Industry 4.0 is the next industrial revolution, utilising digitalisation to create a smarter, self-correcting manufacturing processes. Bringing this new industrial age together with science is Professor Bronwyn Fox, winner of the 2020 Medal for Excellence in Scientific Research. Her journey with carbon fibre production saw the develop a more efficient fabrications process for composite materials, and also had her involved with Quickstep and their new composite material process. At the time a small start-up, Quickstep is now the largest Australian independent manufacturer of composite materials, and Bronwyn took this entrepreneurial mindset and founded Deakin University’s Carbon Nexus facility. Professor Bronwyn Fox continued her research into renewable carbon fibre and established yet another facility – the National Industry 4.0 Testlab – which focuses on 3D printing of composite materials.
What does DNA, snowflakes and the hydrophobic effect have in common? They are all example of molecular self-assembly! Inspired by this process of nature, Dr Nisa Salim used attractive and repulsive forces to influence molecules to interact, and in doing so created an array of nanostructures capable of becoming solar cells, drug delivery systems, and in her newest venture – manipulating carbon fibre to be stronger than steel, lighter than aluminium and even electrically conductive! For her work in carbon manufacturing, Dr Nisa Salim was awarded the 2020 Phillip Law Postdoctoral Award for the Physical Sciences and explains how a nature-inspired approach to manufacturing can be the key to many issues facing our time – from climate control, water management and even high speed travel.
Human activities have released significant quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As a greenhouse gas, the more carbon dioxide emitted, the warmer our planet becomes. Partly mitigating these impacts, plants recover 30% of atmospheric carbon via photosynthesis. Using energy from the Sun, they combine carbon dioxide with water to form sugar and oxygen. When the chemical reaction is reversed, carbon returns to the atmosphere – either by cellular respiration in plants and animals, or the burning of coal, wood, or gasoline. Soil scientist Dr Samantha Grover explains that one way of preventing carbon dioxide from returning to the atmosphere is keeping it sequestered in the ground. In fact, there is two-to-three times more carbon in soil than in the atmosphere.
Senior Climatologist Dr Lynette Bettio explains that soon we will no longer be considering how we get through a single intense year, such as 2019, but how we can make it through a stretch of years with no respite. The climate has been set on a warming path – the long-lived greenhouse gasses that are in the atmosphere and the extra energy soaked up by oceans have secured the warming trend continuing for the next few decades. So the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO are investing a lot of effort to solve these problems, knowing the sooner we take action, the sooner we will see a divergence from the alarming projections in current climate models and simulations.