INNOVATIVE organisations are heavily investing in designing ‘beautiful’ spaces to boost innovation and maximise collaboration, according to a Bond University workplace expoert.

In fact, Bond University is practising what it preaches, as “the office becomes more important than ever in today’s tech-driven economy” according to Bond Business School’s Libby Sander.

Ms Sander said despite predictions the office would become obsolete as a result of technological advancements, businesses were placing increasing emphasis on workplace design, with billions of dollars being poured annually into developing effective commercial spaces in Australia.

She said while technology, the rise of the contingent workforce and demand for innovation had forced workplaces to rapidly-adapt, face-to-face contact remained central to the economy. 

“Research has found two-thirds of employees prefer to build relationships face-to-face and the majority prefer to do so in an ideal workplace,” Ms Sander said.

“Involvement by managers and employees in collaborative endeavours has increased by 50 percent in the past two decades and collaboration is seen as a vital precursor to the production of creative ideas, problem solving and improved social capital, so creating opportunities for this is critical.

“Physical space acts like body language for an organisation, supporting thinking and creativity, with research showing subtle cues in our environment can cause us to be different versions of ourselves – more innovative or more outgoing, for example,” Ms Sander said.

“As a result, creating an attractive workplace is essential not only to attracting and retaining staff, but inspiring them, encouraging them to work together and boosting their productivity.”

Ms Sander, who worked in human resources for some of Australia’s largest corporations before researching and advising on workplace design, said businesses needed to understand how the physical environment affected employees thoughts, feelings, behaviour and performance.

She said this was factored into the design of Bond University’s latest learning space – a co-working hub, which has become the home of its recently-launched Transformer program, aimed at instilling ‘big-picture’ thinking in students across all faculties.    

“The Transformer space is designed around the idea of ‘accelerated serendipity’ – bumping into someone who can help you develop an idea or work through a problem,” she said. “It could be another student, an academic or industry mentor.

“The co-working hub ensures when these chance encounters occur, there is space nearby to support the task or discussion required.  This could be a private quiet space, a coffee at the long bar table in the kitchen or sketching up ideas on a whiteboard wall in the lounge area.

“Without fit-for-purpose zones and spaces to support these needs, research shows essential conversations do not occur and the opportunity is lost.”

Ms Sander said the co-working space also provided students with an understanding of how future workplace environments should operate. 

“Organisations need employees to work in an agile way, collaborate across boundaries and contribute to innovative outcomes,” she said.

“It is vital that universities ensure students are also prepared for this. The design of physical spaces that allow students to become familiar with this way of thinking and working is an essential part of the preparation.”

Ms Sander said, across the board, workplaces needed to make people both physically and psychologically comfortable.

"Workplace design is increasingly incorporating domestic elements to support activities in different areas and make people feel at ease,” Ms Sander said.

“This might include high-spec kitchens, cafe areas, lounge spaces and the use of domestic or natural materials such as timber and slate, while the addition of warm colours can support creativity.”

Ms Sander said there were several elements a successful corporate office should include.

“The workplace must allow individuals to focus and concentrate. Acoustics and privacy are important, as these are areas that employees complain about when companies do not get it right,” she said.

“Research has shown that our workspaces need to be beautiful. Beautiful spaces improve our mood and make us more tolerant and expansive in our thinking.

“They also need to allow us to connect when we choose to.  Forcing people to collaborate all the time is counter-productive and actually makes them more hostile and withdrawn.  

“The use of plants is another key trend that aligns with our need for natural environments to reduce stress and promote more openness in thinking and ideas.  Recent research found employees were 15 percent more productive, could concentrate better and were more satisfied when greenery was added to the workplace,” Ms Sander said.

“Finally, the space should be made flexible by using furniture that can be reconfigured for different needs and activities.”

www.bond.edu.au

 

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AUSTRALIA was officially welcomed into the Generation IV International Forum (GIF) Framework Agreement in September, a scientific partnership developing future nuclear energy technologies.

The CEO of the Australian Nuclear Science Technology Organisation (ANSTO), Adi Paterson  said GIF was a cooperative international endeavour to “develop and design the next generation of nuclear energy systems” which would be a potential game-changer in global energy creation.

As the 14th Member of the GIF, Australian researchers will work with countries including Canada, France, Japan, China, South Korea, South Africa, Russia, Switzerland and the United States. 

Members of GIF work collaboratively to develop what is known as Generation IV designs of nuclear energy systems, which will use fuel more efficiently; produce less waste; be more economically competitive; and meet stringent standards in relation to safety and non-proliferation.

He said GIF research was focused on six reactor designs that will deliver safe, secure, sustainable, competitive and versatile nuclear technology in the future.

Dr Paterson attended the ceremony at the OECD Château in France which officially welcomed Australia. The GIF Charter was signed in June last year, and the recent event marked Australia’s accession to the Framework Agreement.

This will enable Australia to become actively engaged in research and development projects related to Generation IV systems, particularly in relation to advanced materials.

“Australia has no nuclear power program, but we do have significant local expertise through which we can lend assistance in next-generation research, which is what this partnership is about,” Dr Paterson said..

"This agreement will enable Australia to contribute to an international group focused on peaceful use of nuclear technology, and the international energy systems of the future.

“Our participation in GIF is an affirmation of Australia’s exemplary research capabilities and STEM industry, strengthened by ANSTO’s expertise and highly developed nuclear science infrastructure,” Dr Paterson said.

“On Australia’s behalf, ANSTO will leverage our world-class capabilities, particularly in relation to the development of advanced materials with applications in extreme industrial environments, and of nuclear safety cases.

“Australia’s role on this global stage will see us sharing our expertise in nuclear research and technology, and will further our non-proliferation and nuclear safety objectives.

“It will also foster new avenues and opportunities to engage with global information sharing through this long-term research project.”

www.ansto.gov.au

INTERNATIONAL researchers have travelled to Townsville to the National Sea Simulator (SeaSim) at the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) as part of cutting edge research to help save the world’s fish.

University of Miami’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Science professor of physiology and toxicology, Martin Grosell travelled to Townsville recently to look at how changes in the brain chemistry of small reef fish can change their behaviour.

Dr Grosell and fellow University of Miami marine biologist Rachael Heuer have been guests at AIMS, working alongside researchers from James Cook University’s ARC Centre for Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, and the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology.

The research is a collaboration of physiology, behaviour and gene expression to understand how rising carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in sea water will affect the behaviour of fish, to see what the Great Barrier Reef may look like in 2100. 

Dr Grosell said fish living with higher carbon dioxide levels in sea water had shown patterns of altered behaviour including disorientation, “similar to Dory in the movie Finding Nemo”.

 “Normally fish would swim away or hide from a predator or alarm cues, but researchers are finding that high CO2 levels cause the fish to instead be attracted to these cues and so the fish is putting itself in danger,” Dr Grosell said.

“We believe it is because the acid-base balance in the brain is altered and when they start making everyday life decisions under those conditions, those decisions are poor, which may compromise their survival.

“What we are hoping is they will adapt, but if CO2 levels continue to rise, we want to see how populations will respond in the future.”

Dr Grosell said the AIMS’ National Sea Simulator at Cape Ferguson was the only place in the world where this type of detailed research could be undertaken.

He said the SeaSim created the natural CO2 fluctuations found on the reef and then simulated conditions predicted to occur in the future under various climate scenario levels, allowing his team to study reef fish in simulated naturally occurring conditions.

“I am really impressed with the facilities here, it is mind blowing. There really isn’t anywhere else we can do this scope of study with this accuracy,” Dr Grosell said.

“Using the SeaSim we can fluctuate CO2 levels which occur naturally to get a more accurate picture of what it could look like in 80 years.” 

AIMS SeaSim precinct manager Craig Humphrey said the research team worked around the clock for 10 days, with sampling being undertaken at intervals from 2am up to 6pm each day.

“In the SeaSim we aim to create conditions in the aquarium that more closely match those found on the reef than was previously available in experimental aquarium facilities,” he said.

“This includes seasonal and diel [24-hour] variation in temperature and ocean acidification with an ability to simulate the conditions predicted under future climate scenarios.”

THE LIST of investors in Australian space industry start-up Fleet would seem to ensure its blast-off – they include Blackbird Ventures, Grok Ventures and Atlassian founder Mike Cannon-Brookes, Earth Space Robotics and Horizon Partners in Silicon Valley.

Fleet completed a $5 million Series A funding round to launch a constellation of nano-satellites that aim to connect the world’s 75 billion devices due to come online by 2025. Fleet is developing nano-satellite technology in partnership with some of the world’s leading aerospace engineers, and will launch the first of more than 100 planned satellites next year. 

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FOUR challenges to Australian industry sectors are being met by new Cooperative Research Centres (CRCs), backed by more than $151.5 million in Federal Government funding, in a bid to find innovative solutions.

The CRCs are being set up to find practical solutions to problems such as farm soil performance, honey bee product development, digital technology to boost farming practices and next generation vehicle control systems – then produce tangible outcomes.

The iMove CRC will receive $55 million over 10 years to explore ‘digital and evolving vehicle technologies’ to help traffic to flow more smoothly. 

“The goal is to reduce traffic congestion, lower fuel use and emissions and, as a result, drive improved national productivity and competitiveness,” Industry, Innovation and Science Minister Arthur Sinodinos said.

A new CRC for High Performance Soils will receive almost $40 million over 10 years to help farmers bridge the gap between soil science and farm management.

“This will give them the tools and knowledge they need to make decisions on complex soil management issues,” Senator Sinodinos said.

A new CRC for Honey Bee Products will receive $7 million over five years in a program to help link unique floral hive sites to product quality control processes. The aim of the CRC’s programs will be to create “a healthy product image for national and international markets”.

The new Food Agility CRC is aiming to  help Australia’s food industry grow its comparative advantage through digital transformation. The CRC will receive $50 million from the
Federal Government over 10 years.

“I’m delighted that the new CRCs selected in this 18th funding round will involve interdisciplinary researchers working with industry to explore new processes, including digital technologies, to deliver improvements in strategic industry sectors,” Senator Sinodinos said..

He said the CRC program was a competitive, merit based grant program to support “industry-led and outcome-focused collaborative research partnerships between industry, researchers and the community”.

“Since the programme’s inception, the Australian Government has invested more than $4.2 billion in innovation and research that is aimed at finding practical solutions for Australian industry, whether it is new products, processes or services,” he said.

www.business.gov.au/crc

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THE AUSTRALIAN Government is investing $2.12 million for specialist scientists to investigate Australia’s unique array of plants and animals through taxonomic research.

The Australian Biological Resources Study’s National Taxonomy Research Grant Programme is a competitive, merit-based process led by an External Expert Assessment Panel of seven taxonomy experts. Taxonomy – the science of naming, describing and classifying organisms to include all plants, animals and microorganisms – will help fill large gaps in current knowledge and possibly open up new innovation across a braod spectrum.

A spokesperson for Parks Australia, the body which administers the National Taxonomy Research Grant Programme, said research in taxonomy was vital for biodiversity conservation, particularly within Australia’s Commonwealth reserve estate. 

“The discovery and documentation of Australia’s biodiversity can have many applications including: the recovery and management of threatened species; identifying and understanding the risks of pest species or vectors of pathogens to people, plants and animals; and the potential for discovery of novel new biological resources with medicinal or other properties,” the spokesperson said.

“Taxonomy is an important and often overlooked branch of science.

“Taxonomists’ work to describe and classify plants and animals which supports many areas of biology, ecology and conservation science.”

This year the panel assessed 83 applications and selected 19 projects to receive funding over the next three years.

“These 19 research projects will help us fill gaps in our current knowledge and understanding of Australia’s unique and incredibly rich biodiversity and will support the study of a wide variety of Australian species including millipedes, frogs, and everlasting daisies,” the spokesperson said.

“In previous years this funding has enabled researchers to discover and describe thousands of new species including algae, insects, plants and reptiles.”

http://www.environment.gov.au/science/abrs/grants

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QUANTUM mechanics researchers at the University of Queensland (UQ) and Britain’s University of Sussex have found a way to ‘supercharge’ the sensitivity of measuring sensors utilised in fields as diverse as mineral exploration and climate change.

Theoretical physicist Stuart Szigeti, of UQ’s School of Mathematics and Physics, said future precision sensing technology would exploit unusual effects of quantum mechanics.

“Our research showed a way to recycle atoms and reuse them in a device called an atom interferometer,” Dr Szigeti said. “This technique will vastly improve the performance of these devices, leading to improved sensing technology. 

“An atom interferometer uses the quantum ‘wave-like’ nature of atoms in order to make very precise measurements of accelerations, rotations, and gravitational fields.”

Dr Szigeti, who works within one of five nodes of the Australian Research Council Centre for Engineered Quantum Systems, said the devices would have applications on land and sea.

“They can be used in mineral exploration, allowing us to more easily locate mineral reserves underground, and in hydrology, allowing us to track the movement of water across the planet as we monitor the effects of climate change,” Dr Szigeti said.
“They’ll also be important in navigation.”
Simon Haine, from the University of Sussex, said the development of precise atom interferometers had been hampered by an effect known as quantum noise, which was uncertainty in a quantum system signal.
“Quantum noise can be combatted with a property of quantum mechanics known as ‘entanglement’,” Dr Haine said.
“Proof-of-principle experiments have recently shown how to generate entanglement within atom interferometers, and have used this to alleviate the effects of quantum noise. However, this comes at a cost, as in the process of creating entanglement, most of the atoms are wasted, which hinders the performance of these devices.
“Our project has found a way to harvest and recycle these atoms to improve the sensitivity of ultra-precise measurement devices.”
The research, involving Dr Szigeti, Dr Haine and colleague Dr Robert Lewis-Swan from UQ, has been published in Physical Review Letters.

www.uq.edu.au

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