International spotlight on engineering breakthrough
University of Newcastle engineering researcher, Dr Kim van Netten, has won the inaugural Australian Falling Walls Lab competition that recognises innovative ideas and research projects.
Dr van Netten presented on her breakthrough treatment of the toxic waste and contaminated water sent to tailing dams, reservoirs used to store byproducts of mining operations that can cause serious environmental disasters.
Dr van Netten and her team have developed a Novel Binder that clings to harmful solids and create aggregates large enough to filter from the water.
“The Novel Binders are made almost entirely of water with a thin film around them that is water repelling and hydrophobic, meaning it attracts particles to the binder quickly in just a space of a few seconds,” she said.
“Current extraction processes are relatively slow and expensive due to the large vessels needed to treat material. Our laboratory work shows the process cuts the time down by about 100 times, resulting in the cost being scaled down appreciably,” she added.
Despite still being in the early stages of development, onsite testing of the Novel Binders on real-world material has showed promising signs of moving towards full scale implementation over the coming years.
Dr van Netten will travel to Berlin in early November to represent Australia at the Falling Walls Finale among 100 other international participants.
Established on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, Falling Walls is an international platform for field leaders to promote the latest scientific findings from across a range of sectors, with the Falling Walls Lab taking place in more than 30 countries each year.
Hosted by the Australian Academy of Science, the Australian Falling Walls Lab winners were chosen by a distinguished judging panel that included Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel; Nobel Laureate and ANU Vice Chancellor, Professor Brian Schmidt; and New Zealand’s Deputy Chief Scientist, Professor Stephen Goldson.