​Canberra gives AU$416.6m to Australian Research Council for grants

The Australian government has given the nation's research council a funding boost for its National Competitive Grants Programme.

The federal government has announced a new round of funding for the Australian Research Council's (ARC) National Competitive Grants Programme, a scheme launched by ARC to build the nation's research capability.

989 new research projects will receive part of the AU$416.6 million funding that is to be spread across 34 of the country's universities and their research facilities.

In announcing the new wave of funding, Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham said the multi-million dollar cash injection was a crucial investment in growing a smart Australia.

"This funding represents a significant investment in a wide variety of fundamental and applied research projects, growing Australia's research capacity and infrastructure, and supporting the next generation of researchers," Birmingham said.

The AU$416.6 million will be spread across five schemes: Discovery Project 2017, Discovery Indigenous 2017, Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) 2017, Future Fellowships 2016, and Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities (LIEF) 2017.

AU$234.7 million of the AU$416.6 million total will go towards funding 630 projects under the ARC Discovery Projects scheme, which will see researchers work on initiatives including one to improve the coverage, mobile access, miniaturisation, bandwidth, and networking of optical wireless systems, as well as projects aimed at helping to better understand speech and language difficulties in children, and understanding use of smartphones by people with disabilities for navigating essential services.

Indigenous researchers will receive AU$4.6 million in funding to support 11 projects that the ARC said will investigate culturally-appropriate social technologies to improve connectedness and wellbeing among Indigenous Australians, which includes examining the development of resilience and wellbeing of Indigenous youth, and researching culturally sensitive ways to teach Indigenous students.

DECRA will receive AU$71.7 million to fund 200 new research initiatives which include a project to develop the world's smallest microscope for seeing inside the body and to improve the diagnosis and treatment of brain conditions, as well as a project led by the University of Western Australia that will use satellite tracking data to understand global movement of marine megafauna -- such as sharks, whales and turtles -- for sustainable exploitation of marine resources and biodiversity conservation.

Each DECRA recipient will receive salary support of around AU$97,000 per year for three years and up to AU$40,000 in additional funding per year for other costs essential to their project.

100 new Future Fellows will also soon commence innovative research projects worth AU$77 million, with their chunk of the funding to cover areas such as developing technologies for high-performance lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles, new wastewater treatment, and new smart materials.

Each Future Fellow recipient will receive between AU$147,000 and AU$210,000 per year in salary support for four years and up to AU$50,000 in additional funding per year for other costs essential to their respective projects.

LEIF will receive AU$28.6 million from the new funding pool, which will see AU$1.8 million go to Monash University to establish a transmission electron microscope facility to analyse the atomic level structure of natural world and advanced materials, and AU$502,453 for the Australian National University to create a laser system for the first laser guide star for use in astronomy, satellite tracking, and mitigation of the threat of space debris.

According to ARC acting chief executive officer Leanne Harvey, the LIEF scheme allows the partnership between higher education providers and outside organisations to develop and support expensive research infrastructure.

"These 48 new LIEF research projects will commence next year, involving collaboration with 56 organisations and industry partners from across the globe," she said. "These collaborating organisations will provide a further AU$31.1 million in cash and in-kind contributions to these projects."

The Australian government previously announced the launch of nine new ARC Centres of Excellence, handing out AU$283.5 million to fund specialised research in September.

Seven Australian universities will administer the Centres of Excellence, involving a further 163 participating organisations from across 27 countries, which the ARC said will provide a total of AU$761.4 million to support to the centres.