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widening the west Gate protecting our food security gastro bug identification development through design courtroom technology issue three 2012

ray of light

optical-fibre sensor detects early-stage tumours


VENTURE Issue Three, 2012 The magazine of Swinburne University of Technology, John St (PO Box 218), Hawthorn Victoria 3122 Australia Editorial ENQUIRIES Peter A Brown Senior Manager, Marketing Swinburne University of Technology tel: 1300 275 788 email: esubscribe for free access to current and past issues online:


Dr Daniel Murphy, Shanthi Joseph and Professor Mrinal Bhave Courses tel: 1300 275 794


Phil Farrelly AND Dr Vivienne Farrell

Dr Paul Stoddart and Emma Carland


VENTURE for iPad

Mark Dunn and Gareth Williamson

available now from the iTunes App Store

Industry research enquiries Dr Bruce Whan tel: +61 3 9214 5979 email: Industry student placements tel: +61 3 9214 5766 email: Philanthropy Bruce McDonald tel: +61 3 9214 5911 email: CRICOS Provider Code 00111D

Venture is published three times a year for Swinburne University of Technology by Hardie Grant Media Ground Level, Building 1 658 Church Street, Richmond Victoria 3121 Australia Publisher Keri Freeman Editor Sarah Notton Art Director Glenn Moffatt Print Offset Alpine portrait photography Eamon Gallagher Vincent Long Cover plainpicture



warning sign

An optical-fibre sensor is being developed to detect tumours in their early stages. by mandy thoo

Printed on PEFC Certified paper from sustainably managed forests and controlled sources. ISSN 2200-6338 (Print) ISSN 2200-7628 (Online)

Dr BAOhua Jia

4 Upfront The latest innovations and events. 6 FOOD FIGHT Unlocking the acacia plant’s secrets could help protect our food security. 10 taking the high load The widening of Melbourne’s West Gate Bridge became the largest retrofitting project in the world.

12 growth industry Research methods on attracting and retaining older workers.

14 GASTRO CSI Improving the methods of detection of food-borne illnesses. 15 clouded judgments How technology could help to speed up the Australian justice system.


Changing the lives of people in developing countries

16 winning ways with waste Graduates of Swinburne’s Master of Entrepreneurship and Innovation program are tackling a pressing environmental problem.

18 leading light

An award-winning Swinburne scientist is making exciting advances in solar-power technology.

20 Design making

a difference Design students are involved in a number of projects helping to improve people’s lives.

23 setting new standards Helping Australian manufacturers be more strategic in developing new products and taking them to market.

Copyright © Swinburne University of Technology All rights reserved. The information in this publication was correct at the time of going to press, December 2012. The views expressed by contributors in this publication are not necessarily those of Swinburne University of Technology.

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Eureka Prize win

creating solutions from partnerships and collaboration


t’s been a busy and exciting period since our last issue. The latest results from the prestigious Academic Ranking of World Universities ranked Swinburne as one of the top three universities in Victoria and equal 10th in Australia. This proves the success of our focus and investment in research along with our strengths in science, technology and innovation.

Swinburne was also once again rated as one of Melbourne’s top universities for teaching quality in The Good Universities Guide 2013. The quality of our teaching equips students with the knowledge and capabilities they need to establish successful careers. We will continue to build on these great achievements by bringing new focus to what we do. Our vision is to be the leading university in Australia in science, technology and innovation. An important part of this vision is design-led innovation that enables the creation of value-added products and services that are critical for a competitive knowledge-based economy. For this reason, our Faculty of Design will be coming home to Hawthorn in 2014. The opportunity for greater engagement with engineering, business, information and communication technologies, and the applied sciences will position us as a leader in this space.

In this issue of Venture, we highlight the importance of partnerships and collaboration in research. International and industry partnerships, and research collaboration allow us to build on our great achievements and develop new ideas and new discoveries which can help meet the demands of the future.

Swinburne astrophysicist Associate Professor Michael Murphy and a team of researchers at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) have been awarded the prestigious 2012 Eureka Prize for Scientific Research. Part of the Australian Museum Eureka Awards, the prize acknowledges the importance of the team’s study, which found a fundamental law of nature – the constancy of physics – may not be true. Led by Professor John Webb from UNSW, the team measured the strength of electromagnetism, denoted by the symbol alpha, through observations in about 300 distant galaxies across the universe. “The results astonished us,” says Professor Webb. “In one direction – from our location in the universe – alpha gets gradually weaker, yet in the opposite direction it gets gradually stronger.” Associate Professor Murphy says one popular idea is that many universes exist, each having its own set of physical laws. Even a slight change in the laws of nature we observe means they weren’t ‘set in stone’ when our universe was born. They may depend on your ‘space-time address’ – when and where you happen to live in the universe. “There is further research needed to firm up a conclusion, but it’s fantastic to have been acknowledged by the Australian science community for our work so far.” A major part of the research was part of the PhD thesis work of Dr Julian King at UNSW. Other members of the prize-winning team were Professor Victor Flambaum and Dr Julian Berengut from UNSW.

You will meet our researchers leading a project with Cochlear, the global expert in implantable hearing solutions, to develop laser light to stimulate nerves. This issue also looks at the research that underpinned the engineering innovations employed in widening the West Gate Bridge. Our industry partnership on this project has led to the development of a new engineering course that will better meet industry needs. I hope you enjoy this issue of Venture. Best wishes for a safe and happy festive season.

Professor Linda Kristjanson Vice-Chancellor Swinburne University of Technology

left to right: Dr Julian Berengut, ProfESSOR John Webb, Associate Professor Michael Murphy and Professor Victor Flambaum. Dr Julian King was unable to attend the Eureka Prizes ceremony and is not shown. Image: Australian Museum Eureka Prizes / Daniel O’Doherty.

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Growing appetite for online shopping More Australians will be shopping online this Christmas than ever before, according to the Swinburne authors of the most comprehensive survey of internet usage in Australia. Professor Julian Thomas and senior research fellow Scott Ewing of the Swinburne Institute for Social Research have been tracking Australian use of and attitudes to the internet as part of the World Internet Survey since 2007. In that time they have recorded Australians’ increasing appetite for internet purchases, with online shoppers growing from 41 per cent of the population in 2007 to 68 per cent last year. Those shopping at least weekly grew from 8 per cent to 22 per cent. “There is no question there will be more Australians buying gifts online this Christmas,” says Ewing. “Australians are avid internet shoppers, in fact we are now the most frequent online shoppers of the countries in the global study. “But the picture for Australian retailers is far from doom and gloom. The study shows local retailers do have advantages over their overseas counterparts. “Australians have a strong preference for dealing with locally based websites and recognise there are limits to their ability to assess quality and fit of products offshore and that returning goods bought online can be problematic. “Local retailers also should have the advantage of timeliness, a factor growing in importance for US consumers,” says Ewing.   Professor Thomas says commerce is undertaking massive change worldwide. “We are in the middle of a very dynamic phase of further, farreaching changes in technology, in business and consumer behaviour. “For consumers, it is an exciting time where they can expect greater convenience and better customer service. For local business, it requires new thinking and new business models that adapt mobile technology to compete on consumer experience and customer service. For the retailers tied to large investments in property, the challenge is to adapt new technologies to add to the experience for their in-store customers.” The full report is available at


Tool to spot gambling problems early A checklist is in the final stages of development to help gaming machine operators and their staff to identify early signs of problem gambling behaviour. With funding from Gambling Australia Research, Swinburne psychology research fellow Dr Anna Thomas is refining and testing the observation checklist with regular gamblers and gaming machine venue staff. The research is seeking to reduce a comprehensive checklist of observable gambling behaviours developed by Dr Paul Delfabbro at the University of Adelaide to a validated shortlist of predominant observable signs that can be readily used by venue staff and operators. “It is one thing to identify signs of potential problems but it is quite another for staff or their supervisor to approach someone to suggest they might have a problem and where they might get help,” Dr Thomas says. “It is a very sensitive issue, especially in a public place, and staff often say they don’t feel qualified to deal with it.

“To overcome this in the trial, we have incorporated training for staff to help them approach and encourage responsible gambling in a safe and sensitive way. “We hope that by developing a checklist which is easy to use and robust, venues will feel confident to adopt it and support their staff with training.”

Congratulations to exchange student Christopher Holm Hansen for winning the People’s Choice Award and Third Prize in the Electrolux Design Lab 2012 Awards. The competition presents innovative ideas for appliances of the future. Christopher came to Swinburne to study entrepreneurship and his ‘Tastee’ idea is an electronic, spoon-shaped taste indicator that could use receptors based on the human tastebud to assist chefs to bring out the flavours in a meal.

Paranal observatory, chile

plant potential for antibiotic drugs

With the growing worldwide incidence of Type 2 diabetes, a new study reveals that Australian plants used in traditional Aboriginal remedies show potential for prevention and management of the disease. Swinburne researchers evaluated the activity of seven Australian Aboriginal medicinal plants and five Indian Ayurvedic plants against two key metabolic enzymes (α-amylase and α-glucosidase) that break down carbohydrates from the diet into simple sugars affecting blood sugar levels. They also investigated the antioxidant properties of the plant extracts. “The study reveals for the first time the good anti-diabetic potential of the Australian medicinal plants and how and why the traditional Indian plant remedies work,” says Associate Professor Enzo Palombo. Of the plant extracts evaluated, Australian sandalwood (Santalum spicatum) and the Indian kino tree (Pterocarpus marsupium) had the greatest effect in slowing down both enzymes. The extracts of Sandhill wattle (Acacia ligulata), pale turpentine bush (Beyeria leshnaultii), velvet bean (Mucuna pruriens) and tar vine (Boerhaavia diffusa) were effective against α-glucosidase only. The study further found that wanderrie wattle (Acacia kempeana) and Sandhill wattle had an antioxidant effect, eliminating free radicals which are heavily implicated in diabetes. “Type 2 diabetes represents a global public health burden, with the World Health Organisation estimating that more than 180 million people worldwide currently suffer from the disease,” says Associate Professor Palombo. “More than 800 plants are used as traditional remedies in one or other form for the treatment of diabetes, but the management of the disease without any side effects remains a challenge.” for more on the properties of the wattle, turn to page 6.

secrets of the universe


he $8.6 million IMAX space documentary Hidden Universe being produced by December Media and Swinburne’s Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing is on schedule for release in March/April next year. The giant-screen film reveals a dramatic new view of the cosmos, links between Earth’s extreme natural environs and the rest of the universe, and the possibility of life on other planets, says producer Stephen Amezdroz from December Media. “Viewers will see what lies within the gaze of the world’s most powerful telescopes and the incredible knowledge they are revealing about the origins of the universe,” Amezdroz says. The film combines footage filmed on remote locations in outback Australia and Chile with simulations of the cosmos and its turbulent beginnings generated by Swinburne Production’s CGI and animation facilities led by

the film’s director Russell Scott, a Swinburne graduate. Using the university’s two supercomputers, the animation team processed huge amounts of astrophysics research data to generate the simulations of the cosmos, including 3D images of numerous celestial structures never seen before such as the Whirlpool Galaxy and the Crab Nebula. Viewers will also experience space observation through the telescopes spotting, in multi-wavelength, previously unseen forms such as pulsars and stellar nurseries. Hidden Universe has backing from Film Victoria and is being distributed globally by IMAX specialist MacGillivray Freeman Films. “This is a fabulous opportunity to link to a wider, global community and excite them about their place in the universe,” says Professor Warrick Couch, Director of Swinburne’s Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing.

a mind of Robots with their own

For the second consecutive year a team of Swinburne engineering students has won the National Instruments Autonomous Robotics Competition. Seventeen teams from universities across Australia and New Zealand tested their robotics skills at the 2012 competition, hosted by Swinburne as the winners of the inaugural completion in 2011. The competition requires the student-built and pre-programmed robots to traverse a chequered board avoiding obstacles to collect coloured blocks and deposit them in squares with corresponding colours. The robot built by the Swinburne team of Jeremy Wu, Ben Smith and Jason Austin completed the set of predefined tasks in just over four minutes to take out the competition. The student team from the University of Wollongong finished second followed by the University of Newcastle in third place. “The competition challenges the students’ electronics, mechanical and software engineering skills to build a robot that has very accurate autonomous navigation, object handling and obstacle avoidance capabilities,” says Dr Zhenwei Cao, program coordinator, Robotics and Mechatronics Engineering at Swinburne.

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“One of the most important aspects is that the ability to deal with salt also appears to go with the ability to handle drought, which is of vital concern to the foodgrowing industry.� Professor Mrinal Bhave

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left to right: Professor Mrinal Bhave, Shanthi Joseph and Dr Daniel Murphy at the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne.


food Fight

our food secUrity challenge

A team of scientists from Swinburne and the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne are hoping to unlock the acacia plant’s genetic secrets to counteract the threat of dryland salination, the so-called white death. by julian cribb


n insidious cancer is spreading in Australia’s productive farmlands and undermining our food security: the “white death” of salinity is far from defeated, and fresh weapons are urgently needed in the continuing struggle to reclaim our landscapes from its grip. At the forefront of that battle is a team of scientists from Swinburne and the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne: Professor Mrinal Bhave, doctoral researcher Shanthi Joseph and Dr Daniel Murphy are convinced the solution to salinity is to be found in the continent’s ancient gene pool – and are searching hard to uncover its secrets.

estimates that 5.7 million hectares of Australia are at high risk from dryland salinity. Without effective management, this area could stealthily encompass 17 million hectares of good farming country by 2050, poisoning it in the same way the ancient Romans poisoned the fields of Carthage by sowing salt. The risk is not only to food production, but also to native landscapes and river systems that can turn hostile to life. Furthermore, salinity is far from an exclusively Australian problem. It encompasses an estimated 77 million hectares of country worldwide, affecting every inhabited continent and several of the world’s key food-bowl regions – in particular it is killing areas of vitally needed farmland in India and Pakistan, sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. It poses a real threat to global food security. Secondary salinity is primarily a man-made problem: the clearing of trees and shrubs for rain-fed agriculture and the heavy use of water in irrigation has rapidly brought underlying salty groundwaters to the surface, rendering the soil unfit for food production. The answer lies in using the best plant species to ‘pump out’ the groundwater, lowering it to a safe level.


A millenia-old problem Time and again, as the climate fluctuated, salt has ebbed and flowed across the arid Australian landscape – challenging our hardy native acacias and saltbushes to evolve and adapt in a subtle genetic guerrilla war waged over almost 30 million years. The team believes that in these tough trees and shrubs reside the secrets of how to withstand and defeat the encroaching salt. “Many Australian plants, especially the saltbushes and acacias, are highly salttolerant and can grow in conditions which a plant of cause most other vegetation and crops to many talents die,” Professor Bhave explains. “Over recent The acacia could be decades there have been some outstanding described as a ‘wonder practical experiments by farmers and land plant’ – yielding the managers where salinised land has been following by-products: reclaimed by planting them. High-value timber “What we still do not know is how these for furniture salt-tolerant species do it. There is a great and complex biochemical secret within their Charcoal for energy production genes – and we are trying to work out what or steelmaking it is. This knowledge, in turn, will lead us to new species and better methods in the fight Fodder for livestock against salt, as well as fresh opportunities in Biodiesel agriculture and landscape management.”


Threatening our natural resources The National Land and Water Resources Audit

Edible and nutritional seeds Pharmaceuticals

Studying the acacia’s evolution One of Australia’s leading authorities on acacias, Dr Murphy has been assembling the ‘family tree’ displaying the phylogenetic relationships between Australia’s 1000-plus acacia species. “This is helping us to understand how they have evolved over the past 20 to 30 million years, their special attributes and the connections between seemingly quite differentlooking species,” he explains. Professor Bhave and Shanthi Joseph are using this collaborative data to carry out intensive biochemical and genetic investigations with the aim of

explaining just how incredibly tough plants like our native saltbushes deal with salt. “There appear to be several different pathways for handling salt – some plants take it in and isolate or excrete it, others may filter it in the roots or exclude it at the roots,” says Professor Bhave. “One of the most important aspects is that the ability to deal with salt also appears to go with the ability to handle drought, which is of vital concern to the food-growing industry. So this knowledge has wide relevance.” Salt-tolerance properties Using genetic markers and working from four acacia species known to be salt tolerant, the team has so far identified around 30 other species of acacia with similar characteristics, and is preparing to put them to the ultimate test of seeing how they cope with very salty conditions, and which ones perform best. As a bonus, Ms Joseph has demonstrated that some of the most salt-resistant saltbushes also produce compounds that may be beneficial to the health of animals, including sheep, meaning that productive activities like wool and meat production can occur on land being reclaimed from salt. Acacias can yield a wide range of useful byproducts (see box, left) turning the act of land reclamation from salt into a range of potentially profitable new farming and agro-forestry industries built on a suite of salt-tolerant species that can cope with different environments. All this depends, however, on a clearer scientific insight into how these plants function and what gives them their special attributes. This knowledge will not only benefit Australian farmers and landscape managers – and consumers too – but in time may help to defuse emerging salinity crises in many other similarly affected parts of the world, Professor Bhave says. Adds Dr Murphy, “Our plants have been evolving these special attributes for tens of millions of years, adapting to harsh, dry and saline conditions. Through this work we are gaining new insights into the Australian evolutionary story, but also understandings that will be of real value when it comes to protecting our landscapes and food supply into the future.” l

issue three 2012

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biomedical engineering

w by mandy thoo


esearchers at Swinburne are developing a leadingedge sensor that will help detect and diagnose cancers early, potentially saving many more lives. The new technology is the vision of PhD researcher Emma Carland. Inspired by her experience helping sick children in intensive care at The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, Emma decided to use her biomedical engineering skills to give people a better chance against illnesses. “I maintained and tested life-support medical equipment such as drug pumps and respirators, and saw how the kids rely on these tools in their day-to-day struggle for life,” Carland says. “This was a powerful motivation for me to embark on this research.” Building on existing technology Her work is based on an optical-fibre touch sensor as fine as a human hair built by her supervisors, Dr Paul Stoddart and Dr Scott Wade, last year to prevent injuring delicate ear tissues during cochlear implant insertion. The sensor is built into an optical fibre – a technology that has revolutionised communications – that sends light between its two ends. Due to its tiny size and fast transmission of signals, optical fibres are often used in medicine, including endoscopies and ‘keyhole’ surgeries. “In our touch sensor, light either passes through or is reflected by two sets of parallel ‘lines’, or gratings, in the fibre,” says Dr Stoddart, who is an associate professor in biomedical engineering and also involved in Swinburne’s bionic-eye project. “When the sensor is untouched, the light that reflects from the first grating matches the second one, resulting in a ‘low’ signal. “When you apply pressure to the sensor, the light reflected by the first grating will shift, and now that it no longer matches the second grating, the detector picks this up and emits a ‘high’ signal. The difference between these two signals will tell you how much pressure the sensor experiences.”

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rning sign

An optical-fibre sensor that can detect tumours in their early stages is on its way.

Sensing cancerous tissue Now, the researchers propose to use the device for early detection of tumours by vibrating the sensor against a particular tissue: as the sensor nudges and withdraws from the area, the detected signals will alternate between being either high or low. “A tumour is stiffer than cells from a healthy area,” says Emma. “So, the difference between the sensor’s signals tells you how stiff the tissue is – a diseased tissue, being firmer, will push back at the sensor with more force, resulting in a larger difference.” Dr Stoddart continues, “Once we test the tissues at different vibrating frequencies, we can find out that at this

Advances in hearing technology Dr Paul Stoddart is the head of Applied Optics at Swinburne, which is associated with two of the university’s leading research centres, the Centre for Atom Optics and Ultrafast Spectroscopy and the Industrial Research Institute of Swinburne. He began working on the optical fibre touch sensor with Cochlear Ltd in 2007. The cochlear implant, or bionic ear, helps people with profound deafness, and is implanted in 250,000 people worldwide. In the procedure, electrodes are surgically inserted into the ear to stimulate auditory nerves and provide hearing. While it has a high rate of success, the procedure still risks damaging delicate membranes in the ear, reducing any remaining hearing. Now, with its long, flexible and hair-like structure, the touch sensor can curl around the spirals of the snail-shaped cochlear. “Previously, you’d only find out if the ear membranes were damaged after the surgery,” says Paul Carter from Cochlear Ltd. “But the sensor has proven to be very sensitive and surgeons can use it during the surgery and find out, in real time, when the electrodes bump into the thin cochlea walls.” Dr Stoddart is now working with Cochlear Ltd on a project that attempts to use light, instead of electrical currents, to stimulate the cochlear.

particular frequency, for a healthy tissue, the signal should be at this range. Larger signal differences mean the tissue is firmer and indicate that they’re more cancerous. “This allows us to make an accurate assessment of the tumour’s stage – and the best way to treat it. This is something many tumour tests can’t provide, as they only tell you whether the tissue is diseased or not. We can then build a database with the information and embed it into software,” he says. The long, thin and flexible structure of the fibre sensor will also allow it to be inserted into endoscopes that explore small tissue regions, such as ear, nose, throat cavities and the colon. “Endoscopies usually take tissue samples and send them to the laboratory for analysis, which could take a while,” Dr Stoddart says. “With the sensor, we can judge the area to see how the tissues respond, which gives us quicker results. “This means we can obtain very precise measurements of small tissue regions, which allows for the early identification of any abnormal tissues.” Positively affecting outcomes Cancer remains a leading cause of death worldwide, with half of the nation’s men – and one-third of women – likely to experience the illness by the age of 85. Finding tumours at early stages – before they spread through the body – makes them easier to be removed or treated, the researchers say. It increases a person’s chances of survival, and is what we hope the sensor can achieve. “Emma’s placement allowed her to see the needs and constraints of medical tools – she understands that you can’t just build something without considering the people who will use it,” Dr Stoddart says. “Connecting research and practical application is important to get the right outcomes.” And with her passion in biomedical engineering, Emma envisions being in the same field in future years, providing society with the right tools to battle diseases. l

case study

Breathe easy

Biomedical engineering undergraduate Sovit Baral is working on an optical sensor to monitor oxygen in blood. Q: Can you describe your current project? A: We’re developing a noninvasive oximeter to measure the amount of oxygen in a person’s veins. Compared with arterial pulse oximeters, these aren’t common in the market – current sensors are invasive and are only used in intensive care. Also, arterial-pulse oximeters only tell you how much oxygen is delivered from the heart, and not whether the circulation to vital organs is adequate. With the device, instead of checking a patient’s blood every two hours, we can tell straight away if they are getting enough oxygen. Q: How does it work? A: The device combines a laser and sensor – when you aim the laser at the neck, some of the light will be reflected. The sensor picks up the reflected light, which indicates how much oxygen is present in the tissues. Q: Has your industry placement helped you for your studies and future career? A: Definitely – it gave me a chance to address real-life biomedical engineering problems, and the experience has reaffirmed my passion and devotion towards my profession, helping me to plan my career path.

biomedical engineering

“the [kids’] day-to-day struggle for life ... was a powerful motivation for me to embark on this research.”

PhD researcher emma carland with Dr paul stoddart at the royal children’s hospital, melbourne.

Emma Carland, PhD researcher

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taking the

high load

The largest retrofitting project in the world saw Melbourne’s iconic WEST Gate bridge widened thanks to cutting-edge technologies. by james hutson

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he West Gate Bridge spans Melbourne’s Yarra River, linking the inner city and western suburbs. It carries more than 160,000 vehicles per day, including numerous heavy trucks. When the bridge opened in 1978 it carried only 40,000. Worsening congestion put strain on the bridge and commuters. This major arterial road needed an upgrade, and Swinburne played a major part in delivering a solution. The solution accepted by Vic Roads was appealingly simple. “Widening” of the bridge would occur “in lane” only. Emergency lanes would be absorbed and lines redrawn to create five commuter lanes in each direction. Sinclair Knight Mertz (SKM) were the consulting engineers for the West Gate Bridge Strengthening Alliance on the concrete sections of the bridge. Their engineers analysed the increased stresses and strains which increased traffic loads would likely inflict.

The bridge would certainly need strengthening; in fact, it would become the largest retrofitting project of its kind in the world. SKM bridge engineer Grahme Williams approached Professor of Structural Engineering at Swinburne, Riadh Al-Mahaidi, whose research focuses on retrofitting structures with advanced composite materials. As Williams explains, the collaboration that followed was invaluable. “Typically in construction we go for the quickest and cheapest method, which often relies on standard methodologies. It’s rare we get projects of this magnitude, with this much scope for potential savings. By spending a little bit of money upfront on this research program we were able to save millions of dollars in implementation down the road.” Finding efficiencies “Grahme and I looked at the efficiencies in the proposed design together,” Professor Al-Mahaidi says. “We discussed what options we had and if design guidelines would allow us to use alternative


Anchors of cloth “We developed an anchorage system that is added to the carbon-fibre laminates but also uses carbon-fibre material. This anchoring system increased the efficiency of the fibres by up to 260 per cent. What this really meant was that we reduced the overall amount of fibre we needed to use,” Professor Al-Mahaidi says. The anchorage system is simple and cheap. A 25 centimetre-wide strip of carbon-fibre fabric runs across the end of all the carbon-fibre beams, like a line of super-strong sticky tape. The fabric anchor is a different weave so the strength-bearing threads run in two directions. It anchors the laminates and spreads their load to surrounding concrete to increase the overall strength of the system. The strength, delicacy, ease and versatility of the CFRP laminate and fabric system recently took West Gate Bridge Professor Al-Mahaidi to Karbala city in Iraq. The system was used in the repair of Al-Abbas ibn Ali shrine masonry dome, which was damaged by artillery Opened: and tank fire in 1991.


15 November 1978 Total length: 2582 metres Maximum width: 37 metres Longest span: 336 metres

Clearance below: 58 metres Strengthening complete: June 2011 Number of Lanes: 5 inbound 5 outbound Daily traffic: 160,000 vehicles Strengthening Cost: $347 million

newspix / andrew tauber

Opened in 1978, the West Gate Bridge was widened in a project completed last year.

Strengthening materials: 38km of carbonfibre laminate, 12,000m2 of carbon fibre fabric, 400,000 bolts and 1600 tonnes of steel fabricated into 80,000 pieces.

techniques. And they did, if we could prove the efficiency of another system experimentally.” Traditionally bridges are strengthened by reinforcing them to resist strains by glueing steel plates or jacketing sections with additional concrete that act in the same way as a splint or putting a cast on a broken limb. But over the past two decades engineers have been investigating alternative bracing materials like carbon-fibre reinforced polymer (CFRP). CFRP is a strong, lightweight fabric of interlocking carbon threads with up to 10 times the strength of steel, twice the stiffness, yet only one-seventh the weight. Furthermore, it is very durable, with none of the corrosion problems experienced with steel and concrete. Prefabricated carbon-fibre laminate beams can be fixed with epoxy to structures like external ribs. In the case of the West Gate Bridge, however, only around 20 per cent of the CFRP’s strength would have been harnessed using these standard design guideline approaches.

Mimicking a bridge At Monash University and then at Swinburne, Williams, Professor Al-Mahaidi and his team tested possible anchoring solutions to the point of failure using concrete blocks to mimic bridge sections and the position of areas prone to delamination (stress fractures). “During tests we monitored the blocks using surface sensors to measure the level of stress and strain, and used photogrammetry, two cameras continually recording any surface deformation,” says Professor Al-Mahaidi. “In addition, computer simulation gave us a deeper understanding of what was happening within these zones. These computer models also correlated with the physical evidence from the lab testing.” This work was commissioned by The West Gate Bridge Strengthening Alliance comprising SKM, VicRoads, John Holland and Flint & Neill, with funding from the federal and Victorian governments. Strengthening the curriculum The scale of the West Gate Bridge strengthening project, the novelty of the solution and importance of these maintenance processes have created a body of knowledge Professor Al-Mahaidi feels is worth codifying and sharing. “The research over the past 10 years has encouraged us to introduce a new unit of study to the curriculum, which is the first of its kind in Australia: ‘Strengthening and monitoring of structures’.” The unit relates many findings from the West Gate Bridge and is suitable for fourth-year and masters engineering students. l

“We developed an anchorage system that is added to the carbon-fibre laminates ... This anchoring system increased the efficiency of the fibres by up to 260 per cent.” Professor Riadh Al-Mahaidi


growth industry releasing mature potential

working longer strengthens the economy and is vital in order to look after our ageing population. Aged-care employers are turning to modern research methods to help attract and retain mature-age staff. by fiona marsden

Health sector skew Just as Australia’s general population is getting older, so is our workforce – particularly in the aged-care sector. According to a 2008 report by the National Institute of Labour Studies, 70 per cent of aged-care workers in community settings and 60 per cent in residential care settings, are older than 45. In short, aged-care workers are older than the Australian average, and more are reaching the conventional retirement-age bracket. “Many aged-care employees want to stay at work as they get older,” says Associate Professor Libby Brooke, director of Swinburne’s Business, Work and Ageing Centre for Research. “Older employees feel they have something valuable to contribute to their workplace and to society. They also provide ‘cultural stability’ in an industry where almost 40 per cent of staff come through agencies. However, changing personal circumstances or priorities mean they may require

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more adaptable work arrangements.”



o matter which way you slice it, Australians will have to work smarter – not just harder – to support a growing proportion of older people in the community. The Federal Treasury’s 2010 Intergenerational Report projects that by 2050, there will be more than twice as many people aged 65 to 84, and more than four times as many people older than 85. In contrast, the number of workingage Australians will increase by just 44 per cent. In demographic terms alone, encouraging people to stay on in the workforce makes good sense. It could also pay economic dividends. In a 2012 report prepared for the Australian Human Rights Commission, Deloitte Access Economics says boosting mature-age participation rates by just 3 per cent would increase GDP by $33 billion.



Associate Professor Libby Brooke has been leading Australian research into the ageing workforce, and the agedcare sector in particular, since the mid 1990s. Her recent research projects include ‘Working Late’, which explains how governments and employers are managing labour supply in a context of demographic change and industry restructuring, and ‘Retiring Women’, examining how interrupted career trajectories may disadvantage women later in their working lives. She is also working with the Victorian Employers’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry on a project aiming to increase the employability of mature-age people by applying Workability to recruitment.

Balancing experience and operational needs The growing need for skilled staff in an expanding industry combined with the older age profile of its existing workers poses a complex issue: how best to retain the expertise of mature-age employees, while balancing their changing needs with the organisation’s objectives. This is where ‘Workability’ comes in. Workability refers to the balance between an employee’s resources – such as physical and psychological health, skills, experience, work preferences and family commitments – and the organisation’s operational demands. Developed by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, the Workability model uses the Workability Index to measure each employee’s subjective perceptions of their workability, along with health indicators such as injury, impairment or disease. “The Workability model has been evaluated for more than 20 years,” says Associate Professor Brooke. “It’s shown to improve people’s ability to work well and productively into later life.” She and her colleagues are working with agedcare providers to trial the Workability model in Australian workplaces. They have also developed a Workability Survey specifically for the aged-care industry. The survey measures employees’ physical and psychosocial work demands, along with potential counterbalances such as a sense of control and work/life balance.


encouraging people to stay on in the workforce makes good sense. It could also pay economic dividends ... boosting mature-age participation rates by just 3 per cent would increase GDP by $33 billion.

case study

promising results

illustration: gregory baldwin

Melbourne-based Catholic Rural needs and Homes has nine residential responsibilities services facilities and around In sparsely populated rural areas, 600 staff. maintaining adequate staffing levels “As a large cohort of baby can pose a considerable challenge. boomers ages, we expect more Alpine Health, one of the aged-care demand for our services,” says providers working with Associate Human Resources Manager Professor Brooke, is an organisation Dominic Calabro. “Attracting and that provides acute, residential and retaining experienced staff will community-based care across three be a growing challenge.” Half the organisation’s sites to around 13,000 people in employees are older than 45. As north-eastern Victoria. Calabro points out, agedThe company has 360 employees, care work can become of which more than half are older For more more physically than 50. “Our mature-age workers demanding as staff information on the remain very much attuned and grow older. “The ageing workforce and committed to the community’s Workability model increasing employability health needs,” says Human helps us better of mature-age people, Resources Manager Nick Shaw. “At the understand their contact Associate Professor same time, some need to reconfigure needs and explore Libby Brooke at interventions that their work commitments for balance them with personal reasons.” the requirements of Alpine Health has been trialling the business.” the Workability model since mid 2011. Interventions during the Shaw believes it has reinforced and enriched initial one-site trial last year existing initiatives. “Our Workability survey showed included reorganising rosters considerable overall job satisfaction. It also highlighted areas and workloads, improving for improvement, such as ensuring we continue to access enough ergonomics, offering refresher casual staff to avoid excess pressure on permanent employees.” courses and running social For Shaw, working with Associate Professor Brooke and her team activities. The staff’s Workability Index rose, and the project has provides credibility and methodological rigour. “Workability is becoming been extended to two more sites. an integral part of our organisational-development agenda.”

Taking a ‘life course’ approach In a cautionary note, Associate Professor Brooke says staff retention policies should avoid singling out or stereotyping a particular age group. “People have different life trajectories that influence the way they need to engage with the workforce. Organisations need to recognise this and create adaptable, interactive ways to prolong their employees’ working lives.” l

“It’s early days,” says Calabro, “but we believe implementing the Workability model alongside preexisting initiatives is reducing absenteeism, WorkCover claims and staff turnover.” This may help Catholic Homes become an employer of choice for experienced workers.

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| venture | swinburne | 13

health sciences


Gastroenteritis from food-borne illness is a major public health concern in Australia and internationally. Swinburne and the Victorian Department of Health are working together on a project to improve detection of the bacteria Campylobacter jejuni.



ach year in Australia there are more than 5.4 million cases of gastro, involving 15,000 hospitalisations and 80 deaths. The burden on the healthcare system is over $1.2 billion per annum, with additional costs arising from loss in lifestyle and productivity. Gastrointestinal illnesses are generally caused by three types of bacteria: E. coli, salmonella and campylobacter jejuni. The general public tends to be more familiar with salmonella outbreaks, but Louise Dunn, investigator and program manager for Swinburne’s Bachelor of Health Science degree, notes that campylobacter jejuni is the most significant cause of food-borne illness in Australia and worldwide. “We have about 6000 cases per year being reported in Victoria. It is a significant burden. The incidence of infection also appears to be increasing across all age groups, including children and young adults.” Difficult to detect A big problem with identifying and controlling campylobacter jejuni is that most of the infections seem to be sporadic. It might be from contaminated water or contact with pets, birds, animals or food (such as chicken, offal or undercooked meat). “Outbreaks aren’t always occurring in a particular pattern or interval, they are just an occurrence, and each year only one or two outbreaks are detected,” says Dunn. “This means that there is not enough information about how to manage and detect the source of the infection.” Current testing methods are time consuming and require skilled personnel. The current “gold standard” uses gel electrophoresis to genetically differentiate the specific strain (genotyping). Growing cultures of the sample for genotyping analysis takes three to four days, a delay that makes tracing the origin of the contamination through accurate interviews and further sample collecting more difficult. Finding the source Tracing the origin or source of the contamination is critical if health outcomes are to improve. The Victorian Department of Health is looking

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for ways in which they can use evidence for better decision-making. To this end they have awarded a research scholarship to Swinburne PhD student Monir Ahmed to focus on more rapid ways to detect campylobacter jejuni and better inform the Victorian Department of Health’s policies. “Swinburne has a long-term relationship with the Victorian Department of Health,” says Dunn. “We produce a lot of graduates who work in regulatory and surveillance areas within local and state government departments and this scholarship allows us to investigate how we can help the food safety system by developing techniques for detecting outbreaks of campylobacter jejuni more readily.” Instead of relying on genotyping, Ahmed has obtained samples from the University of Melbourne’s Microbiological Diagnostic Unit and is working to identify a selection of virulent (toxin) genes associated with the campylobacter infection. These gene groupings could then be used to more quickly and accurately identify and categorise different strains. Ahmed uses Swinburne’s MALDI-TOF mass spectrometer to accurately identify strain-specific metabolic fingerprints. These results are then fed into a database of different cell proteins allowing the comparison of new strains with those previously identified. In an outbreak situation this method could be used to quickly differentiate between unrelated strains and those from the same source. Faster results “Analysis is very quick,” says Professor Elena Ivanova, microbiologist and one of Ahmed’s PhD supervisors. “You can get the preparation stage down to one day and then get the results through the MALDI-TOF in half an hour.” This greatly reduces the time and effort required to identify the origin of a campylobacter jejuni contamination, meaning that improved education, regulation or clean-up policies could be applied, therefore also addressing some of the public health costs. Developing a field-portable biosensor to aide in tracing the source is the project’s ultimate goal. Fighting future outbreaks of gastroenteritis will draw on these technologies, ensuring better health outcomes for Victorians. l


clouded judgments Cloud technology is set to revolutionise Australia’s courts.

Rob Tipping and Dr Clinton Woodward – have been analysing the user needs of such an interface, and designing, developing and testing a solution. The team is also working with Professor David Tait from the Juries and Interactive Visual Evidence (JIVE) group at the University of Western Sydney, Professor Anne Wallace from Perth’s Edith Cowan University, Phil Farrelly from Auscript, and Canada’s University of Montreal.


by caroline boyd

ourtrooms around Australia could, in just a few years, be using electronic tablets to see and hear evidence, with information being downloaded directly from the cloud to the courtroom. Swinburne researchers are investigating ways to best integrate the technology into practice. It will be a far cry from today where high-quality audio evidence is often presented on a crackly CD player in the corner of many courts and long adjournments are called to allow for time-consuming searches through bulky paper-based legislation and past cases. It’s all part of the project being driven by Swinburne researcher and lecturer Dr Vivienne Farrell in collaboration with courts and tribunals from around Australia. At the moment, technology is generally a “minor contributor to evidence presentation within the court procedure”, Dr Farrell says. “Paper-based booklets, which include documents and images, are given to all members of the court during trials. This can mean juggling and sorting through hundreds of pages. Videos are displayed using projectors, making them difficult for all members of the courtroom to view and hear.” Appetite for change However, the judiciary is beginning to embrace tablets such as iPads as a reference tool thanks to their ease of use and portability, and this has created an opportunity for a major technology change in the court system. Dr Farrell and her team are investigating whether a Windows-based tablet would suit the court system better than the iPad offering, given many judiciaries use Windows applications on their computers. The project has included a presentation with 80 members of the judiciary that, Dr Farrell says, highlighted the need for proprietary software suited to the Australian legal system. Dr Farrell and her Swinburne colleagues – Dr Graham Farrell,

Cloud technology will allow legal practitioners to: Reference legislation and other relevant documents on demand Download documents which will alleviate the need to transport copious amounts of documents for tribunals and make it easier for magistrates who are required to visit regional courts Present high-quality evidence directly from their tablet to a major screen and/or to tablets that are held by the jury Annotate documents and evidence on the fly Save annotated and related case documents.

Cloud technology will allow The jury to: View evidence on their individual tablets Resize the screen images and adjust volumes to suit their individual needs Annotate evidence for further reference.

Trial runs Human-computer interaction students from Swinburne’s Masters of Information Technology have been involved in the groundbreaking project and have visited courts to get a greater understanding of just what is needed. The students consulted a criminologist and after reviewing off-the-shelf evidence presentation tools, trialled the new technology in a mock court. Later this year, Dr Farrell and her colleagues will run a moot court involving judges, barristers, auscript’s Phil court staff and jurors from a Farrelly and swinburne’s Dr range of Australian courts. “We Vivienne farrell. hope to inform the judiciary of the advantages of using tablets in the courtroom while also receiving feedback on the interface usability and how it meets the needs of the court,” she says. Phil Farrelly, director of Auscript Technology Solutions, a specialist transcription company, has been working in the court space for 20 years. “We’re on the cusp of a major change,” he says. “In the legal space this technology is the fastest taken-up technology ever. It’s as simple as that. I’ve never seen the technology catch on as quickly as the tablet technology has.” One obvious challenge in sending such important documents to the cloud and having them available online is security. “Security is a major issue with which we must come to terms,” says Dr Farrell. “Technology company Cisco is coming onboard now, having a look at how we can overcome the major security issues for document and video transfer. Given the nature of the application we cannot afford to get it wrong. The ramifications could be detrimental to a case and consequently the outcome for the individual. An early failure could also jeopardise the uptake of technology altogether.” l

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winnin Swinburne graduates Gareth Williamson and Mark Dunn.

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alf a million tonnes of absorbent hygiene products go into landfill annually. In fact, according to Mark Dunn, graduate of Swinburne’s Master of Entrepreneurship and Innovation (MEI) program, Australia generates enough nappy and continence-aid waste to fill the MCG every seven months. It is a problem that Dunn, together with fellow MEI graduate, Gareth Williamson, hope to solve. Dunn and Williamson have formed a company, Relivit, which is planning to build seven plants around Australia to recycle absorbent hygiene material – about 180,000 tonnes per year. The idea for Relivit came out of a business plan assignment they had been working on. Gareth had been a customer of a company called MyPlanet in 2004, which offered a household nappy recycling service, but which was closed down when the parent company was sold. “As part of the course assignment we investigated what happened, examined the business model and identified where it could be restructured. We concluded that the idea was a very viable one in the current environment,” explains Williamson. In Australia there is no alternative to this material going to landfill. As Dunn explains, “Not only is this a loss of materials, but it also adds immensely to landfill. That alone is becoming a serious problem

as new landfills are expensive, invariably located further away from the city and so are more costly to reach.” Refining the business model Dunn and Williamson spent a lot of time researching the market. They put into practice the business theory they were learning in the course to analyse and assess the opportunity. Then they asked the crucial question – Will this actually make money? In addition to the course content, Dunn and Williamson believe the opportunity to participate in business plan competitions held by Swinburne and other universities have been crucial. According to Dunn, “They require you to pull it all together and expose it to critical review. That feedback then prompted us to address weaknesses and find answers to important questions.” Performing in business plan competitions is something that Dunn and Williamson have excelled at. Not only did they take the Swinburne Venture Cup 2010, but they also won the John Heine Challenge in 2010 (an Australian national competition) and then eventually the Licensing Executives Society International (LESI) Global Award this year. This success has helped them to make valuable contacts, who have been “instrumental in getting us ahead”, says Dunn. “We strongly recommend that any

A solution to a pressing environmental problem is being developed thanks to the skills acquired by graduates of swinburne’s master of entrepreneurship course. by lisa starkey

ng w ys with waste

student seriously planning to launch their own venture commit to participating in the competitions.” Seth Jones, acting director of Swinburne Knowledge (Swinburne’s commercialisation office) and mentor to Dunn and Williamson agrees. He cites the opportunity Dunn had to meet a representative of Kimberly-Clarke – a global supplier of absorbent hygiene products – when participating in the 2012 LES Foundation Graduate Student Business Plan Competition in Boston, as a prime example. Jones believes in the potential of Relivit. “I think the timing is good. As a society we need to find more effective ways of dealing with our waste. They have a technology that can address a community need. It’s also really significant that they have got traction with industry partners.” Raising capital Relivit is in its third round of fundraising, to provide the capital to build its first plant in Sydney, which will open next year. “We are currently securing absorbent hygiene waste from commercial washroom waste-management providers such as Pink Hygiene Solutions,” says Williamson. “The main focus of our sales team in Sydney is the aged-care sector, where we’ve had major interest in our service to collect and recycle continence pads. Winning the awards has given us valuable media coverage as we build our brand in the sector,” says Williamson. Relivit is a capital-intensive business. Perhaps not surprisingly then, the biggest challenge has been fundraising. As Dunn explains, “The Relivit project is not the sort that can grow organically in a garage, so we have had to look to others for funds. You have to be very convincing, and it takes a lot of time and effort away from actually working on the business.” A useful foundation Dunn and Williamson credit the MEI program with helping them gain the skills to develop their concept and communicate it to key stakeholders, particularly potential investors. Jones believes the MEI program is a valuable steppingstone for entrepreneurs, “It brings like-minded people together, which is a great benefit. Mark and Gareth hadn’t met before starting the program. As a result of the program they were able to work on an idea they were passionate about. The MEI program has a history of enabling that kind of connection. Also, in this case Mark and Gareth found their second-round investor via the MEI program network.” l

cas e st u dy

student consultants

Tony Duncan of Circa Group wasn’t sure what to expect when a group of Swinburne final-year undergraduate entrepreneurship students participated in a consultancy for his company, but he was very pleased with the results. “The diversity of the student cohort provided a view that was of considerable benefit, not only to Circa but also to fellow students. It was a tremendous learning process.” Circa is a privately owned chemical manufacturer, established with the objective to commercialise their unique process for converting cellulosic waste into value-added renewable chemical products. Levoglucosenone,

in particular, is a valuable feedstock for the pharmaceutical industry, and Circa has developed a proprietary process that means it can be produced efficiently at an industrial scale for the first time. Duncan set the students a task. “We asked them to identify opportunities and develop business concepts to take our business to the next level.” Circa has some unique advantages that Duncan asked the students to develop strategies to exploit. “At the outset I was expecting a fairly narrow range of approaches but was very pleased with the breadth and diversity of the students’ responses. “For example, a number of the group reports used inputs from students’

experiences in Asia. Since the end of the project we have had discussions about establishing ourselves in these markets.” One of the more unexpected results of the project was the opportunity it gave Circa to reflect on its own business strategies. As Tony explains, “Regular questioning by students forced a degree of examination of the approach we were taking to commercialisation.” In the students’ final reports, they produced various scenarios, ranging from feedstock supply chains through to innovative pricing models. Circa has been able to use these to reflect and workshop current strategies. A win-win for this industry–university partnership.

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| venture | swinburne | 17


leading light

Dr Baohua Jia is making exciting discoveries in nanophotonics, a new frontier of science that aims to transform the world’s solar industry.

by jessica gadd


an you imagine a future where the glass on every skyscraper is coated in a thin membrane that generates solar energy, allowing the building to be entirely powered by sunlight? Swinburne Senior Research Fellow Dr Baohua Jia can, and as testament to this, she and her colleagues have already produced thin-film solar cells that are 20 per cent more effective than current thin-film solar cell technology. Her next goal is to increase the thin-film solar cells’ efficiency by a further 40 per cent, the amount required to make them a viable commercial alternative to existing solar panels – which are effective, capturing 15 to 20 per cent of the sunlight shining on them – but bulky and expensive. UV is the key Dr Jia believes the secret to achieving this lies in creating a way for the thin-film solar cells, which can only capture visible light, to also capture ultraviolet (UV) light using semi-conducting particles, or “quantum dots”. Converting the UV light to visible light with the quantum dots increases the amount

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of light the cells receive, which in turn increases the amount of energy the cells can produce. “Many who are trying to convert solar cells look at engineering or design, building the cell from scratch,” Dr Jia says. “We have an advantage in that we don’t need to actually produce the cells – we just put a layer of nanomaterial over the top of them. So we can actually implement our nanotechnology within the existing thin-film solar cells to dramatically increase their efficiency. “It will take three to four years to validate this technology, and another few years to get to production. But because the cells already exist, it will be easier for industry to apply – they just have to add a couple of steps to an existing production process.” A partnership for progress Dr Jia stresses the importance of scientists working collaboratively with industry in order to transform ideas into a reality, explaining that while scientists are interested in fundamental research, and industry in creating products, there are ways to find a balance between the two. She says the thin-film solar cells are a perfect example of when the relationship can work well, with practical outcomes. She says another key to her success are the contributions made by her colleagues at Swinburne. “I think it’s because we all work so well together that we can achieve such great results,” Dr Jia says. “Nanometric science isn’t governed by the normal rules we know: it’s a new frontier in science, so it’s always exciting to explore. There are other elements in addition to physics, such as chemistry, so there’s lots of interaction among the team and we all spark off each other.” Having a positive impact on the environment is also important to Dr Jia, and she is pleased that her experience in nanotechnology will contribute to a reduction in pollution, resulting in a beneficial effect on people’s lives.

Senior Research Fellow Dr Baohua Jia.

“Nanometric science isn’t governed by the normal rules we know: it’s a new frontier in science, so it’s always exciting to explore.” Dr Baohua Jia But her work is not limited to solar cells, and neither is her area of expertise, nanophotonics (optical science at nanometer scale). It’s a field that’s said to be on the edge of a revolution in miniaturisation and integration on a par with the silicon electronics revolution of the past 50 years. “Nanophotonics has a really big future,” Dr Jia says. “The world is moving towards sustainability and this is truly green technology – it depends on light, which doesn’t generate any waste. The world depends on this kind of technology – the value of photonics is estimated to be worth US$200 billion to the global economy.” Dr Jia, who grew up near Beijing, in China, credits her brother-in-law for inspiring her to enter the field of optics, a branch of physics concerned with understanding the properties of light and the way it behaves. Her brother-in-law was well travelled, and taught her that absorbing different cultures creates new ways of thinking. “I really admired my brother-in-law, who had been abroad and advised that the experience helps you to broaden your mind,” Dr Jia says. “He told me optics had a bright future. I knew my capacity but was too young to know the opportunities, so I’m grateful for his advice.” National and international recognition Dr Jia has received substantial accolades and support for her work in the form of numerous grants and awards, most recently the L’Oréal Australia and New Zealand ‘For Women in Science’ Fellowship in August, and the 2012–2014 ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Award in 2011. She is also a project leader for the Centre for Ultrahigh-bandwidth Devices for Optical Systems (an Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence), managing a project exploring nanoplasmonics that includes representatives from five Australian universities. “I’m working in a really exciting field, and I consider myself most fortunate,” Dr Jia says. “Students will find there are lots of good career opportunities in nanophotonics. People tend to think science is filled with difficult equations – it’s not. Equations are just tools for helping us understand the rules. I was not very good at physics when I first started, but my teacher was smart, he used simple rules to teach and inspire us. He taught us that science is beautiful. Open your mind to the possibility that it’s not difficult, and you’ll find it’s beautiful too. “And keep your curiosity: just try to explore, don’t be prevented from trying new things – it’s important for science. Always ask the question.” l

issue three 2012

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MAKING A difference

by fiona killman


The innovative skills and knowledge of Swinburne students are helping to change the lives of people in developing countries.

esign is one of the world’s most powerful tools and plays a significant role in our everyday lives. For most of us, it’s the roof over our heads, the buildings around us and the products we buy. However, for millions of others around the world in developing countries it can be the difference between fresh or contaminated water. Innovative projects by Swinburne students from across the design discipline are making a tangible difference in developing countries: from product design solutions to help improve hygiene and access to fresh water, to a digital design project that is providing access to valuable information. Tom Hurd, who completed his masters in industrial design earlier this year, says Swinburne gave him the opportunity to use his design education on a global level for communities that needed urgent attention. “There is an extensive list of problems that need to be solved and the unique thinking that comes from Swinburne’s design education, particularly holistic system- and service-based design, can really create some amazing solutions that are well thought-out,” he says.

Aalto Design Factory project with UNICEF Hurd was one of the first postgraduate students from Swinburne to travel to the Aalto Design Factory in Finland as part of the new partnership with the Swinburne Design Factory. He chose to work on a product-development project for UNICEF. The Aalto-UNICEF Finland project, in collaboration with UNICEF Uganda, started with a two-week research trip to Uganda to look at how to improve water sanitation and hygiene. The team designed several products, including a durable auto shut-off tap to prevent hand contamination and theft of tap water; a mode of water transportation to prevent people carrying

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water on their heads; and a monitoring device that reports via SMS statistics on the use of latrines and hand-washing facilities. Hurd describes the experience as “intense, difficult, fun and ultimately life-changing”. The project offered up huge challenges, one of which was gaining an understanding of local manufacturing capabilities. “One of our primary goals was that whatever we designed must be locally producible,” he says. “This presented many issues, principally that Uganda is based on a small-business and marketplace economy, which meant that large machinery and even some materials that we take for granted in the developed world, simply don’t exist, or are of poor quality, or are cost-prohibitive to use.” Local knowledge Four students from Uganda’s Makerere University, who were part of the team, helped to identify what was possible. “We also had to consider that, if the demand is enough, then it will often become possible,” he says. “To ensure our products were locally producible, every time we produced a prototype we would consider the local limitations, and our Ugandan teammates would make the same prototype and report back any issues.” During the implementation project in Uganda, Hurd and the team tested the prototypes and made quick progress on organising the production chain. “We got some fantastic feedback from the community, especially for the Elephant Tap, which is intended to replace cheap, easily-broken taps,” he says. “It also prevents re-contamination after handwashing by using an auto-off mechanism, and acts as an educational tool by teaching children to wash their hands for as long as the water flows. The children particularly were taken with this tap, and they were quick to learn how to use it. We left two taps installed in a school and a community centre.”

z The Design Factory model The world’s first Design Factory opened at Aalto University, Finland, in 2008, providing a place for students, teachers, researchers and business partners to interact. The factory offers students a holistic learning experience through reallife challenges, a relaxed and enthusiastic atmosphere, and daily international collaboration. It supports world-class product design in educational, research and practical application contexts. Swinburne will open a $100 million centre for design, innovation and advanced manufacturing next year. The centre will reflect the factory’s pursuit for inspiring individual uniqueness in students, providing a purpose-built teaching and learning environment where teams of design, business, engineering and information-technology students can work on industry-sponsored projects.


The unicef project team in uganda working on the design of the elephant tap from concept through to installation.

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case study

Making science accessible Another innovative design project based in Uganda is led by designer and Swinburne lecturer James Marshall. The Curly Questions project is a partnership between Swinburne, private company onlinegalleries. and Kasese Humanist Primary School (KHPS). The aim is to build the school’s technology infrastructure and develop science-based learning materials for primary school students via the website Grade 6 students from Kasese posed a list of 40 questions, which are being answered by 50 students from Swinburne’s digital media design course in the form of a children’s book and three-minute animation. “Every single student is working on an individual question. For example: ‘What is a mammal?’ and ‘How does the Earth rotate?’” Marshall says. “For each of

(top) James marshall looks over a student’s work and (below) examples of work produced for the Curly Questions project.

the questions asked, design students partner with scientists to make sure the answers are accurate. The answers will be hosted on the website, which we hope to make live by December.” The project has also provided funds to build a computer lab at the school with internet access, as well as educational materials. Marshall says the students are passionate about the project, which will teach evidence-based thinking to students globally and increase public communication of science. “All of the students find doing real-world projects more rewarding than prototypes,” he says. Swinburne digital media design student Rachel Leahy says it is refreshing and motivating to be able to design and create something for the children at KHPS. “I have been working on a storybook based on a question asked by a little girl: ‘What causes a rainbow to appear in the sky sometimes?’ We have all done extensive research on our questions and have consulted scientists.” Bwambale Robert, director of the Ugandan primary school, says the project will have a positive impact on staff by easing their workload, and for the students by exposing them to modern technologies and information. “The Curly Questions project is going to equip our children to understand the world around them and beyond,” he says. “The students are extremely happy for this opportunity to ask questions on things they want to know about and are looking forward to receiving the answers.” l Anyone interested in participating in the project or sponsoring children from KHPS can contact James Marshall via email at

engineers without borders Product design engineering student Rob Reid is working with Engineers Without Borders on a final-year project to improve water quality and cooking conditions in the small community of Devikulam, India. Q: What is the project’s aim? A: To develop a biomass cooking stove incorporating a purifier, which reduces fuel use and improves the health of the user. I was interested in choosing a project which could benefit a developing country. Engineers Without Borders (EWB) had opened applications for projects in India and Cambodia, so I applied and was awarded the open research challenge.

Q: How have you done your research? A: My research has been conducted through literature and the experiences of others who have been involved in appropriate technology programs. I focused on topics surrounding related engineering theory, the associated health concerns from smoke inhalation and consuming contaminated water, and previous stove dissemination programs.

Q: Describe the design process A: After conducting the majority of my research I compiled a list of user needs and product specifications which are the major features the stove needs to have. From here I sketched concepts covering a diverse range of configurations and ideas. For the last two months I have been developing my chosen concept through prototyping and computer-aided design to refine it.

Q: What challenges have you overcome? A: The hardest part of this design is trying to keep it appropriate for a developing world situation. The design needs to stay simple so it can be manufactured at a low cost and be affordable for the end user. This is especially difficult as the temperatures reached inside the stove are very high and low-grade materials will deform quickly.

Q:Has the project affected you? A: After attempting to build stoves and cook on them, I don’t take my kitchen for granted.

Q: What testing have you done? A: I’ve constructed stoves out of tin cans, empty paint tins and parts found at any local hardware store. Using these materials makes it quick and affordable to emulate my designs.

Q: What are your future aspirations? A: I hope to use my abilities as a designer to improve the living standards of people in poverty. Getting involved with humanitarian engineering organisations such as EWB has really opened me up to the possibilities of how you can help others. For more information

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setting new standards

A “rubber hits the road” innovation program is reaping rewards for Australia’s manufacturing sector, helping it to be more strategic in developing new products and taking them to market.


by caroline boyd

case study


When Sydney company Focus Press attended an Innovativity seminar, they were amazed at the results. “Many employees in manufacturing industries come to work, do their job and go home. So nobody ends up listening to their ideas,” says Louise Pastro, group sustainability and stakeholder engagement lead with Focus Press. “Innovativity taught us how to encourage and develop staff and management buy-in. We have now introduced a program to work together with our employees to develop and implement their ideas.”

ustralian manufacturing has been we’ve focused on the practical. We’ve found that under pressure in the past decade. the outcomes are real tools that people take back In the 10 years to 2011, Australia and use.” slipped from seventh to 20th on the World Economic Forum’s Global Innovation Benchmarking tool Competitiveness Index, and a high Donovan and his team support the program by Australian dollar and increased competition from regularly evaluating its effectiveness through pre low-cost international producers have compounded and post surveys. They are also building an online the challenges. benchmarking tool, which will allow businesses One area ripe for improvement is the number to compare themselves against best practice of companies innovating. Figures show that in Australia. just 23 per cent of Australian small-to-medium To develop the innovation audit and benchmarking enterprises (SMEs) have new-to-market products, tool, they will survey 10,000 Australian businesses compared with 60 per cent across the OECD. and draw on a wide-ranging literature “We always say that Australians review. “We’re going to profile what are “We’ve had are innovative, they’re free thinking, the practices within the organisation some really great they’re very creative people,” says that will lead to the greatest success because we’ve Jerome Donovan, a lecturer in innovation performance and the focused on the practical. international business, and the best outcomes,” says Donovan, who We’ve found that the co-program leader of innovation and believes the thoroughness of the outcomes are real internationalisation at Swinburne. tool will be a first. tools that people take back and use.” “But it seems we really lack the “There are different snapshot capacity in organisations to translate surveys and short-audit tools Leah Paff these into business outcomes.” available on the internet in different places around the world, but I haven’t seen A practical catalyst for change? anything like what AMCRC wants to develop,” Hoping to unlock this potential for innovation he says. is Innovativity, a program designed specifically Grey says the benchmarking tool will motivate for SMEs, run by the Advanced Manufacturing Australian businesses to reach for new highs. Cooperative Research Centre (AMCRC) with support “I think there’s going to be a huge value in from a Swinburne team headed by Donovan. addressing these skill shortages in innovation. Bruce Grey, managing director of the AMCRC, You’re looking at a sector that makes a huge says the Innovativity project, which is running contribution towards the Australian economy where around Australia, is already having an impact. there’s massive value-add potential. There are also “For a number of companies it has changed their a lot of multipliers in manufacturing in terms of new-product development processes,” he says. creating jobs in other sectors.” Leah Paff, program leader in industry, training In Victoria, the recently launched Innovation and innovation at the AMCRC, says the program Technology Voucher Program is expected to allow takes participants through the entire innovation more small-to-medium enterprises to take up the process from start to finish. Innovativity program. “We have applied to become “You do activity-based work using the tools in the an approved supplier so there will be an opportunity program with your other classmates,” says Paff. for Victorian companies to make use of the voucher “We’ve had some really great success because to attend the course,” says Grey. l For more information on the innovativity program, visit

issue three 2012

| venture | swinburne | 23


VENTURE magazine, Issue 2012 III November SCIENCE-TECH-INNOVATION by Swinburne University, Melbourne, Australia

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