Research and Innovation – a chapter of the 2014 Annual Report of the University of Newcastle, Australia. Includes information about research projects.

Research and innovation

Innovation grounded in world-class research can lead to lasting impacts for communities and regions across an increasingly connected world. Our robust, multi-disciplinary and collaborative research approach has driven innovation and delivered significant economic, social and environmental benefits for our communities. 

We built on this proud legacy as a centre of excellence for research and innovation in 2014 with activities focused on consolidating our role as a leading regional hub, expanding our international connections and creating new linkages with industry, both locally and internationally.

2014 highlights

  • $11.8m in funding for 27 research proposals to commence in 2015 secured in the 2014 round of Australian Research Council (ARC) major grants
  • one of only eight universities nationwide awarded funding under the ARC Discovery Indigenous Scheme
  • $17.9m for 24 health and medical research proposals to commence in 2015 secured in the 2014 National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) major funding round
  • 23 international research grants awarded totalling $1.8m in 2014, compared with 14 totalling $0.8m in 2013 six mid-career researchers received $4.7m in funding under the ARC Future Fellowships Scheme
  • two successful Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) Proposals for funding to commence in 2015 awarded
  • $89.3m worth of contracts were successfully secured by NIER in the period 2011–2014
  • $26.8m worth of funding was successfully secured by HMRI in the period July 2011–June 2014.

2014 key figures

  • 9th in the sector for ARC funding
  • 8th in the sector for NHMRC funding
  • 10th for industry contract research in 2013
  • 16th in the sector for publications
  • 225 Higher Degree by Research (HDR) completionsin 2013, ranking 15th in sector

Strategic performance

The Research and Innovation Plan strategic priorities for 2014 were:

Our research is recognised for its quality, depth and impact, and the implementation of key strategies and initiatives continues to strengthen our position as a leading research-intensive university. A particular focus in 2014 was the translation of research outcomes and discoveries into innovative products, solutions and policy through collaborative engagement with industry, business and government partners.

International Centre for Balanced Land Use 

The International Centre for Balanced Land Use was launched in 2014 and will establish the University as a leading research hub for the land-use challenges generated as a result of long-term activities in key sectors such as mining and agriculture. The Centre is a joint initiative between the NSW Government and NIER and considers long-term land-use solutions alongside continued growth and the emergence of new technologies and transformative industries. Recruitment is underway for a Global Innovation Chair, who will play an instrumental role in championing the work of the Centre in delivering a range of initiatives of fundamental importance regionally, nationally and internationally.

NSW Energy Innovation Knowledge Hub 

The launch of the Energy Innovation Knowledge Hub in 2014 was the first in a series of industry-led knowledge centres to be established by the NSW Government. Based at NIER the Newcastle Hub will foster a new energy sector in the Hunter and create the potential for NSW to export newly developed energy technologies to better meet the global demand for clean and efficient energy use. Tasked with addressing local industry challenges by creating new opportunities and market access, the collaborative hub culture promotes increased competitiveness and productivity through knowledge transfer.

Driving new knowledge 

The flexible framework for our Research and Innovation Clusters continued to provide a simplified way for innovators from the University, industry and government to approach ongoing issues, share information and explore collaborative opportunities. All five clusters were active in 2014: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Research and Innovation Cluster; Creative Industries Research and Innovation Cluster; Defence and Security Research and Innovation Hub; Global eHealth Research and Innovation Cluster; and the Joint UON and Central Coast Food Innovation Cluster.      

A total of 15 cluster events were held in 2014 with in excess of 600 attendees, and more than 750 people subscribing to the cluster mailing lists. Of those numbers, more than a quarter of attendees and subscribers were external to the University. An important cluster event was the Defence and Security Industry Showcase held in August 2014 which highlighted our research capabilities with a range of key defence stakeholders including Defence Material Organisation, Rapid Prototyping, Development and Evaluation Canberra. The Showcase has led to new collaborative arrangements with strategic industry partners including Airbus and Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO).     

As a result of the cluster initiative, a Defence Tender was submitted by Research Services for the University to be on the Standing Offer Panel to provide research, scientific, engineering, and other technical services to DSTO. The University was also represented at the META Core Member 'Kickoff' Workshop, an invitation-only event for the META Defence Exports Hub in September 2014, and was recognised for its work in the Defence Industry space during 'Land Forces 2014', Australia's premier land defence exhibition and a leading land defence forum.

Facilitating commercialisation 

In order to maximise the exploitation and commercialisation of our research and intellectual property, a new business model was developed in 2014 for Newcastle Innovation and will be implemented in the year to come. This model will facilitate closer relationships between Newcastle Innovation, the Research and Innovation Division and Faculties, and bring together researchers from disciplines across the University to engage with external partners and develop solutions for industry-focused problems. The model will further support NIER and HMRI in attracting industry partners for specific government programs which encourage and reward academic-industry partnerships.


Our partnership with Slingshot led to the UON Slingshot Accelerator Program which was officially launched in January 2014 and was open to University of Newcastle staff, students and alumni. This high-tech accelerator initiative provides seed funding, dynamic co-working space and a mentoring program to nurture skills and relationships and enable entrepreneurs to build a remarkable company. Eight teams out of sixty applications were successful in gaining entry to the program and were mentored by University and industry representatives. Six teams have since graduated, of which three are still active with one team in particular, Deckee, receiving ongoing media attention and further funding to launch their product nationally.

Partnering with industry 

In 2014 we launched the Centre for Resources Health and Safety, a new research centre aimed at saving lives in the high-risk resources sector. The Centre has been established through a new research partnership, worth $1.0m over four years, between Aspen Medical and the  University. Aspen Medical has extensive experience as a healthcare provider in the defence, resources, government and humanitarian sectors, and sees collaboration between research and industry as critical to addressing the sector's healthcare challenges. The Centre's areas of research will include occupational health and safety, respiratory studies, psychology, psychiatry, and environmental and social impacts.

We are committed to providing targeted support for our researchers and over the past year this included greater attention on their training, development and support needs.

Increased HDR load 

A key focus in 2014 was increasing Higher Degree by Research (HDR) student load and completion as a way to build the next generation of researchers at the University.

  • HDR load grew by 7.4 per cent with record numbers of HDR students (225) completing their programs, equating to 20 per cent of HDR load
  • commencing HDR enrolments grew to 450 in 2014, a 24 per cent increase since 2012
  • provisional scholarship schemes for domestic honours students and 50:50 scholarships linked students to Priority Research Centres (PRCs) and other areas of research strength
  • industry partnerships were established to support applications for ARC Industrial Transformation Training Hubs, which will support continued growth in HDR commencements
  • jointly-awarded HDR opportunities have been developed with the first students accepted into jointly-awarded HDR programs to commence in 2015
  • a new Level 10 Australian Qualifications Framework compliant Doctorate of Business Administration program has been approved, and preliminary discussions have taken place with the Faculty of Education and Arts and the Faculty of Health and Medicine for the development of new doctoral programs
  • an alternative scholarship scheme was successfully piloted in the Faculty of Education and Arts in which scholarships are directed to areas of strengths and a recruiting process undertaken.

Performance and output targets 

The Research and Innovation Division worked with Human Resource Services and the Pro Vice-Chancellor (Learning and Teaching) in 2014 to develop research performance targets for academic staff at each level within each school in order to build research performance and outputs.

DECRAs and ARC Future Fellows 

Our next generation of researchers continue to receive recognition for their work, with six mid-career researchers receiving $4.7m in funding under the ARC Future Fellowships Scheme to promote research in areas of critical national importance: Associate Professor David Lubans, Associate Professor Brett Nixon, Dr Lawrence Ong, Dr Patricia Saco, Dr Shanyong Wang and Dr Candice Morey. This was our highest funding result since the scheme commenced in 2009. Further to this two of our researchers were successful in receiving Discovery Early Career Researcher Awards with funding to commence in 2015: Dr Amy Waller (School of Medicine and Public Health) and Dr Colin Reid (School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences).

A key element of the Research and Innovation plan is the recruitment of Global Innovation Chairs to develop and maintain our leadership in areas of research strength and facilitate greater engagement with significant international collaborators. This increased engagement with external partners has been essential to growing productive partnerships, maximising the translation and societal impact of University research, capitalising on opportunities and growing market penetration through technology transfer. In 2014 we welcomed our first Global Innovation Chair, Professor Geoff Whitty, with the appointment of a further four Chairs being finalised for commencement in 2015.

International partnerships

Collaboration with our international partners drives our research success and advances our global reputation. We have particularly strong partnerships with institutions in Canada, New Zealand, United States of America, United Kingdom and Malaysia which are characterised by co-authored publications, research income, and student and academic exchanges. 2014 saw increased emphasis on growing our partnerships with China and South Africa. 

We also continued to leverage international partnerships through our relationships with NIER and HMRI. NIER was particularly active in 2014 with agreements signed with the Changsha University of Science and Technology, North University of China, North China Electric Power Institute and Zhejiang University. Potential partnerships have also been explored in Singapore, Sweden, the United Kingdom and Denmark, all of which will be strengthened during additional visits in 2015. These visits have included meetings with the Australian Embassy to the European Union in Brussels to explore opportunities for the University to engage in research through Horizon 2020, the European Union's €80 billion research and innovation program.

Visiting fellowships

An International Research Visiting Fellowships Program was introduced in 2014 and has been instrumental in facilitating research collaborations and knowledge exchanges between the University and other first-rate international institutions. Seven fellowships were awarded for exchanges with the following universities: 

  • Professor Randall Lee, Department of Medicine/ Cardiology, University of California 
  • Professor Costas Iliopoulos, Department of Informatics, King's College London 
  • Dr Arfinn Eielsen, Department of Engineering Cybernetics, Norwegian University of Science and Technology 
  • Professor Ian Adcock, National Heart and Lung Institute, Imperial College London  
  • Dr Sun Sumei, Department of Advanced Communication Technology, Institute for Infocomm Research (Singapore) 
  • Professor Richard Rabbitt, Department of Bioengineering, University of Utah 
  • Professor Zi-Kui Liu, NSF Centre for Computational Materials Design, Pennsylvania State University.

World-class infrastructure

Our ongoing investment in high-quality infrastructure for our areas of research strength included the completion of an additional four laboratories and office space at NIER. Research student facilities across the University were enhanced with the addition of 114 new HDR work spaces and the refurbishment of 89 existing work spaces. A new Animal Behavioural Laboratory was also completed and the facility became fully accredited and operational in June. The facility provides world-class Physical Containment Level 2 (PC2) animal and laboratory spaces and offers new opportunities for research into neurobiology and neurophysiology.

Looking forward

In 2015 our focus will be on the following activities and initiatives:

  • building on our strong international reputation and internationalising research and research outcomes through continued expansion of international collaborations
  • promoting and leveraging the work of our reseachers based at HMRI and NIER, and through our PRCs and Innovation Clusters
  • broadening partnership opportunities and supporting business, industry and government engagement through increased involvement in the ARC Linkage grant program and the NSW Hubs Strategy
  • driving research performance and optimising return on investment to meet the challenges of the current economic climate
  • developing our early career researcher population and securing the next generation of research leaders by embedding a research culture at both the undergraduate and postgraduate level
  • developing a suite of training options for researchers through the Research Advantage Program in 2015, with a focus on HDR students, early and mid-career researchers
  • engaging with our communities and raising the value of our research as a local community resource by securing regional, national and international co-funding opportunities and promoting our research clusters.