Research centres established

Wednesday, 29 June, 2005

Bionic ears that connect directly to hearing nerves and provide near-normal hearing capability may soon become reality. Along with other research areas like renewable energy and sustainable industries, the advances to be achieved by the recently established Australian Centre of Electromaterials Science are expected to be particularly valuable to the manufacturing industry.

As an Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence the centre will receive A$12 million in federal funding over the next five years, and is planning to create the electromaterials required for better bionic ears; artificial muscles; nerve repairs; and the bio-batteries and bio-fuel cells to drive them.

Biocompatible plastics with nano-features " hairs and tubes and surfaces that allow them to link directly with nerves and other cells in the body " can be engineered to change properties when various levels of voltages pass through them.

"These smart plastics could transform the performance of the bionic ear," said Graeme Clark, director of the Bionic Ear Institute, one of the three collaborating partners of the centre.

Clark said the centre hoped to create a plastic electrode that would conduct electrical signals to the nerves, release a nerve growth factor, and have microscopic features that encourage nerves to link with it.

"We thank the Minister and the Australian Research Council for their vision in supporting this centre," he said. The centre will be based at University of Wollongong with researchers from Monash University and Bionic Ear Institute also contributing.

The director of the Intelligent Polymer Research Institute, Professor Gordon Wallace said the centre would attempt to tackle some of the biggest challenges facing society " renewable energy, sustainable industries and enhancing human health.

"Improvements in all these areas are possible by developing electromaterials with improved efficiency in the generation and transfer of electrical charge," Professor Wallace said.

The Australian Centre of Electronmaterials Science is one of eleven research centres the government has announced in 2005. They will receive a total of A$122 million in funding over five years.

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