for researchers to identify their proposal as interdisciplinary at submission and a drive to recruit College of Expert members with interdisciplinary expertise to facilitate assessment of interdisciplinary research proposals.

In 2017:

  • 60.1 per cent of proposals received and 59.3 per cent of projects funded identified as involving interdisciplinary research
  • the success rate of interdisciplinary projects was 18.5 per cent
  • ‘Methodology’ was the most frequently indicated interdisciplinary element of proposals and funded projects (80 per cent and 84 per cent respectively)
  • the primary 2-digit Field of Research with the highest proportion of interdisciplinary proposals was ‘Medical and Health Sciences’ (82.1 per cent of proposals)
  • the primary 2-digit Field of Research with the lowest proportion of interdisciplinary proposals was ‘Economics’ (24.1 per cent of proposals).

The data on interdisciplinary research will be used to inform future ARC policy.

Case study 20

ARC support for the research workforce

The ARC is committed to funding the highest-quality research and researchers in all disciplines through a competitive peer review process.

In 2016–17, the ARC continued to monitor its support for development of Australia’s research workforce. Specifically it:

  • reviewed and rereleased the ARC Research Workforce Statement
  • reviewed and rereleased the ARC Statement of Support and Expectations for Gender Equality
  • released the ARC Gender Equality Action Plan 2017, updating the actions identified in the previous plan
  • released a new ARC Policy Statement: Eligibility and Career Interruptions
  • released a new ARC Statement of Support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Researchers.

ARC Gender Equality Action Plan 2017

The ARC Gender Equality Action Plan 2017 contained a range of new initiatives to improve gender equality in the NCGP including:

  • a review of the ARC Research Opportunity and Performance Evidence (ROPE) statement (including implementation in application, assessment and meeting processes)
  • providing a report to administering institutions on the gender profile of researchers applying from the institution
  • strengthening the profile on its website of female researchers, including providing profiles of (i) Kathleen Fitzpatrick and Georgina Sweet Australian Laureate fellows, and (ii) female researchers who have balanced family and research careers or successfully re-entered the research workforce from a career interruption.

At 30 June 2017, the ARC had completed a consultation to inform the review of ROPE and provided profiles of female researchers on its website.

2016 ARC Georgina Sweet Australian Laureate Fellow

ERA 2015 Volume 2 cover
Branka Vucetic
Image Credit: The University of Sydney


Professor Branka Vucetic’s Laureate project aims to develop theories and practical methods to design wireless communication systems for future generations of internet services. Emerging smart environments and infrastructure could solve major problems facing the world today, by saving energy, reducing pollution, improving health and increasing road safety. Scientists to date however do not know how to build wireless networks with almost zero latency and ultrahigh reliability, which are needed for machine-to-machine communications. An expected outcome of this project is new criteria and methodologies to design such wireless systems, which would affect future wireless systems and grids.

Professor Vucetic will use the Georgina Sweet Fellowship to create a program of activities that will support the promotion of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education in Australia at high schools and universities. In the first initiative she will develop a program to engage with communities of high school students and teachers to promote STEM education in high schools. In the second initiative Professor Vucetic plans to organise an annual event at The University of Sydney that will emphasise female undergraduate students, with the aim of introducing them to postgraduate STEM research.

2016 ARC Kathleen Fitzpatrick Australian Laureate Fellow

ERA 2015 Volume 2 cover
Sharon Parker
Image Credit: The University of Western Australia


Professor Sharon Parker plans to study how transformative work design promotes meaningful, healthy, and productive work. The ‘what, how, where, when, and who’ of work is changing: the digital revolution is reconfiguring work processes more rapidly and on a much larger scale than ever before, and the demography of the workforce is profoundly shifting. Work design is a crucial but neglected strategy for optimising health, for unleashing employee talent, and for creating agile and effective organisations.

In her ambassadorial and mentoring role, Professor Parker will undertake a variety of activities, such as a literature review on women academics’ careers, including influencing factors, the design, pilot, and evaluation of an evidence-based program to provide early career academic women with support, mentoring, skill development, and networking to enhance their research effectiveness. Professor Parker also plans to introduce a second evidence-based program that is targeted at decision makers, leaders, and professional staff who make decisions that affect womens’ careers.