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$2m dollar funding boost, extension a boon for international projects  

The Department of Defence has granted an extra $2 million in funding to two international research collaborations involving Australian universities. Both projects have also been extended by two years to expand their work under the Australia-US Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (AUSMURI) program.

The projects cover quantum computing and additive manufacturing.

AUSMURI is a nine-year, $25 million investment program with a Defence focus that encourages Australian universities to collaborate with counterparts in the US to explore opportunities in designated topics. The program is funded through Defence’s $1.2 billion Next Generation Technologies Fund (NGTF).

The fund was established in 2016 with $600 million to back research and development of technology for the ‘future Defence force after next’. Initially set to run over 10 years, the fund was last year topped up to $1.2 billion and extended to 2030.

AUSMURI complements the Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) grant program administered by the US Department of Defense.

‘Quantum’ leaps may enhance tomorrow’s battlefield technology

One of the extended projects aims to create knowledge that may one day enable error-tolerant quantum computers.

It has brought together Griffith University, the University of Technology Sydney and the University of New South Wales to collaborate with a US team led by Duke University, which includes Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and Dartmouth College.

Co-chief investigator Dr Gerardo Paz Silva, of the Centre for Quantum Dynamics, says quantum-enabled technologies promise to revolutionise the way we process and store information.

In the first three years, the collaboration successfully developed the basic tools at the theory and experiment levels and performed proof of principle testing of the basic components, says Dr Silva.

“Now, we are trying to push the idea into the real-life scenario, where factors such as technology constraints or energy budgets, for example, have to be taken into account,” he says. 

Dr David Kershaw, Chief Science Engagement and Impact Division, Department of Defence, says the Australian collaboration, which looked at quantum control based on real-time environment analysis by spectator qubits, has provided ground-breaking advances in quantum sensing and control.

“With their grant extension, by 2022 the project is expected to benefit the Quantum Assured Positioning, Navigation and Timing STaR Shot and may enhance distributed sensor arrays on battlefields of the future,” Dr Kershaw says.

Dr Silva says the local and international links created under AUSMURI have greatly benefited their progress.

He notes each research group brings different expertise, with some theory based and others experimental. This has meant each brings its own approach and philosophy on what is important to solving a problem.

“This in turn has provided context and grounded the theory work, ultimately allowing them to tailor it to a concrete experimental apparatus,” Dr Silva says.

“Conversely, it has allowed the experimental groups to understand the possibilities – for example, how advanced analysis tools can open up more information than what is obvious from experimental data.”

And, as expected, sharing information on how different teams have solved similar challenges has proved fruitful.

“There have been many examples where the theorists and fellow experimentalists troubleshooting has created suggestions leading to a productive exchange of technical ‘tricks’ that have now been implemented at the various labs,” Dr Silva says.

Dream team’s breakthroughs to support rapid in-field repairs

The other recipient of the funding top-up is the University of Sydney, led by chief investigator Professor Simon Ringer. They are working to create more robust and available materials through additive manufacturing.

Ultimately led by the University of Tennessee, the global research team is impressive, also bringing together researchers from the US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the University of California Santa Barbara, Ohio State University, Iowa State University, Colorado School of Mines and Virginia Tech.

Dr Kershaw says their work on microstructure control in metal additive manufacturing has not only generated new scientific knowledge but has been instrumental in the establishment of a world-class additive-manufacturing facility in Australia.

The project’s outcomes are expected to support rapid in-field repairs of aerospace and land-vehicle structures and at-sea repairs of maritime vessels.

“Our project has so far been hugely successful because of the breakthrough research in understanding new ways that phase transformations work in the extreme conditions of additive manufacturing, which will help us design new materials with remarkable structural properties,” Professor Ringer says.

He says one of the most exciting parts of working under the AUSMURI program is the flexibility they are offered. “While our funders expressed delight in what we proposed through the detailed application process, they also encouraged us to ‘follow the science’ – meaning we are encouraged to follow interesting or useful developments as we go rather than stick rigidly to the original plans.”

Professor Ringer adds the funding stream has allowed the project leaders to assemble a dream team of researchers, pulling in the best players from both Australia and the US. 

Professor Duncan Ivison, University of Sydney’s deputy vice-chancellor (research) says many of Defence’s Science, Technology and Research (STaR) Shots require complex delivery platforms, making additive manufacturing a critical technology enabler.

“This means we have to get to the bottom of the materials science in order to apply additive manufacturing as a defence technology,” Professor Ivison says.

He says the collaboration’s breakthroughs are helping researchers understand how to qualify additive processes and materials for applications in Australia’s air, maritime and land-based defence platforms.


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