Senior Professor Gursel Alici from the School of Mechanical, Materials, Mechatronic and Biomedical Engineering

UOW researchers awarded $5M in ARC Discovery Projects grants

UOW researchers awarded $5M in ARC Discovery Projects grants

Scheme supports research that delivers economic, environmental, social or cultural benefits

University of Wollongong (UOW) researchers have been awarded more than $5 million in funding in the latest round of Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Projects funding grants announced by the Minister for Education Dan Tehan.

“These research projects are part of our Government’s plan to invest in ideas and innovation to help power Australia’s economic recovery from COVID-19,” Mr Tehan said.

Twelve UOW-led projects received funding under the ARC Discovery Projects scheme, which aims to expand the knowledge base and research capacity in Australia and support research that will provide economic, commercial, environmental, social and/or cultural benefits for Australia.

The projects range from addressing Australia’s agile skills development needs to understanding how mangroves will cope with rising sea levels; from mental health guidelines for community sports to reducing cybersickness from virtual reality use; and from energy storage solutions for a decarbonised economy to a wearable data glove to command and control robotic and autonomous systems.

UOW researchers will contribute to a further 12 Discovery Projects as research collaborators.

UOW Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) Professor Jennifer L Martin AC welcomed the announcement and congratulated the researchers involved.

“The ARC’s Discovery Projects scheme is highly competitive and this success is testament to UOW’s standing as a leading research-intensive university and to the talent and hard work of our researchers,” Professor Martin said.

“These projects will ultimately deliver enormous benefits to Australia and Australians.”

UOW-led Discovery Projects

Investigating professional learning lives in the digital evolution of work

A team led by Associate Professor Shirley Agostinho from the School of Education, and including Dr Kellie Buckley-Walker and Professor Sue Bennett, gained $481,720 to investigate learning practices in professions affected by digitalisation. The project will provide significant benefits for a national policy on lifelong learning to address Australia's agile skills development needs.

Roadblocks in DNA replication

Distinguished Professor Antoine van Oijen and Distinguished Professor Nicholas Dixon, from Molecular Horizons, received $600,364 for a project to develop technology to visualise and understand the molecular processes responsible for the faithful copying of cellular DNA. Project benefits include enhanced collaboration and scientific capacity in Australia.

Structures to solve conflicts of DNA replication and RNA transcription.

A team led by Distinguished Professor Nicholas Dixon and including Dr Gokhan Tolun, Dr Harshad Ghodke and Associate Professor Aaron Oakley, secured $692,195 for a project to understand how new DNA is made so quickly and without mistakes in cells that are about to divide. The project could potentially lead to the development of new antibiotics.

Distinguished Professor Nicholas Dixon, Molecular Horizons

Distinguished Professor Nicholas Dixon

Out of Africa: human prehistory in southwestern China

Dr Bo Li from the Centre for Archaeological Science gained $269,457 for his project to establish the timing and processes of human settlement in East Asia during the Middle and Late Pleistocene. His team will study key archaeological sites in southwest China and provide new insights into the human prehistory of East Asia over the last 300,000 years, addressing debates about the timing, rate and route of dispersal of modern humans out of Africa, across south Asia and into Australia.

Mangrove sustainability on the Australian coast

Associate Professor Kerrylee Rogers from the School of Earth, Atmospheric and Life Sciences and a team including Professor Colin Woodroffe and Associate Professor Sarah Hamylton received $450,000 to model the response of mangroves and adjoining communities to sea-level rise. Mangrove response models are urgently needed to plan for Australia’s global sea-level rise adaptation, and will benefit sustainable coastal management and national carbon accounting efforts.

Associate Professor Kerrylee Rogers with mangroves

Associate Professor Kerrylee Rogers.

Playing it safe: psychological safety and mental health for community sport

Dr Stewart Vella from the School of Psychology, leading a team including Senior Professor Anthony Okely from Early Start, secured $357,409 for a project to deliver knowledge to underpin effective psychological safety and mental health guidelines for community sports. When implemented, this knowledge will help sports clubs to provide a psychologically safe environment, and promote the mental health and wellbeing of all Australians involved in organised sports.

Geopolymer concrete for thin-walled structures in marine environment

Associate Professor Muhammad Hadi from the Advanced Structural Engineering and Construction Materials Group will lead a team including Associate Professor Md Sheikh in a project to develop ultra-high performance geopolymer concrete thin-walled structures for critical infrastructure in the marine environment. The project, awarded $325,000, aims to increase the durability of coastal infrastructures and significantly reduce the loss of their capacities due to corrosion-induced damage.

Hot topic: quantum design of phononic heat filters

A team led by Dr David Cortie, from the Australian Institute for Innovative Materials, and including Dr Zengji Yue, Professor Zhenxiang Cheng, Professor Roger Lewis and Professor Chao Zhang, gained $315,000 for a study into phonon transport in solids. The phonon is the quantum particle representing a travelling vibration and is responsible for the transmission of heat in solids. Heat management is critical to many technologies for sustainable energy, electronics, protective equipment and energy-efficient buildings.

Dr David Cortie, ISEM, AIM

Dr David Cortie.

Unleashing the potential of VR: reducing sickness in head-mounted displays

Associate Professor Stephen Palmisano from the School of Psychology secured $199,000 for a project to test a new theory of this cybersickness related to the use of virtual reality (VR) technology. The study will quantify the sensory conflicts produced by VR and measure their effects on perception, eye-movements, balance and well-being, leading to improved VR use in fields including defence, education, entertainment, gaming, medicine, real estate, simulation training and tourism.

Batteries of the future-a new strategy for CO2 fixation and energy storage

Distinguished Professor Zaiping Guo, from the School of Mechanical, Materials, Mechatronic and Biomedical Engineering and the Australian Institute for Innovative Materials, and her team, including Dr Tengfei Zhou, Dr Yan Lu, Dr David Wexler, secured $492,255 for a project to develop metal-carbon dioxide batteries with high specific energy densities for carbon dioxide capture as well as energy conversion and storage. The outcomes will revolutionise battery technology and position Australia as a global leader in the critical transition to a decarbonised economy.

Distinguished Professor Zaiping Guo

Distinguished Professor Zaiping Guo.

Carbon-free energy storage and conversion using ammonia as a mediator

Distinguished Professor Shi Xue Dou, from the Australian Institute for Innovative Materials, and a team including Dr Ji Liang and Dr Weijie Li secured $573,778 for a project to develop technologies for ammonia-mediated energy storage, hydrogen production, and electricity generation. This should provide significant benefits for the harvest of clean energy, the safe utilisation of hydrogen, and the development of carbon-free fuels, which are essential for optimising Australia’s energy structure.

Non-invasive and safe human-machine interface (HMI) systems

Senior Professor Gursel Alici (pictured in main image above) from the School of Mechanical, Materials, Mechatronic and Biomedical Engineering received $334,055 for his project to establish new human-machine interface systems to intuitively command and control robotic and autonomous systems safely interacting with humans. Expected outcomes are a novel human-machine interface methodology, a new multi-purpose wearable data glove, and machine learning methods for applications in assistive robotic devices such as a prosthetic hand, advanced manufacturing, construction and agriculture.

Discovery Projects led by other institutes

Dr Jennifer Atchison (School of Geography and Sustainable Communities) is part of the University of Melbourne-led project Understanding contested human-plant geographies for urban greening success.

Associate Professor Julia Quilter (School of Law) is part of the University of New South Wales-led project Violence, Risk and Safety: The Changing Face of Australian Criminal Laws.

Dr Summer Finlay (School of Health and Society) is part of the University of Melbourne-led project Improving young people's online safety when talking about suicide.

Dr Christopher Friesen (School of Earth, Atmospheric and Life Sciences) is part of the Australian National University-led project Maternal contributions to offspring development in a changing climate.

Associate Professor Sarah Howard (School of Education), Professor Christian Ritz (School of Electrical, Computer and Telecommunications Engineering) and Dr Jie Yang (School of Computing and Information Technology) are part of the University of Sydney-led project Building on rural knowledges to unlock the potential of rural students.

Professor Melanie Randle (School of Management, Operations and Marketing) is part of the Deakin University-led project The impact of gambling advertising, promotions, and sponsorship on children.

Associate Professor Sharon Tindall-Ford (School of Education) is part of the Griffith University-led project Improving middle leading practices in schools to enhance student learning.

Professor David Adams (Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute) is part of the RMIT University-led project Uncovering the molecular mechanisms of potassium channel activity.

Associate Professor Zhiquan Zhou (School of Computing and Information Technology) is part of the Swinburne University of Technology-led project Context-aware verification and validation framework for autonomous driving.

Professor Alex Remennikov (School of Civil, Mining and Environmental Engineering) is part of the University of Melbourne-led project Innovative composite systems with enhanced resilience to extreme loads.

Associate Professor Markus Hagenbuchner (School of Computing and Information Technology) and Professor Ah Chung Tsoi (School of Computing and Information Technology) are part of the University of Sydney-led project Fine-grained Human Action Recognition with Deep Graph Neural Networks.

Dr David Gunawan (School of Mathematics and Applied Statistics) is part of the University of New South Wales-led project Bayesian inference for psychological theories with intractable likelihood.