Researchers at the University of Wollongong are working together and turning their minds to some of the greatest issues facing the 21st century.

The Global Challenges Program, which officially launches July 1st, is the result of months of planning and ambitious thinking from University researchers and executive staff.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Judy Raper, says that it’s part of UOW’s strategy to be in the top one per cent of universities worldwide.

“We looked at all the grand challenges around the world and asked, okay, how can UOW contribute?”

“We mapped where our research is, where our strengths and potential strengths are […] and after a lot of discussion we came up with ‘Transforming Lives & Regions’, with the idea being that if we can transform our local region, there are millions of other regions like ours, so we can translate that into other parts of the world.”

The program is currently focused on the key areas of coping with industrial transformation, managing an ageing population, and sustaining coastal zones.

“These are three areas that really resonate with Wollongong,” Professor Raper says, “And they connect with the rest of the world as well.”

There are four academic research leaders and one research support leader to be announced on Friday who will be involved with the program initially.

“They’re all internal senior researchers in the University who are role models for other people,” says Prof. Raper, “so we’re really pleased with the interest that it had from people wanting to people academic leaders.”

Professor Tim Marchant, Dean of Research at the University of Wollongong, believes the program provides an excellent opportunity for doctorate students to receive inter-disciplinary training.

“There’s a lot of synergies between the disparate fields of study,” says Professor Marchant, “And if you can get people together you can get new ideas and new technologies coming out of those interactions.”

Professor Marchant highlighted the Intelligent Polymer Research Institute (IPRI) as an example of where collaboration is regularly leading to breakthroughs, such as the use of 3D printing in medical technology.

“The synergy comes from the fact that researchers from chemistry, material scientists and engineers, and the medical professionals, altogether are able to produce something, that on their own they never would have been able to do,” says Professor Geoff Spinks from IPRI, and the Discipline Advisor at the UOW School of Mechanical, Materials and Mechatronic Engineering.

Professor Spinks believes that the Global Challenges Program has great potential to tackle big issues if collaboration between faculties is a priority.

“I hope it’s successful and that it enables some more co-ordinated efforts, so that we can develop a reputation at the University of Wollongong that our research can be co-ordinated together and harnessed for these really important challenges.”

Another opportunity for Wollongong research synergy is the Big Ideas Festival, which takes place at the university on Wednesday the 8th of May from 4-8pm.

Twelve researchers will be given ten minutes each to present their research to the public and then answer their questions.

“What we want to show is that the research we do, whilst it’s really complicated and very deep, it can be translated; it’s really important to everyone,” says Professor Raper.

“It will improve the research, as well as have the community understand what we’re doing a little bit better. So everyone can learn from it.”

Words: HARRISON VESEY
Pictures: SARAH NAVIN
Video: HANNAH SHIELDS

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