Industry Futures: Australian University Science issue 4, Nov 2020

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The Quantum Revolution: Small tech scales up, p3 Founding a medical start-up, p5 Manufacturing with materials that photosynthesise, p6

Issue 4, Nov 2020

IN DUSTRY FUTU R ES Reinventing Australia’s economic growth

Developing new industries Training the future workforce | Leading in innovation

University science is the lifeblood of translational research and, in collaboration with industry and publicly funded agencies like the CSIRO, it builds new industries that bolster our economic recovery. It’s a relationship that has thrived for over a century, and has underscored the development of new vaccines, created new ways of looking at the stars, resulted in new approaches to medicine, new ways of communicating and of generating clean energy. In fact, there are few areas of our lives that collaborations between university science and the CSIRO hasn’t impacted. And in each of these areas, new industries have arisen from the combination of fundamental research, community involvement, research translation and innovation. University science works with the CSIRO to build communities around new and groundbreaking areas of research as well as facilitating connections and collaborations with industry. It could hardly be more critical that this relationship continues to thrive as we face the extraordinary challenges from climate change, pandemics, water shortages, increased energy and data demands, the need for advanced manufacturing and for new industries and jobs that can rebuild economies globally. For instance, when COVID-19 struck in early 2020, the University of Queensland’s vaccine candidate was one of the earliest to go into testing and was scaled-up at CSIRO’s Advanced Biologics Manufacturing Facility in

Image: CSIRO

Why we work better together

Melbourne. CSIRO are also collaborating with the University of Queensland and others on research into the detection of the virus in wastewater, on genomics, on therapeutics and on the survivability of the virus on various surfaces. Australia has world-class research capability and the potential to lead in future industries like advanced manufacturing, hydrogen, space and quantum technologies. We can also lead in new industries created by advances in science research in climate, biology and agriculture-related technologies. Collaborative research and partnerships will be essential to creating and growing these industries. University science and the CSIRO work in tandem


Exploring the achievements of university science in the development of new industries. Australia’s strong science research and training are integral to driving new economies. Universities have a critical role as partners in establishing innovation and technological change in industry. As science delivers new insights and tools, new industries are emerging, and people with science skills will be



essential to these new industries. Australian University Science magazine highlights these stories, showcasing exceptional science teams and Australian science graduates working in industry. To provide feedback or suggestions, subscribe or order additional copies, visit

with industry to foster an ecosystem that turns Australian inventions into innovations that support our economic recovery and future resilience. Translation is a key part of this, because research doesn’t end with the publishing of a paper. Translation works best when we have a strong network of researchers from university science, publicly funded agencies like the CSIRO and industry working together to turn an invention into something that can have impact in our world. Working together, we will build the industries today that our society will rely on in the future. Dr Cathy Foley, Chief Scientist, CSIRO

Cover Image: Lauren Trompp. Published 2 Nov 2020 by Refraction Media on behalf of the Australian Council of Deans of Science. Designed by Jon Wolfgang Miller. Printed in Australia by IVE. ISSN: 2652-2403. © 2020 Australian Council of Deans of Science, all rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any manner or form without written permission. If you would like to reproduce anything from this issue, email:

Image: CQC2T


QUANTUM REVOLUTION SCALES UP Quantum mechanics began as curiosity-driven university research into fundamental physics, and now drives advances in everything from computing, communications, mining and medicine to finance.


Biercuk’s lab is a node of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems (EQUS) one of six such university-led centres in Australia either wholly or partly focused on

Image: University of Sydney and Q-CTRL

quantum technologies. EQUS itself is a partnership between five universities – Sydney, Macquarie, Queensland, Western Australia and the Australian National University (ANU) – along with Australia’s Defence Science and Technology Group (DST) and industry partners like Microsoft and Lockheed Martin. Another 20 Australian research institutions and 14 universities work in the field, along with 16 private companies – either university spin-offs or offshoots of overseas giants like Microsoft or IBM, all looking to bring quantum technologies to market. Silicon Quantum Computing (SQC), a spin-off of University of New South Wales (UNSW) research, aims to build a full-scale quantum computer in silicon. With the world’s $530 billion semiconductor industry based on silicon since the 1950s, SQC is thought to be a strong contender to develop the first commercially viable quantum computer. UNSW is also the home of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology (CQC2T), a collaboration

Image: University of Sydney and Q-CTRL

Below the size of atoms, the world functions strangely: particles can be waves and vice versa, and can exchange information without traversing space. Known as quantum mechanics, these strange phenomena are embedded in technologies we take for granted, like computer memory, lasers and solar cells. Now, decades of persistent work by university science in Australia and overseas is ushering in the second quantum revolution, which by 2040 could be a $4 billion sector and create 16,000 jobs. “Quantum technology – harnessing the strangest effects in quantum physics as resources – will be as transformational in the 21st century as harnessing electricity was in the 19th,” says physicist Prof Michael Biercuk, director of the Quantum Control Lab at the University of Sydney.

Top: UNSW’s Scientia Prof Michelle Simmons. Middle: The University of Sydney’s Prof Michael Biercuk at the Quantum Control Lab. Bottom: An ion trap used to confine individual atoms.

NOV 2020


Artist’s impression of a diamond quantum sensor. Light passes through a diamond defect, detecting the movement of electrons (red spheres).

of almost 200 researchers across six universities – UNSW, Melbourne, Queensland, Griffith, Sydney, ANU and University of Technology Sydney (UTS) – as well as DST, the Australian Signals Directorate and another 17 universities and four corporate partners overseas. “A quantum computer would be able to solve problems in minutes that would otherwise take thousands of years,” says Prof Michelle Simmons, head of

BOLD SCIENCE Accelerated by university research, quantum technology goes far beyond computers.

SECRET SCANNERS ON THE SEAFLOOR Researchers at the University of Adelaide are working to create tiny atomic detectors, known as quantum magnetometers. Anchored to the sea floor, these could detect the passage of nearby submarines and alert coastal defences. “Submarines are giant metal objects, so they’ve got a magnetic field associated with them,” says physicist Prof Andre Luiten. “The great thing about these detectors is they have no power requirements, they’re just atoms in a glass cell. Changes in the strength of the magnetic field at each of numerous quantum detectors on the seabed allows us to determine the speed and direction of the submarine.”

UNCRACKABLE HACKS Essential to both military and civilian networks, cryptography relies on scrambling data with complex mathematical formulae that take decades of computer time to crack. In 2006, ANU physicists were the first to commercialise quantum-enhanced cybersecurity solutions, creating Quintessence Labs. Problem is, quantum cryptography works best over short distances and on secure fibre networks. So ANU physicists at the Department of Quantum Science are developing a quantum-encrypted laser communications system that would allow quantum



CQC2T and a former Australian of the Year, who also sits on SQC’s board. This could include the simulation of new materials, financial risk analysis, optimising speech, facial and object recognition for self-driving cars, looking at optimising aircraft design, or targeting drug development to a patient’s DNA, she says. Simmons, an ex-research fellow at the University of Cambridge, was attracted to the Australian university system by its openness to pursuing challenging science. “I wanted to build something that could prove to be useful,” she recalls. “Australia offered the freedom of independent fellowships and the ability to work on large-scale projects.” – Wilson da Silva

University of Adelaide’s Dr Erik Schartner with an optical fibre probe that distinguishes breast cancer tissue from normal tissue.

cryptography via satellite. These would depend on ‘quantum memories’ — also being developed at ANU — that capture and store information encoded in laser beams without reading or tampering with the data, keeping its quantum cryptography state intact. Snapping up just 5% of the market with quantumenhanced cybersecurity and network technologies would, by 2040, generate $820 million in annual revenue and 3300 new jobs in Australia, according to the May 2020 Growing Australia’s Quantum Technology Industry roadmap.

PRECISION HEALTHCARE Quantum sensing is already delivering dazzling applications in healthcare and medicine, such as enabling early disease detection and the imaging of human biology with exquisite precision, relying on the quantum effect of fluorescent nano-diamonds. A leading player is the ARC Centre of Excellence in Nanoscale BioPhotonics (CNBP), a consortium led by the universities of Adelaide, Macquarie, RMIT, Griffith and UNSW. “We ask questions at the nanoscale of biological life because it’s at the nanoscale where we see the inner workings of cells,” says the University of Adelaide’s Prof Mark Hutchinson, director of CNBP. “It is at the nanoscale that we can observe life begin, watch the triggers of pain be activated, and observe disease evolve. And that’s delivering really bold science.”

Image: :Centre for Nanoscale BioPhotonics

Image: :David A Broadway/University of Melbourne


Image: Michael Amendolia



University of Sydney science graduate and entrepreneur Adjunct Professor Alison Todd has worked with her SpeeDx co-founder Dr Elisa Mokany for almost two decades. Todd and Mokany started out as colleagues at Johnson & Johnson as well as supervisor and PhD student at UNSW. With 120 patents to her name and 40 pending, Todd is primarily an inventor, but she says their skillsets overlap. Together, they invented and patented the PlexZyme platform technology for genetic analysis. When Johnson & Johnson fell prey to the global financial crisis, Todd and Mokany negotiated the assignment of their technology and founded SpeeDx to take it to market. This year, the pair’s groundbreaking medical diagnostic technology earned them the Clunies Ross Award for Innovation. PlexZyme drives the diagnostic tests developed by SpeeDx that detect both the organism causing an infection and its antibiotic resistance status, allowing doctors to tailor treatment to each patient. In a study of sexually transmitted infections caused by Mycoplasma genitalium, using SpeeDx diagnostics to guide treatment increased cure rates from 40% to 93%. Both founders are actively involved in the Australian university community, mentoring the next generation of scientists and entrepreneurs. Over 20 years, Todd has supervised many higher degree students, delivering research for SpeeDx while giving the students a grounding in both industry and academia. “It’s very hard to get any basic research done in a busy company that is pumping out products,” Todd says.

Dr Michael Dong Han Seo has developed a process to convert waste biomass into a unique form of graphene with important applications in water treatment. Patented as ‘GraphAir’, the concept sprang from Seo’s PhD research at the University of Sydney, where he investigated ways of transforming waste oil products into graphene, a unique material consisting of a single atomic layer of carbon. Graphene has many useful applications, including as supercapacitor electrodes. Seo later duplicated the oil-to-graphene transformation using thermal processing at CSIRO, patenting the process in Australia and China. Seo’s thermally synthesised graphene contains unique nano-channels, which only allow water to pass through. This means it can be used to purify contaminated water, desalinate seawater or separate water from oil. What’s more, the material’s surface doesn’t become clogged – no matter how contaminated the water. The research led to two publications in the journal Nature Communications. Now at UTS, Seo is developing a robust membrane and simple treatment process to improve the way we recycle water and tackle future water shortages. Seo says his Australian university science education equipped him with a systematic thinking process and the curiosity to think about why things happen. — Nadine Cranenburgh




Bachelor of Science (Hons) & PhD, University of Sydney

Founder & Chief Scientific Officer, SpeeDx

DR ELISA MOKANY Bachelor of Advanced Science & PhD, UNSW

Founder & Chief Technical Officer, SpeeDx

Bachelor of Science/ Commerce (Hons) & PhD, University of Sydney

Postdoctoral Fellow, CSIRO

Research Scientist, CSIRO

Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellow, UTS

NOV 2020



The new era in manufacturing is driven by long-term science from Australia’s universities.

Image: QUT

Advanced manufacturing sits at the heart of the Morrison government’s multibillion-dollar, five-year blueprint to reshape Australia’s post-pandemic economy, create millions of future jobs and boost local manufacture of industrial goods. The strategy supports growth across the medical technology, biotech, agriculture, food technology, defence, fintech and resources sectors and will push research commercialisation and enhanced collaboration between universities, governments and the

Top: Algae from UTS being converted to beer at Young Henry’s brewery in Sydney. Left: QUT’s Advanced Battery Facility. Right: QUT’s Prof Peter Talbot.



private sector. Key to developing these new industries is long-term university science in chemistry, physics and biology addressing major global challenges around energy, pollution and health.


The expansion of our energy needs, and the ability to meet these sustainably, is one such challenge. “Australia has almost unlimited energy resources through sunlight, so scientists are thinking about how we can export our sunlight to countries like Korea and Japan that don’t have those resources,” says Queensland University of Technology (QUT)

Professorial Fellow Peter Talbot. He says that as demand for mobile devices, electric vehicles and remote sensor networks skyrockets globally, developing new battery technology is one way to deliver this energy. Talbot established Australia’s first lithium ion battery manufacturing plant, the QUT Advanced Battery Facility, and leads several other programs in future energy storage and hydrogen fuel. The world lithium-ion battery market is growing at over 14% a year and industry analyst Technavio predicts it will grow by $66.76 billion between 2020 and 2024. Talbot says Australia is well positioned to be a major battery processing, manufacturing and trading hub. “There is a once-in-a-generation shift underway in how we generate and store energy, which is driving an enormous industry worldwide,” he says. “Australia is perfectly placed to take advantage of this huge opportunity.” Australia exports nine of the 10 mineral elements required for lithium-ion batteries and has commercial reserves of the remaining element — graphite. Critical to the growth of this industry is talent from our universities. Talbot says the battery industry will need scientists from various disciplines: from geologists to find deposits, to electrochemists, physicists, mathematicians and computer scientists to optimise the properties and develop viable commercial products for sale and export.

Image: Yeah Rad


“AUSTRALIA IS IN A PRIME POSITION TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THIS DEVELOPING ECONOMY.” UTS opened its Deep Green Biotech hub in 2016 to focus on all things algae, from single-celled freshwater microalgae to large ocean kelp species, with a direct focus on using its research expertise to generate new industries. Algae is used in pharmaceuticals, foods, fertilisers and building materials. It has significant sustainability benefits, using just 2% of the land and water required to grow the equivalent volume in beef protein, and instead of generating greenhouse emissions during production, it absorbs them. The Deep Green Biotech Hub is a completely different approach to building relationships with university and industry: 10 business start-ups have already graduated from the Hub’s five-month business accelerator programs, which team companies with a research mentor to help them innovate using algae, kick-starting a potentially huge new industry based on fundamental science. “The scientific expertise we provide is incredibly valuable to these companies and it’s essential for them to be able to innovate and be successful,” says Dr Alexandra Thomson, who heads up the Hub. Globally, the algae industry is estimated to be worth $62.15 billion by 2024, she says. “We’ve been benchmarking the Australian industry and since 2018 the number of companies that are involved in microalgae has grown by 30%.” “Australia is in a prime position to take advantage of this developing economy, we have a whole bunch of kelps that are endemic and can leverage these amazing native seaweed species to address different products.” Head of the Australian Seaweed Institute, Jo Kelly says the burgeoning Australian seaweed industry could generate over $100 million by 2025 and create up to 1200 direct jobs in regional, coastal communities if universities are on board. “Scientists will play a key role in industry development with the current key challenges to close lifecycles, scale cultivation and create high value bioproducts,” she says.

Image: Lauren Trompp


Left: UTS’ Dr Alexandra Thomson. Right: University of Queensland’s Prof Lars Nielsen.


At the University of Queensland, bioengineering expert Professor Lars Nielsen’s metabolic modelling work ranges from using stem cells to produce blood cells for transfusions, to designing complex biological systems from bacteria to baker’s yeast and sugarcane. Like many in university science, Nielsen works directly with industry and has helped develop new ways to produce products spanning antibiotics to aviation fuels, proteins and agricultural bio-pesticides. “We apply biology to engineer living cells, which involves chemical engineers working with biologists, chemists, physicists and mathematicians,” he says. Queensland’s 10-year Biofutures roadmap predicts a billion-dollar exportoriented biotechnology industry by 2026, creating thousands of jobs. Nielsen says government investment in synthetic biology is on the rise in countries where there’s concern over the pandemic’s disruption to global supply chains. “In a more nationalist world nations may want to rely on themselves for certain products more; in Australia, for example, we are asking if we want more local production of fuels, and if we need to expand our fuel reserves?” Synthetic biology could enable local production for drugs such as antibiotics — the vast majority of which are currently produced in China — and for other products including fuels.


David Winkler is a Professor of Biochemistry and Genetics at La Trobe University who has spent more than 30 years on the development of new drugs and biomaterials. He recently contributed to the development of a biopolymer that passively blocks fungi and could replace chemical fungicides, prevent harmful fungi spoiling crops, or even protect implanted medical prostheses from fungal infection. “I use computational chemistry, machine learning and AI to model the molecular interactions of materials with biology,” he explains. Machine learning helps scientists navigate vast complexities required to model new materials and molecules, opening up production of an essentially infinite number of new materials with extremely broad industrial applications. Winkler’s computational design of drug candidates and materials has generated 25 patents, contributed to four start-up companies, and could potentially deliver the first effective treatment for the fatal blood cancer myelofibrosis. Once a bioactive material is successfully translated into a drug treatment, medical device or diagnostic tool, there’s often a billion-dollar-per-year market – and the core research takes place in university science departments. – Fran Molloy NOV 2020



HOW SCIENCE IS FUELLING NEW INDUSTRIES IMPROVING INVERTEBRATE ROBOTS A physicist and a mathematician from Swinburne University of Technology demonstrated the existence of fundamentally important Faraday waves on the surface of vertically vibrated living earthworms. The research could help advance work on human-machine interfaces, autonomous soft robotics and mechatronics. The work earned Dr Ivan Maksymov and Dr Andriy Pototsky the 2020 Ig Nobel award in Physics for their amusing experiment involving four species of earthworms vibrated on a sub-woofer speaker and anaesthetised with dilute vodka. “Recently, there have been experimental demonstrations of prototypes of soft autonomous robots that move by crawling across surfaces by contracting segments of their body, much like earthworms,” says Maksymov. The research was published in the journal Scientific Reports. (Post-experiment, all worms lived out their days in a worm farm).


University of South Australia pharmeceutical scientist Professor Clive Prestidge and team have developed an oral formulation for the leading prostate cancer drug Abiraterone acetate (marketed as Zytiga). Pre-clinical trials showed the oral form improved the drug’s effectiveness by 40%, allowed a lower dose to be used, and could dramatically reduce current side-effects, including joint swelling. One in six men are diagnosed with prostate cancer before the age of 85 and there were 1.28 million cases globally in 2018.


University of Western Australia physicist Professor Michael Tobar has collaborated on a project that has found a new way to measure tiny forces and use them to control objects without contact — a practical application of a theoretical physics phenomenon called the Casimir force. The discovery has applications in nanotechnology and in nanoelectromechanical systems, including membranes used in precision medicine such as targeted drug therapies. 8


Swinburne’s Dr Ivan Maksymov.

RE-FORMULATING ANCIENT FERMENTS Biochemist Dr Cristian Varela from the Australian Wine Research Institute has led a study in collaboration with the University of Adelaide investigating processes used by the Tasmanian Palawa people to produce a fermented alcoholic beverage from the sweet sap of the Tasmanian cider gum, Eucalyptus gunnii. The researchers worked with local Aboriginal communities to understand traditional processes and gather soil, bark and sap from the trees. Their research used DNA sequencing to identify the complex microbial communities associated with the natural fermentation of sap, finding some new classifications of yeast and bacteria not previously described that are unique to Australia and could be used to help revive lost practices or develop new ones.


At the University of Sydney, biomechanics researcher Dr Elizabeth Clarke has developed a product that uses kangaroo tendons for ligament reconstruction in human subjects in tandem with a 3D-printed

Flowers of the Tasmanian cider gum.

The Casimir force acts between two parallel conducting plates. Measuring the force could provide a new way to move objects without contact.

biomaterial to connect it to bone. The invention is being commercialised by Allegra Orthopaedics, the Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre and Bone Ligament Tendon Ltd.

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