The University Global Partnership Network (UGPN), launched in 2011, aims to develop sustainable world-class research to benefit a global society.

To foster an innovative research culture the UGPN has created the Research Collaboration Fund (RCF) where partners from the University of Wollongong, University of Surrey, North Carolina State University and the University of São Paulo apply to fund high quality bilateral, trilateral and quadrilateral research projects.

The fifth call for RCF funding (2016) was UOW's first year of being involved in this scheme, and was accepting for the first time bids for collaborative activities across four partner universities.

In total, eight projects were selected to receive UGPN funding, six of which involve the UOW – 2 quadrilateral, 2 trilateral and 2 bilateral projects. Each project is investigating an exciting new area of research and providing opportunities for staff and students to visit partner institutions.

“Adding an international aspect to research projects is so important. It addresses the need for PhD students to develop a more holistic research training by being exposed to different cultures and expertise around the world.

It also provides an opportunity for UOW researchers to connect globally with each UGPN partner’s existing industry collaborators and expertise,” Professor Judy Raper, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation), said.

UGPN RCF 2016 research projects - UOW

A/Prof. Clare Murphy and A/Prof. Stephen Wilson

Next generation environmental sensing for local to global scale health impact assessment (Quadrilateral)

With air pollution ranked as the 7th most harmful risk faced by humanity in a recent World Health Organization report, this RCF project aims to use low-cost pollution sensors for field studies across four continents, evaluate their performance against traditional equipment and integrate this information and identify global pollution hotspots globally. The collaboration is a combination of four multidisciplinary areas: aerosol chemistry and physics, emissions, exposure and health effect assessment and global/regional air quality/climate modelling. 

“We are currently working on a review of emissions and concentrations of particulate matter in Brazil and on a bid for a large grant from the US National Science Foundation bridging the scales in emissions and air quality modelling. By early 2017 we hope to have collected some additional data on particulate levels from Western Sydney which we will analyse and interpret,” Professor Murphy said.

A/Prof. Karen Charlton

Inflammation, advancing age and nutrition (Quadrilateral)

Muscle mass and strength are progressively lost during the ageing process, leading to loss of mobility and increased dependency in older adults. It is known that chronic inflammation of tissues can cause continuous damage to adipose, muscle, and connective tissue. This project focuses on nutrition-related strategies to slow down age-related muscle loss through anti- inflammatory pathways, thus protecting metabolic health.

“The team is well placed to develop novel nutritional strategies against inflammation and age-related diseases with combined expertise in musculoskeletal health, physiology, and nutrition,” A/Prof. Charlton said.

The UOW team will initially conduct a human clinical study to investigate the impact of daily consumption of Queen Garnet Plum juice, a rich source of plant polyphenols (anthocyanins) on inflammatory biomarkers, physical function, strength and blood pressure in older adults. To complement this studyother team members will be testing nutritional interventions in a genetically bred mouse model that has accelerated ageing and rapid muscle and joint tissue loss. 

“Findings from this proof-of-principle study will guide the development of future clinical trials and allow the team to apply for larger grants from Australian and international funding agencies.  Additionally, a UOW PhD student will visit the laboratory of A/Prof Komarnytsky at North Carolina State University.”

Dr Zhenguo Huang

Hexagonal boron nitride nanosheets (BNNS) for advanced nanoscale electronics and radiation shielding (Trilateral)

“My first aim is to develop a method to synthesize large and uniform BNNS for nano-devices and to develop suitable precursors to make 3D BNNS for radiation shielding. Hopefully by 2017 our team will have been able to make these nanosheets for next generation electronic devices, improving their performance and safety. The research also extends to safer space travel and exploration.

“We hope to continue the collaboration with funding applications to the Australian Research Council, NASA, Research Councils UK and related industrial partners,” Dr Huang said.

A/Prof. Michael Kelso

Novel anti-biofilm agents in the fight against multi-drug resistant bacterial pathogens (Trilateral)

Biofilm formation plays a significant role in the survival of bacteria in the food production environment. This three-way partnership will assess next-generation antimicrobial compounds - produced at UOW - for their activity against Salmonella biofilms, with a focus on combating multidrug-resistant  bacteria found in poultry.

If successful, the products developed through this research collaboration could reduce the emergence of antibiotic resistant strains of Salmonella. An exciting possibility is that these compounds could act synergistically with traditional antibiotics, allowing MDR Salmonella to become susceptible to antibiotics again.

A/Prof. Kelso and his team will utilise the University of Surrey’s expertise in Salmonella pathobiology and biofilm assays, as well as the screening expertise at NCSU, to fully characterise the activity of our new antibiotics against Salmonella.

“We are planning to complete the synthesis of six different nitric oxide donor cephalosporin antibiotics and send them to Professor 

Chambers and Professor La Ragione at the University of Surrey, for evaluation of their activity against Salmonella biofilms.

“Depending on the results, further funding will be sought from large European funding agencies to advance development of these donor cephalosporins as new agents for disrupting Salmonella biofilms,” A/Prof. Kelso said.

Dr Shulei Chou and Dr Wenping Sun

Advanced Sodium-Ion batteries (Bilateral)

Dr Chou hopes to strengthen the collaboration with a student exchange program to utilise the expertise from both research groups.

“Our partner has extensive expertise on in-situ Raman technique. We have many materials synthesis technique with large-scale production capability. Therefore, we can work together from both fundamental research to industry scale application,” Dr Chou said.

A/Prof. Thomas Astell-Burt and Dr Xiaoqi Feng

International alliance for Population, Wellbeing and Environment research (Bilateral)

This project has brought together UOW’s Population, Wellbeing and Environment Research Lab (PowerLab) - which specialises in quantitative studies of the social and public health sciences - and the North Carolina State University Center for Human Health and the Environment (CHHE) – designed to build and enhance environmental health science research. 

The area of research they will collaborate on is focussed on identifying and mapping the types of environments that support peoples’ efforts to take greater responsibility for their own health and wellbeing. The team has met and firmed up a research plan at CHHE in 2016 and will be writing joint publications and holding meetings at UOW in 2017.