Our research is centred on providing meaningful contributions on a global scale. As the University engages with its Strategic Plan for 2020-2025, we reflect on our research successes and look to the future.
We were ranked in the top 100 universities worldwide (QS and Academic Ranking of World Universities) again in 2019, a feat we first achieved in 2012 for ARWU and have maintained each year since. In 2019, the Australian Research Council (ARC)’s Excellence in Research for Australia outcomes were announced, with seven broad areas rated as well above world standard – an increase from the previous round. UWA was also rated high for impact in 14 out of 22 disciplines in the inaugural ARC Engagement and Impact assessment, which examines the translation of research into tangible benefits for society.
In 2019, a UWA team won the WA Innovator of the Year Award in the Rio Tinto Emerging Innovation category with a mechanical weed chipper which serves as a ground-breaking alternative to the use of herbicides for weed management in large-scale cropping operations. Also in the agriculture space, a UWA-based global team is determining strategies for managing agricultural land under climate change – an extension of the Future Farm 2050 Project, which was launched in 2010 and today continues to undertake multidisciplinary research into sustainable farming systems.
The first of the Forrest Scholars submitted his doctoral thesis, which will help us better understand the rich plant biodiversity of Western Australia. The scholar will remain in Perth, boosting the research capacity of the State. This is one of many great outcomes since the Forrest Foundation was launched in 2013 with the aim of encouraging acclaimed scholars and fellows to bring new and exciting research to the Western Australia.
The Einstein-First project received an ARC grant to teach and research physics education in primary schools. Physics has a strong tradition at UWA. In 2014 and 2015, the Gravitational Wave Discovery team played a major role in the momentous discovery of gravitational waves. Their findings marked the birth of gravitational wave astronomy, and the group continues to be at the centre of gravitational wave research.
We secured significant funding for new research infrastructure, including expansion of various national collaborative infrastructure capabilities, including nanofabrication, ocean sensing, proteomics and metabolomics and microscopy, enhanced by increased partnerships and significant co-investment from the WA State Government. This builds upon our ongoing co-investment in infrastructure, including the installation in 2016 of the largest centrifuge in the southern hemisphere for world-leading geotechnical and modelling research, including with industry partners.
We signed an agreement with Rio Tinto to study, protect and preserve the Indigenous rock art on the North West Shelf, and to ensure ongoing collaboration with the local communities. This follows on from 2017, when a UWA Archaeology team published a paper on the earliest evidence of human occupation in Australia, with a settlement on the North West Shelf dated from 50,000 years ago.
Associate Professor Tanya Dalziell was awarded the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for non fiction; Emeritus Professor Cheryl Praeger won the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science; and Senior Lecturer James Ledger won an Australian Recording Industry Award for Best Classical Album.
UWA researchers contributed to knowledge across diverse research areas. Notable examples include studies of genome evolution in green plants, the global risk to sharks by fisheries, and termite activity in a changing climate. DNA Zoo Australia was launched, part of a collaborative global initiative using high-quality genomics to assist conservation of biodiversity. Our crop scientists were awarded projects to develop solutions for a range of food production issues, including coping with droughts and improved nutritional value, the outcomes of which will benefit not only Australia, but also the rest of the world.
Aligned with the UWA 2030 vision, the UWA Library began the development of a centralised service to support digitisation of cultural collections and research materials. This work has included the development of guidelines for projects involving Indigenous materials, digitisation and data management standards, and procurement of a digital asset management and discovery system. It will include the digitisation of the Cruthers Collection of Women’s Art.
As we look to the next decade, our mission is to remain an internationally connected research intensive university, actively supported by and supportive of our stakeholders and community. Knowledge-led discovery will remain central to our future, underpinning our economic and social impact. We commit to open and accessible research – our results and data will be trustworthy; our researchers will operate with the highest ethical standards; we will continue to develop and share our state-of-the art research infrastructure; and we will cultivate our active networks of key partners in the public and private sectors. This strategy builds on a strong, mature, and broad discipline base, and will take advantage of the strategic opportunities provided by our high quality students, staff, location, history, and our many strong partnerships.
Professor Robyn Owens