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21/05/2013 LES researchers finding out what's Pozible
25/03/2013 New engineering labs spark new opportunities
21/03/2013 Ending the wildlife Catastrophe
12/03/2013 Deakin researchers on the road with Catalyst
Researchers from the School of Life and Environmental Sciences are involved with five of the eight projects recently launched as part of Deakin University’s Research My World initiative, in conjunction with crowdfunding site Pozible.com.
The projects provide a great snapshot of the diversity of research taking place in the school. They range from uncovering new information about endangered species in Papua New Guinea, to investigating seaweed as a food source, to mapping Victoria’s ocean floor, to using maggots in the treatment of Bairnsdale Ulcer, to the impact of changing ocean salt concentration on marine invertebrates.
Under the Pozible funding scheme, members of the public have the opportunity to make tax-deductible donations to a range of unique research projects that appeal to their interests and concerns. The Deakin-Pozible project is believed to be the first time an Australian university has used crowdfunding to pursue research funding.
In launching the initiative, Deakin’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), Professor Lee Astheimer, said crowdfunding had been successfully used to foster innovation in a number of entrepreneurial fields and the question had been asked why weren’t universities trying it.
‘Well now we are,’ she said.
Professor Astheimer said that the Pozible experiment is consistent with Deakin’s reputation as an innovator in higher education.
Use the links below to visit the Pozible site to find details and a video about each of the projects involving LES researchers:
The ability to replicate a 300 kilometre transmission line or perform research using an on-campus commercial wind turbine connected to the national electricity grid are just some of the features of two new engineering laboratories at Deakin's Geelong Waurn Ponds Campus.
‘These are the latest additions to a suite of refurbished engineering laboratories and equipment that ensure facilities for engineering at Deakin are world class,’ says Professor Guy Littlefair, Head of the School of Engineering. ‘They are part of a number of exciting developments in engineering at Deakin, including our $55 million Centre for Advanced Design in Engineering Training (CADET) currently under design in the school.’
The Renewable Energy laboratory and Electrical laboratory will provide undergraduate and postgraduate students, as well as PhD students and researchers, with exciting new opportunities, says Professor Alex Stojcevski, the school’s Deputy Head.
As well as the commercial wind turbine - likely to become a campus landmark with its location on the roof of the Engineering building - a bank of twelve solar panels has also been installed as part of the new facilities. Both are connected to Australia’s electricity grid, which means the power being generated can be used or sold back to the grid. An important aspect of being connected to the grid, Professor Stojcevski says, is the ability it gives researchers and students to conduct experiments and research that are not just using a local ‘micro-grid’, but at a ‘real-world level’.
In addition to students and researchers being able to monitor in the laboratory how much power is being generated, interested passers-by will be able to see that information on screens in the corridors outside.
‘The Renewable Energy lab has equipment that allows students and researchers to not only simulate computer applications of what wind turbine or solar panel or solar wind or solar thermal power generation can do, it allows them to use real equipment,’ Professor Stojcevski explains.
‘This means our students can replicate what a real engineer would do, such as feel the equipment, set up the equipment and so on. For example, in the lab we can replicate a 300 kilometre transmission line, so students will be able to learn to detect faults and potentially come up with mechanisms to prevent them.’
Professor Stojcevski says the new labs have also been designed to encourage interdisciplinary learning and research.
‘For instance, in the Renewable Energy lab, our mechanical engineering students can study the gears and shafts and mechanical instruments within a wind turbine, while our electrical engineering students can examine the energy that’s being produced, the power and energy efficiency.’
The benefits and opportunities provided by the new labs are likely to flow on to Deakin’s off-campus engineering students too, with the school looking to provide remote access to equipment as well.
Australian researchers, including biomedical scientist Dr Richard Williams, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, have taken the first step in using bioactive peptides as the building blocks to help ‘build a new brain’ to treat degenerative brain disease.
Dr Williams is working in a team with Dr David Nisbet from the Australian National University and Dr Clare Parish at the Florey Neuroscience Institute to develop a way to repair the damaged parts of the brain that cause Parkinson’s disease.
Parkinson’s disease develops when the brain cells (or neurons) that produce the chemical dopamine die or are damaged. Dopamine neurons produce a lubricant that helps the brain transmit signals to the body that control muscles and movement. When these cells die or are damaged the result is the shaking and muscle stiffness that are among the common symptoms of the disease.
‘We are looking at a way of helping the brain to regenerate the dead or damaged cells that transport dopamine throughout the body,’ Dr Williams said.
‘Peptides help the body heal itself, providing many positive benefits for health, particularly in regenerative medicine; this is why the sports people were using them to recover more quickly in the current doping scandal.’
Peptides are both the building blocks and the messengers of the body; the team has used them to mimic the normal brain environment and provide the chemical signals needed to help the brain function.
‘Peptides stick together like Lego blocks, so in the first stage of the project we have been able to make a three dimensional material or tissue scaffold that provides the networks cells need to grow; but the peptides also carry instructions in the form of chemical signals which tell the cells to grow into new neurons,’ Dr Williams explained.
‘Our aim is to use this scaffold material to support the patient’s own stem cells that could be turned into dopamine neurons and implanted back into the brain. We expect that when implanted the material and stem cells would be accepted by the brain as normal tissue and grow to replace the damaged or dead cells.’
The results of the first stage of this Australian Research Council funded project will be published in the international journal Soft Matter.
According to Dr Euan Ritchie, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, the dingo may have a real role to play in helping reduce the feline impact on Australia's wildlife.
Talking to renowned science commentator Robyn Williams on The Science Show, Dr Ritchie said: 'Well, it's a strange situation I guess to use one predator to fix a problem that of course is with another predator, but what we know from around the world is that top predators or apex predators as some people call them are quite useful in controlling other species.'
The Thursday March 14 episode of ABC TV’s Catalyst: On The Road features not one, but two stories highlighting the work of Deakin researchers from the School of Life and Environmental Sciences.
Marine scientist Dr Daniel Ierodiaconou (Warrnambool Campus) gives an insight into what lies beneath Victoria’s coastal waters through the research project he is leading to map the ocean floor.
Back on dry land, it’s into the field at the Great Otway National Park for a look at the research wildlife biologist Dr Desley Whisson (Melbourne Burwood Campus) is doing into koala-habitat systems and developing ways to conserve the koalas and the habitat they depend on.
The Catalyst: On The Road episode airs Thursday 14 March at 8.00pm. For more information including episode repeat times visit the ABC website.