1000 minds to tackle Grand Challenges


1000 minds to tackle Grand Challenges

UWA is approaching the future focused on the key issues facing humanity. The University is applying its very best minds, through research excellence, local and global collaboration and the power of collective intelligence, to solve the world’s Grand Challenges – improving lives and the environment.

As one of the world’s elite, research-intensive universities, we will be known for our trusted, reproducible, transformative, open research and accessible data. We will be recognised for leading teams in resolving real-world challenges that are critical to the planet and its people.
UWA 2030

Uniview spoke to Professor David Blair, Dr Laura Boykin, Professor Christophe Gaudin and Professor Peter Quinn about how their world-leading research areas are tackling some of the biggest problems facing society, particularly in Western Australia and the Indian Ocean Rim, and whose outcomes will benefit the world.

Unveiling the dark side of the universe

The UWA node of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery, founded by Emeritus Professor David Blair, played a major role in the momentous discovery of gravitational waves in 2015, sharing in a $3 million Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics.

Their discovery, as part of an international scientific collaboration, of a new and unexpected population of large colliding black holes, marked the birth of gravitational wave astronomy – the world’s fastest growing field of astronomy.

UWA continues to be at the centre of new gravitational wave discoveries.

Most recently, a team led by Professor Linqing Wen and Research Fellow Qi Chu, helped detect a neutron star eaten up by a black hole 1.2 billion light years away. If confirmed, it will be the first of this kind to be detected.

Professor Blair said every discovery had brought huge surprises but they’re just the tip of the iceberg.

"With new detectors, including one in Australia, we expect many more surprises as we unveil the dark side of the universe," he said.

The International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR), of which UWA is a joint venture partner with Curtin University, is one of the top five radio astronomy centres in the world.

ICRAR researchers, along with international astronomers, engineers and big data specialists, are helping to design the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope – the biggest and most capable ever built.

Professor Peter Quinn, Executive Director of ICRAR, said the centre’s focus at its UWA node was the computing ‘brain’ of the telescope and the systems allowing petabits of data to flow from hundreds of thousands of antennas in the radio-quiet deserts of outback Western Australia and South Africa.

"During its more than 50-year lifetime, the SKA will expand our understanding of the universe and drive technological developments worldwide," Professor Quinn said.

The Pawsey Supercomputing Centre, a joint venture between WA’s four public universities and CSIRO, and home to Magnus – the most powerful public research supercomputer in the Southern Hemisphere – will be the main Australian centre for SKA data flowing from the Murchison and is currently supporting two of the SKA precursor telescopes.

Feeding the world

Dr Laura Boykin, TED Senior Fellow and Senior Research Fellow in the School of Molecular Sciences and the ARC Centre of Excellence Plant Energy Biology at UWA, is combining genomics and supercomputing to help farmers in sub-Saharan Africa control the devastating effects of whiteflies.

The American-born computational biologist joined the UWA team in 2012 because of its genomics capacity and its access to Magnus.

This led to her work in East Africa and the cassava plant, a tuber feeding 800 million people around the world being devastated by viruses spread by whiteflies.

Using genetic data to understand the viruses and whitefly’s evolution, her research has proven important genetic differences in various virus and whitefly species.

Dr Boykin is arming African scientists with greater knowledge of genomics technologies to help them tackle future outbreaks.

"Magnus is changing the world in agricultural development. Controlling viruses and whiteflies in East Africa will give 800 million people more food to eat," Dr Boykin said.

Transforming Australia’s blue economy

In April, the Federal Government announced UWA as part of the Blue Economy Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) – a 16-member research partnership at the forefront of a new era in Australian ocean research.

As part of Australia’s biggest ever CRC, with $329 million in funding, researchers at UWA's Oceans Institute and Oceans Graduate School will investigate ways to meet the growing demand for renewable offshore energy sources with strategic research into aquaculture initiatives, offshore engineering and renewable energy.

The CRC builds on Australia’s National Marine Science Plan, with a $100 billion annual forecast to the economy by 2025, allowing Australia to meet the growing demand for food and energy.

Professor Christophe Gaudin, of UWA’s Oceans Graduate School and Director of the Wave Energy Centre, said the CRC would support Australian marine science and transform the nation’s blue economy.

"Through our expertise in marine renewable energy and offshore engineering technology and our unique experimental facilities, UWA, in collaboration with the University of Tasmania and industry partners, will develop sustainable innovations in technology and education that will increase the safety, productivity and reduce the cost of offshore structures to unlock food and energy from the oceans," Professor Gaudin said.

The Director of UWA’s Oceans Institute, Professor Peter Veth, said the CRC would investigate a new generation of technology including advances in offshore platform sensors, innovative use of artificial Intelligence, robotics, and automated underwater vehicles, towards greatly enhanced and sustainable offshore food production and renewable energy including hydrogen and ammonium.

"UWA has enormous capacity in the ocean sciences across its four faculties, having recently been ranked as global leading in 11 areas of oceans-related research by the Australian Research Council," Professor Veth said.

"These skills will flow perfectly into this CRC for the Blue Economy which will be led by the University of Tasmania and has a large Australian and New Zealand university and industry partnership base."