A $47 million purpose-built research facility – believed to be the only one of its kind in the world that will take new materials research breakthroughs all the way to the commercialisation stage – was officially opened at Fairy Meadow today.
The Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research, Senator Chris Evans, performed the official opening of the Australian Institute for Innovative Materials (AIIM) Processing and Devices facility based at the University of Wollongong’s Innovation Campus.
The new building, chiefly funded through a $43.8m grant from the Federal Government’s Education Investment Fund as part of the Nation-building Economics Stimulus Plan, has been constructed as an extension to the existing AIIM Building. It accommodates about 150 staff and students including chemists, engineers, physicists, biologists and materials scientists. AIIM is home to UOW’s flagship research groups – the Intelligent Polymer Research Institute and Institute for Superconducting and Electronic Materials – which are the lead node of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science and the newly-formed UOW Electron Microscopy Centre.
Applications for the advanced materials being developed by researchers located within AIIM include:
• Bionic implants such as conduits for spinal cord repair and muscle regeneration
• Solar energy conversion such as solar cells and water splitting
• Energy storage systems for electric vehicles and renewable energy applications
• Superconducting and electronic materials for medical devices, energy generation and transmission
“It’s a unique facility which will see UOW extend its world-class research capabilities,” Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Wellings said.
“It is a multi-functional research facility that will bridge the gap between research breakthroughs, prototyping and commercialisation,” he said.
Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Judy Raper said there were currently no facilities available in Australia to produce multi-functional materials at the scale and quantity required to bridge that “valley of death” to commercialisation.
“The University of Wollongong is a recognised world leader in multi-functional materials research and this facility will also help us become a world leader in their application, fabrication and commercialisation,” she said.
“Currently, no university in Australia is making this link and industry is typically reluctant to invest in further development or application until there is demonstrated proof-of-concept with clearly defined and cost effective materials processing and device fabrication. The building enables us to research the fabrication techniques as well as develop the materials,” Professor Raper said.
The new building also includes a purpose-built electron microscope facility. It is located within a delicate award-winning timber structure which holds some of Australia’s most powerful microscopes. The building’s structural elements had to be non-ferrous so as not to interfere with the sensitive microscopes that are housed in airtight acoustic chambers with no natural light.