Three up-and-coming University of Southern Queensland researchers have been awarded Advance Queensland fellowships to fund cutting-edge technologies and innovative solutions to world problems.

Queensland Minister for Tourism, Innovation and Sport Stirling Hinchliffe MP announced successful recipients of the Industry Research Fellowships program, including $760,000 between Dr Xujuan Zhou, Dr Omar Alajarmeh and Dr Wahid Ferdous.

University of Southern Queensland Vice-Chancellor Professor Geraldine Mackenzie congratulated the researchers on their success and promising collaborations. “The Advance Queensland Industry Research Fellowships support researchers partnering with industry to have a meaningful impact on the state,” Professor Mackenzie said. “We are proud of our history and ongoing commitment to partner with industry leaders to drive research in real-world environments.”

Dr Zhou, an information systems researcher from the University’s School of Business, received a mid-career fellowship of $360,000 to be used over three years for the early detection of chronic health conditions using an artificial intelligence (AI) prediction model. She will work with the Goondir Health Services to help streamline health care to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in Oakey, Dalby, St George and Chinchilla.

“Chronic diseases cause 64 per cent of the total disease burden among First Nations peoples and patient data such as sugar level, blood pressure and oxygen saturation are crucial for health management purposes,” Dr Zhou said. “Goondir’s current analysis of this data is manual and can delay the identification of the need for support services or potential hospitalisations. We aim to use cutting-edge AI algorithms to implement an automated prediction system that would identify when a patient requires hospitalisation or if they need support to avoid hospitalisation.”

Dr Omar Alajarmeh from the University’s Centre for Future Materials was awarded a $240,000 early-career fellowship to develop new generation and climate resilient protective precast concrete seawall infrastructure. “By 2100, the sea level will rise by 1.1m in Australia threatening more than $71 billion worth of Queensland assets due to inland flooding, inundation and erosion hazards,” Dr Alajarmeh said.

“New, strong, durable, cost-effective and environmentally friendly novel solutions are needed to protect this infrastructure and build the resilience of communities to natural disasters. We’ll investigate design optimisation, manufacturing methods and effective combinations of concrete and non-corrosive composite reinforcing systems.” The project will be delivered through a long-standing partnership between Sunshine Coast Regional Council, Gold Coast City Council and Beyond Materials Group Pty Ltd.

Dr Wahid Ferdous, also from the Centre for Future Materials, received a $160,000 early-career fellowship to investigate sustainable railway infrastructure with Austrak Pty Ltd. “This project will combine landfill waste plastics with fibre composites to manufacture a new railway sleeper, providing a cost-effective replacement to more than 2.4 million deteriorating timber sleepers in rail track,” Dr Ferdous said.

“Our state generates around half a million tonnes of plastics each year, from which about 90 per cent are disposed of in either licensed or unlicensed landfills at significant cost. This project will add value to landfill wastes by converting them into construction materials and using them to manufacture sustainable railway sleepers that will transition Queensland towards less carbon emission and a more circular economy.”

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