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Projects helping reduce stress among emergency services staff, improve communication in courtrooms for non-English speakers, increase equality in early childhood education and enhance the way Australian conservation agencies implement fires have successfully secured funding in the latest round of Australian Research Council (ARC) grant awards.

Eight UNSW projects received $3.3 million in the latest round of the ARC Linkage Project scheme announced Friday by Minister for Education Dan Tehan.

Scientia Professor Richard Bryant from the School of Psychology was awarded $664,511 to investigate the impact of stress on emergency service staff. This project aims to improve productivity and reduce compensation costs by evaluating a program that reduces stress reactions, such as absenteeism and lost productivity.

“The project plans to deliver a more effective strategy of reducing stress reactions in emergency service personnel, and to reduce the human and economic costs of psychological injuries suffered by 10% of these workers,” said Professor Bryant.

An individual program will be administered to 120 police, firefighters, and paramedics in NSW who have difficulty maintaining their work duties because of stress reactions.

Dr Jennifer Skattebol, from UNSW’s Social Policy Research Centre, is lead researcher on a project awarded $399,000 that will investigate engagement in early childhood education. It will look at the inequalities in children’s participation in high-quality early childhood education.

Dr Skattebol said high-quality early childhood education and care can support children from disadvantaged backgrounds have better school and health outcomes, but many of the children who can benefit the most are missing out.

“This research begins with an exploration of the everyday lives of families most disadvantaged by the current system and documents families’ assets and challenges. It will then explore how exemplary services best respond to the resources and circumstances of these children. A strong Indigenous focus will contribute to researcher training and knowledge.”

Proven success

In another successful project granted $252,000, Associate Professor Ludmila Stern from Arts and Social Sciences will examine the ways judicial officers can improve courtroom communication and prevent miscommunication and error, particularly in criminal cases where speakers of the 'new and emerging' and Aboriginal languages are involved, and where interpreters receive limited training.

“The project will help improve access to justice in courts and, hopefully, wider multicultural society, raise awareness of interpretation users about their own responsibility for quality interpreted communication, and prevent unnecessary delays in legal matters, appeals and even miscarriage of justice,” said Professor Stern.

Other successful projects were:

  • Scientia Professor David Waite from Engineering is leading a $459,000 project to help coal mine workers by examining the role between coal mine dust and its capacity to produce reactive oxygen. The rise of occupational lung diseases in recent years has revealed a major knowledge gap in the area of respirable particle reactivity. These findings will be used to develop screening protocols and new monitoring / mitigation strategies.
  • Dr Guozhen Liu, also from Engineering, will address the scientific challenge of real-time monitoring of biological changes in the secretions found in sweat. With a grant of $475,000, the project will help improve Australia's standing in technology around wearable devices and its global competitive edge with economic and scientific impact.
  • Dr Mark Ooi from Science was awarded $453,000 to investigate how fire seasons, arguably one of the biggest changes brought about by fire management, can impact ecosystems and the persistence of threatened species. The project aims to enhance capacity of Australian conservation agencies to effectively implement fires while maintaining biodiversity values.
  • Dr Richard Edwards from Science was awarded $374,000 to research the optimisation of plant populations for ecological restoration and resilience. He will focus on two Australian rainforest trees that are being impacted by myrtle rust infection: rhodamnia argentea and rhodamnia rubescens.
  • Emeritus Professor Robert Randall from Engineering was awarded $194,546 to study new vibration-based techniques to improve the detection and diagnosis of faults in aero engine bearings from in-flight measurements. This will provide benefits in other sectors such as mining, transportation, energy production and manufacturing.

Professor Nicholas Fisk, UNSW Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research, congratulated the University’s researchers for successfully receiving funding for their projects that will tackle a multitude of community and environmental issues.

“This funding will support our highly talented academics in solving, in concert with industry, a diverse range of problems both locally and around the world,” Professor Fisk said.

The projects were part of the federal government’s announcement of $28.7M in total in ARC Linkage Projects funding for 66 projects. The ARC Linkage Project scheme brings together higher education and industry to conduct research into pressing issues affecting Australians.