Research+ September 2019


STEM is everywhere. Our nourishment, our safety, our homes and neighbourhoods, our relationships with family and friends, our health, our jobs, our leisure are all profoundly shaped by technological innovation and the discoveries of science.

Office of the Chief Scientist1

Dr Fiona Utley
Research+ Editor
Office of the Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research)

The Australian Government Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Enterprise is familiar to many through its acronym — STEM. Education and research in STEM areas has been the focus of significant government investment over the last ten years of so, aiming to recognise and increase our capacity to take full advanatage of all the opportunities that STEM provide.

UNE participates in the STEM agenda at all levels. This edition of Research+ highlights matters of connectivity and interactionsacross systems, both abstract and found in nature. This edition also has a focus on our early and mid-career researchers. It has been a pleasure talking with these researchers about their work, sharing in their enthusiasm for topics that many of us might initially think remote and puzzling.

Two of our current UNE Post-doctoral Research Fellows in mathematics provide easily convincing perspectives on the usefulness of pure maths; Dr Matthew Cooper is working on harmonic maps and biharmonic maps, while Dr Ting-Ying Chang is looking at the mathematics of propagation phenomena. Both areas involve these researchers working at a high level of abstraction, while regularly coming together with other mathematicians to talk about the intricacy of the conceptual problems. The result, however, is that the power of mathematics can be harnessed to other important problems in the world. With a more immediately applied focus, is the research of Dr Timothy Schaerf who, working with colleagues from across other universities, is looking at collective motion models.

Equally fascinating is the work being done by our chemists. The significance of chemistry to much of what we take for granted in our lives, for example, food and medicine, is immense; through research, Dr Ben Greatrex is developing new materials that can replace toxic petrochemical derivatives, while Dr Brendan Wilkinson is advancing soft materials science towards new opportunities in translational and medical research and for the development of new diagnostics.

Ivanah Oliver, a PhD Research Candidate in the soil sciences, has been making the most of her time at UNE. Alongside her many research achievements, is her work on the UNE Discovery bus, going out to schools to talk with primary and secondary students about science. Such generous participation is key to improving our student’s science literacy from an early age. Jaede Melinz, a masters research candidate, is working on how we understand the impact of game conditions for women in rugby league. While women have been encouraged to take up the sport, there has been no research on how to support and optimise the training for
women who play, a focus that has been underway for men in the sport for some time now.

This edition also covers work done by two newly developed research groups. UNE’s Computation, Analytics, Software & Informatics (CASI) data transformation hub, established in 2016, is now a unit of nine people with a diverse range of skills in software engineering, visualization, data science, and modelling science delivering research impact for agricultural, environmental, health and disaster management partners. CASI’s manager, Johan Boshoff, gives us an inside look at some of the work CASI is undertaking.

The Applied Agricultural Remote Sensing Centre (AARSC), led by Professor Andrew Robson, and launched in 2019, is developing a trusted national network of researchers and commercial entities whom can respond to the remote sensing needs of industry and assist in the transition of research to commercialisation.

And finally, this edition highlights the capabilities of the UNE SMART Farm Innovation Centre. The SMART Farm, showcasing the latest technologies aimed at improving productivity, environmental sustainability, safety, workflow and social/business support networks on Australian farms.

1Office of the Chief Scientist 2013, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics in the National Interest: A Strategic Approach, Australian Government, Canberra, p.5.

[Banner image: 3D volume of a Sorghum root systems inside a soil core after two periods of plant growth (1st: red, 2nd: blue) using x-ray micro-computed tomography. Photo courtesy of Ivanah Oliver.]