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School of Physics announces Grand Challenges project winners

23 October 2019
Each project has been awarded $250,000 over two years
The successful submissions include a big data project to combat modern slavery in supply chains and an ambitious project to send probes to a star system four light years away.

Announced this week, the School of Physics and the Physics Foundation have awarded two innovative projects with funding to undertake ambitious interdisciplinary research.

The Grand Challenges project was initiated by Head of School, Professor Celine Boehm, as a way to address the most important and exciting opportunities for physics to drive new discoveries and breakthroughs that will transform the world.

"We really wanted our researchers to pitch innovative ideas that allows them to work across traditional discipline boundaries. The successful projects show great collaborative potential and will provide exciting opportunities for research students." Professor Boehm said.

The successful projects are:

Supply chain visualisation

Visualisation of worldwide supply chains

Using big data to stamp out slavery in the supply chain

Australia’s Modern Slavery Act came into force at the end of 2018 and requires large organisations to report on the risks of modern slavery in their supply chains and the actions they will take to address those risks.

However, lessons gleaned from the introduction of the UK’s 2015 Modern Slavery Act suggest that most organisations don’t know how to trace their supply chains and don’t know how to detect or deal with modern slavery if they find it. This project aims to change that.

Using the world’s most powerful economic database to drive a virtual reality journey into the far reaches of the supply chain, the project group aims to harness the power of big data visualisation to deliver transformational social outcomes.

This project will be a collaboration between the Integrated Sustainability Analysis group and the Sydney Institute for Astronomy and features project members:

Sail probe concept

A sail probe concept

Mission to Alpha Centauri

The central aim of this project is to send small probes to α-Centauri, which, at four light years, is the group of stars closest to Earth (apart from the Sun).

The probes will be accelerated to 20% of the speed of light by having a sail that reflects light from a powerful laser located on Earth which imparts momentum onto the probe, propelling it forward.

An enormous, long-term project, it will initially concentrate on investigating the stability of the probe in nonuniform laser beams, and the study of suitable materials for the sails.

“Everything about this project is extreme” said project lead Professor Martijn de Sterke.

This project will be a collaboration between the Institute of Photonics and Optical Science, the Applied Physics group and the Sydney Institute for Astronomy and features project team members: