Since 2005 Australia has adopted a collaborative model and approach to national research infrastructure investment. This model has delivered excellent value for money for the Australian public as well as fostering a culture of academic to academic, and academic to business collaboration that is fundamental to Australia’s research and innovation system.
One of the key national research infrastructure facilities is the Australian National Fabrication Facility (ANFF). The ANFF was established to support the research and development of new nano-fabrication technologies and is providing Australian researchers and industry (particularly the manufacturing industry) with access to world-leading fabrication capabilities for research and development.
Head quartered at the Melbourne Centre for Nanofabrication, the ANFF currently consists of more than 500 instruments and is coordinated through a network of 8 ‘nodes’ that incorporate 19 universities across Australia.
Researchers at the ANFF work on the science of the very small – commonly working on a scale of nanometres (a millionth of a millimetre). At these scales materials have novel, enhanced properties. Generally this will involve the patterning or engineering of materials using highly specialised equipment to enable production of nanostructured materials, devices and prototypes that can be further developed for a range of practical applications.
3D-printed scaffolds for the regrowth of severed nerves, the manufacture of environmentally-friendly materials to clean up oil spills, and the development of an artificial photo-synthesis device that converts carbon dioxide into fuel are just some of the projects currently being carried out at the ANFF facilities.
One in-depth example of cutting edge research and development at the ANFF is work to automatically tint windows - a technology that could change architecture and the automotive industry.
The Materials Node of the ANFF, located at the University of Wollongong, has developed auto-tinting glass using scalable processes amenable to the fabrication of large window panes. This will one day allow high-rise building windows, car windscreens, or rear vision mirrors to adjust their tint according to the time of day or level of privacy with the flick of a switch.
The conductive polymer and electrolytic layers engineered can either be spray painted or printed directly onto a surface. This allows larger areas to be processed overcoming a major problem that has restricted other’s attempts at fabricating self-dimming windows to areas millimetres in size.
This work is the result of a successful ARC industry Linkage project that utilised the ANFF facilities and expertise. It has produced a disruptive technology that is expected to change the market for architectural glass, and automotive mirrors and windows and provides many new commercial opportunities for Australia’s manufacturing sector at a time when a great deal of structural change is taking place.
The national program for collaborative research infrastructure has provided Australia with a range of truly world-class research facilities. These facilities are now operating at a level of sophistication and complexity that allows for the globally competitive outcomes exemplified at the ANFF to be achieved. It is a great example of developing new technologies and processes with and for Australia’s future industries and coordinating pockets of excellence across Australia’s universities and research institutes in order to improve Australia’s future well-being.
Universities Australia understands that a collaborative model and approach to research infrastructure provides a cost-effective approach that delivers value to both investors and the beneficiaries of research outcomes. With the current national research infrastructure program ending in 2015, it is currently unclear how substantial, nationally significant research infrastructure projects are to be funded in the future.
Filling the need for a long-term, sustainable model for funding major research infrastructure projects is one of the most pressing issues to be addressed by government to support and grow a powerful research and innovation system for Australia.
Further information on the ANFF can be found at the following website: www.anff.org.au/