Opening windows to the Universe and Australia's origins

Thursday, 8 September 2016

The University of Adelaide will be part of two new multi-million centres, announced by the Australian Government today, that will open windows to the Universe and to Australia’s distant past.

A seven-year, $45.7 million centre will investigate the beginning of Australia's unique biodiversity and Indigenous heritage, while inspiring Australian children to engage with science.

And another $31.3 million centre will build upon this year’s gravitational wave discovery to develop new ways to understand the Universe.

The Australia Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage will bring together 20 institutions and museums worldwide to unlock the history of Australia, Papua New Guinea and eastern Indonesian from 130,000 years ago until the time of European arrival.

This Centre is the first of its kind in the world, and will encourage budding young scientists through a unique outreach program at schools and museums throughout Australia, by focusing on nurturing the careers of Indigenous and female researchers.

The Centre will be led by University of Wollongong, in collaboration with the University of Adelaide, James Cook University, the University of New South Wales, the Australian National University, Monash University and the University of Tasmania – together with leading organisations in public education and engagement, including the Australian Museum, Queensland Museum, South Australian Museum and the State Library of New South Wales.

The University of Adelaide will receive more than $5 million, with three of its researchers leading key research areas: ARC Laureate and Director of the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA Professor Alan Cooper; Sir Hubert Wilkins Chair of Climate Change Professor Corey Bradshaw; and ARC DECRA Fellow Dr Laura Weyrich.

This new centre will uncover insights from archaeology, palaeoanthropology, genetics, ecology, Earth sciences and climate science, and will transform our knowledge of past environments and human activities in Australia and the neighbouring regions to our north, which were joined to Australia by a land bridge for most of the last 130,000 years.

“Australia’s Indigenous peoples have a unique genetic and cultural history that extends for millennia, yet we are still exploring how the past has impacted Australia Indigenous heritage and biodiversity,” says Professor Cooper. “Australia boasts an array of fauna and flora that is unique on this Earth but is under considerable threat. We need to understand its past before we can predict its future.

“Everyone involved is excited to lead research that is so vital to understanding Australia’s past and explore how the continent and its connection with people, animals, and climate have adapted and changed through time.”

The ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery, led by the Swinburne University of Technology in collaboration with University Monash University, Australian National University, the University of Melbourne, the University of Western Australia, CSIRO, the Australian Astronomical Observatory and international partners, will build on the recent discovery of gravitational waves to develop the new field of gravitational astrophysics.

The University of Adelaide will receive about $3.4 million, with two of its researchers helping improve the sensitivity of detectors and develop new ways to interrogate the data and to use the information to understand the Universe.

The University’s two chief investigators are Associate Professor Peter Veitch, Head of Physics at the University of Adelaide, and Associate Professor David Ottaway, also from the School of Physical Sciences.

“We will focus on improving the sensitivity of the world-leading Advanced LIGO detectors, and developing advanced high-power lasers and optical instrumentation for the next generation of gravitational wave detectors,” says Associate Professor Veitch.

“We will be helping develop multi-messenger gravitational astronomy, combining observations from gravitational wave detectors and the other astronomical telescopes to produce an overall sense of astronomical objects.

“In this way we expect to be able to provide rich insights into the birth, life and death of stars and galaxies.”


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