Partnership collaboration awards University Sydney-Utrecht University

The second week of August 2019, seven projects were awarded with the Partnership Collaboration Awards. These awards are an initiative of the University of Sydney and Utrecht University and aim to foster international partnership in research, teaching and learning, capacity building and other areas with high profile partners in priority regions. Applicants were encouraged to submit funding applications for innovative and sustainable programs built around collaborative research and/or learning and teaching initiatives linking the University of Sydney and Utrecht University.Out of 20 applications from  academic and research staff at the University of Sydney and Utrecht University in all disciplines, seven projects were chosen. Among the criteria determining the selection were, apart from academic excellence, contribution to the UU-Sydney partnership and the sustainability of the project in the future.

The honored projects are:

1. Om Dhungyel & Birgitta Duim (DGK) 

A joint action to combat endemic footrot in sheep in different management systems and climatic zones with a comparative epidemiological study of the causative bacteria Dichelobacter nodosus and the disease in the Netherlands and Australia.

Footrot is an endemic bacterial degenerative hoof disease of sheep, causing significant economic and animal welfare impact in both Australia and the Netherlands. Epidemiology of the disease, survival and transmission of the pathogen Dichelobacter nodosus is highly dependent on environmental conditions. Long term footrot research at the University of Sydney has led to the development of diagnostic tests and serogroup (strain) specific (mono- or bivalent) vaccines which has been proven to be effective in Australian conditions. In the Netherlands, due to its temperate maritime climatic conditions and intensive management systems control and management of the disease is difficult. The objective of this proposal is to conduct comparative epidemiological study of Dichelobacter nodosus at the clinical and microbiological level. Findings of the comparative study would be expected to help in development of better diagnostic tests and vaccines for different management systems.

2. Jeffrey Rogers & Chris Dijkerman (FSW)

Virtual reality for integrated motor and cognitive neuro-rehabilitation

Neuro-rehabilitation using virtual-reality technology enables the presentation of structured and scalable therapeutic workspaces, enriched interaction, augmented performance feedback, and automated skill measurement. More specifically, the functional interplay between motor, perceptual, and cognitive systems can be promoted by these various assets of virtual-reality platforms, catalysing training-related recovery. However, this broad hypothesis regarding the impact of so called virtual rehabilitation (VR) requires formal evaluation. This project establishes a network of multidisciplinary experts to develop: (1) VR tasks and measures targeting motor, perceptual, and cognitive coupling; (2) international study sites examining the impact of VR solutions, including recruitment of additional clinical populations; and (3) an evaluation protocol including both behavioural and neuroimaging methods. Enlisting the combined expertise of the team, this project will advance understanding of VR design and its products/solutions, for application in a range of developmental, acquired, and degenerative neurological disorders.

3. Lexine Stapinski & Elske Salemink (FSW)

Transcending borders: expanding the reach and impact of online interventions for mental health and alcohol use disorders.

Mental health and alcohol use disorders are among the leading causes of death and disability in young adults worldwide. This project will exchange knowledge and expertise to generate an innovative treatment for these conditions. The collaboration will leverage Sydney’s effective online treatments for psychiatric conditions and expand the reach and impact of Utrecht’s/Amsterdam’s Dutch-language online brain-training courses. Outcomes will include the development of a hybrid program that combines Australian-adapted brain-training courses with an existing online anxiety-alcohol treatment, four publications, four conference presentations, and external funding applications. Sustainability is inherent in the collaboration; the team will seek funding to trial the efficacy of the hybrid program, and once deemed efficacious, it will be made widely accessible to researchers and consumers through an online portal. By sharing protocols and successful methodologies, we aim to develop a sustainable program synergy that improves wellbeing.

4. Vasileios Chatzaras & Martijn Drury (GEO)

Earthquake fault mechanics in Sydney basin and the Groningen gas field; the “earthshaking” impact of tiny grains

To assess the seismic risks of hidden faults in the Groningen gas field (NL) and Sydney Basin, we propose to constrain the frictional strength of sandstone-hosted faults. Production of gas from the Groningen field (NL) induces seismicity along hidden ancient faults, causing widespread building damage and concerns for the safety of the population. The geology of Sydney basin and neighbouring regions hosts networks of well-exposed faults responsible for earthquakes of magnitude 5.5 or greater. The nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights is built on a fault network. To improve forecasts of induced seismicity (Groningen) and reactivation from the present-day stress field (Sydney), we will study the well-exposed faults in the Hawkesbury sandstone by integrating field observations, microstructural characterization of faults, and fault mechanics experiments. This new knowledge on the frictional strength of faults will enable quantitative assessments of earthquake hazard.

5. Katherine Owens & Natalie Dobson (REBO)

Managing responsibility for climate change risks: actors, obligations and the standard of care

With the effects of climate change already apparent, there is an acute need to prepare for the accompanying risks. This raises important questions concerning the content and division of responsibilities between actors, and whether law and policy can keep pace with the needs of society. The proposed project would bring together insights from experts in Australia and the Netherlands regarding ‘who should do what’ to manage climate change risks, an under-examined issue that is of fundamental importance to our domestic response to climate change. The project would facilitate interdisciplinary knowledge exchange on best practices for risk allocation, adaptation and resilience, and legal questions of due-diligence and accountability. It would also enable a concrete assessment of the extent to which our frameworks support climate change adaptation and mitigation, and help us to identify areas in which we can agitate for change.

6. Lisa Askie & Lotty Hooft (UMCU/JULIUS)

Creating an infrastructure of identifying, using, storing and sharing data in clinical trial registries to maximize the value of trial data and minimize research waste

Background: Since 2005 medical journals have required prospective trial registration. But how to efficiently search and use registry records remains unknown. From 2019, journals also require disclosure of how trial results are public and shared. No consensus exists regarding what criteria should be used for disclosure or how trial data should be stored and accessed.

Methods: We will develop/validate fit-for-purpose search strategies using modified Cochrane methods. We will undertake Delphi surveys and consensus meetings involving relevant stakeholders to establish essential criteria and infrastructure for data sharing via clinical trial registry record linkage.

Impact: Trial registries aim to ensure the results of all clinical trials are made publicly available and used to inform healthcare decisions. This has major societal impacts by reducing research waste, and helps minimize biases that can be introduced when not all results, from all trials, are known.

7. Mark Colyvan & Daniel Cohnitz (GW)

Conspiracy theories in the information age

The project investigates the epistemology of conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theories are proposed explanations of an event, in which agents act secretly in concert and have a significant causal role in the event. Conspiracy theories play an increasing role in public political discourse and practical decision- making. Examples include the theory that the collapse of the World Trade Center on 9/11 was caused by the controlled demolition of explosives that had been planted there in advance of the plane crashes.

Typically such explanations conflict with "official" explanations, and in public debate conspiracy theorists are often ridiculed as being paranoid and irrational. Recent advances in formal social epistemology will be invoked to help understand why conspiracy theories are popular, how people can learn to identify implausible conspiracy theories, and how institutions can be protected from conspiracies and regain the trust of their audience.