Nanosensing to solar fuels: Sydney Nano unveils new Grand Challenges

8 December 2021
Innovative solutions to some of the world’s greatest challenges
Four new visionary projects span sustainability, biosecurity, solar energy and health, drawing talent from across the University's faculties.
Sydney Nano brings expertise together from across the University.

Sydney Nano brings expertise together from across the University.

The University of Sydney Nano Institute has announced four new multidisciplinary Grand Challenge projects starting next year with the aim of tackling emerging issues facing society, the economy and everyday life.

Sydney Nano Director, Professor Ben Eggleton, praised the high standard of entries from across the University.

The visionary projects will capitalise on talents across faculties, seek engagement with industry and leverage expertise at the at one of the world’s best facilities for big ideas at the nanoscale.

The four new Grand Challenges are:

  • Nanosensing Airborne Pathogens for Public Biosecurity
    Led by Professor Antonio Tricoli, Faculty of Engineering, and Professor Corinne Caillaud, Faculty of Medicine & Health
  • Eco-Active Building Envelopes
    Led by Dr Arianna Brambilla, School of Architecture, Design & Planning, and Professor Deanna D’Alessandro, Faculty of Science
  • Solar Fuels
    Led by Professor Anita Ho-Baillie, Faculty of Science, and Dr Fengwang Li, Faculty of Engineering
  • Organ-on-Chip for Blood Clot assessment
    Led by Dr Lining Ju (Arnold), Faculty of Engineering, and Dr Freda Passam, Faculty of Medicine & Health

Professor Eggleton said: “The high-calibre of applications for our second round of Sydney Nano Grand Challenges is thanks to the success of the six inaugural Grand Challenge teams. It also exemplifies the unified interest across the University to work together to make a better society.”

The four new projects are aligned to Sydney Nano’s strategic priorities, in particular the NanoHealth Network and the Smart Sustainable Building Network.

"The combined focus of the four new projects is telling of the challenges the global population faces today, spanning biosecurity, sustainability, and health,” Professor Eggleton said.

“It was a difficult task to narrow down to four winning teams and I applaud the selection committee for their work.”

Sydney Nano Grand Challenge selection committee at work on Zoom.

Sydney Nano Grand Challenge selection committee at work on Zoom.

Sydney Nano will provide up to $75,000 a year to each Grand Challenge team for two years to seed-fund their projects. The Grand Challenges bring researchers together into multidisciplinary teams supporting sustainable, long-term areas of research.

The projects aim to discover innovative solutions to some of the world’s greatest challenges of social, economic and scientific significance. Bringing together researchers from across the University, the multidisciplinary Grand Challenge initiatives can access the latest advances in nanoscience and nanotechnology. This approach is central to Sydney Nano’s strategic objectives and operational execution.

Sydney Nano received 19 quality applications from across the University. Their areas of research span the wide range of disciplines that make up nanoscale science and technology and the three broad areas in which Sydney Nano seeks to have impact: energy and the environment; health and medicine; and communications, computing and security.

The four new projects are the second cohort of Sydney Nano’s Grand Challenge scheme, with the inaugural six Grand Challenges to transition from Sydney Nano funding to externally funded projects.

Nanosensing Airborne Pathogens for Public Biosecurity

The Grand Challenge: Improve public biosecurity and pandemic preparedness through nanotechnology innovation.

The Mission: Developing disruptive nanoscale sensing technologies for detection of airborne pathogens to upgrade public biosecurity standards and regulations.

Grand Challenge lead: Professor Antonio Tricoli, Professor Corinne Caillaud

Team: David Martin Martinez, Lisa Jackson Pulver, Steve Wise, Omid Kavehei, Simon Fleming, Troy Cross, Sveta Postnova, Justin Beardsley, Tania Sorrell, Alice Motion, Lee-Fay Low

Eco-Active Building Envelopes

The Grand Challenge: Climate change is already impacting the global environment. An urgent reduction in global carbon emissions is the only viable path to mitigate global warming and ensure the survival of the ecosystems on our planet.

The Mission: To lay the groundwork for a new generation of buildings that are self-sufficient in energy and water consumption, able to produce on-site food to encourage healthy eating habits and contribute to the regulation of heat stress and pollution within dense urban environments.

Grand Challenge Lead: Dr Arianna Brambilla, Professor Deanna D’Alessandro

Team: Eugenia Gasparri, Chiara Neto, Martijn de Sterke, Gustavo Fimbres Weihs, Deanna D’Alessandro, Anita Ho-Baillie, Alex Song, Simon Ringer, Daniel Dias-da-Costa, Simon Marvin

Solar Fuels

The Grand Challenge: Harvest and utilise sunlight to meet our world’s increasing energy demand in a carbon-neutral way.

The Mission: To create new nanomaterials and chemical processes that capture and ‘bottle’ sunlight in the form of energy-rich, renewable fuels.

Grand Challenge lead: Dr Fengwang Li, Professor Anita Ho-Baillie

Team: Alejandro Montoya, Antonio Tricoli, Jun Huang, Patrick J Cullen, Thomas Maschmeyer, Yuan Chen, Ted Sargent (University of Toronto), Song Jin (University of Wisconsin-Madison)

Organ-on-chip for blood clot assessment

The Grand Challenge: Vaccine-induced thrombotic thrombocytopenia (VITT) is a rare but potentially fatal blood clotting side effect of COVID-19 vaccine recipients. Fear of blood clots hindered the vaccine rollout and the public’s confidence. No screening tests are available for the prediction of VITT, negatively impacting our national economy and social freedom.

The Mission: To develop microfluidic devices based on vascular imaging of affected patients to detect thrombotic tendency in recipients of COVID-19 vaccine. These devices will have broader applications to other thrombotic diseases, such as thrombosis of the veins in the brain.

Grand Challenge lead: Dr Arnold Ju, Dr Freda Passam

PhD students: Fengtao Jiang, Yingqi (Kaitlyn) Zhang, Alexander Dupuy, Jessica Tieng

Research Fellow: Hongxu Lu

Clinical neurologist: Timothy Ang


McGahey Matilda

Project Communications Officer

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