Postcard from Boston

By Global Challenges Travel Scholar, Lisa Belfiore

This year I attended the Controlled Release Society Annual Meeting & Exposition in Boston. I had the opportunity to present a poster on my PhD research and listen to a range of interesting talks addressing the broad theme of improving drug delivery in a variety of health and medical applications. At the conference, I was able to meet leading researchers in drug delivery science, including the plenary speaker, Professor Robert Langer – a highly distinguished researcher in the field; a chemical engineer, scientist, entrepreneur and inventor. In addition to his plenary speech, Professor Langer also presented a smaller, more informal talk for PhD students and post-docs, and gave some useful advice for achieving success in science.

Opening session of the Controlled Release Society Annual Meeting & Exposition

Continue reading

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.

Postcard from Dubrovnik: Summer School by the Adriatic Sea

By Global Challenges PhD Scholar & Travel Scholar, Rachelle Balez

Every couple of years I get itchy feet. Not in the literal sense, but rather that impulse to travel will begin as a tingle in my toes and adventure will start to play on my mind. I had begun to feel the itch again when I found out I was a fortunate recipient of the UOW Global Challenges Program travel scholarship. The only problem was I had nowhere to go – yet.

A couple of months later I found myself in a meeting, sitting across from my PhD supervisor who had just returned from Europe. My supervisor had one question for me – would I like to undertake a 3-month research exchange to Maastricht University in the Netherlands? There was however, a catch; I would need to attend a week long summer school on Mass Spectrometry in Biotechnology and Medicine (MSBM) in Dubrovnik, Croatia before arriving in the Netherlands. Needless to say, I couldn’t say ‘yes’ fast enough, I had already begun packing in my mind!

Rachelle, as a baby with the Dutch grandmother

Rachelle, as a baby with the Dutch grandmother

Apart from being the perfect cure for my itchy feet and a fantastic learning, research and networking opportunity, the chance to work in the Netherlands was also significant on a personal level. My mother’s family came from the Netherlands, immigrating to Australia at the end of World War II. Unfortunately I was unable to share this exciting news with my Oma (Dutch for grandma), as she is suffering from the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease.  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.

Continue reading

Postcard from Scotland: Talking bras with biomechanists

By Celeste Coltman, Global Challenges Travel Scholar

A popular coblestone street in Glasgow's West End. Photo credit: Celeste Coltman

A popular coblestone street in Glasgow’s West End. Photo credit: Celeste Coltman

With the help of a Global Challenges Travel Scholarship, I attended the 25th Congress of the International Society of Biomechanics in Glasgow, Scotland. The conference, which was held on July 12-16, is the largest meeting of biomechanists in the world.

I arrived to a cold, wet and rather bleak Glasgow, smack bang in the middle of the Scottish summer, which was not too different to Wollongong in July.

The Scottish are certainly not lucky enough to enjoy the summers that we get, but what they lack in weather they make up for in character.

My Nan is Scottish, but it was actually my first time to Scotland, nonetheless, the accent certainly was very familiar.

Continue reading

Global Challenges: Transforming the way we do research

At UOW we’re transforming the way we do research.

Dr Leah Gibbs

Dr Leah Gibbs, Chief Investigator on Global Challenges project “Sharks: Threatened and threatening?”

The Global Challenges Program is a strategic research initiative that is focused on transformative interdisciplinary research.

To contribute to a national discussion on challenge-led research, the Program leaders have written a whitepaper on Challenge-Led Interdisciplinary Research Programs.

In this whitepaper we offer a reflection on our experience and the successes and challenges since the inception of Global Challenges two year’s ago.

There are multitudes of ways to orchestrate interdisciplinary research. What is essential however, is the desire to find a new approach that successfully aligns with a shared commitment to research excellence and passion to transform lives and regions.

This approach broadens the application of disciplinary expertise, stretching beyond disciplinary comfort zones towards a shared challenge. In this sometimes uncomfortable, but novel space, lie possibility and opportunity.

Find out more about how we bring researchers together, fund and grow interdisciplinary projects and witness innovation unfold.

We invite you to learn more about the Global Challenges Program, or by contacting the Global Challenges team.  Or let us know your thoughts below.

Postcard from The World Gymnaestrada

Travel Blog Series by Global Challenges PhD Scholar, Amy Carrad

Part 4: The World Gymnaestrada

Further to Part 3 of this travel blog series, after attending a conference in Edinburgh and a research visit to Helsinki, I rewarded myself with a break. However, what I found was that a lot of the things I experienced were related to my research topic – health promotion using the settings-based approach. Specifically, I am looking at the use of sports settings. This means looking at how we can use existing places and organisations to create spaces that promote wellbeing and enable people to practice healthy behaviours.

The final part of my time away was dedicated to participating in the World Gymnaestrada, the world’s largest participation-based event. It is NOT a competition. It is 23,900 people performing group gymnastics over the course of a week, just because they love to do it. Teams can be relatively small, made up of about 10 people, to hundreds of people.

As a first, the 2015 Gymnaestrada consisted of a World Team – about 2,000 people from a mixture of countries. Participating teams from all around the world learned the same routine then we rehearsed together before performing it at the Midnight Sun Special and the closing ceremony. It was amazing to be part of all those people performing the same movements at the same time.

Gymnaestrada_Australian team_opening ceremony

The Australian Team and the opening ceremony. Photo credit: Gymnastics Australia.

Australia was represented by 6 teams, from NSW, South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia with the youngest member being 5 years old and the eldest 64.

Watching 268 teams from around the world performing, you are reminded it isn’t about being the best. It is about expressing the abilities of your team in a creative and entertaining way. The Gymnaestrada represents participation in physical activity for the young and the old, the talented and those who do it just for fun, the able bodied and the disabled.


Nittaidai University Gymnastics Team from Japan. The spectacular!


A mixture of young and old

The most noticeable difference between the European countries and Australia, Canada, the USA and Great Britain was the age demographic. Gymnastics in Europe is about movement in any form, not necessarily jaw-dropping skills. The simplest movements performed en masse can be just as impressive and promote the message that everyone is capable of exercise. This results in countries such as Finland having a greater number of adult participants in gymnastics than young participants as highlighted in an earlier blog. In contrast, 90% of registered gymnasts in NSW are under the age of 13 years.

At the World Gymnaestrada there are no winners, no losers. In fact, the routines that often receive the most rousing applause are those teams whose average age is above 50 years, or the National Disabilities Display Teams from various countries such as Australia, Great Britain and the USA. To me, this sends a serious message about the purpose of ‘sport’ in Australia, where we are still largely focused on competition and sporting excellence rather than lifetime participation.


A disabilities team from the United States. The inspiring

Gymnaestrada truly is Gymnastics For All. Inclusion and health promotion in practice.

For more inspiring photos and videos, check out the Gymnastics Australia and 15th World Gymnaestrada 2015 Helsinki Facebook pages ( (

And the FIG Youtube Channel FIG Channel

Follow Amy Carrad on twitter

To read other parts in this series: Parts 12, and 3.

Postcard from the Baltic States

Travel Blog Series by Global Challenges PhD Scholar, Amy Carrad

Part 3: An Active Holiday

I just spent a lot of time in Europe. Many weeks in fact. Part of it was for a conference related to physical activity and nutrition in Edinburgh, followed by a week meeting a researcher at a Finnish university. (Check out Parts 1 and 2 for more on visiting Edinburgh and Helsinki).


The cycling group

After that, I had a bit of a holiday. Firstly to Iceland, which was way too amazing to go into detail here. The more interesting points for my public health mind was a cycle tour in the Baltic States – from Tallinn in Estonia, through Latvia, finishing up Vilnius in Lithuania – and the World Gymnaestrada in Helsinki (see Part 4 of the blog series).

Having previously done activity-based tours in South America I guess I was expecting a certain demographic, only to be surprised when I met the group on the first evening at the hotel. The other 17 cyclists were all at least as old as my parents, and indeed were all grandparents. They were also all German-speaking, mostly from Germany itself, with a couple from the Netherlands, and two men from Switzerland. I do not speak German.

The tour generally involved days of driving on a bus for a bit, then getting off and cycling some distance before boarding the bus which delivered us to our hotel for the evening. It was lovely, it was relaxing.


Myself and the group cycling through Kükita, Estonia.

What was most impressive was the physical capabilities of my older cycling companions. They were not to be underestimated. With a large language barrier between myself and a few of the others who had very limited English, some of the only things we communicated were mimed jokes about racing each other on the bicycles. Even as a very active, very fit 24 year old I was being tested by the abilities of my fellow travellers during these ‘races’.

Our final day cycling in Lithuania was a scorcher – just over 30°C. Many of the gang chose to cycle only a small amount, opting to load their bikes onto the trailer and take the bus earlier on in the day. But not Little Jan from the Netherlands. He arrived at the final bus pick-up point in first place (not that there were any medals or anything!). Both he and his wife at the spritely young ages of 69 and  68 completed the entire cycle in that heat. It is truly inspiring to hope that my legs will carry me for that many years to come!


Two of my elderly cycling companions, Jan and Noldi.

I think this says something about the difference in lifestyles between Australia and these European countries. My companions were regular cyclists in everyday life as their home environments encouraged cycling to commute, or were enthusiasts of active holidays.



The group at Nida on the Curonian Spit, Lithuania.


Whatever the case, the ability of these older Europeans to maintain their physical fitness is something I think many older Australians can only dream of.

Follow Amy Carrad on twitter

To read other parts in this series: Parts 12, and 4.

Postcard from Helsinki

Travel Blog Series by Global Challenges PhD Scholar, Amy Carrad

Part 2: The Research Visit

Following the conference of the International Society of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity (ISBNPA) in Edinburgh (Part 1 of my travel blog series), I flew to Helsinki to meet Dr. Sami Kokko, a prominent researcher in my field of Health Promotion in Sports Clubs, where I am looking specifically at gymnastics in New South Wales as my setting.

After a very sleepless first night in Helsinki, I travelled with Sami to talk with representatives of the Finnish Gymnastics Federation (FGF). I had the pleasure of meeting Helena Collin (Head of Recreational Gymnastics) and Leeni Asola-Myllynen (Health Activities Manager), as well as Leena Martin (Masters student to Sami) who was on work placement at the FGF.


Meeting with the Finnish Gymnastics Federation (left to right: Helena Collin, Leena Martin, me, Sami Kokko, and Leeni Asola-Myllynen

It was an honour they made time for me as they were in the midst of organising the largest international participation-based event, the World Gymnaestrada. I returned to Helsinki later in July to participate in this event (see Part 4 of my travel blog series).

It became evident that there was one large difference in the way Gymnastics NSW and the FGF approach their sport.

This was a focus on sport for children in contrast to participation over a person’s lifetime. Gymnastics NSW’s strategic plan refers to the development of fundamental movement skills for children while the FGF’s speaks of facilitating possibilities for participating in gymnastics for the whole lifetime.


Skating around the lake in Jyväskylä

This philosophy manifested itself very evidently when looking at the numbers – in Finland there are more adult gymnasts than young gymnasts. In contrast, in NSW, 90% of gymnasts are aged 13 years or younger, with a very sharp drop off in numbers after the early teen years. This also means that the FGF makes a great investment in developing and maintaining a gymnastics program targeted at this older population group, both for younger adults (21 to 50) and for older participants (over 50).

For the following two days Jyväskylä University, where Sami works, was host to the National Congress of the Finnish Society of Sport Sciences. Most of the proceedings were in Finnish, however I was able to attend a keynote address delivered by Associate Professor Paul Wright from Northern Illinois University in the United States. His presentation was entitled, ‘Sport for Social Change: Rhetoric or Reality?’ Like the settings-based health promotion approach, his perspective looks beyond sporting excellence to utilising sport as a vehicle to teach life skills, personal and social responsibility, and promote positive youth development.


Active transport is a big thing in Jyväskylä

The final day of my visit saw me sitting down with Sami to brainstorm health promotion in sports settings. For me, this was like being under the spotlight of the master. Sami did his PhD in this area and has published extensively on the topic in the few intervening years. I always find this intimidating because of the fear that you might put your ideas out there and the more senior researcher will laugh you down (I don’t think anyone is actually mean enough to do that). However, after presenting my project concepts to him, he was very supportive and through our further discussion I could see that I am on the right track. That is a huge relief!


This experience has given me an even broader perspective of my idea of the health promoting sports concept.

Prior to the trip I had a relatively narrow view, largely focusing on the childhood years, but now I realise it should be about how we make these settings places that encourage people to continually seek wellbeing for as much of their lives as possible.

Follow Amy Carrad on twitter

To read other parts in this series: Parts 1, 3 and 4.

Postcard from Edinburgh

Travel Blog Series by Global Challenges PhD Scholar, Amy Carrad

Part 1: The Conference – International Society of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity

Amy Carrad, ISBNPA Conference

Amy Carrad, ISBNPA Conference

The first destination on my travels was Edinburgh for the conference of the International Society of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity (ISBNPA). I left Sydney on a beautiful blue day and after the long, long flight, stopping in Singapore and London, I arrived in Edinburgh to not so blue skies and a blustering wind.

The following day saw the opening of the conference, including a Scottish band, complete with bagpipes and drums parading in the auditorium. Being a physical activity conference and given the increasing evidence that sedentary behaviours (sitting down for prolonged periods) may be detrimental to health, there were designated standing zones in the conference rooms.

Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh

Arthur’s Seat in Holyrood Park from Edinburgh Castle

Those who chose to sit during presentations were encouraged to participate in ‘active applause’ which essentially meant that all presenters received a standing ovation. There were organised morning yoga sessions and a walk up to Arthur’s Seat.

The society has a strong focus on individual nutrition and physical activity assessment methods, but it was heartening to see a large number of community-based programs addressing stakeholder input, empowerment and ownership to achieve better health outcomes. They emphasised the need to understand the culture of the people or population group you are working with, and indeed to work with, not against these sociological understandings.

This theme was eloquently reinforced during the opening keynote presentation by Sally Wyke and Kate Hunt who called for researchers to look at social practice rather than behaviour in order to achieve meaningful change. An example is tobacco smoking and how at one time it was ‘normal’ and socially sanctioned but now it is largely not a socially accepted practice.

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle

Another standout was the keynote by Kylie Ball. Within ISBNPA, there is a special interest group (SIG) for Socioeconomic Inequality. It was ironic for Ball to be saying it because she founded this particular SIG, but she said that there should be no separate Socioeconomic Inequality SIG because it should be integrated into all research. All research should seek to advantage those who are at the greatest disadvantage.

I had been accepted at the conference for two posters, but as usual, the more distinguished benefits are the networking opportunities. I was awed by the number of nametags that I could match with researchers I have cited, feeling like a bit of a nerdy groupie. I sat on the floor eating lunch with Boyd Swinburn!

Particularly interesting for me was the symposium on translation of research. The chair of the session, Dianne Ward, could not have said it any better, “If we don’t get [our research] into the field, then our work is only really half done”. This is important to remember. Even if we demonstrate a successful trial, it means very little until it is implemented as part of broader practice where it can benefit the lives of populations rather than people as we public health researchers are striving to do.

Follow Amy Carrad on twitter

To read other parts in this series: Parts 2, 3 and 4.