ARC Discovery grants will explore innovations in education, self-healing concrete, machine learning and families

Four University of South Australia researchers have been awarded ARC Discovery grants collectively worth $1.8 million, for projects starting in 2023.

Details of the successful projects are:

Professor Anna Sullivan, UniSA Education Futures ($371,000): Early career teacher induction: Supporting precarious teachers.

The project will investigate the ways in which existing Australian induction policies support “precariously employed” early career teachers – those on casual and short-term contracts – to effectively manage student classroom behaviour.

“We hope to propose alternative policy and practice recommendations to support the transition of insecure replacement teachers within the profession,” Prof Sullivan says.

“The benefits of this research include improving teachers’ classroom management practices; the retention of new teachers; improving teacher workforce development; and building a healthier education system.”

Professor Yan Zhuge, UniSA STEM ($501,504): Creating pH-sensitive self-healing concrete using sludge waste for sewers.

Australia’s 117,000 km of concrete sewer pipes are currently internally corroding at a depth rate of 1-3 mm per annum. The repair of deteriorated concrete is costly and often short-lived.

“Based on an advanced composite technology, this project will develop a pH-sensitive self-healing concrete that can repair itself without human intervention at the early stage of corrosion,” Prof Zhuge says.

“Sludge waste from drinking water treatment will be utilised as a healing agent to mitigate the corrosion. Combined experiments and molecular dynamics simulation will uncover all aspects of the healing process to enable the practical application of this technology. The findings will extend the lifetime of concrete structures and promote a circular economy.”

Associate Professor Lin Liu, UniSA STEM ($420,000): Build competency aware and assuring machine learning systems.

“Recent developments in machine learning (ML) have resulted in models with extremely high prediction accuracy,” Assoc Prof Liu says.

“However, to support this human-machine partnership in complex environments, it is essential to take this further.

“This project will develop novel techniques to equip a machine learning system with the ability to identify own competency, to justify decisions, to explore unknown situations and deal with unknowns.

“The expected outcomes of the project will enable ML systems to become truly intelligent and reliable machine partners for human decision makers in a wide range of applications.”

Associate Professor Melissa O’Donnell, Australian Centre for Child Protection ($548,000): Families with multiple and complex needs: refocusing on early intervention.

“Families with multiple and complex needs have been determined to be a priority group in Australia,” Assoc Prof O’Donnell says.

The study will fill the evidence gap by determining the types of families with multiple and complex needs and child protection involvement who face intersecting risk factors (family violence, mental health, intergenerational trauma, alcohol/drug use, justice involvement, disability, poverty and housing insecurity).

“Intergenerational (child and parent) linked data in three states will be used to investigate these families and to identify opportunities for enhanced prevention, points of early intervention and service planning.”

The ARC has approved 478 Discovery Projects across Australian universities, starting in 2023, with a total value of $1.8 billion.

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