It’s National Science Week. This year’s theme is Deep Blue: innovations for the future of our oceans, and we are showcasing some of the exciting research happening at the College in this field.
Water is one of the earth’s most precious resources, with less than one per cent suitable for drinking. However, pollution of our waterways is becoming increasingly common – making the need to monitor water quality more important than ever.
Engineering students and alumni from The Australian National University (ANU) are attempting to learn more about Australia’s waters and find innovative solutions for checking up on its health.
William Perren-Leveridge began working on water monitoring in 2019, during the final year of his Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) degree at ANU. His honours thesis focused on harmful algal blooms, looking at how large amounts of algae can have a negative impact on their environment.
As part of the innovative Engineering Capstone course, ANU students work in groups to deliver value on a real-world project. During his thesis, Will started his own Capstone project on H20 Health.
The experience sparked a passion for water and influenced his career direction, as William began working full-time at Ecowater Engineering Australia after graduating from university.
William was then able to come full-circle, returning to ANU in 2020 to build upon H20 Health’s momentum and lead the project now in a client role.
“I’ve always enjoyed working on water quality focused engineering. When there was an opportunity to submit my own project for the Capstone program at ANU, I jumped at it,” said William.
The team picked up the brief to develop and enhance a remote monitoring system for Australia’s waterways.
They built on the existing platform by adding a communication protocol and additional sensors, creating a prototype Compact Remote Monitor (CRM).
It’s a small, durable, and lightweight device. The monitor captures water quality sensor data, and then uploads this to cloud storage where scientists can remotely access and analyse the information.
Innovations such as this provide much-needed insight into the health of our waterways, without the need for technician intervention or manual catchment tests.
William was very impressed by the ongoing support from teaching staff at ANU and the team’s ability to adapt and work under changing conditions.
“The team managed to develop a highly functional prototype for the on-board electronics and its casing. This was especially impressive considering the unique challenges that they were facing at the time, with campus closures and not being able to collaborate in person.
“It was very impressive to see the way they pivoted the project to accommodate this and still achieve the important outcomes,” he said.
The beauty of the device is its accessibility and easily deployable design.
“Hopefully this project will move into pilot testing in Australian waterways this year. One of the advantages of the CRM design is it lends itself to being used for ‘citizen science’ programs – where local stakeholders in community environmental groups can gather data for researchers and learn about their local environment,” said William.
While the current CRM has been focused on monitoring freshwater systems, it holds plenty of potential. William hopes that future iterations could be applied to marine environments.
ANU student Joshua Whitcombe was part of the CRM project team, and was drawn to the project because of its tangible local impacts.
“I was really interested in the proximity of the project to where I live and study. There’s nothing quite as rewarding as contributing to something that has a direct impact to your hometown.
“The information the CRM generates can help support biologists, horticulturalists and locals to have better visibility of one of the most important ecosystems in our local community. Water quality can have profound impacts on our economy and the welfare of surrounding wildlife,” said Joshua.
Joshua believes the core skills learned in his degree helped when working on a ‘real world’ project.
“ANU focuses on a systems engineering approach to education. A mixture of both technical and project management skills that I’ve gained during my time at ANU helped prepare me for this real-world challenge,” said Joshua.
“What engineers can do is absolutely limitless. This is something I’ve learned while working both in industry and academia. If there is a will, there will most certainly be a way!”
To discover events this August celebrating science and technology, and more stories on Deep Blue, see: How we’re celebrating National Science Week.