Director's Report September 2020

1 Sep 2020
Professor Zhiguo Yuan AM

I’m sure everyone is quite tired of hearing about COVID-19 and the changes businesses have been making, but here at least is some good news. I am incredibly proud of the way the AWMC staff and students have demonstrated resilience throughout this pandemic. In terms of morale, research and teaching performance and smooth operation, the whole team has worked tirelessly to keep the Centre moving forward. It hasn’t always been easy, the social isolation has been very hard to deal with for many, but the team has worked very hard to make sure staff, students and project partners are being kept up to date on projects and other work. Some people, myself included, have found working from home to be a welcome change, and going forward we will endeavour to keep this flexibility in place for all who want to utilise it. My sincere thanks to the whole team for the fantastic work that has happened over the past six months. 

The postgraduate programs in Urban Water Engineering have seen an increase in enrolments both in semester 1 and semester 2 of 2020. Despite the Covid-19 restrictions to face-to-face teaching and the closure of borders, the Urban Water programs were able to secure 22 new enrolments, the great majority into the two-year Master of Engineering. All courses have also had additional enrolments from out-of-the-program students, which shows the interest and necessity for these new courses at UQ. 

The success of the program was further confirmed by the excellent teaching evaluations and students’ feedback received about the performance during semester 1, despite the rapid changes required in adaptation to the Covid-19 lockdown. Semester 2 is now in progress with a dual delivery mode, where the external offering has been quite well received by students, allowing 9 of the 11 new students to start the program remotely while still unable to travel into the country. Well done Gilda and the teaching and learning team! 

We have further funding successes to report. We’ve been awarded three linkage grants for: Sewer corrosion reduction through model-supported ventilation control, Understanding Australia by analysing wastewater during the Census 2021, and Sustainable water reuse and resource recovery through cost-effective BNR. 

We also gained an Advanced Queensland Research Fellow, Dr Ji Liu was awarded an $180,000 grant for his project assessing COVID-19 in urban water systems. We are also waiting on the outcomes of several ARC applications and are working on a major collaborative endeavour, a Centre of Excellence. 

Building new ways to expand the reach and impact of AWMC research, we led a consortium bid for the Sustainable Communities and Waste Hub, one of four proposed Hubs in the second round of the $149M National Environmental Science Program (NESP2). With $20M in federal government funding over seven years, matched by partner contributions, the Hub brings together multidisciplinary expertise from six university partners and 30+ industry/government partners across the nation to deliver cross-cutting research. To assemble a major initiative like this was a logistical feat especially during peak COVID-19 restrictions; a testament to the enthusiasm and commitment of all partners in this innovative program, which will enable decision-makers and communities to improve the liveability and sustainability of local environments. Using co-designed research in partnership with stakeholders, including Indigenous communities, the Hub will deliver critical strategies and advice to reduce the impact of waste and pollutants on the environment, communities and the economy. The outcome of the bid will be announced later this month. 

We have also moved our weekly Friday seminar series online to become the AWMC Webinars. This has proven to be very popular both internally and externally. We had a very sobering talk from University of Sydney's Prof Manfred Lenzen just last week, on affluence and equity in the context of climate change. This webinar, and others can be viewed on our website and are free to all. We welcome you to join us online for these webinars.