Playford Trust backs robotics, nano and environmental research at Flinders

A Playford Trust PhD scholarship is giving Flinders scholar Robert Trott a big step forwards in his dream career goals in biomedical engineering.

The double degree holder in mechanical and biomedical engineering says the scholarship will support his postgrad project to design a ‘Novel Controller of a Unilateral Exoskeleton for Post-Stroke Rehabilitation.’

“More than anything, I want to help people,” the 30-year-old high academic achiever says.

“Both with children and adults, I find great satisfaction in using my studies and knowledge to help people with disabilities that are beyond their control.

Professor Robert Saint, James Dorey, Kaili Stacey and Michelle Clanahan with Playford Trust board member Professor David Day at the 2017 Playford Memorial Trust Scholarship Awards at Flinders University’s Alere Function Centre (Stefan Martino absent). Photo courtesy Julius Zieleniecki and the Playford Trust.

“My PhD project involves the application of robotics to stroke patients to improve their ability to walk and participate in the community.

“My project presents a proof-of-concept prototype for the controller of an exoskeleton for use in the rehabilitation of gait (walking) following stoke,” he says.

“I’m hoping my work will provide a strong platform for further prototype development and possible verification of the rehabilitation principles.”

Stroke is a leading cause of disability with an estimated 15 million people suffering a stroke annually every year, with one-third fatal and another third of patients left with a permanent disability.

About 440,000 Australians have suffered a stroke, with 50,000 new or recurrent strokes each year. The consequences range from memory loss to speech, vision and reasoning impairments, as well as gait impairment and paralysis.

“One of the benefits for recovery in stroke gait rehabilitation is to encourage neuroplasticity, when a patient’s brain ‘relearns’ mobility skills,” he says.

Robert is also still supporting research on using machine learning and Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) to enable communication for people who are ‘locked in’ with the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital affiliated with the University of Toronto, with a further three journal publications in the pipeline.

He was second author on an earlier conference article presented at the International Brain-Computer Interface Meeting (2016), entitled Single-trial Classification of Inner Speech and the No-control State Using Electroencephalography, which discusses the efficacy of a BCI for the classification between affirmative responses when compared to mental rest.

His PhD project supervisors are Professor Karen Reynolds, David Hobbs, Professor Mark Taylor, Dr Tim Kleinig and Associate Professor Susan Hillier.

This year the Playford Trust awarded 39 new scholarships in addition to the continuing PhD scholarships, TAFE SA Awards and the Defence-STEM scholarships and internships in 2017.

“Our growth has only been possible thanks to partnerships with industry, government, philanthropists and the leading universities,” says former Liberal SA premier Mr Dean Brown, AO, who is chairman of the Playford Trust.

Mr Brown says the standards achieved by the current applicants “surpassed the achievements of previous years, making for a difficult selection process”.

The scholarships for undergraduates, residential, Honours and PhD students focus on areas of strategic importance for South Australia – from advanced manufacturing and new technologies, energy and mining to agriculture, aquaculture and food production, water management and climate change.

The Flinders University Bachelor of Science students to receive 2017 Playford Memorial Trust Honours Scholarships are:

Michelle Clanahan completed a Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology in 2015, receiving many awards including the Environmental Systems Research Institute Australia GIS (Geographic Information System) prize in 2013. Happy when tagging turtles or monitoring coral reefs, Michelle hopes to bring her experience as an environmental engineer to bear in marine ecology. Her Honours research will use remote sensing data to investigate historic revegetation rates and sediment accumulation in salt marsh and mangrove areas. This will inform the assessment of the restoration carbon sequestration potential of the Dry Creek salt pans north of Adelaide.

James Dorey also has an outstanding academic record, graduating from the University of Queensland with a Bachelor of Science. He was awarded prizes for entomology and marine biology as well as a summer research scholarship. He has a long-term fascination and passion for biodiversity, especially with Australian native bees. At Flinders University, James will be studying speciation in Fijian bees with a focus on past climate cycles and island biogeography theory.

Stefan Martino completed an undergraduate science degree at Flinders. His Honours year topics cover chemistry, physics and mathematics and his current research project focuses on the thin film coating of small particles with novel materials which builds on his 2016 Flinders Summer Research Scholarship project printing gold structures at the nanoscale.

Kaili Stacey is completing a Bachelor of Science (Honours) Nanotechnology. Also an outstanding student, she has been the recipient of the Michael Willis prize in Physics and Astronomy and has received multiple letters of commendation from the Dean of Flinders University. In her Honours project, Kaili aims to produce a self-cleaning and water-repellent coating for uses in drag reduction on ships and increasing efficiency of solar energy production.

Meanwhile, first-year Bachelor of Medical Science (Vision Science) student Jessica Henman, from Mount Gambier High School, has won a 2017 Playford Trust Regional Science and Engineering Scholarship. Dedicated and highly motivated, Jessica has received numerous awards including a Principals Award for Excellence in Science. She hopes to return to rural South Australia to work when she completes her study.

The Playford Trust, named to honour the legacy of SA’s longest-serving Premier Sir Thomas Playford, provides prestigious scholarships and awards totalling almost $500,000 for high-achieving South Australians.

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