Helping the Collins Class go on, and on, and …

Dr Cameron Shearer has been working on a public-private research project to improve the performance of batteries in the Collins Class submarine.
Dr Cameron Shearer is working on a public-private research project to improve the performance of batteries in the Collins Class submarine.

How many scientists does it take to change the batteries in a Collins Class submarine?

What? You didn’t even know submarines had batteries?

Improving the battery life and durability of the giant battery arrays contained in the Collins Class Submarine may not be the most high profile, or glamorous, area of research, but it’s one with significant implications for Australia’s defence capability.

It’s also one which fits in well with Flinders University’s Dr Cameron Shearer’s life-long fascination with discovering materials with unusual properties.

“I’ve always been interested in chemistry and physics, and I’ve been particularly interested in new materials, and doing things like discovering the strongest or most conductive ones. I love achieving knowledge and then seeing how to apply it,” Dr Shearer said.

One of the younger researchers at Flinders, Dr Shearer, who completed both his Bachelor of Science (Nanotechnology) and his PhD at the University, has had the opportunity to acquire quite a bit of valuable knowledge since finishing his Doctorate in 2012.

He has already spent two years in Germany at the University of Muenster as a researcher, where he worked on the fabrication, characterisation and photocatlytic properties of nanocarbon-hybrid materials.

While that’s a bit of a mouthful for a layman, Dr Shearer insists it’s ideal preparation for him to work on improving the batteries for the Collins Class.

His work within Flinders University’s Centre for NanoScale Science and Technology’s NanoConnect Program, supervised by Professor Joe Shapter, is funded partly by an SA Government Enterprise Connect grant and partly by a private battery company, PMB Defence Engineering.

“The idea is to streamline communications between industry and business,” Dr Shearer said. “The government pays half my salary and the battery company pays the other.

“The project involves working with the surface properties of some of the components in the batteries. We want to keep the same overall structure but alter only the outermost surface of specific internal components.

“The ultimate aim is to reduce maintenance and increasing the lifetime, which obviously improves the performance of the batteries itself.”

Dr Shearer admits that he has learned almost as much about working with business as he has about batteries during the project.

He says it has been a valuable experience which has taught him important skills to improve his own research practices.

“The most important thing I’ve learned working with industry is the importance of good project management skills,” he said. “Industry is much better at sticking to time lines and achievable goals.

“I heard a nice quote recently: ‘Research is turning dollars into knowledge. Innovation is turning the knowledge back into dollars’.

“In Australia we are behind the rest of the world in this kind of public-private research, so it’s an area I’m particularly interested in at the moment.”

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