ON Prime: the Australian inventions CSIRO is helping take to market

The Newcastle invention CSIRO is helping take to market Newcastle University’s BiomarX team at the Australian Technology Park (from left): Mohammed Riazuddin, Kirsty Pringle and Sarah Delforce. Photo: Edwina Pickles
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The Adelaide University team developing the SapphireClock, with team leader Andre Luiten (right). Photo: Edwina Pickles

University of Technology, Sydney, Nos.E team (from left): Wentian Zhang, Maiken Ueland, Shari Forbes and Steven Su. Photo: Edwina Pickles

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123 – In five innovation labs across the country, CSIRO’s research accelerator program has had its first run-through.

Thirty-nine inventions have been tested during an eight-week intensive program that aims to prepare the research for commercial adoption. Eight of the teams worked out of the Australian Technology Park in Redfern.

“The program has been really valuable. I haven’t gone through the commercialisation process before,” said Dr Kirsty Pringle, lead researcher for the University of Newcastle BiomarX team.

Liza Noonan is executive manager of innovation at CSIRO. She said theON Prime programis a first step for publicly funded researchers to discover the different layers of organisation needed to develop what she called “market discovery skills”.

For some,she said, it can be difficult. “It’s very confronting to discover no one cares about your ideas,” she said. “What we are doing is empowering people to help themselves.”

The program is part of CSIRO’s innovation scheme, a component of a $20 million expansion toCSIRO’s Accelerator initiative.

Rethinking CSIRO as an “innovation catalyst” is very much part of chief executive Larry Marshall’s vision. In his emailed letter to staff in February, Dr Marshall said “ON is the wellspring that will drive change throughout our business”.

At the time, that email wascriticised as an attempt by a “self-aggrandising cowboy”to jettison CSIRO’s core mission to nurture independent science.

Since Greg Hunt became Science Minister, something of a mid-mission corrective has been issued.In September Mr Hunt saidthe CSIRO was “about pursuing pure publicgood research as a foundation stone for our knowledge and capabilities”.

It would be easy to be cynical of such research accelerator programs.Innovation has become such a buzzword that many people switch off when they hear it.

However, all teams Fairfax Media spoke to got a lot out of ON Prime. They described it a highly practical way to develop their ideas.

BiomarX: a non-invasive test for endometrial cancer Newcastle University’s BiomarX team at the Australian Technology Park (from left): Mohammed Riazuddin, Kirsty Pringle and Sarah Delforce. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Tests forendometrial cancer – the most common uterine malignancy- can be highly invasive. It often involves day surgery and, in some cases, general anaesthetic.Seven women are diagnosed daily in Australia.

Kirsty Pringleat the University of Newcastle said: “Our test detects a protein biomarkerin uterine fluid secreted by the cancer.” She said the process is no more invasive than a pap smear.

“We want detect the cancer earlier and reduce the number of women who need to undergo the more invasive test,” she said.

Dr Pringle said the ON Prime process helped them establish contacts for interviews with pathology labs, patients, industry and clinicians.

“It helped us develop the skills we need to make the next transition,” she said. Next step is to access more tissue samples – and attract the funding to further develop their work.

“We’ve tested 30 samples so far and the results have been better than we expected – but we need access to many more to further test our methods,” she said.

As well as the clinical assistance it would offer women, Dr Pringle said if their test would have huge benefits in terms of reducing costs to the healthcare system.

Nos.E: an electronic nose to detect illegal wildlife smuggling University of Technology, Sydney, Nos.E team (from left): Wentian Zhang, Maiken Ueland, Shari Forbes and Steven Su. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Theillegal wildlife trade is a driving forcepushing many animals towards extinction. Tiger bone, rhino horn and elephant tusks can reach high prices on the black market.

A chance moment in a laboratory sparked an idea in the mind ofProfessor ShariForbes, a forensic scientistat the University of Technology, Sydney.

“We were working with our partners at theAustralian Museum wildlife forensic lab,” Professor Forbes said. “While drilling rhino horn, we smelt something quite distinctive.”

She wondered if you could accurately identify samples based on those aromas. Their research has suggested you can.

She was put in touch withSteven Su in the UTS engineering department. Dr Su develops sensors and put his mind to detecting smells issued by illegally traded animal parts.

Nos.E was born. ProfessorForbes said they need to develop the test sensitivity, stability and selectivity. Her team is optimistic after the ON Prime process. They have developed a first prototype and can now progress to their next stage.

SapphireClock: high-precision built on synthetic sapphires The Adelaide University team developing the SapphireClock, with team leader Andre Luiten (right). Photo: Edwina Pickles

What does quantum computing, military radar and black-hole huntinghave in common? They all need accurate clocks.

Professor Andre Luiten’s team at the University of Adelaide has used the highly predictable crystalline structure of synthetically grown sapphires to produce “attosecondaccurate” clocks they say are 1000 times more stable than comparable devices.

“We thought these would be ideal for 5G communication systems, but through the ON Prime program we found our SapphireClock was more accurate than they needed,” Professor Luiten said.

He said the ON Prime process “forced us to interview the market, develop a business plan and a value proposition”.

“One of the uncomfortable parts of the process is that it forcesscientists to cold-call customers. That experience was really valuable,” he said.

They realised that the market for their clock includedcivilian and military radar systems, quantum computing laboratories and radio astronomers.

“All of these areas rely on the high coherence our clock delivers,” Professor Luiten said.

Other teams that have graduated from the first ON Prime program includea Macquarie University team developing nanoscale rubies to act as medical markers and a UNSW team using virtual reality to treat phobias.

2. Nos.E: an electronic nose to detect illegal wildlife smuggling

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