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.
With electric vehicles predicted to represent 90% of all cars and light commercial vehicles on Australian roads by 2050, structural supercapacitors have the potential to revolutionise our transport by providing ‘mass-less’ energy storage, storing electrical energy in lightweight structural components of a vehicle’s body instead of in heavy, sole-purpose batteries. Dr Nisa Salim and her research team are working with multinational companies and Australian SMEs to demonstrate the exciting potential of these new supercapacitors, leveraging her collaborative relationships with a global academic and industrial network to take this cutting-edge research from the lab to the market place.
According to Dr Anita Hill, CSIRO’s Chief Research Scientist, “There are several impressive factors about Professor Fox. Her ability to communicate, inspire, and advocate for science is evident not only from the ecosystem that she has been able to create and fund but also from her presentations, several of which are available on YouTube as TEDx talks or interviews. She provides audiences of any background a vision of the future and one where Australia is designing and manufacturing the lightweight materials of future mobility (flying cars, hyperloops). She is a role model for STEM and for supporting high tech companies in Australia. She is recognised internationally, and uses her networks to Australia’s advantage.”
In a collaboration between researchers, the government, and production manufacturers, materials can be recycled and reformed into new products. We talk about three R’s: reduce, reuse, and recycle. Professor Veena Sahajwalla offers a fourth: reform. Instead of shipping waste offshore, we could be harvesting the high value materials in our waste. Each year, 50 million tonnes of e-waste is produced globally. In Australia, fewer than 1.5% of the 4 million computers sold a year are recycled. The total value of the resources embedded in them approximates $70 billion.
With technology becoming more compact, smarter (with artificial intelligence) and having greater computing power, robots can now make decisions at fast speeds. The future of robotics is rapidly evolving. Elizabeth believes that robots are becoming more human-like and that we therefore need better, smoother human-robot interactions. Professor Elizabeth Croft wants to make sure that people are considered in the design of robots. In all of her designs, she starts by first observing people. “We need to think about how we’re going to get along with the robots,” she says, after all, they are already increasingly coming into our homes.