Visiting scholar scheme a hotbed for international collaboration

Ten international researchers to join UOW as part of the Vice-Chancellor’s Visiting International Scholar Awards.

Research projects to generate energy from sewage, advance artificial muscle technology and investigate the impact of omega-3s in pregnancy are among the topics to be explored by visiting international scholars at UOW in 2016. 

Ten talented international researchers will visit Wollongong this year as part of the Vice-Chancellor’s International Scholar Awards (VISA) scheme. While here, they will collaborate with UOW academics on research projects at the cutting edge of discovery. 

One of the 2016 VISA recipients, Professor Tao He, from the Shanghai Advanced Research Institute, will work with Professor Long Nghiem, from UOW’s Faculty of Engineering & Information Sciences, to transform wastewater treatment facilities into biorefineries. 

The project will focus on developing innovative membrane materials to filter wastewater and convert it into biofuels, which can be used as green energy alternatives to petrol and diesel. 

“This collaboration will allow us to focus on fabricating novel membranes that are mechanically strong and resistant to fouling and bio-degradation,” Professor Nghiem, who is also currently working with the Sydney Water Corporation on converting sewerage and wastewater into biogas for electricity production, said. 

“With Professor He’s expertise, in particular in the manufacturing of these membrane materials, we will also be able to evaluate their technical feasibility and economic viability.” 

Dr Dilys Freeman, from the University of Glasgow, will work with UOW lipids expert Associate Professor Barbara Meyer, from the Faculty of Science, Medicine and Health, to investigate how omega-3 fatty acids are metabolised in pregnancy, and particularly in preeclampsia, a serious condition involving high maternal blood pressure, protein in the urine and severe fluid retention.

Together, they will examine how DHA -- an omega-3 fat required for neurological development -- is delivered from the mother to the growing foetus.

“We are looking to confirm our earlier findings that DHA may get trapped in the placenta, and not transferred to the foetus, in women with preeclampsia,” Professor Meyer said. 

“As part of our collaboration we’re also looking to establish contacts with local clinical obstetricians at Wollongong Hospital, and at the feasibility of developing a joint Masters course in the role of lipids in health and disease.”  

The project will provide vital access to resources for studying the topic of DHA in pregnancy in much more detail, as well as provide stronger international links between UOW and the University of Glasgow, one of the oldest universities in the United Kingdom. 

An expert in micro-machines, Associate Professor Edwin Jager from Sweden’s Linkoping University, will work with Professor Geoff Spinks and his team to further develop their research on artificial muscles, which are super strong, cheap and have the potential to revolutionise medical bionics.

“The project will involve the use of 3D printers to produce miniature machines that incorporate artificial muscles to generate movement,” Professor Spinks, from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science, said. 

“This will extend UOW’s recent pioneering work in the area of 4D printing by further miniaturising the components.” 

This is the second round of UOW VISA scholarships to be awarded, with the scheme set to provide funding for up to 40 scholars over the next four years. VISA scholars will join UOW for periods between two and six months to work on solving real-world problems. 

The scheme aims to boost UOW’s global collaborations, linkages and connections with international research institutions in line with our own research strengths, Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Wellings, CBE, said. 

“The networks built through this program will complement and strengthen our research priority areas and have the potential to lead to significant and practical research outcomes in the future,” Professor Wellings said. 

“I congratulate the 2016 VISA recipients and look forward to welcoming them to our campus.” 

UOW’s 2016 Visiting International Scholar Award recipients are:

  • Professor Moeness Amin (Villanova University, USA): Distributed computations and classifications in urban and in-home networks
  • Professor Jian-Fei Chen (Queen’s University, Belfast, UK): FRP strengthening of bridges for improved resilience under extreme loading
  • Dr Abigail Fisher (University College London, UK): Active Schools: Examining associations between the indoor build environment, pedagogy and classroom activity levels
  • Dr Dilys Freeman (University of Glasgow, UK): Docosahexaenoic acid metabolism in healthy pregnancy & preeclampsia
  • Dr Tom Froese (National Autonomous University of Mexico, Mexico): New approaches to the cognitive archaeology of the symbolic mind
  • Dr Harriet Hawkins (University of London, UK): Creative Earth Futures: ‘Making’ other environmental futures possible
  • Professor Tao He (Shanghai Advanced Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Science, China): Novel forward osmosis and membrane distillation materials for sewer mining
  • A/Professor Edwin Jager (Linkoping University, Sweden): Printed Artificial Muscles
  • Professor Weijia Wen (Hong Kong University of Science & Technology, Hong Kong): Development of an innovative microfluidic platform for biological applications
  • Professor Hua Zhang (Nayang Technological University, Singapore): Volume production of high-quality pristine graphene, ultrathin 2D metal oxide nanosheets, and 2D metal dischalcogenides 

For more information on the VISA program and outcomes, see