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From hypersonic aircrafts to the world's largest radio telescope: five ground-breaking European-Australian scientific research projects

10/08/2019 - 10:08
News stories

Although separated by 14,000 kilometres, the two continents closely collaborate in dozens of projects aiming to bring solutions to major real-world challenges. EU Horizon2020 programme has invested approximately €5,9 million in Australian research and innovation

European-Australian research projects

Europe and Australia may be -geographically speaking- each other's antipodes, but they are on the same page when it comes to scientific research. The European Union is a major driver of scientific research worldwide, and is currently collaborating with Australian institutions in dozens of projects aiming to bring solutions to major real-world challenges. How to grow resilient wine grapes in a warming world? Is it feasible to fly from Brussels to Sydney in less than three hours? Can we build a huge radio telescope sensitive enough to pick up radio signals from the time when the first stars in the universe formed? All of this may sound science-fiction, but it actually is EU-funded science on the making. EU Horizon2020 programme has invested approximately €5,9 million in Australian research and innovation, and more than 600 Australian researchers have taken part in EU-supported projects. Here are five of the most ground-breaking European-Australian scientific endeavours.

Making wine in a warming world

Climate change affects our world in many ways, and one of them is having an impact on one of humankind's oldest activities: growing grapes to make wine. As global temperatures rise up, grapes are ripening before they used to do, thus getting sweeter faster. The more sugar, the heavier and more alcoholic a wine is, whereas the current market trend is to demand lighter wines.

This is why Dr Roberta De Bei, from University of Adelaide, is looking at the way winemakers have grown grapes in the warmer Mediterranean climates throughout millennia. She is working with researchers from the Italian universities of Sassari and Pisa to import into Australia cultivation techniques that delay ripening. For instance, removing part of the leaves of the vine while the grapes are maturing. Their collaboration seems to be fruitful: they have written a paper just submitted for publication, and early results obtained in Australian crops are promising.

Dr Roberta De Bei, University of Adelaide

Dr Roberta De Bei, from University of Adelaide.


Travelling five times as fast as sound

In the 70s, the now-defunct Concorde pioneered supersonic flights. Now, a European Space Agency-led project in collaboration with UNSW Canberra aims to take a giant leap forward: build passenger airliners able to reach hypersonic travel speeds, which means five times as fast as sound. The ultimate goal of the so called High-speed Experimental Fly project (HEXAFLY) is to build planes that could cover the distance between Brussels and Sydney in less than three hours.

Professor Andrew Neely, an aerospace expert at UNSW Canberra, is testing small-scale models in a special wind tunnel to help refine the final design. "The real hypersonic airliner would need to be about the size of an A380”, he says. A larger-scale test flight is planned for 2020.


HEXAFLY, international simulation

Simulation of HEXAFLY's hypersonic jet.


Building the Square Kilometre Array (SKA): the world's largest telescope

Somewhere in a deserted area of Western Australia, 133,000 radio telescope antennas are about to be built. This will be only the first phase of Square Kilometre Array (SKA), a project partially funded by EU Horizon 2020 that aims to build the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope, which will be able to pick up radio signals from the time when the first stars in the universe formed.

The full array of telescope antennas is expected to be 10 times larger, with the second phase to be built in South Africa. A dozen of countries are involved of an ambitious project that will open wide new horizons to scientists. "It’s an exciting instrument because we don’t know what questions to ask yet”, says astronomer Antony Schinckel from CSIRO, Australia's national science agency.

3D printed carbon fibre airplanes and cars? Yes, it's possible

Carbon fibre composites can be used to make almost everything, from aeroplanes and high-end race cars to sports equipment. However, the current demand is so high that the current methods to produce them cannot keep up. Until now. A European-Australian project is developing a way to 3D print carbon fibre at industrial scale, which will create “new, smart, flexible manufacturing processes for everything from soft drinks to aerospace components”, according to Professor Bronwyn Fox.

Fox runs the Swinburne’s Manufacturing Futures Research Institute, an Australian institution closely working with the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation, the Universities of Stuttgart and Bayreuth, and the industry-driven research consortium ARENA2036—all located in Germany. The project's third leg is the Austrian company Fill, which provides the 3D printing technology.


Professor Bronwyn Fox, Swinburne’s Manufacturing Futures Research Institute

Professor Bronwyn Fox, from the Swinburne’s Manufacturing Futures Research Institute

Big data to understand cancer and the immune system

David Lynn, an Irish-born researcher from the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI), is leading a pioneering research that combines computational and big data analysis with experimental approaches to unravel biological networks at the molecular level. His ultimate goal: find out the secrets of cancer and the immune system hiding in numbers.

He joined SAHMRI in 2014 under the umbrella of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory's Australia initiative, which gives up to nine years of funding to top researchers. Lynn and his group of eight scientists are involved in various EU-funded projects such as PRIMES, an endeavour to map the molecular interactions in in colorectal cancer cells in exhaustive detail. “There are about 4,000 different interactions" Lynn explains. “We’ve seen how a common mutation can rewire the whole interaction network and make the cancer resist treatment”.

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