Global Challenges returns to tackle the big issues

Global Challenges returns to tackle the big issues

Projects will explore environment, community and workplace changes

After a COVID hiatus, the University of Wollongong (UOW) has relaunched the Global Challenges Program, a strategic research initiative designed to harness the diverse expertise of researchers to address real-world problems.

The program aims to encourage and develop creative and community-engaged research that will help drive social, economic and cultural change across the Illawarra region, the country and around the globe.

Applicants in the 2023 iteration of competitive funding were asked to craft a research program that addressed one of three challenges – adapting to future environments, enhancing lives and communities, or reimagining the future of work. Each project selected involves interdisciplinary teams from across university faculties and schools, and industry partners.

UOW Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Sustainable Futures) Professor Eileen McLaughlin said the Global Challenges Program showcases the breadth of research talent at UOW.

“The problems we posed to our research community are the great challenges of our time. The projects funded in this round encompass everything from AI to renewable energy, the housing crisis, decolonising academia, wearable technology, circular economy and protecting vulnerable communities,” Professor McLaughlin said.

“These are some of the big challenges we face at the local, national and global level and UOW researchers are tackling them head on.”  

Dean of Researcher Development and Chair of the 2023 Global Challenges Assessment Committee, Distinguished Professor Sharon Robinson AM said the Global Challenges Program would support and grow the next generation of research leaders and the culture of research excellence at UOW. 

“The program provides an important opportunity for researcher development and to answer the big research questions facing humanity,” Professor Robinson said.

“Our lives, work and environment are being transformed and the program recognises the need for interconnected research to help drive social, environmental, economic and cultural change. Our researchers want to make a difference in the world and are not afraid to take risks”

Following a competitive process, 13 projects have been selected. These projects bring together 141 researchers in interdisciplinary teams that will work with industry, community, and cultural partners to explore creative solutions to real-world issues. Half of all projects are led by female Chief Investigators, 54 per cent by early career researchers and, for the first time, includes a Global Challenges project led by UOW’s Dubai campus.

Harnessing generative AI in the workforce: Exploring viewpoints from healthcare, business, education, and technology

This project investigates the synergies between the potential of rapidly advancing technology and the solutions required to mitigate the socio-professional challenges arising from its use. Dr Yiyang Bian at UOW in Dubai will coordinate the project with leads Dr Zeenath Reza Khan also in Dubai, and Dr Yenna Salamonson and Dr Lynn Sheridan from Wollongong campus.

AI-assisted obstacle detection and guidance system for blind and vision-impaired people

Associate Professor Le Chung Tran leads a team across four faculties to research an affordable solution which can detect obstacles and has advanced features such as locating obstacles and assisting users to navigate and analysing the walking patterns of the users.

Pootopia! The art, science, and economics of composting human manure

Lead Investigator Dr Lucas Ihlein’s cross-disciplinary team will investigate the potential of human manure composting. What if human excrement was treated as a resource rather than a problem? This project brings together economists, scientists, engineers, artists, community housing advocates and festival producers to explore this very question.

Understanding the issues related to housing for Aboriginal people living on the Far South Coast

Professor Maria Mackay leads a team of university and community partners, including Katungul Aboriginal Corporation Regional Health and Community Services, to better understand issues related to housing for Aboriginal people living on the Far South Coast. The project is Indigenous led and will embody Indigenous ways of knowing, doing and being in the methodology. 

Flourishing-in-place: A university-community partnership approach

Dr Cammi Webb-Gannon leads a project to explore the nexus of home, sea and land under the joint pressures of gentrification, the housing crisis, and climate change and asks, “How can people flourish within these pressures?” Focusing on the Illawarra suburb of Bellambi, the project aims to uncover how residents can create local, nourishing worlds using what they already have.

Integrating Country, Indigenous consultation and engagement in UOW research programs

While ethics and funding bodies are increasingly calling for appropriate and respectful engagement with Traditional Custodians and community, the standards of ethical practice for working on Indigenous Country vary extensively and depend largely on disciplinary background and individual experience. A project led by PhD candidate Ryan Dallas will elevate the standard of Indigenous research ethics at UOW, and across the broader research community.

Whale songlines: Past, present and future

This collaboration led by Guy Freer will build awareness of the effects of climate change on Sea Country in Australia, Antarctica, the Pacific and beyond. Bringing together First Nations cultural knowledge, whale research and extended reality (XR) technologies, Whale Songlines explores the crucial role of whales in planetary survival and celebrates their ancestral kinship connections to humans through art and science, stories and song.

Offshore renewable energy knowledge mobilisation

This interdisciplinary project led by Dr Freya Croft will position UOW as a knowledge holder and knowledge broker for offshore renewable energy, to effectively support all levels of government, the community, and industry in the renewable energy transition in the Illawarra and beyond..

Development of user inspired wearable sensors for the occupational health and safely improvement of construction workers

Dr Aziz Ahmed leads a project to enhance the occupational health and safety of construction workers by advancing wearable sensor-based ergonomic monitoring methods. The findings could be applied to professions engaged in strenuous physical tasks, such as athletes, miners, firefighters, airport baggage handlers and more.

Developing Circular Economy-aligned Scalable Supply Chains for Local Agri-food Systems

Dr Senevi Kiridena’s team aims to strengthen the capacity of agri-food systems to meet changing consumer preferences and economic and environmental challenges through state-of-the art circular economy practices. Working with the Bega Valley Shire community, they will explore current agri-food system business models to identify viable and scalable supply chains that align with circularity.

Children's voices in the design of neighbourhoods and community spaces

Dr Rebecca Ng leads a study to explore how children experience, document, and make sense of their built environment, and communities using digital technologies. The team will uncover the values, features, tensions, and ethics in relation to how children experience their neighbourhoods and how this features in the planning processes of communities.

XRNet: Harnessing eXtended Reality (XR) technologies to empower a future-ready workforce

eXtended Reality (XR) encompasses augmented reality, virtual reality and mixed reality and offers an opportunity for innovative new hybrid work models. Shiva Pedram’s project will enhance understanding of XR applications in workforce training and identify needs and for future integration.

What women want: How clients perceive domestic violence services can best support them in preventing tech-based abuse

The ways in which domestic and family violence is enacted are changing and increasingly involve technology. This research, led by Dr Helen Simpson in collaboration with Women Illawarra, will work with women affected by technologically enabled domestic and family violence to determine what services they would like to best support them in preventing this form of abuse.