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Engineering researchers awarded over $2 million in funding

18 November 2019
From minimising soil erosion to better rechargeable zinc batteries
The Faculty of Engineering has secured five research projects with funding totaling over $2 million through the Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Early Career Researcher Awards.

Five academics from the Faculty of Engineering have been named 2020 Discovery Early Career Researcher Award recipients, worth over $2 million in total collective funding.

These funding projects, announced by the Federal Minister for Education Dan Tehan to support early career researchers, make up over a quarter of the total 19 funded research projects awarded to the University of Sydney.

The projects cover a broad range of areas, including:

  • expanding the fundamental knowledge of material science and advanced manufacturing,
  • enable nanostructural design of advanced metallic materials,
  • develop flexible rechargeable zinc-air batteries,
  • enhance the prevention of soil loss and build-up of sediment, and
  • fabricate specialised physical activity sensors to address individualised sensing problems in applications such as rehabilitation and age-care.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), Professor Duncan Ivison welcomed the announcement and congratulated recipients of the latest round of Discovery Early Career Researcher Awards (DECRAs).

“It’s pleasing to see the ARC will support the work of these promising early career researchers, which will help advance knowledge across a wide range of areas,” said Professor Ivison.

“The awards play an important role in helping researchers expand their research and I look forward to hearing the new insights that will result from research supported by this scheme.”

Early career researchers

Dr James Baker, from the School of Civil Engineering, aims to investigate the erosive behaviour of soils by exploring the interaction between evolving topography and overland water flow.

His project aims to generate new knowledge about the dominant granular mechanisms under different flow conditions using innovative high-speed x-ray imaging and detailed numerical simulations.

Anticipated outcomes of the project include a simple mathematical framework that takes these important factors into account, which will bridge geomechanics and fluid mechanics to provide valuable insight into long-term erosion and deposition rates.

This should provide significant benefit by enhancing our ability to predict, and therefore prevent, intense soil loss or problematic build-up of sediment.

Total funding: $378,616

By 2025, fibre composites will be a key waste stream worldwide. Current recycling methods are inept as they cause major reduction in mechanical and physical properties of recovered fibre.

Dr Seyed Ali Hadigheh, from the School of Civil Engineering, aims to produce high grade, low cost structural component from carbon fibre composite recyclates, and revolutionise their use in construction by carrying out an integrated experimental and advanced computational analyses.

His project outcomes include development of a novel method for recovery and realignment of fibres without compromising mechanical and physical properties.

This provides significant benefits by expanding fundamental knowledge of material science and advanced manufacturing, solving problem on waste and efficient use of natural resources.

Total funding: $425,548

Grain boundaries (GBs) are thermodynamically susceptible to attract solutes to reduce system energy.

Elaborately manipulating the GB nanostructure and chemistry via segregation can essentially be conducive, rather than detrimental, to materials performance.

However, the underlying mechanism of GB segregation and its detailed effect on material properties remain elusive due to the GB complexities in the polycrystals.

Through correlative in-situ nanomechanical testing and atom probe tomography, Dr Linlin Li, from the School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering, aims to unravel the rationale of segregation behaviour of individual GBs and its effectiveness to enhance the material performance, and hence enable nanostructural design of advanced metallic materials with unprecedented properties.

Total funding: $423,856

Dr Zengxia Pei, from the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, aims to advance the development of flexible rechargeable zinc-air batteries (ZABs) by innovating functional hydrogels as solid-state electrolytes.

Flexible rechargeable ZABs are the most promising power source for emerging flexible electronics, but lacking high-performance flexible electrolytes is a critical bottleneck for their applications.

Based on hydrogel innovation, this project will address the most critical challenges of flexible electrolytes in flexible rechargeable ZABs.

Findings from his project will create new knowledge generated from multidisciplinary research and pave the way to realise a new generation of flexible rechargeable ZABs as a highly efficient and durable flexible energy storage technology.

Total funding: $410,316

Dr Anusha Withanage Don, from the School of Computer Science, aims to develop a unified computational framework which enables non-expert users to co-design and fabricate specialised physical activity sensors to address individualised sensing problems in applications such as rehabilitation, age-care and sports.

Specifically, he proposes to develop an analytical framework to classify complex sensing problems into fabricable primitive classes, namely i) conditional – limits of activity, ii) differential – frequency of activity and iii) integrational – cumulative activity, as well as a co-design interface to synthesise them into complex activity sensors to fit individualised needs.

He will evaluate the framework by deploying the created sensors in real-world settings and gathering data.

Total funding: $427,116

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