Six representatives from the UNSW Faculty of Engineering had the opportunity to attend the 5th Annual Pacific Islands Universities Research Network (PIURN) Conference in the Cook Islands from on 4-6 July, 2023.

The theme for the 2023 conference, 'exploring this sea of islands' engaged with the work of one of the Pacific's most revered academics, Epeli Hau'ofa. In his work ‘We are the Ocean’, Hau'ofa wrote of Oceania: 'Just as the sea is an open and ever flowing reality, so should our oceanic identity transcend all forms of insularity, to become one that is openly searching, inventive and welcoming.'

The interdisciplinary conference featured presentations on topics related to arts, architecture, education, politics, climate science, history, Pacific Studies, health, language revitalisation, oceanography and much more. From the UNSW Faculty of Engineering, the six attendees were Rita Henderson (Deputy Dean Societal Impact and Translation), Jayashree Arcot (School of Chemical Engineering), Jian Zhao (School of Chemical Engineering), Andrew Dansie (School of Civil and Environmental Engineering), and PhD Students Eleanor Earl (School of Civil and Environmental Engineering) and Edoardo Santagata (School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering). They were also joined by Daniel Robinson from the UNSW Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture.

Two UNSW attendees shared insights from their own research: Eleanor Earl led a session on nature-based solutions in water management and Andrew Dansie led a session on the food-energy-water nexus. Both of these sessions were held in partnership with Secretariat of the Pacific Community and University of the South Pacific, among others.

Eleanor Earl commented on the many benefits of participating, saying, “The conference enabled me to share learnings with other early career academics and those working in nature-based solutions related fields. It was great to be part of a diverse UNSW contingent.”

With over 200 attendees at the Rarotonga conference, the UNSW group was able to build new connections with researchers from across the Pacific Islands, to learn from their work and explore potential collaboration.

Rita Henderson said, “Attending PIURN 2023 provided an excellent opportunity to interact with leading Pacific institutions, building our networks in the region.

“It was also exciting to see the breadth of research being discussed, enabling us to better understand the priorities of the region.”