Project DARE (Dementia, Arts, Research and Education)

by Dr Pippa Burns, Chief Investigator, Dementia knowledge, Art, Research and Education (DARE) 

Children today, more than ever before, are likely to know family and/or community members living with a form of dementia. Dementia is an umbrella term for over 100 disorders that affect the brain, such as Alzheimer ’s disease. Dementia affects the way people think and behave and can interfere with their normal life.

As the population ages more people will be living with a dementia. While dementia is not a normal sign of ageing the likelihood of dementia occurring increases with age. By 2050, approximately 900,000 Australians are expected to be living with dementia (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2012). This means that the children of the future are even more likely to know people living with a dementia.

While the rates of dementia are increasing, 75% of people living with dementia and their carers report experiencing stigma and social isolation (Batsch & Mittelman, 2012). One way to address this problem is through education of the next generation; a gap Project DARE can address.

The Project DARE team has developed a novel short education intervention to raise awareness and understanding of dementia by primary school children. The intervention has been developed by a multidisciplinary team of researchers from UOW in partnership with teachers at Thirroul Public School and artists from Big Fat Smile. The project is currently being implemented in Stage 2 at Thirroul Public School (n>100).

Project DARE has been developed to run across three lessons. The first lesson is an art class (linked to the stage 2 Creative Arts curriculum) which has been specifically developed to allow children to express their understanding of memory. Younger children are often more able to express concepts, particularly emotional concepts visually, through art-making. The project allows children to discover and use their visual language to describe their understandings. In lesson two, the children work through a lesson plan that has been specifically developed, using existing resources, to meet Stage 2 curriculum requirement for Personal Development, Health and Physical Education (PDHPE). The artwork created by the children will then be revisited in lesson three to show if and how their understanding of dementia has changed. The children will also be introduced to, and be inspired by the work of a number of contemporary artists and the art sessions will be delivered by practising, degree qualified artists.

The project will conclude with an exhibition of the artwork produced by the children, from 22nd August to 5th September 2017, at The Gallery at Big Fat Smile, Corrimal and will then travel to other community spaces in the region.

To date, Project DARE has gained considerable interest both here and overseas. We expect to run the program later this year at a school in Aberdeen, Scotland in partnership with colleagues from the University of Aberdeen. In the future, we hope to continue to develop in other schools across New South Wales, Australia.

Project DARE received seed funding from UOW’s Global Challenges Program in 2016.

For more information about this research project visit Dementia knowledge, Art, Research and Education (DARE).

Follow Pippa on Twitter.

Launching a Blue Economy – what role do the oceans play in the future of the Illawarra and South Coast?

by Dr Michelle Voyer, Vice-Chancellors Post Doctoral Research Fellow 

Countries around the world are increasingly looking to their oceans as the next major source of economic growth. This will bring with it many challenges, not least of which is ensuring that this growth is achieved in an environmentally sustainable, as well as fair and equitable way. The ‘Blue Economy’ is a vision for the future use of our oceans based on achieving a balance between environmental, economic and social objectives.

The Global Challenges project ‘Launching a Blue Economy’ is exploring and testing this notion by investigating the ways that UOW might be able to support or stimulate a Blue Economy in the Illawarra and South Coast region. This may include the ‘greening’ of existing maritime industries, such as fisheries, ports and shipping and marine tourism. It may also include new and innovative uses of the ocean and the resources it provides.

Academics from across the University of Wollongong (UOW) met in a series of targeted focus groups in late 2016 to workshop ideas about what role UOW might play in supporting the growth of a Blue Economy in our region.

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Still time for the Great Barrier Reef

by Dr Sarah Hamylton

Coral bleaching aerial surveys, 2017. Photo credit: Professor Terry Hughes, Coral Reef Centre of Excellence, James Cook University, Townsville.

I first dived a coral reef in 2001. Back then, the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area was a poster child for conservation success. Coastal managers I worked with in Fiji, Thailand, the Seychelles and Red Sea saw the GBR governance framework as a blueprint for sustainable coastal environmental management. How, then, has the Australian Government become an international embarrassment through consistently failing to acknowledge the greatest threat to the reef – climate change?

Today Professor Terry Hughes came to the University of Wollongong, hosted by the Global Challenges Program to talk about “Global warming and recurrent mass bleaching of corals” Terry described the geography of coral bleaching footprints on the Great Barrier Reef, based on aerial surveys of the 1160 reefs he undertook during the mass coral bleaching episode last year. He has just returned from re-surveying those same reefs after a second mass bleaching event this year. Surveying so many reefs enabled patterns and causes of bleaching to be explored. An accompanying Nature paper shows that bleaching is governed by heat stress (as opposed to water quality, or conservation zones). One of the main findings of this study is that local environmental management initiatives have no effect on coral bleaching: it is a global phenomenon to be managed by immediate global action to curb future warming.

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Southern Manufacturing Innovation Group – first meet-up for 2017

By Global Challenges Research Assistant, Jessica Grozdanov (Manufacturing Innovation)

I attended my first Southern Manufacturing Innovation Group (SMIG) event last week, and despite the terrible weather there was record high attendance. The March event was all about robotics and automation! And who isn’t excited or interested in robots! The evening brought together people from the all over the region in a variety of backgrounds, from researchers to industry workers to entrepreneurs from start-ups.

There were several guest speakers including those from UOW as well as industry.  First we heard from Nathan Larkin (pictured above left), a UOW researcher showing us how robots can be used in the workplace. Having processes automated and how this can all be integrated into current systems to increase efficiency and accuracy.  He is also involved in the Global Challenges Project on Robotic Fabrication in Architecture and Arts.

Next we heard from Professor Gursel Alici, part of UOW’s soft robotics team. Everyone’s imagination went wild, thinking of all the possibilities as we saw lots of cool ideas and demos, one of the most memorable for me, a student controlling a robotic hand that was fully 3D printed using sensors on his own arm (see image right on screen). Definitely a space to watch closely, we will have humanoid robots before we know it! Continue reading

Ageing in leaps and bounds: A Conversation With Professor Alexandre Kalache

Ageing expert Professor Alexandre Kalache at UOW. Photo credit: Paul Jones

Ageing expert Professor Alexandre Kalache at UOW. Photo credit: Paul Jones

By India Lloyd

Professor Alexandre Kalache grew up in the bustling Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro, at a time when the average life expectancy for the nation’s citizens was just 43.

More than five decades on that number has almost doubled to 75, a trend that is reflected in developing nations around the world.

However, the rapid pace of ageing, while astonishing in the course of just one generation, poses the greatest challenge to modern society, Professor Kalache says.

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Academics unite to urge strong climate action

Blogpost by Josh Pallas, UOW Research Assistant in Philosophy working on Global Climate Change Week

CKayiJLXAAAVngQMore than 300 academics from 38 Universities around the world united for the first ever Global Climate Change Week (GCCW) held during19th – 25th October 2015.

For a core group of academics from the University of Wollongong (UOW) this was the culmination of a year long (Global Challenges funded) project.  It was aimed at uniting academics across disciplines to engage with their students and communities on climate change action and solutions.

The project was (like any!) filled with twists and turns, stress, excitement and fun, so let’s take a look at how things panned out… Continue reading

Illawarra Solar Hub

Blogpost by Dr Andrew Nattestad, AIIM

The Illawarra Solar Hub was set up as part of an application for a Major Equipment Grant (MEG) in 2013. This application was successful and allowed UOW to establish a state-of-the-art solar simulator and quantum efficiency testing station to enhance the impact of solar energy conversion research projects across various research centres at UOW.

The idea of setting up the Solar Hub originated in the realisation there was a discontinuity between the research being undertaken at The Intelligent Polymer Research Institute (IPRI) and Institute For Superconducting & Electronic Materials (ISEM) (small scale test devices) and that of our colleagues at the Sustainable Buildings Research Centre (SBRC) (sub-module to module scale), and in the Faculty of Engineering and Information Sciences (EIS). Even in the preliminary stages of discussion a number of interesting concepts were floated as possible projects, which were not apparent to any one area alone.

A major impediment to transferability of technologies was the lack of scalable characterisation facilities. The 2013 MEG allowed us to purchase equipment to fill this gap. High quality characterisation equipment such as this is an essential element in high quality, high impact publications.

Furthermore, having a common system, housed within the Australian Institute for Innovative Materials (AIIM) facility also located at UOW’s Innovation Campus, will facilitate more discussion between researchers across the university as well as providing opportunities for organisations external to the university to become involved.

The Illawarra Solar Power initiative was launched on 25th September with the support of Global Challenges.


The new solar simulator (left) and quantum efficiency measurement system (right)

In essence the idea of the hub is to act as a mechanism to kick start interdisciplinary collaborations between researchers working on related yet disconnected projects ranging from photocatalysis, third generation photovoltaic concept devices through to module testing and electrical grid management.

For those interested in learning more about the Illawarra Solar Hub or to get involved, please email Dr Andrew Nattestad.

Winners of 2015 Innovation Works! Prototype Competition

Innovation Works! is a Prototype Competition run each year to help UOW students turn their ideas into reality.  This project is a collaboration with UOW’s Australian Institute for Innovative Materials and provides students the opportunity to win a 10-week program to assist them to design and build a new product concept.

During the competition period students had access to space, facilities such as 3D printing, training and assistance to help them develop a prototype.

The competition concluded with a public demonstration held on 20th August followed by a presentation given to a panel of four UOW judges.  Teams were judged against the criteria of how well their prototype performed; originality; and their plans for taking their ideas forward.

IMG_3910The judging panel were very impressed by all finalists, but have awarded First Prize to: “Unmanned aircraft system as a search and rescue tool” by Nathan Tarlinton and Sally Reynolds.

Congratulations to the winning team (pictured right), who receive $500 each in prize money and a place in UOW Pitch to further develop their prototype.

The judges also commended the other finalists for their endeavours.

Runner-up: Low-Cost Two-Phase Expander For Low-Grade Waste Heat Recovery” – (Muhammad) Fahad Alizai

 Highly Commended:

  • Solar Charged Sodium Ion Battery Power Bank” – Zhe Hu, Weijie Li, Qiuran Yang And Weihong Lai
  • Project Tactile” – Daniel Cvetkovski

Click here to read the media release.  For more information about each project and to watch the finalists’ video diaries, visit the Innovation Works! webpage.

Robotics workshop fosters industry/academia alliances

Blogpost by Andrew Sutton, ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science


Gary Morgan, Prof Geoffrey Spinks and Dr Chris Lehnert

Fruitful collaborations between industry and ACES centred on robotics are likely to emerge following a workshop that showcased the latest and emerging robotics technology.

ACES continued its drive to foster partnerships with industry by partnering with the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision (ACRV) to deliver a variety of presentations and case studies, including one on their Soft Robotics program, which ACES Chief Investigator Professor Geoff Spinks said proved popular.

“There was interest from a number of the companies and researchers present regarding ACES soft robotics technologies and other potential applications for electromaterials (actuators, sensors and batteries),” he said.

Bridge building

Industry representative and Dynamic Efficiency CEO Peter Mastalir, whose businessDSC_0013 focuses on optimisation of mechanical equipment, was excited by the workshop and is keen to build a partnership with ACES to generate commercial solutions for engineering clients.

“It has proven to be an excellent forum to enable bridge building between R&D to commercialisation with profitability,” he said.

Adjunct Professor and convenor of the workshop, Gary Morgan, said the goals for the event were threefold: to share researchers’ research programs, for industry to talk about drivers and motivations and to understand capabilities in the region and real-world opportunities developed with industry delegates.

“The program has been designed to introduce industry to the research going on in robotics for industry to give exposure to federal government funding initiatives through AusIndustry,” he said.

“This is part of the industry engagement and outreach program. It’s about networking and collaboration. It’s about establishing new partnerships.”

Show and tell

DSC_0054Professor Spinks said the ‘show and tell’ session in which researchers were able to demonstrate their robotic systems – grippers, robot vision systems and easy-to-program robots – was particularly engaging and collaborations should evolve from the event.

“Lots of one-on-one follow-up meetings are expected,” he said.

Professor Morgan said he was impressed by the willingness of the industry delegates to share their business drivers and opportunities and challenges in the sector.

“The main objective is to develop industry opportunities to utilise robotics in industrial automation across Australia,” he said.DSC_0057

Launch of the Southern Manufacturing Innovation Group

Southern Manufacturing Innovation Group

From left: Elizabeth Eastland, Professor Judy Raper, Professor Geoff Spinks and Bruce Thomson.

Written by Prof. Geoffrey Spinks, Leader, Manufacturing Innovation, Global Challenges

Anyone who says manufacturing in our region is dying wasn’t present at the launch of the Southern Manufacturing Innovation Group (SMIG) at the University of Wollongong’s Innovation Campus this week. Here we heard from 13 local manufacturers and their truly remarkable stories of innovation, growth and ambitions.  The group embraced a wide range of activities from chemical producers to manufacturers of pre-fabricated building units and developers of electronics and fibre optic solutions and various other items. All can be regarded as advanced manufacturers and all could demonstrate real innovations including a 3-fold increase in productivity, development of entirely new products, introduction of novel management and marketing practices and export successes. As each business outlined their activities and interests, we heard tales of a ‘can do’ approach- tackling big, complex problems and smart solutions. The impression left on the audience was total awe. “Man o’ man there are some interesting and good companies and capabilities out there” one senior University of Wollongong (UOW) researcher commented.

SMIG Launch

The launch attracted more than 50 attendees

SMIG is all about developing innovation through collaboration. The process starts with introductions and conversations and hopefully then moves on to deeper discussions and perhaps to actual collaborations. There were definitely lots of in-depth conversations happening at the SMIG launch and at least 3 follow-up discussions have already been scheduled. Various recent government reports (like the Australian Innovation Systems Report) have highlighted how poorly Australian businesses collaborate with one another and with universities in comparison with other businesses in other OECD countries. The SMIG launch shows that there is definitely a willingness of manufacturing businesses in our region to explore collaborative opportunities and learn more about what’s going on and how to propel things further.

If the aim of SMIG is to start conversations between businesses and with University researchers, then we can already claim success. The level of enthusiastic conversations that were had over drinks and nibbles after the formal talks can be attributed directly to the quality of the businesses and their leaders that shared their time and stories with the group. Their positivity sparked an atmosphere where possibilities could be explored, ideas exchanged and opportunities identified. There didn’t seem to be any shortage of the latter. Equally important was the presence of key researchers representing many of the multiple, widely disparate disciplines that are relevant to manufacturing: technical, business, social.

Leanne Taylor

Leanne Taylor, Innovation Facilitator, AusIndustry

Since the key to success is the quality of the people present, it’s worth reflecting on how the group was formed. The idea has been incubating for a few years during which time University staff visited many businesses to gauge their level of interest in working with the university. Some of those businesses were already well engaged with UOW, but others had only limited interaction or none at all. Yet many of the businesses were doing very innovative work and connections with other like-minded business and with the University, seemed a really empowering way to drive further innovation. On reflection, the selection of companies for SMIG was enabled by the combined intelligence of quite a few different organisations and people. Particularly important were AusIndustry (especially Innovation Facilitator, Leanne Taylor), AiGroup (Regional Manager, Leanne Grogan) and NSW Dept of Trade and Investment (Business Development Manager, Tony Green). We are fortunate in our region to have a strong support ‘eco-system’ with an attitude to help out and work together. It would be very difficult to get a group like SMIG started without such a well-connected network of contacts.

So what next? SMIG is launched and the maiden test flight a success. Now we want to soar to higher levels. SMIG will involve a series of follow-on events throughout the rest of the year. We are completing a survey of areas of interest amongst SMIG companies so then we can organise more targeted sessions around important interest areas. The emphasis will be on 3-way information exchange: business-to-business, business-to-university and university-to-business.

The SMIG launch was one of the best things I’ve ever been involved with at the University and I look forward very much to the rest of the journey together.

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Feature shot from left: Elizabeth Eastland, CEO iAccelerate and Director of Innovation and Commercial Research, Professor Judy Raper (Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation), Professor Geoff Spinks, Leader, Manufacturing Innovation, Global Challenges and UOW Innovation and Commercial Research Business Development Manager Bruce Thomson.