From ocean to operating table

Three minutes with innovators from IMPACT7.

Why did a brain surgeon, an engineer and a materials scientist visit an old meat marketplace?

To share how they’re making the world a better place and to seek help doing it, of course.

IMPACT7 was one of those events where — held in Melbourne’s Meat Market as a start — it was also running for the first time ever. It was unclear exactly what to expect.

Rachel Slattery from SlatteryIT, who hosted the event, told us that the event aimed to provide an opportunity to celebrate incredible solutions and also to offer a chance for people to connect to bring innovative ideas to life.

“As we received the incredible applications – we received almost 100 – from Australia’s top researchers and innovators, we realised that to tackle big problems you have to address discrete challenges,” she said.

Twenty-five innovators, many from Australia’s top universities, talked about their businesses and inventions in the categories of: innovative industries, security, environment, clean energy, food security, health and wellbeing. And there was a wildcard category, which gave the audience insight into an online marketplace, an indigenous wellbeing framework and a power generator for nano-satellites.

In the mix we heard about robots that help conduct brain surgery, of undetectable radar systems, smart textiles that can report on mining leaks, geothermal energy, zapping fruit flies with microwaves, a high-speed rail project, and wafer-thin wearable electronics.

This wasn’t one-way communication though. After the three-minute pitches were done in each category, impact leaders—such as Amanda Caples (Victoria’s Lead Scientist), Petra Andren (CEO of Cicada Innovations), Geoff Gourley (Founder of One10) and Sarah Pearson (Pro Vice Chancellor or University of Newcastle)—asked pertinent questions like:

What is your business model?

How can you bring more sizzle in how you market so homeowners want your product?

Who is your target customer?

We’ve heard great ideas here but why are you doing this?

That last question was my favourite because by answering it, the researcher gave the audience a further glimpse of their passion and drive.

Saving 100,000 lives a year with oxytocin

This statistic is astounding: every year 100,000 women bleed excessively after childbirth and die. Oxytocin can prevent postpartum haemorrhage but the drug is currently only available as an injection that must be kept refrigerated; women in the poorest countries often miss out.

Dr Michelle McIntosh, from Monash University, gave me goosebumps in her pitch. She explained her team has been developing a dried oxytocin powder, which can be inhaled. And amazingly, the new version should cost about the same to produce as the current medication that needs to be kept cold 100% of the time.

Coral reefs mapped in three dimensions

The 3D Reefs project at University of Sydney is tying together advanced imaging technology and science engagement. By mapping the Great Barrier Reef in three dimensions, the scientists can better understand changes over time. They can also 3D-print replacement reef structures, to replace the non-living parts of reefs that have been destroyed. The opportunities from this 3D-modelling extend to citizen science and engaging people with augmented reality.

Associate Professor Figueira’s project struck a chord with the audience as he talked about the massive coral bleaching effects of recent years.

“Two-thirds of a 700 kilometre stretch of reef near Port Douglas was killed by one bleaching event in 2016 and we don’t know yet what this year’s heat events will cause,” he said.

While he doesn’t like the boiling down of ecosystems to dollar values, he sees the benefit in this approach to raise awareness about protecting the Great Barrier Reef. (Deloitte Access Economics recent valued the Great Barrier Reef at $56 billion.)

Taking the disease out of mosquito bites

Mosquito-borne diseases account for millions of deaths each year. Perran Ross, a PhD candidate from University of Melbourne, found that a common bacteria species found in 50% of the insect population could be introduced to mosquitos to stop the transmission of viruses like dengue and zika. While the Wolbachia bacteria naturally occurs in insects (including some breeds of mosquitos), it strangely doesn’t occur in the mosquitos that pass on disease.

If this sustainable, chemical-free approach does work will wearing insect repellant become a thing of the past? According to Perran, “No, they’ll still bite you but they won’t give you dengue.”

Read more about Impact7 at and on this Storify story.

– Claire Harris

Claire Harris is passionate about innovation and the people that spark it. She helps scientists and engineers—especially in agriculture, environment and health—to communicate why they do what they do and their impact on the world.

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