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Research village taking shape

IN the back blocks of Canning Vale, where Perth’s urban sprawl gives way to small farm lots, a group of scientists is creating a unique research and development centre.

Led by Professor Roger Dawkins, the CY O’Connor ERADE Village is starting to take shape.

With financial backing from private benefactors, including Stan Perron, and the Federal Government, the developers of the village are close to completing premises for 28 research incubators.

The name ERADE reflects the village’s aim to link continuing education, efficient research and development and independent employment.

Professor Dawkins’ vision is to provide a home for young, innovative scientists who don’t fit into Western Australia’s existing institutions.

He also aims to tackle Australia’s perennial failure to promote and exploit scientific discoveries.

“This failure is sometimes said to be due to lack of venture capital and expertise in commercialisation, but I argue the problem is more to do with maintaining and attracting a cohort of scientists at the critical age and stage where discoveries are taken forward,” Professor Dawkins said.

“Most great things are done by the age of 30 to 35.

“You need to deal with young inventive people.”

The master plan for the village, being built on land owned by the Dawkins family, includes the development by Stockland Trust of shops, recreational facilities and accommodation on adjoining land to make it a more attractive destination.

Professor Dawkins’ planning was informed by feedback from many post-doctoral students who have left Perth to pursue their careers.

“Their answers were surprising,” he said.  “They found Perth too slow, too cowboy and too fragmented.

“It was basically a boring place to do R&D.”

There was also a perception that universities, big companies and government agencies were stifling.

“They are not responsive to the dreams of young people,” he said.

Professor Dawkins said part of the problem was the rigid and bureaucratic approach to managing intellectual property or setting up research collaborations.

He also echoed other commentators who believe other States have been more effective in tackling such matters.

“Queensland used to be the worst but now it’s the best,” Professor Dawkins said.

Collaborators on the ERADE Village have included former Orbital Engine Corporation chief executive Kim Schlunke, who now works with Matilda Products, a venture capital business established by Orbital founder Ralph Sarich.

The village will provide a new home for veteran innovator Dr Peter Keating, whose 1980s company Biotech International was one of the early tenants at Bentley’s Technology Park and one of the first biotech floats on the Australian Stock Exchange.

His private business, Bioscience, which focuses on plant biotechnology, including for horticultural producers, will be relocating to the village.

Professor Dawkins said the village would adopt a multidisciplinary approach and encourage interaction.

“We haven’t got a fixed agenda,” he said. “The real opportunities are between the major disciplines.”

He expects the village will attract researchers in fields such as bioscience, environmental management, engineering, information technology and genomics.

He said a range of clients would be moving into the village once construction of the incubators, costing a total of $2.5 million, was completed. The village will offer live-in facilities for researchers, as well as laboratory, computing and other support services.

The site of the village has housed research laboratories since 1997.

It is currently home to the Centre for Molecular Immunology and Instrumentation, a joint venture between the Immunogenetics Research Foundation and the University of WA.

 

A CENTRE of excellence in water research is the first major initiative of the CY O’Connor ERADE Village.

The project brings together scientists, property developers, engineers and policy makers, illustrating the multidisciplinary approach the village plans to adopt.

Bioscience managing director Dr Peter Keating told a seminar at ERADE Village on Friday that changes are needed in the way water science is applied to urban development.

“It’s frustrating to see the disparity between scientific understanding and public policy,” Dr Keating said.

The water centre will focus on improving the collection and use of rainwater in urban settings.

“We must reduce our use of water, and that has to include recycling and reuse,” Dr Keating said, adding that current health regulations did not facilitate achieving this objective.

“We need to use science that demonstrate that rainwater is safe.”

Specific projects the water centre plans to pursue include the development of a water-wise house in partnership with property developer Stockland Trust.

It is also seeking to integrate water storage into urban design, given the lack of space in small residential lots for traditional rainwater tanks.

The centre is also aiming to develop analytical tools to help detect pollutants in water, improve water use efficiency in vegetable production and study the microbial ecology of groundwater to help deal with polluted run-off from industrial sites.

Jos Mensik, project director in the Department of Premier and Cabinet, told the seminar that increased reuse of reclaimed water was one element of the State Government’s water strategy.

The strategy also provides for new research, including on the use of greywater.

Participants in ERADE’s water centre include Dr Keating’s company Bioscience, scientific instrument manufacturer Bruker Daltonics, Stockland Trust, the University of Newcastle and consulting engineers Parsons Brinkerhoff.

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