Leading way on new discoveries

Major new research at Flinders University will help start new industries, including new products and clean technologies to remove toxic waste, and delve into Australian history and ecology and evolution to solve contemporary and future problems.

Flinders has been successful in securing eight new ARC Discovery Projects, with $3.83 million in total funding over the next three years.

Professor of Clean Technology Colin Raston, from the College of Science and Engineering, will lead two projects to bring revolutionary new materials processing closer to industrial production.

Ground-breaking research at the Flinders Institute for NanoScale Science and Technology will also see organic chemist Dr Justin Chalker secure funding to explore new strategies in recycling, additive manufacturing, and sustainable mining.

And ARC DECRA researcher Dr Daryl Wesley, with colleagues from the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, is coordinating a major new archaeology project with Tiwi Islanders, seeking to “write a new chapter of Australian history”.

Professor Robert Saint, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) at Flinders, says: “It’s extremely pleasing to see Australian Research Council award Discovery Project funding for some of our most outstanding researchers, to apply their internationally-recognised expertise to key areas of chemistry and physics, archaeology, anthropology, palaeontology and psychology.

“This funding will make a difference in a number of important areas, including sustainable solutions to environmental and conservation challenges, and a better understanding of how Australia is developing as a nation,” Professor Saint says.

Flinders University’s Raston Laboratory is a world leader in developing revolutionary new methods with a patented sustainable thin film microfluidic device to process and manufacture next-generation nanotech materials, including carbon nanotubes.

Professor Raston says the Flinders vortex fluidic device (VFD), capable of partially ‘unboiling an egg’ and cutting carbon nanotubes – the “strongest material available” – will be used in both new Discovery Projects, to commence in 2020.

Professor Colin Raston discussed how the techniques being explored with the vortex fluidic device can effectively cut carbon nanotubes in a uniform way to be used in next-generation electronics and other products.

“The device has exciting applications in continuous manufacturing in a processor no bigger that a coffee cup,” Professor Raston says. “The device is cheaper than conventional ways of processing because of the small footprint, and it is sustainable.”

One project is to fabricate new forms of carbon in the VFS, which includes using electric and magnetic fields to control their properties.

“This will position Australia for replacing toxic and depleting metals with carbon in device technology,” Professor Raston says.

The other Discovery Project will use the VFD to build pharmaceutical molecules in ways that eliminate the formation of waste and avoid the use of toxic reagents.

“Existing industries can be transformed, and new industries created – exciting possibilities,” says Professor Raston, who adds the grants allow for valuable research collaborations with other universities in Australia and overseas to help train the next generation of scientists.

In this vital new frontier of green chemistry, the Chalker Research Lab at Flinders is progressing field trials and commercial translation of polymers made from industrial waste products such as sulfur. These materials have shown great potential as recycled rubber, plastics and glass, with valuable applications in environmental remediation.

“I am grateful for the support of the ARC as we work towards a sustainable future,” says Dr Chalker. “This funding will enable our team to explore a new class of materials that are generally recyclable and useful in protecting the environment. It is an important investment in fundamental science that has a clear path to benefit society.”

The Northern Territory Tiwi Islands include two relatively undeveloped islands of Bathurst and Melville, a population of fewer than 3000 people, and thousands of kilometres of pristine beaches and headlands.

On the eve of the 250-year anniversary of the Captain James Cook landings in Australia, the ARC has funded the Before Cook Discovery Project to investigate the Indigenous archaeology and history of the Tiwi Islands, 80km north of Darwin in the Arafura Sea.

Chief Investigator Dr Daryl Wesley says the project has far-reaching goals, including fresh insights into the unique cultural history of Australia’s third-largest islands, emerging globalisation, and how Tiwi Islanders managed their relationships with mariners from Southeast Asia and European explorers, including the Dutch and British.

“It’s the first time such an interdisciplinary research group will work with Tiwi Islanders to understand how they have lived on these islands since they became isolated from the mainland 8000 years ago. We will also be looking at what changes occurred in the past 400 years after contact with southeast Asia mariners and European explorers. We are looking forward to a meaningful engagement with the Tiwi Island community and working together to write a new chapter of Australian history.”

Dr Daryl Wesley is and expert in Indigenous and historical archaeological studies in Australia, including various aspects of culture contact, material culture analysis, rock art analysis, contact rock art, Macassan trepang industry, Indonesia/Macassan pottery, glass beads, lithics, glass artefacts, pXRF analysis of rock art, isotope studies, radiocarbon dating, Macassan trepang sites, and Indigenous rockshelters in Arnhem Land in the NT.

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