AN E-WASTE RECYCLING ‘hackerspace’ developed at Logan city near Brisbane has produced an extraordinary range of useful products including innovative road signs, ‘green’ bikes, affordable 3D printers.
But perhaps its greatest product of all is the improved mental health and well-being for its participants, who are largely from disadvantaged backgrounds, according to QUT researcher Dhaval Vyas.
Dr Vyas is researching the effects of participation in such ‘makerspaces’ and has taken a special interest in outcomes generated by Logan’s social enterprise space, Substation33.
Substation33 was developed specifically for people from marginalised backgrounds to learn new skills – and Dr Vyas said participants openly report improvements in well-being, mental health and job skills
The anecdotal evidence has been confirmed in findings from a research study of Substation33 conducted by QUT Computer Human Interaction researcher Dr Vyas, who also recently received an Australian Research Council (ARC) DECRA award for the project.
“The ARC DECRA grant will enable an in-depth study of the benefits of do-it-yourself activities for people from low socio-economic (LSE) backgrounds at high risk of digital exclusion,” Dr Vyas said.
“The grant will be used to study other LSE hacker or maker spaces – a woodworks-based recycling makerspace and two crafts and sewing oriented making workshops.
“Traditional makerspaces are technology solution-focussed and cater for a more affluent group and often fail to provide benefits for LSE people.
“I’m investigating how the social and cultural nature of makerspaces enables creative and innovative work while supporting members.
“Substation33 members have designed and made innovative technology such as road signs for local conditions that record flood levels – which have been bought by the local council. They have also made green bicycles that run on refurbished laptop batteries.
“Members design and make 3D printers for their own use such as printing new battery packs for reclaimed and recharged laptop batteries, and DIY 3D printer kits for schools or for sale.”
Dr Vyas said design was normally assisted by professional designers, including user experience designers with mainstream, affluent users in mind.
“The creativity inherent in everyone is often left untapped or un-nurtured, especially in the members from LSE backgrounds,” Dr Vyas said.
“This project aims to uncover and explore design by a diversity of people from marginalised backgrounds, to make products that suit their own needs and ones they can commercialise.”
Dr Vyas said peer learning and interdependent teams were essential for integrating new Substation33 members.
“Relying on peer learning helps new members gain communication skills and different members have developed their own strategies for teaching and learning hacking skills,” he said.
“These organic socialising activities have resulted in improved mental health for members and a sense of community. They have described the experience of ‘pulling things apart’ as means to ‘let my anger and stress out’ and be ‘happy the whole day’.”
Dr Vyas said the Substation 33 study was part of a project that would take an ethnographic approach to investigate current practices of members of four makerspaces that involve people from marginalised backgrounds
The project would then engage participants in co-design workshops to develop ideas that fit their own needs and agenda.
“Through these activities, the project will develop new models and theories of creative making that can be applied in other environments,” Dr Vyas said.
A BLOOD TEST for colorectal cancer, an open-access online portal for Australian biodiversity and a sustainable approach to controlling devastating rust disease in crops, were some of the Australian innovations celebrated today at the annual CSIRO Awards recently.
Now in its 32nd year, the CSIRO Awards – presented at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra – showcased the achievements of the national science agency’s people and partners, and the difference their research makes to industry, society and the planet.
CSIRO chief executive Larry Marshall said CSIRO’s people “get up every morning to change the world”.
The CSIRO Entrepreneurship Award went to the team behind the Colvera blood test for bowel cancer. Colvera can indicate early molecular changes associated with cancer development which could lead to a reduction in the number of deaths from the disease. Working with CSIRO partners Clinical Genomics, Colvera has just been released in the US and will become available in Australia this year.
The CSIRO Medal for Impact from Science went to the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA) for developing world-leading e-research infrastructure which is now being adopted globally. The Atlas of Living Australia, which has had more than 13 billion downloads, provides free online access to information about Australia’s biodiversity. The ALA has been developed through its many partners including the Global Biodiversity Information Facility, and is supported through the Australian Government’s National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS).
The Chairman’s Medal for Science Excellence was awarded to the cereal rust disease prevention team whose research, in partnership with the Grains Research and Development Corporation, has contributed to global food security by protecting cereal crops against rust diseases.
The CSIRO Medal for Support Excellence was won by the team behind ON for designing, implementing and expanding Australia’s first national sci-tech accelerator which empowers Australian researchers ‘to create positive economic, social and environmental impact from their science and technology’.
The John Philip Award for the Promotion of Excellence in Young Scientists was won by doctors Sam Spinks and Robyn Hall. Dr Spinks’ research has helped identify prospective regions in WA and the NT for exploration investment. Dr Hall’s research is helping manage wild rabbit populations.
The Chief Executive Professional Development Awards went to Emily Chang, George Feast and Katrina Spencer. Ms Chang has developed new ways and approaches to facilitate innovation and collaboration within CSIRO. Dr Feast is further developing his expertise in facilitating business-research collaboration. Ms Spencer is expanding her expertise in social entrepreneurship.
The CSIRO Medal for Health, Safety and Environment Achievement went to the team of herbarium curators at the spirit collection, for improving health and safety at the Australian National Herbarium and Australian Tropical Herbarium.
CSIRO Medals for Lifetime Achievement were awarded to doctors Jennifer Stauber and Mark Stafford Smith.
Dr Stauber was recognised for her landmark research that has underpinned national water and sediment quality guidelines for environmental protection in Australasia and globally over 38 years.
Dr Stafford Smith was awarded for more than 30 years of international leadership in sustainability science that has informed policy and management of human ecosystems under global change and uncertainty.
The Team CSIRO Award went to Dr Jack Steele, ‘for living and breathing what it means to be a member of Team CSIRO’.
“Our people are passionate about creating science-driven solutions for the biggest challenges facing our nation, and thrive on collaborating across the country to make life better for everyone,” Dr Marshall said.
“The CSIRO Awards honour the teams, individuals and partners that embody this vision.
“Every year our people set the bar higher, collaborating with universities and industry more than ever to deliver more game-changing innovations for Australia and the world.”