Federal Government announces Wollongong's key role in $12 million new Centre of Excellence

Jun 17, 2005

The University of Wollongong will play a pivotal role in a $12 million Australian Centre of Excellence in Electromaterials Science, announced by Education, Science and Training Minister, Dr Brendan Nelson.

One of the key aims for the team from UOW, Monash University and the Bionic Ear Institute is to create the electromaterials required for a new generation of bionic ears, artificial muscles, nerve repairs, and the bio-batteries and bio-fuel cells to drive them.

The Director of the new Centre of Excellence, Professor Gordon Wallace, of UOW's Intelligent Polymer Research Institute said the Centre overall would tackle some of the biggest challenges facing society enhancing human health, renewable energy and sustainable industries.

"Improvements in all these areas are possible by developing electromaterials with improved efficiency in the generation and transfer of electrical charge," Professor Wallace said.

By developing new nano (ultra minute) materials and new theories to explain their behaviour, Professor Wallace said the Centre would make advances in:

  • The regeneration of damaged nerves (eg in spinal injury) and the development of artificial muscles
  • Renewable energy (plastic solar cells, lightweight batteries and electronic textiles) and
  • Sustainable industries (recovery of precious metals and new corrosion protection technologies)

University of Wollongong Vice-Chancellor, Professor Gerard Sutton, hailed the announcement as a major coup for UOW.

"It is further evidence of how the University has successfully concentrated its research strengths and is now being clearly acknowledged by the Government and the Australian Research Council," he said.

Professor Wallace said on the bionics front, the University of Wollongong group would provide materials expertise to produce revolutionary new interfaces for coupling biology and electronics.

He said the combined expertise of Monash University and UOW researchers would enable novel biofuel cell and biobattery concepts that will provide energy to allow improved performance of bionic implants.

The medical application of these new devices will be led by the Bionic Ear Institute, Professor Wallace said.

Plastics will be made so they have nano-features hairs and tubes and surfaces that allow them to link directly with nerves and other cells in our bodies. Add very low voltages (energy levels already found in our bodies) and these plastics can be engineered to change their properties. For example:

  • the surface of the plastic can change from wettable to water repelling
  • the plastic can slowly release drugs or growth factors
  • the plastic can encourage or discourage cells from sticking to it.

"These smart plastics could transform the performance of the bionic ear," according to Professor Graeme Clark, Director of the Bionic Ear Institute.

"Our aim is a bionic ear that gives near-normal hearing," he said. "For that, we need much better connections between the hearing nerves and the electronics."

"We hope the research team will create a plastic electrode that conducts electrical signals to the nerves, releases a nerve growth factor, and has microscopic features that encourage nerves to link with it."

"We thank the Minister and the Australian Research Council for their vision in supporting this centre, he said.

Professor Maria Forsyth, of Monash University, said the Monash team would focus on new materials for renewable energy technologies, corrosion protection and the bio-interface.

"Inexpensive, flexible solar cells are a particular goal, as is the development of new corrosion protection coatings for various metals and in particular new light weight alloys. Cutting edge bio-battery and bio-fuel cell technologies would also be developed for both implantable medical as well as everyday domestic applications," she said.

Funding for the new Centre is for the period 2005-2010.

Meanwhile, the University of Wollongong will be involved in a second Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence that will drive the development of Australia's capacity to maximise the national economic and cultural benefits of digital content industries.

While UOW is the host university for the $12 million Australian Centre of Excellence in Electromaterials Science , it will also be one of the participants in the ARC Centre of Excellence in Cultural and Media Industries. Professor Christoph Antons (Faculty of Law) is a Chief Investigator on this second centre.

Funding for this centre is $7 million and also for the period 2005-2010.

The Interim Director for this Centre is Professor Stuart Cunningham from the host university, the Queensland University of Technology.

Collaborating or contributing organisations in the Centre are: UOW, The Australian National University, Swinburne University of Technology, Charles Darwin University, Edith Cowan University, Australian Film, Television and Radio School, Australasian CRC for Interaction Design, Australian Film Commission, Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, the Salvation Army, State Library of Queensland, The Australia Council for the Arts, Australian Museum, National Museum of Australia and the Queensland Museum.

The Centre will produce new solutions in industry metrics, public policy, legal and regulatory services, and in education for a creative workforce.

The Centre's participants promise to deliver national and regional cultural benefits by uplifting multimedia literacy levels.



Education Minister Dr Brendan Nelson is flanked at the ARC Centres of Excellence announcement in Canberra by (from left): Professor Gordon Wallace (UOW), Professor Graeme Clark(Bionic Ear Institute), Professor Maria Forsyth (Monash University) and Professor Leon Kane-Maguire (UOW).

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