Innovation Gets the Grants for Southern Cross University

Published 3 June 2003

Southern Cross University (SCU) has confirmed its position in the ranks of Australia’s leading research and innovation centres with the announcement of another $1.4 million in funding from the latest round of Australian Research College (ARC) Linkage grants.

The four SCU projects funded by the ARC in this round involve research into timber, early intervention education, and the development of a database system to improve the analysis of health statistics and delivery of health services in NSW.

The ARC linkage scheme encourages industry partnerships, so scheme grants come with additional industry cash.

SCU's Director of the Centre for Plant Conservation and Genetics, Professor
Robert Henry has been granted $512,000 – including $150,000 from the Queensland Department of Primary Industry – to look at improving the wood quality of spotted gum, a priority hardwood eucalypt for Northern Australia. The spotted gum is expected to be widely planted in timber plantations of the future.

Eucalypts are one of the world's top sources of hardwood saw and pulp logs. The aim of this project is to be able to analyse the DNA of seedlings to determine if they will be fast timber yielders early in life and to provide a model for accelerated tree improvement for wood quality. The plan is to plant timbers whose yield will be good quality wood in as short a time as possible, and to be able to determine this from seedling stage. The spotted gum is a robust eucalypt that shows potential for flourishing in the sorts of marginal soils that will be available for forestry in the future as the high rainfall, coastal areas become less available for timber plantations.

Professor Jerry Vanclay from SCU's School of Environmental Science and Management has secured $84,099 to research the effects and benefits of mixed species timber plantations - $15,000 is funding from the Queensland Forestry Research Institute. The assumption that mixtures are better than monocultures has been the thesis of SCU PhD student Mila Bristow, who's been writing part-time while working with Forestry Queensland. This grant will allow her to work full time testing her theory.

Using data from experiments and community plantings, Mila will be investigating the best species to grow in degraded land. If mixed species fare better than single species plantations, this will have flow-on benefits for farmers and wildlife. Studies show that wildlife is more varied and abundant in mixed species, and that these plantations may have higher timber yield.

Associate Professor Bob Wright from the School of Education has been granted $382,368 – including $172,368 from the Catholic Education Office - to research numeracy in low-achieving 3rd and 4th grade schoolchildren. Australia has pioneered the development of intervention programs in the early years of school but there are virtually no established intervention programs in the Years 3-6 range. Significant numbers of students finish primary school without successfully learning basic arithmetic. These students have little chance of catching up this learning during the
secondary school years and of becoming numerate adults. Prof Wright's project involves the use of innovative methodologies and collaboration with teachers to research and develop successful intervention programs.

Professor John Beard is the Director of the University Department of Rural Health, a joint project between the University of Sydney and SCU to establish medical training centres outside of major metropolitan areas. Prof Beard has been given $435,000 by the ARC, the Department of Environmental Health, the Northern Rivers Area Health Service and the NSW Department of Health to set up a database to bring together environmental, health and socio-demographic data collected around Australia. To date, it has been difficult to link separate databases and investigate possible associations between the different parameters within them.

The project will investigate associations between environmental and social factors and childhood leukaemia, deliberate self-harm and adverse birth outcomes. The intention is to improve the quality of public health surveillance and research in NSW. It will also enable more detailed analysis of the effects of environmental exposures on health, using routine data.

FURTHER INFORMATION: Kath Duncan 02 66203144