How Monash University is attracting world-class researchers & dollars through collaboration and strategic partnerships

Times are changing for the higher education sector in Australia. Due to budget cuts and increasing international competition, many universities are recognising the importance of developing state of the art research facilities in order to attract funding opportunities, more students and world-class researchers into the future.

In order to achieve this, the design, construction, operation and maintenance of innovative research facilities is critical.

Monash University is one institution who knows what it takes to design and develop world-class research facilities in order to attract more dollars for their business.

With a net research income of 314 million dollars at the end of 2014, Monash topped the NHMRC funding across Australia last year and continues to partner with external providers such as Pfizer and Siemens in order to attract leading researchers globally.

Ahead of Research Facility Design and Development 2015, Julie Rothacker, Director, Platform Operations and Strategy, Vice-Provost Office of Research and Research Infrastructure at Monash, explores the strategies the university is using to align research needs with design and construction of their facilities, and how other universities can avoid mistakes in planning and development phases to deliver functional and sustainable research facilities.

Overview: Monash’s research facilities at a glance

Monash is home to 24 technology research facilities and currently employs over 3500 academic researchers. The University has developed a coordinated infrastructure strategy which is centrally supported and aligned with the University’s overall research strategy in order to utilise equipment to its full capacity.

The main objective is to ensure we are able to provide world-class research facilities to our researchers, collaborators and industry. In doing so, we have built facilities with peak instrumentation, often unique to Australia.  We have lifted the instrumentation out of the schools and departments to coordinate and manage effectively in a platform facility. This ensures there is no duplication with equipment, an ability to produce clear efficiency gains and that our equipment is well maintained and not under-utilised.

Over the years, there has been a significant investment by Monash, local and Federal governments and philanthropic organisations to build a suite of high-end technology research platforms. Due to this level of investment and commitment by external funding agencies to support Monash University we must ensure we’re getting the best use out of our infrastructure and equipment and that these facilities are easily accessible.

One way we are achieving this is by developing a platform strategy which revolves around setting up core facilities, each with their own dedicated manager, clear KPI’s and governance structures.

The 24 technology research platforms are available for researchers from both academia and industry. Putting a manager in charge of each platform allows additional operational support and ensures equipment is well maintained and used to its full potential.

The research facilities vary from supporting research in the drug discovery pipeline, advanced manufacturing, sustainability or medtech. For example: genomics, aerodynamic measurements in a wind tunnel, 3D printing, protein crystallisation or 3D visualization to name a few.

Partnering with internal and external players to attract more research dollars

At Monash the technology research platforms are underpinning key internal and external research collaborations where the design and construction of our facilities is critical to ensure the best performance of our technology. The Pfizer Centre for Therapeutic Innovations is a unique model for building academic and industry collaboration and has developed due to the researchers being able to be innovative and compete on the international stage.

By being part of this collaboration, we’re allowing researchers to answer that big question or develop their research to a point where companies can commercialise it and look into translating it into new medicines or innovative outcomes.

The role the research facility plays is to provide the equipment and technology needed to enable researchers to answer big questions, and eventually partner and collaborate with big organisations like Pfizer.

One of our main aims is to ensure we are giving our researchers the latest technology which meets their needs and it’s a big factor in how we develop our research facilities.

Another example of where we partner externally to build our facilities is through a big focus on technology. We have a number of examples where we have developed strategic partnerships with companies such as Siemens, Perkin Elmer, Tecan or FEI.

As part of these partnerships we don’t focus on getting the cheapest equipment but rather at building long term partnerships which will help us not only build capacity, but also provide a win for the company we’re partnering with.

Another important element of developing strategic partnerships is involving the researchers in the process. At Monash we encourage researchers to push the development of the technology, so we can go to a certain company and work with them to develop technology based on interesting research questions.

The great thing about strategic partnerships is the ability to work with external companies on research technology development, and often as a result our partners will help us always have the latest technology available to ensure our researchers stay at the cutting edge.

Monash has also recently joined the Victorian Platform Technology Network’s initiative, the Australian Research Infrastructure Network (ARIN) which is an online instrument and services booking software.  Ensuring these platform facilities are easily accessible by academic researchers and industry customers is critical for the success and development of our research facilities. The benefit is being able to show key stakeholders that anyone can access our research platforms which will ensure our customers can ultimately achieve great research outcomes, impact and improved societal behaviours.

The differentiator for the ARIN is the ability to integrate all technology research platforms across institutions in Victoria. By implementing ARIN widely across Monash, a researcher from any research organisation or industry can access our equipment from one login. They also have the ability to access infrastructure from other Victorian research organisations like CSIRO, RMIT and Swinburne. This has enormous impact because it’s getting the whole industry involved in research, but also providing opportunities for collaboration with other universities and partners which helps deliver greater impact to the community.

Download the full article here to read more about how Monash is:

  • Procuring the right tech and putting the researchers’ needs first
  • Avoiding mistakes in planning and design to build functional and flexible facilities
  • attracting world-class researchers

For more information about Research Facilities Design and Development 2015, visit www.researchfacilities.com.au or call +61 2 9229 1000 or email enquire@iqpc.com.au

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Behind the scenes of a state of the art Research Facility: The University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre

As the higher education sector becomes more competitive, many universities are recognising the importance of developing state of the art research facilities in order to attract more sponsorship and revenue.

While many universities are aware of the benefits research facilities can provide to the bottom line, many are still unsure about the latest lab design features and technology needed to support world-class research facility development.

So what strategies and tools are actually needed to design, construct, operate and maintain a topnotch research facility?

Ahead of Research Facilities Design and Development 2015, Dr Ian Garthwaite, Laboratory Services Manager – Research at The Charles Perkins Centre, provides an inside look into the $385 million purpose-built research facility the Charles Perkins Centre at Sydney University and the strategy behind the design, construction and development of the 900 person laboratory.

Tell us a little about the Charles Perkins Centre…

Ian: The Charles Perkins Centre is just on a year old now and it’s something the university created to change the way that it works. Instead of setting up a research facility with multiple silos, the university decided to set up one common laboratory to answer real world problems by incorporating lots of different faculties into the building.

Inside the Charles Perkins Centre

The building is home to seven open-plan 80-person laboratories which host eight to 10 research groups, sharing equipment and support rooms.

State-of-the-art laboratories and support rooms contain co-located specialist equipment and each lab has an adjacent external write-up space including open-plan desks for research and technical staff and hot-desking for up to 36 higher degree research students and visiting collaborators.

What were the main objectives of the design and development of the Charles Perkins Centre? How did you communicate these objectives to the project team (architects)?

Ian: The main objective was to facilitate collaboration. That’s the one key outcome we want to see from this building. It’s very much talking to people and producing strategic ways that they can interact.

What steps did you take to ensure the design of the laboratory supports new technology and instruments that are entering the market? Why is this so important?

Ian: The main thing was to make sure the labs are flexible and are able to be reconfigured according to what’s available and necessary. We had to ensure we had infrastructure to allow us to support new technologies.  For example, making sure we’ve got the power requirements for the labs, making sure that we were able to be flexible with the air conditioning and to add additional ducting work to get fumes out of the spaces.

How are you ensuring your facility complies with safety requirements and regulations?

Ian: The team running the laboratory is well versed with the Australian standards, and we engaged a number of consultants in the process to work through those standards. It’s important to make sure that you employ people who are very up there with the standards and with compliance requirements.

What key elements did you incorporate into the design of the Charles Perkins Centre to create an energy-efficient and sustainability laboratory? How has this reduced operational cost?

Ian: One of the things we incorporated in the design, was the use of water cooled -80 freezers, which  in itself brings along its own challenges which is something to think about and discuss at conferences such as Research Facilities Design and Development 2015. There were also a number of lighting requirements for the building. Also, the air that comes into the building is actually chilled through a labyrinth before it’s brought into the air conditioning duct and used to work for the building. So tempering the air using ground tunnels is quite a good use of the design.

From the outside

What are the major lessons learnt from the project so far? If you could go back, would you do anything differently?

Ian: There’s always something to learn in projects like this one.  I was involved in a process for designing some labs elsewhere and we’ve taken some learning’s from this lab into the design for that space. Simple things like being ahead of the standards and looking at hands-free hand wash facilities, dispensers for the gels that you use there. Those are changes that have come into the legislation since the building was originally designed. Trying to second guess those and incorporate some of those activities can be a challenge.

The thing I’d look at changing is looking at the back-up power or the emergency power resources that you have in the building and looking at how you support those. It’s important to have very good input from your end users on storage space and what’s necessary. There the two things I would probably look for in designing labs for the future.

Since the opening of the new research facility, what research outcomes have been realised so far?

Ian: The interaction spaces are probably the area where this building is leading the way in terms of research design. When we bring people round from other institutions, it’s certainly an area which impresses people – other institutions don’t have these types of collaborative spaces.  The ability to interact, the ability to facilitate that interaction, is one of the key things that this building has.

Another thing is it’s really important to get your AV right and making sure that within that AV, you have a solution that you can connect to a website – whether it’s a Mac or a PC or and android device, whatever you’re using, making sure that you can actually show what you want onto a big screen and share it. Then being able to update that infrastructure in terms of new version of the software – so even if you’re video conferencing via Skype, making sure that you’re updating all the time is one of the key lessons.

Interested in learning more?

We also interviewed Ian at the Charles Perkins Centre – you can watch it here

Ian is also leading a site-visit at the Charles Perkins Centre as part of Research Facilities Design and Development 2015. to find out more call +61 2 9229 1000 or email enquire@iqpc.com.au