UNSW Canberra City given the green light

UNSW Canberra will build a world-class research, education and innovation campus in the heart of Canberra city following approval from the ACT Government.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr today made the announcement that the land on Constitution Avenue in the city’s east will be home to the new campus as well as a new Defence and Security Innovation Precinct.

UNSW President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Jacobs said the initiative will strengthen Canberra’s reputation as a knowledge and innovation hub, as well as boost the city’s economy and employment.

“UNSW has a 50-year history of delivering outstanding education and research in Canberra. This new campus will enable us to take the scale and quality of our involvement in Canberra to a new level. It is an exciting time for UNSW and for the national capital, as its tertiary education credentials are further enhanced,” he said.

“I thank the Chief Minister and the ACT Government for allowing UNSW an even greater role in the future of the city.”

UNSW Canberra Rector Professor Michael Frater said the new Canberra City campus will provide the opportunity to expand on the courses currently offered at the Australian Defence Force Academy.

UNSW Canberra City will be built in stages to accommodate future growth and is located in the middle of Canberra’s research and innovation corridor, situated with other like-minded institutions such as the Defence and Intelligence Headquarters in Russell.

“The campus is an ideal location for universities, industry and government to collaborate, discover and drive global change,” Professor Frater said.

“UNSW Canberra City will also be home to a new Defence and Security Innovation Precinct.The dedicated innovation precinct will allow academics, companies, government bodies and community to come together to develop defence and security capability, talent and technology.”

UNSW Canberra is committed to working with all stakeholders including the ACT Government, National Capital Authority, CIT, and local residents. Today also marks the launch of the community consultation program inviting early input into the development of the master plan for the campus.

Complementing existing academic courses and research at the ADFA campus, UNSW Canberra City advances the University’s place in the nation’s capital, reinforcing its commitment to the region.

“Today marks the beginning of the next phase of the UNSW Canberra story and we look forward to work getting underway on the development of UNSW Canberra City,” Professor Frater said.

The community is invited to contribute to the master planning phase and can find out more here.

city campus map

Have your say on the Canberra City campus master plan

city campus map
The UNSW Canberra City campus will be located on the corner of Coranderrk Street and Constitution Avenue and the existing car park site across Constitution Avenue.

UNSW Canberra is committed to working with stakeholders and the community as master planning for the City campus commences.

We’d like to hear your ideas on how the campus should connect with the surrounding neighbourhood and broader city, the types of amenities that might be included, and how the natural environment could be enhanced in the design. In particular we would like your thoughts on:

  1. What is important to appropriately connect the UNSW Canberra City campus with the surrounding area and broader city?
  2. What amenities do you think are important for a teaching and research environment in this area?
  3. How can the natural environment be enhanced in this proposed urban development?
  4. What do you value in larger-scale developments in this area of Canberra?

With the current COVID-19 crisis, unfortunately face-to-face engagement activities are not currently available in the best interest of public safety. However, we have created a number of online and remote opportunities to participate that will allow you to contribute your thoughts and ideas in just the same way you would if you were speaking with us in person.

The opportunity for community input to the master plan closes on Monday 18 May. However this is the first of many conversations UNSW Canberra will have with the community as we plan and deliver the Canberra City campus. Find out how you can have your say on the Canberra City campus master plan.


The ingredients of a firestorm: how mathematics can be used as a weapon against wildfire


UNSW Canberra extreme bushfire researcher and mathematical scientist, Professor Jason Sharples, has dedicated his career to understanding the complex behaviour of bushfires.

The camera captures the red glow as it explodes up the tree line. The footage is shaky as it follows the flames. The wave of fire twists upwards, towering high above the forest canopy.

Embers fall and swirl in a violent dance across the camera lens like rain in a storm. But there is no moisture. It’s a scene suffocated by thick smoke and blinding firelight, sparring against the blackened sky.

The shape of the fire bends and bursts with an agility and intensity that is shocking. It swallows the tall forest trees in seconds.

The viral video, filmed by a photographer in New South Wales, is one of the many horrific events seen during Australia’s on-going bushfire crisis. An unprecedented and devastating summer where terms such as firestorms, pyrocumulus clouds and P2 smoke masks have entered the national vernacular.

It is these large and extreme firestorms – where bushfires become so catastrophic, they generate their own weather systems – that Professor Jason Sharples has spent much of his career trying to understand and prevent.

“To put it simply, I try to understand the conditions in which a small fire develops into a big fire and determine the chain of events and processes that leads to them,” Professor Sharples says.

“Because then, using mathematical models, you can forecast danger periods and areas where this is more likely to happen, so you can trigger responses to them and help prevent them.”

The Bundjalung man and professor in the Applied Industrial Mathematics Group at UNSW Canberra, researches the dynamic behaviour of wildfire, using complex equations and supercomputers to create predictive models.

These models consider terrain attributes, weather conditions and even the shape of fire as elements that can influence the likelihood of severe fires forming.

It is these types of extreme fires, he says, that cause the most destruction, are impossible to contain, and have unpredictable or unexpected behaviour.

“You can’t fight these types of fires…Your only real option is to evacuate and adopt defensive firefighting positions.”

A thirst to understand the natural world

Professor Sharples recalls being interested in science from a young age. It was an obvious interest, he says, because of his insatiable desire to understand the natural world. But it wasn’t until high school, after discovering Isaac Newton’s work, that everything suddenly clicked and made sense.

It was with Newton’s equations and laws that he suddenly realised the power of mathematics to explain the real world.

“It floored me. Honestly, it blew my mind,” Professor Sharples says of this epiphany.

He describes how this realisation – whereby an equation, something you can write down on a piece paper, can also be applied and used to predict the “future” – stopped him in his tracks. Mathematics could suddenly be a way to understand the very natural phenomena that had always transfixed him. It could be his toolkit to discover the world. He hasn’t looked back since.

Around the same time as he started to study mathematics at a higher level, Professor Sharples became a volunteer firefighter. It would be the clash of these seemingly opposite worlds where he would discover his true passion.

“I guess it was at that point my interest in mathematics and firefighting became aligned with each other,” he says. “I saw an opportunity where I could make a real contribution.”

On the frontline, Professor Sharples has seen his equations in action. As a firefighter, the fire is not just a line of code in a computer model. Its heat and ferocity are real, tangible and humbling. It’s a reminder of the real-world implications of his work.

Whilst he doesn’t have much time to be on the back of a fire truck these days, the value of being a firefighter is not lost on him.

“I think being a firefighter has helped me be a better researcher. Definitely,” he says.

Caring for Country

Professor Sharples has also been an advocate for supporting fellow Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to go study mathematics and science. First Nations people make natural scientists, he says, because they always have been scientists.

“Aboriginal peoples have always been innovators and scientists; we’ve needed to be, to develop a successful way to live here for thousands and thousands of years,” he says.

“Innovation and ingenuity are a part of our legacy and our history as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, so we should be proud of that and continue it today.”

In many ways, he says, when it comes to fire and land management, Indigenous knowledges have been ahead of Western science.

Cultural burning – that is, fire burning using traditional Aboriginal methods and the knowledges from the “old people” – plays an important role, Professor Sharples says, not only from a fire risk reduction perspective but also as means to reconnect with Country.

“Cultural burning isn’t just about fuel reduction. It’s about the connection to Country and keeping Country healthy; it’s about the cultural ceremony.”

For Professor Sharples, combining traditional Aboriginal cultural burning practices and modern science is important, particularly as “climate change barrels down on us”.

Climate change, he warns, will increase the likelihood of extreme fires developing. This threat is created by both a predicted increase in dangerous fire-days due to climate change and the presence of a drier and more unstable atmosphere above the fires.

It is a fire’s interaction with the atmosphere above it which can increase the chances of these large firestorms developing from smaller fires.

For Professor Sharples, he will keep working towards understanding the complex and often bizarre behaviour of extreme fires using the mathematical toolkit he discovered back in high school.

“Then, hopefully, we can minimise or stop these big fires from forming in the first place.”

Earth from space

UNSW Canberra researchers ready to accelerate

Earth from space

A local ACT start-up company is launching to new heights after earning a position in the CSIRO ON Accelerate program. This follows recognition of its growth potential by the ACT Government through the Canberra Innovation Network when it was awarded an Innovation Connect (ICON) grant earlier in 2019.

Space Services Australia (SSA), the brainchild of UNSW Canberra Space researchers Drs Christopher Capon and Brenton Smith, is working towards keeping space safe through improving the reliability of miniaturised satellites.

“There are more satellites and constellations being launched than there ever has before. The problem is that too many of these systems are experiencing on-orbit system failures and contributing to space debris,” Dr Capon said.

“Our goal at SSA is to help reduce these failure rates, so that we keep space clean and companies can focus were it matters; helping improve peoples lives on the ground.”

When delving further into the issue, SSA noticed that a lot of space missions are working with a limited number of resources and to a fixed deadline. When a project is running behind schedule it is often the testing phase that gets scaled back.

“This is where SSA would come in,” Dr Capon said.

“We are working to streamline testing so that it is about working smarter in the timeframes that are available. The testing we are proposing would work through a combination of integrated system simulations (digital twins) augmented with real hardware data through a flight twin testbench that can stimulate a spacecraft to operate as if it were in space.

“This will enable users to catch faults earlier through frequent and rapid testing cycles. We can then connect with companies and help train and equip them with the tools they need so that they have confidence that their satellites will work on-orbit and, if something does go wrong, they have the best chance of fixing it.”

“We are extremely grateful to receive the ICON grant and to be part of the On Accelerate program. These opportunities will allow us to bring our research to a wider audience and really help cement the ACT as a key hub for the Australian space industry.”

“The amount of activity in space is only going to increase and reliability will be a problem. Through SSA and the support we receive at UNSW Canberra, we are ensuring that work undertaken is ethical and responsible and that space is being kept safe for this generation and the next,” he said.

ON Accelerate is a structured full-time accelerator for research teams to validate and develop high potential innovative new ventures. More information on the program can be found at the OnInnovation website.

UNSW Canberra Space is a world-class team with facilities to enable end-to-end space mission capability, supported by world-class space research and education. From its base at UNSW Canberra, the team play a leading role in shaping and developing the Australian space industry to meet global challenges.

If you are interested in connecting with SSA, please contact Christopher Capon at chris@spaceservicesaustralia.com.

person typing on laptop

UNSW Canberra Cyber collaborates on social science project

person typing on laptop

Academics from UNSW Canberra Cyber were a central part of a project providing an Australian academics perspective on a United States Survey that delves into the social and behavioural sciences and how targeted research in this area will strengthen intelligence assessments.

In March 2019, the United States National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a report entitled A Decadal Survey of the Social and Behavioral Sciences: A Research Agenda for Advancing Intelligence Analysis (the Survey).

In response, the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia has been commissioned by the Australian Government’s Office of National Intelligence (ONI), on behalf of the National Intelligence Community (NIC), to provide an Australian perspective, with a particular focus on its 10-year vision, and to examine the capacity of the Australian social science research community to offer insights in relation to this agenda for its own national intelligence sector.

An Expert Working Group engaged more than thirty experts from intelligence studies, cyber security and broader social sciences disciplines.

A workshop was held on October 29 comprising ten Australian intelligence agencies to present the findings from the ASSA study. The findings suggest that social science understandings can add value to making good sense of the security environment.

It further argues that Australia has distinctive comparative advantages in social science, through global excellence, as well as those relating to the region in which we live.

Finally, it provided four key recommendations for facilitating better mutual understanding and engagement as between official agencies and independent research scholarship in these fields.

The workshop has created a strong basis for ongoing work on social cyber through structured liaison between the national intelligence community and the Australian social science research community.

Interested UNSW cyber and social science researchers should contact Glenn Withers or Greg Austin if they would wish to be involved with the ONI and ASSA follow up. Cyber issues were specifically identified as involved in four of the six core concerns for future social science insight for the intelligence community.