29 May 2009

UQ research ranging from better pearls to better plastics was given a $3.5 million boost today with the latest round of Australian Research Council funding.

More than $71.3 million in funding as awarded nationally under the ARC Linkage Projects scheme that aims to foster research collaborations between universities, industry and government.

Professor Bernie Degnan, from the School of Biological Sciences, received $382,000 to understand and improve the quality of Australian South Sea pearls.

“Recently, mass-produced freshwater pearls from Asia have markedly increased in quality and begun to compromise our prestigious South Sea Pearl market,” Professor Degnan said.

“This presents Australian pearlers with a challenge to maintain market identity by improving their pearl quality and consistency. By adding genomics to the existing Australian pearl industry armoury we will help not only to maintain the premier position of the Australian South Sea Pearl in the market, but also to move it further ahead.”

Professor Paul Lant, from UQ’s School of Engineering, received $525,000 to develop the next generation of bioplastics from organic waste in an environmentally sustainable way.

“Our aim is to replace current plastic production, which relies on fossil fuels, with a fully biodegradable product produced from organic waste that would usually go into landfill,” Professor Lant said.

Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Max Lu said these projects reflected UQ researchers’ strong track records in collaborating with businesses, community organisations and government agencies across a broad spectrum of disciplines.
“The significance of these projects lies in the ability of our people to translate research into practical outcomes that have national benefits,” Professor Lu said.

Other UQ Linkage Projects:

Professor Craig Franklin, from UQ’s School of Biological Sciences, received $60,000 to investigate the impact damming will have on the endangered Mary River turtle.

Dr Udantha Abeyratne, from the School of Information Technology & Electrical Engineering, received $220,000 to measure the effectiveness of treatments for Obstructive Sleep Apnea, which affects more than 800,000 people in Australia and is believed to cause up to 43,000 traffic accidents in NSW alone.

Professor Andrejs Atrens, from the School of Engineering, received $194,560 to investigate the process of hydrogen embrittlement, which is the sudden mechanical failure of materials due to the absorption of hydrogen atoms. This is particularly relevant with emerging use of hydrogen-based energy. This project will lead to better understanding of the HE resistance of commercial medium-strength steels for use in H pipelines and pressure vessels, and of the specific steels used in turbogenerator components. More efficient, cheaper and safer clean energy will be the result.

Professor Robert Gilbert, from the School of Land, Crop & Food Sciences, received $227,732 to deliver a new methodology to characterize starch-containing materials such as grains. This will enable superior targeting and processing of materials for improved products in human nutrition, animal feed and manufactured goods such as biodegradable plastics.

Associate Professor Ian Godwin, from the School of Land, Crop & Food Sciences, received $234,000 to develop next generation sorghums that will have enhanced nutritional and processing qualities for humans and animals, and be ideal feedstocks for the bio-economy, including the delivery of novel products.

Dr Katie Makar, from the School of Education, received $209,718 to investigate inquiry-based learning in mathematics, which aims to foster creativity and higher-order thinking and arrest the decline in student interest in studying maths.

Dr Greg Marston, from the School of Social Work & Human Services, received $84,976 to explore the role of the ‘fringe economy’ – such as pay-day lenders – in the lives of low-income Australians.

Dr Jonathan Rhodes, from the School of Geography, Planning & Environmental Management, received $352,000 to investigate ways to manage Australia’s unique flora and fauna with rapid population growth and urban expansion.

Dr Peer Schenk, from the School of Biological Sciences, received $345,000 to develop an innovative system for biodiesel production from local Australian algae species. If cultivated under the right conditions, microalgae are very efficient near-continuous producers of biodiesel and are likely the only renewable source of fuel that could match our current and future demand without competing for arable land and food production.

Professor Maree Smith, from the School of Pharmacy, received $300,000 to develop innovative methods for delivering a novel pain-relieving medication into the spinal fluid in close proximity to the cells that transmit pain messages to the brain. The goal is to develop a new treatment to produce prolonged periods of pain relief in those patients who do not obtain benefit from existing pain medications.

Professor Zhiguo Yuan, from UQ’s Advanced Water Management Centre, received $363,000 to provide knowledge and technology support to the Australian wastewater industry to minimise the emission of nitrous oxide during biological nitrogen removal from wastewater. This is critically important for this industry to achieve greenhouse gas neutral wastewater management.

Media: Andrew Dunne at UQ Communications (07 3365 2802 or 0433 364 181).