Research Edge

July 2016 - Issue 10
Sowing the seed for improved farming techniques

Sowing the seed for improved farming techniques

Traditionally broad acre grain farming has been based around intensive tillage to prepare seedbeds and control weeds, pests and diseases. Over the last thirty years there has been a gradual adoption of conservation farming systems which aim to minimise soil disturbance, maintain surface residues and stimulate biological activity in the soil by actively rotating crop selections.

Narrow point furrow openers are used in these conservation farming systems to open furrow, allowing seed and fertiliser to be placed in the soil. However, there is limited performance with narrow point furrow openers due to excessive soil disturbance. This is typically managed by limiting the speed of seeding machinery to 6-9 km/h, which in turn limits work-rate, timeliness of sowing and increases labour cost. Low operating speeds push farmers to purchase wider seeding machinery, increasing the cost of the machine, the required tractor power to pull it, as well as reducing the road transportability.

PhD candidate James Barr of the School of Engineering is investigating how to reduce soil disturbance of narrow point furrow openers with the aid of computer modelling techniques and field trials, therein optimising the performance and increasing the acceptable operating speeds of narrow point seeders. His research is being supported by the Grains Research and Development Corporation and the South Australian Grains Industry Trust.

Field trials conducted at Roseworthy (2014), Geranium (2015) and Loxton (2016) showed the potential of a new bentleg furrow opener to reduce soil disturbance. Two bentleg designs were compared to a typical straight furrow opener commonly used by farmers.

“During the trial one bentleg opener design was able to operate at twice the current operating speed (16 km/h) while causing less soil disturbance of a standard straight opener currently used by farmers at 8km/h.”

“However, the second bentleg design which performed well at 8km/h showed a rapid increase in soil disturbance as speed increased to 16km/h.”

“The results highlight the potential for higher speed operation in conservation farming seeding systems, but also the need to understand the effect of different bentleg furrow opener design parameters on the resulting soil disturbance.”

To aid furrow opener design computer modelling techniques are also being developed. Previous research has investigated analytical, empirical, and continuum methods to model soil-tool interactions. However, none are suitable for modelling the flow and mixing characteristics of soil.

James is using the Discrete Element Method (DEM) to model soil disturbance. DEM models the bulk characteristics of soil using a series of small particles, calculating the contact interactions based on a range of parameters calibrated for the soil type being investigated.

“The initial results are showing good correlation with previous laboratory results, but the model is yet to be formally validated.”

“When validated, the model will enable a range of furrow opener design parameters to be evaluated over a range of operating speeds.”

“The evaluated design parameters can then be presented in a set of design guidelines, enabling technology transfer to the industry.”

It is no surprise that James is pursuing research relevant to the agriculture industry, having been close to farming from a young age.

“I’ve always had an interest in agriculture, growing up on a farm near Mallala (approximately 80km north of Adelaide).”

“Undergraduate work experience at UniSA’s Agricultural Machinery Research and Design Centre sparked my interest in research, leading to an honours project, work as a research assistant and eventually a PhD.”

“My PhD topic is particularly interesting as it has both modelling and field components to it, allowing a broad range of skills to be developed. Furthermore, under the supervision of agricultural research engineering experts Dr Jack Desbiolles and Prof John Fielke the project has potential to provide a good outcome to growers.”

James plans to continue in the agricultural machinery research area, once he has finished his PhD.

Shortly he will be travelling to the United States to present his findings at the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE) conference. While in the US he will also be visiting Iowa State University, the National Soil Dynamics Laboratory and John Deere factories to further enhance his research.

To learn more about how James’ research can potentially benefit the agriculture industry watch this YouTube video

Seeking out help in ill mental health

Seeking out help in ill mental health

Given only a minority of young people seek out help from professional services when they experience ill-mental health (only 33% per cent for young women and less than 15 per cent for young men), it is important to gain a better understanding of how to support young people to seek help early, before symptoms become worse or persist into later life.

PhD candidate Alexander Stretton of the School of Education has been investigating help-seeking by young adults (aged 16-24) in response to ill-mental health. His research, using mixed methods, has utilised a social marketing behavioural change model to investigate a number of established and novel variables involved in the help-seeking process. Of key interest were how symptom attributions can affect help-seeking decisions.

“I have looked at how individuals perceive and attribute causes to symptoms, and how these attributions help or hinder help-seeking in response to ill-mental health.

“In addition to personal factors I have also looked at the role of peers and family in symptom attributions, along with how peers and family may influence, positively or negatively, help-seeking decisions.”

“One interesting finding from my quantitative study was that the way in which an individual attributes causes to symptoms may buffer against certain barriers to help-seeking behaviours. This was particularly evident in those with elevated levels of psychological distress”.

“I am hoping this finding, along with others, can assist in developing more sophisticated education and help-seeking interventions for young people that aim to promote positive responses to emerging mental health symptoms.”

Alex’s interest in research originated in an entirely different field, until a volunteering opportunity turned his attention to mental health.

“I started out my research ‘career’ investigating pro-environmental behaviour change in response to climate change, a completely different field, but one I am also passionate about.”

“I think I gravitated toward mental health research as a result of my time volunteering with Lifeline. You really get a sense of the unmet need in the community for mental health services. Many of the callers had been suffering for years, which is why I am focussed on early intervention in the younger years to help prevent chronic mental health issues.”

“I think research is a rewarding space to be in, particularly because it affords so many opportunities to collaborate and learn from other experienced and dedicated scholars. I love how each person can bring certain skills to the table and work in a team to further knowledge. I’ve had fantastic opportunities to work in diverse research areas, guided by my wonderful supervisors Dr Barbara Spears, Dr Carmel Taddeo and Professor Judy Drennan, and this means you are always being challenged, which is perfect for me!”

“I’d love to continue researching in some capacity. My PhD was funded by the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) which has afforded me great opportunity to work not only within a university but also with service stakeholders, non-profits, community groups and diverse research institutions.

“I think this has given me a good perspective of where I can place my research. I’d love to explore research opportunities that have a strong focus on producing new knowledge but also an interest in influencing policy and legal frameworks for positive community outcomes.”

Alex’s interest in looking out for others isn’t restricted solely to his research either– he also started up a Facebook page for other PhD students in Adelaide.

“Being a PhD student can sometimes be a little isolating, depending on your situation and who you are working with. The PhD Student Support Group Adelaide exists to decrease this isolation, no matter what institution or discipline you are from, or how much of your PhD you have completed.”

“The group aims to provide peer support within the Adelaide PhD community online and at regular catch ups; increase research networks and promote the cross-pollination of ideas and work”.

“It’s an open group too as we'd like to reach out to as many PhD students in Adelaide as possible, so please invite any PhD students you know and get involved.”

Meet our Vice Chancellor and President’s Scholarship recipients

Meet our Vice Chancellor and President’s Scholarship recipients

Seven of the best PhD students from across UniSA were rewarded for their research efforts last month, each receiving a $10,000 Vice Chancellor and President Scholarship.

Selected from the 147 students who began a PhD in 2016, the winners were described by Vice Chancellor Professor David Lloyd as great examples of what makes UniSA a success and allows him to tell the University’s story so proudly.

“Talent, commitment, dedication and determination are just some of the words I could attribute to the scholarship winners,” Prof Lloyd said.

“All of our PhD students are finding their way in their chosen field and doing fine work that contributes to our University’s reputation for innovative, real-world and connected research.

“These scholarships acknowledge their efforts and support their research futures.”

2016 Vice Chancellor and President Scholarship Recipients:

Rebecca Callahan and Gipsy Hosking from the School of Psychology, Social Work and Social Policy
Ellen Scott, School of Communication, International Studies and Languages
Stephanie Mills, School of Information Technology and Mathematical Studies
Seung Ho Lee, School of Engineering
Amy Wilson, School of Marketing
Melissa Bennett, Centre for Cancer Biology

PhD student Melissa Bennett, who is investigating drug resistance in multiple myeloma, currently an incurable blood cancer, was thrilled to win the scholarship that will help her attend international conferences over the next two years.

“I think any kind of scholarship that gives PhD students the opportunity to enhance their experience in ways they or the lab may not have otherwise been able to afford is an excellent way to encourage students,” Melissa says.

“Knowing that I could now attend one of the largest conferences in the world for people working in blood cancer, held by the American Society of Haematology, in the next year or two definitely helps to keep me motivated and it’s also a reward for my hard work.”

PhD student Gipsy Hosking, whose research on invisible chronic illness was sparked from her own experience of appearing young and healthy yet feeling ill, says the award has renewed her motivation to produce a high quality thesis.

“I felt honoured and I’m grateful to have my hard work recognised,” Gipsy says.

“As illness is a social phenomenon as much as it is a biomedical one, it will be invaluable for me to travel overseas, which I can now do with the scholarship funding.

“I’d like to experience how invisible chronic illness is constructed and conceptualised in different countries and look forward to working with overseas academic experts in these areas to further develop the research I’ve started at UniSA.”

Along with offering students an opportunity to learn more in their field of research, these scholarships also provide recipients with the chance to meet academics and senior university stakeholders.

And the scholarship award event inspired Gipsy to set up an online group to encourage interaction between PhD students.

“Three of us who are based at the Magill campus, have since started a Facebook group for all new PhD students at Magill campus to help keep in touch and share information, ideas and encouragement.” Gipsy said. Visit UniSA PhD first years to find out more.

This article was originally published in the June edition of UniSA News

Prestigious Scholarships – don’t miss out!

In May we held a prestigious scholarships information seminar covering opportunities such as the Rhodes, Cambridge Australia, John Monash, Fulbright, Menzies and UniSA scholarship programs.

Prestigious scholarships are available to research degree students who have excelled in their studies. They provide opportunities to undertake graduate study in overseas institutes or universities and provide an excellent foundation towards your research career.

Check out the High-achiever scholarships webpage for links to further information, including this snapshot of prestigious scholarships and presentations from the seminar.

If you are interested in a prestigious scholarship, read up about what is available, identify which scholarships you are eligible for and become familiar with the application requirements and key dates. The earlier you start planning, the stronger your scholarship application will be.

You can contact the scholarship organisations directly for advice and support in preparing your application. The University can also support you in preparing your scholarship application.

Applications for the 2016 scholarships rounds begin closing from August onwards so now is the time to get started on your applications!

Travel grants to attend EMBL PhD symposium

Are you studying towards a PhD in the life sciences discipline? Interested in attending an overseas conference?

EMBL Australia is offering travel grant funding of $3000 for up to 10 students to head to the 18th EMBL PhD Symposium. The symposium’s theme is ‘Life by Numb3rs: Towards Quantitative Biology’ and it is being held from 17-19 November 2016.

The Symposium is an annual event, organised by first-year PhD students at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany. It brings together fellow students from around the world, for a 3-day series of talks by leading experts but also by students themselves. Networking opportunities, poster sessions and workshops are also included in the programme.

The travel grants are open to life sciences students who are currently enrolled in a PhD at an Australian university and have not yet submitted their thesis. International students are welcome to apply.

Further details, including how to submit your application can be accessed at the EMBL Australia webpage.

The closing date for applications is 15 August 2016.

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How to start publishing your research

Have you ever wondered what kind of article gets published and why? Do you want guidelines from the publishers’ perspectives and what catches their eye? Do you know how to select the right journal to submit your article to?

The Library, in conjunction with SAGE Publishers are presenting the workshop ‘A simple guide to writing a journal article’. It is an opportunity to find out directly what publishers are looking for and useful to research degree students and early career researchers/academics making their first forays into academic writing.

When: Monday 18 July, 1.30 – 3.30pm

Where: Room C1-60, Magill campus

To register: Staff Students

For more information contact Cathy Mahar via

PhD students win top research images prize

Congratulations to PhD candidates Ms Gertrud Hatvani-Kovacs and Ms Morgan Schebella, who have been awarded 1st and 2nd place respectfully in the UniSA 2016 Images of Research Photography Competition.

The competition provided staff and students with an opportunity to showcase compelling images created during their research. These images tell a story about the research we do at UniSA and the people who make it happen.

You can view the winning images and all the other finalist entries at the 2016 Images of Research: Photography Competition webpage

All finalists are in contention for the People’s Choice award so be sure to visit the site and vote for your favourite image. Voting closes at 5.00pm on Friday 2 September, with the winner announced the following week.

Australian Sanctions Laws – a reminder

Australian Sanctions Laws prohibit the University from dealing with specific individuals and entities, or providing those individuals, entities and specified countries with access to certain types of training, services and resources in the absence of a permit.

This is of particular relevance to UniSA researchers in the following areas:

• research degree student admission and enrolment i.e. individuals from sanctioned countries are prohibited from undertaking certain types of research projects

• research collaborations e.g. visiting academics, visiting research degree students, student exchanges
• receipt of fees (particularly tuition fees) and other research-related revenue
• payments to sanctioned countries for goods or services
• travel; and
• recruitment of staff.

UniSA is expected to take reasonable precautions and exercise due diligence to apply the restrictions.

Where can I get more information?

An up to date list of sanctioned countries is available on the DFAT website. Any significant change to the current sanctioned regimes will also be posted here.

For research degree student admissions, enrolments and visiting scholars refer to the Manager Admissions and the associated procedures.

For travel to sanctioned countries refer to the DFAT website to ensure your proposed activity doesn’t breach Australian Sanctions Laws.

For international receipts and payments involving sanctioned countries refer to the Manager Financial Services Mike Royans.

For employment of staff from sanctioned countries refer to the Manager Recruitment Michelle dePasquale.

If you believe you may require a permit for your proposed activity please contact the Deputy Director Research and Innovation Services.

For more general information about autonomous sanctions read the UN & Australian Autonomous Sanctions webpages or contact the Deputy Director Research and Innovation Services.

Implementing panel supervision

A key element of the strategic initiative Transforming the PhD, which aims to deliver a more structured PhD at UniSA, is the establishment of supervisory panels for research degree students.

Supervisory panels involve a team-based approach to supervision, with each member of the panel having an agreed role in supporting the student and/or project. Panels enable expert and multidisciplinary supervision teams to be established, which can include research end-users (where meaningful and appropriate). End-users can be drawn from a wide range of organisations and agencies, including, but not limited to, private enterprise, federal, state or local government, community organisations and the not for profit sector.

The Higher Degree by Research Supervision policy has been amended to streamline the appointment of advisors (end-users) to the supervisory panel. Similarly, the Code of good practice: research degrees management and supervision, which supports the policy, now includes information on the potential role that advisors can perform on a supervisory panel.

All students that have commenced their research degree this year should have a panel of supervisors, to be appointed as early as possible in candidature. For continuing students there are no changes required to your existing supervision arrangements if they are working well.

For further information on supervisory panels, please contact your Principal Supervisor or Research Education Portfolio Leader (or equivalent) in the first instance.

Emily Johnston

Quick facts

> Now’s the time to get applying for some of the world’s most prestigious scholarshipsfind out more
> Check out the winning entries and vote for the People’s Choice award in the 2016 Images of Research competition

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