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Galaxies unfold as heavens mapped like never before

December 3, 2014

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Category winners of The Australian/Shell Innovation Awards at the National Library in Canberra. From left: Marlene Kanga (on behalf of her husband Rustom), Julian Malnic, Antony Schinckel, Chris Wilkins, Roger Dyhrberg. Source: News Corp AustraliaCategory winners of The Australian/Shell Innovation Awards at the National Library in Canberra. From left: Marlene Kanga (on behalf of her husband Rustom), Julian Malnic, Antony Schinckel, Chris Wilkins, Roger Dyhrberg. Source: News Corp Australia

Category winners of The Australian/Shell Innovation Awards at the National Library in Canberra. From left: Marlene Kanga (on behalf of her husband Rustom), Julian Malnic, Antony Schinckel, Chris Wilkins, Roger Dyhrberg. Source: News Corp AustraliaCategory winners of The Australian/Shell Innovation Awards at the National Library in Canberra. From left: Marlene Kanga (on behalf of her husband Rustom), Julian Malnic, Antony Schinckel, Chris Wilkins, Roger Dyhrberg. Source: News Corp Australia

FROM a novel aerial gardening system devel­oped by a backyard tinkerer to technology helping cystic fibrosis sufferers to breathe, The Australian’sInnovation Challenge has again showcased the country’s best ideas.

Hundreds of promising innovators put forward game-changing ideas for this year’s challenge, which aims to drive commercialisation and recognise excellence in innovation. But it was the CSIRO’s world-leading astronomical telescope built in the Australian outback that scooped the field to win this year’s challenge and take home a total cash prize of $30,000.

Antony Schinckel, whose team of scientists developed the $160 million Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder project, said the telescope was transformative.

“It is one of the most exciting things happening in astronomy these days,” he said. “It is a telescope unlike any other that has been built anywhere on the planet.”

Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane, who attended the awards ceremony at the Nationa­l Library in Canberra on Wednesday night, said innovation and research was essential for Australia’s ongoing prosperity and economic growth.

“We know that in order to compete with the best in the world, Australians must make better use of our impressive record of research and scientific excellence, to translate the benefits of our world-leading research into commercial outcomes and economic gains,” he said. “Industry and science are closely linked, and we’re working to further enhance those connections, to make the most of our smartest scientists and our savviest innovators.”

“These entries prove that Australian ingenuity is vibrant and evolving in an intensely competitive global marketplace.”

Mr Macfarlane said the CSIRO’s winning innovation was a major breakthrough in astronomical data collection.

The Australian Innovation Challenge awards are run by The Australian in association with Shell and with the support of the federal Department of Industry.

Andrew Smith, country chairman of Shell Australia, said businesses competing on a global stage needed to innovate to deal with the challenge of costs and funding.

“We are a small market, we are a very prosperous country and that is great, but it gives us challenges around cost and competitiveness,” he said. “Innovation is one of the things we need to do to be competitive.”

Editor of The Australian Clive Mathieson said the challenge had given away more than $250,000 to worthy winners in the past four years. “The Australian is immensely proud of the small role it has played in unearthing and encouraging these innovators, and in showcasing each year the depth and breadth of scientific endeavour around Australia, from universities to backyard sheds,” Mr Mathieson said.

Opposition innovation spokesman Kim Carr congratulated the winners and said the competition was an important for recognising innovation in Australia.

“We commend The Australian and Shell for their support in showcasing, rewarding and inspiring innovation in Australia,” he said. “It is truly formidable to see the excellence of the ASKAP and the work of CSIRO researcher Antony Schinckel recog­nised and rewarded in this way.”

ASKAP’s chequerboard phased array feed receivers enable unprecedented mapping of large parts of the sky.

Distant galaxies and black holes, some never seen before, have been captured through the receivers that collect data from the telescope’s 36 antenna dishes.

Mr Schinckel said the project was “a completely new and unique invention” that had potential application in a wide range of industries, from geology to human imaging.

“We are very excited about their potential use in other areas,’’ he said. “It will be a great deal of fun seeing what else we can do with this particular instrument.”

Judges, led by innovation policy expert Terry Cutler, said the project was ‘‘one of those advances that keeps Australia on the global innovation map”.

Other winners included Chris Wilkins for the $10,000 Backyard Innovation prize for his PodPlants invention, a novel aeroponic system to grow plants by suspending them in nutrient-laden mist. PodPlants has attracted interest worldwide as a way to grow vertical gardens in office blocks.

Queensland teenager Taj Pabari won the Young Innovators prize for his development of the ImaginTech Tablet Kit, a do-it-yourself kit enabling children to assemble their own Android tablets. He has clinched a deal with a retailer in South Africa to stock the kits, and expects a major retailer in Australia to start selling them soon.

The Minerals and Energy prize was won by Julian Malnic for a new method to process ores of nickel, which has potential to boost steel production.

Roger Dyhrberg won the Environment, Agriculture and Food category for the Enviro­cart, which cleans ship hulls underwater. Technology called Pepster that encourages children with cystic fibrosis to do their breathing exercises won Elliot Smith and his colleagues the award for Community Services.

Rustom Kanga won the ICT award for leading the development of automated system that cuts the response time of emergency services personnel to accidents. It uses intelligent CCTV cameras and the GPS coordinates of the smart phones of emergency services staff to identify the most appropriate officer to act as the first responder, and dispatch them to the scene.

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