Cultivating bacteria that break down industrial toxins in contaminated groundwater has won researchers the 2012 UNSW Innovation Award.

The team, led by Associate Professor Mike Manefield of the School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences, isolated three naturally occurring bacterial communities that live on industrial pollutants, including chloroform.

The bacteria were bred in beer barrels and injected into a Botany aquifer near Sydney airport that had been polluted by a former ICI chemical plant.  

Through a process known as bioremediation, Manefield and postdoctoral researchers Matthew Lee, Adrian Low and Joanna Koenig showed the bacteria's natural ability to degrade and clean up chlorinated solvents.

As well as the Botany project, the team is working on a polluted site in Deer Park, Melbourne. The research is being conducted in partnership with Orica, Dow Chemical and Microverse.

The annual Innovation Awards are organised by the University’s commercialisation company, New South Innovations (NSi), to recognise outstanding innovation conducted by UNSW staff and students. This year a total of seven research projects have been honoured:

  • Winners of the 2012 Student’s Innovation Award were Tanvir Rahman and Torsten Lehmann. They created the world’s first 10 bit cryogenic converter, which would be the core part of a Silicon quantum computer controller circuit.
  • Alex Metelerkamp won best new student invention for a device that calculates the distance travelled by a vehicle and automatically reports the information to a home base.
  • A team led by Professor Bill Walsh won best new staff invention for a device that helps bone integrate on a host bone surface.
  • Professor Jun Wang won the Advanced Innovation – Team category for work on the development of an innovative combined laser-waterjet manufacturing technology.
  • Associate Professor Francois Ladouceur led a team developing a new class of optical sensors that can be fitted to optical fibres and distributed over large areas to form sensor arrays.
  • Scientia Professor Veena Sahajwalla won the prize for Innovation Excellence for taking the polymer injection technology in green steel to international markets from concept to commercialisation within a decade.

Dr Kevin Cullen, chief executive officer of NSi, said the awards celebrate the integration between research excellence, outstanding creativity and the application of new knowledge.

“This is what universities do – stretch the limits of human knowledge and think of ways to put this new knowledge to work,” Dr Cullen said.

Media Contact: Frank Walker, UNSW Media Office, 0417 090 346