Research Projects

The following list represents a selection of projects belonging to our members.

RECRUITING

Indicates projects currently recruiting research students.
Visit the Melbourne School of Engineering: Study for program and application information.


A holistic integrated design approach for building facades incorporating sustainability, security and safety

Team: Lu Aye, Tuan Ngo, Priyan Mendis, Cuong Nguyen

This project develops an innovative solution and a holistic integrated design method for a new generation building envelope which can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions while improving load resistance against natural and man made hazards. The new generation building façade system utilises innovative systems and materials that maximise protection for both occupants  and building against extreme loads. This is combined with day-lighting and indoor climate control systems for better life cycle energy performance. The significant challenges in modelling and designing this new generation of safe and energy efficient building façade are comprehensively addressed.

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A new method for identifying groundwater contributions to stream baseflow

Team: Justin Costelloe, Andrew Western, Tim Peterson

Understanding the contribution of groundwater to river flow is critical for the sustainable management of water resources and environmental flows. The results of this study will provide water managers with a new and innovative set of validated techniques that will supersede current ad hoc baseflow analysis techniques. This study will use innovative time-series analysis techniques of existing streamflow and groundwater head data to determine the contribution of groundwater to baseflow and the new techniques will be evaluated using hydrochemical field sampling.

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Automated groundwater level mapping: a tool for catchment scale estimation of aquifer storage changes, fluxes and hydrogeological properties

Team: Andrew Western, Tim Peterson, Justin Costello

Groundwater is a poorly understood, yet critical water resource. Australia's groundwater monitoring network measures the water level at 15,278 points, at an annual operating cost of $29M, and it has an asset replacement value of $136M (SKM, 2012). The contention of this project is that significantly more quantitative information can be extracted from this monitoring network than in the past. To achieve this, this project will develop and apply rigorous statistical methods to (1) quantify drivers on groundwater level and aquifer hydraulic properties and (2) map the monthly water table throughout Victoria over 23 years; and use these maps to quantify catchment-scale recharge and aquifer hydrogeological properties. These methods will be free to the public and scalable to the rest of Australia. A major outcome of the project will be a substantial improvement in our ability to account for our groundwater resource and to sustainably manage groundwater systems. It will also underpin significant improvements in our understanding of the hydrogeological properties and fluxes of our aquifers.

Two exciting PhD projects are now available to develop cutting-edge groundwater statistical tools for better groundwater management in Victoria and in remote indigenous communities throughout the Northern Territory. The working title for the Ph.Ds are:

  • “Statistical evaluation of the effectiveness of groundwater management plans for resource management and environmental protection during droughts”
  • “Time-series statistics for managing groundwater usage and impacts within Northern Territory indigenous communities”

For Ph.D. position descriptions please email Dr. Tim Peterson at timjp@unimelb.edu.au. The successful applicants will receive a stipend of $34,653 p.a. tax-free (after top-up to a university scholarship) and will be given considerable intellectual freedom and the opportunity to present findings at international conferences. Applications must be received by Monday 14th October 2013.

This project is funded by the Australian Research Council Linkage program (project number LP130100958), the Bureau of Meteorology, the Department of Environment and Primary Industries (Vic.) and the Power and Water Corporation (Northern Territory).

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Detailed 3D computer simulation of direct geothermal ground heat exchangers

Team: Guillermo Narsilio, Ian Johnston, Lu Aye

The rigorous design of a direct geothermal heat pump system that uses concrete piles, boreholes or trenches as heat exchangers to extract or reject heat in the ground, needs a model for the thermal process occuring in the ground, the ground heat exchanger (GHE) and the carrier fluid circulating within. Thermal interference between pipes in the GHE is an important factor which may significantly affect the system’s efficiency, as well as interference between GHE. These can be modelled using finite element methods.

 

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Development of efficient, robust and architecturally flexible structural systems using innovative blind-bolted connections.

Team: Helen Goldsworthy

This research builds on the results of a previous ARC Linkage project in which the research team developed a range of connections between steel beams (or composite steel/concrete beams) and both tubular steel columns and concrete-filled steel tubular columns. All of these connections rely on an innovative "blind bolt" developed by Ajax Fasteners that provides a major economic benefit by requiring installation from one side only.

The aim of the new ARC Linkage project is to develop structural systems that have sufficient stiffness, strength, and ductility to withstand code-specified loads and that will be competitive in the marketplace. The development of demonstrable cost-effective structural systems is essential if these types of systems are to be widely adopted in practice.

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Geophysics: from theory to practice

Team: Guillermo Narsilio, Dongryeol Ryu, Robert Pipunic

Soils, rocks and other porous materials, and processes that take place within them, may be characterised by using waves. Both mechanical and electromagnetic waves can be used to provide complementary information. The use of these techniques is the equivalent of "seeing" or "hearing" the soil. Examples include seismic and ground penetrating radar (GPR) surveying.

Additionally, waves may be utilised to alter or enhance certain processes. For instance, dewatering of mine tailings can be accelerated by applying a DC electric current.

Our research efforts focus on the fundamental understanding, modelling and development of geophysical tools and techniques for both laboratory and in situ applications.

Potential student projects within this research area include:

  • Estimation of the electrical conductivity of soils through transient magnetic fields
  • Electrokinetic dewatering of mine tailings: Modelling and design
  • Non-invasive measurement of soil moisture and salinity for calibration and validation of microwave satellite missions

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Geotechnical design of energy foundations

Team: Ian Johnston, Guillermo Narsilio, Lu Aye

Energy foundations consist of normal structural foundations such as footings, slabs, basement rafts, retaining walls and piles into which pipes are incorporated to transmit a fluid (often water) throughout the foundation elements. Using the fluid as the transfer medium, the substantial mass of the foundations and the ground can provide a heat reservoir for heating a building in winter or a heat sink for cooling in summer. A heat pump at the ground surface links the primary circuit in the ground with the secondary heating/cooling circuit in the building. Energy foundations are a rapidly developing technology for the provision of sustainable, renewable and economic base load heating and cooling for buildings. They can provide a very effective means of reducing a significant proportion of a building's carbon footprint and can do so relatively maintenance free over a long period of time. Recent studies suggest that about 80% of the cost of heating and cooling can be provided by energy foundations for a very modest capital outlay.

Through numerical modelling and field monitoring, this new project is aimed at developing guidelines for the design of various forms of energy foundations through the consideration of variables such as ground characteristics, foundation type, shape and extent, and building requirements for Australian conditions.

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Hydrologic modelling for a changing world

Team: Murray Peel, Tom McMahon

Climate change represents a significant challenge to Australian water resources management with potentially significant negative socio-economic, political and environmental consequences. To date, climate change impact assessments for Australian water resources have been conducted within the paradigm of hydrologic model parameter stationarity, providing an unjustified sense of precision and results that are likely to be biased. New techniques are required to facilitate a paradigm shift in water resources climate change impact assessments. In this project those new techniques will be developed, tested and applied to the latest climate change projections to provide a more informed assessment of the likely climate change impact on Australia’s water resources.

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Indoor air quality

Team: Anne Steinemann

Safety standards and controls for monitoring outdoor air pollution are well established, and the dangers posed to human and environmental health are well recognised. Organisations such as the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) regulate air quality and ensure industry complies with environmental standards, helping us to breathe easy in outdoor environments, but what about our indoor environments?

The regulation of indoor air quality is far less stringent, even though more than 90% of our exposure to pollutants occurs indoors. For example, under Australian law, manufacturers are not required to list all the ingredients of their consumer products. Companies that manufacture air fresheners, for instance, rarely disclose all chemicals contained in their product, signalling a critical gap in air quality regulation. Additionally, consumer products used indoors typically emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), a group of pollutants that can harm human health.

Professor Anne Steinemann, from the Department of Infrastructure Engineering, is an internationally recognised expert in environmental pollutants, who is taking an interdisciplinary approach to research, to help heal our indoor air environments. Interacting with people from all over the world, Professor Steinemann recognises how a diverse range of symptoms can reveal ‘sick buildings’, including asthma, migraine headaches, congestion, seizures and gastrointestinal problems.

These sick buildings represent unhealthy indoor spaces, where air conditioning ventilation systems, moulds, and chemicals merge to form harmful cocktails. When consumer products such as air fresheners, cleaning and personal care products are added to the mix, the effect is often unpredictable. Even though these chemical cocktails are not something we can see, their effects are cumulative, sometimes subtle, and often serious.

Consumers turning to ‘green’, ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ products to avoid pollutants and their ill-effects, may be disappointed. Professor Steinemann’s research has revealed that ‘green’ products, particularly those with a fragrance, are not always better, and many contain toxic chemicals. In addition, product emissions tend to be unregulated and their marketing claims untested.

Professor Steinemann is investigating ways to improve product testing and pollutant detection, and to promote healthier products and buildings. She wants consumers to have knowledge of indoor air quality and product ingredients and to be empowered to avoid products and spaces with harmful qualities. Armed with the knowledge, the pervasive twenty-first century problem of poor indoor air quality could be overcome, making our buildings, offices, homes and other indoor environments places where we can breathe easy.

Professor Steinemann is recruiting PhD students with interests in any of the following areas: indoor air quality, consumer product emissions, health effects and exposure assessment. Other areas will also be considered.

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Porous media research laboratory

Team: Guillermo Narsilio

Natural and manmade materials such as soils, rocks, concrete, foams and even biological tissues can be studied as porous media. Our research efforts focus on the fundamental understanding of soil behaviour and porous media related phenomena.
We address the electro-chemo-mechanical aspects of fine grained soils, and the thermo-hydro-mechanical aspects of coarse-grained soils. We intend to decipher the links between particle-level scale and macroscale behaviour.

Our findings will be significant to applications in mining and petroleum engineering, environmental engineering, soil science and geotechnology.

Currently, there are opportunities to get involved in projects within this research area including:

  • Soil parameter estimation based on 3D imaging
  • Fundamental theoretical investigation of the chemo-mechanical properties of clay
  • Limitations in the laboratory determination of chloride diffusion coefficients in cement-based materials
  • Ventriculomegaly poro-mechanics: realistic numerical modeling using neuroimaging

Please visit the weblink to explore these and other potential projects within this theme.

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Predicting water quality at the catchment scale

Team: Andrew Western, Angus Webb, Dongryeol Ryu, Anna Lintern

Poor water quality affects many rivers and receiving waters, such as the Great Barrier Reef and Gippsland Lakes. This project uses Bayesian hierarchical models of state-wide water quality data to quantify the effects of a range of factors on stream water quality (nutrients, sediments, salinity) including climate, land-use, river flow and vegetation. This analysis will extract information from the entire data set rather than concentrating on individual sites. It will underpin a new predictive capacity including response to land use and management changes and climatic variations based on long-term data sets, as well as a water quality prediction capability.

 

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Reassessment of earthquake design philosophy in Australia after the Christchurch earthquake

Team: Helen Goldsworthy

The aim of this project is to develop the framework for changes in building codes in Australia that, over time, would reduce the potential for catastrophic losses from earthquakes in Australia. The proposed changes will use the framework of performance-based design based on quantitative estimation of the capacity of buildings to withstand strong ground motion. The construction costs entailed by the proposed changes will be estimated and compared with the reduction in earthquake losses (deaths, dollars and downtime) that they are expected to bring.  The estimation of losses will be based on new seismic hazard maps for Australia and newly developed capacity curves for buildings.

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Security, risks and infrastructure protection

Team: Nelson Lam, Priyan Mendis, Helen Goldsworthy, Lihai Zhang, Tuan Ngo, Cuong Kien Nguyen, Jack Yao, Elisa Lumantarna, Raymond Lumantarna

The research project addresses major natural and human-induced hazards associated with extreme events, such as blast and impact (induced by accident or acts of terrorism), earthquakes, freak waves and tsunamis. The ultimate objective is to develop technologies which contribute to mitigating disasters immediately following such extreme events and facilitating the process of recovery. The long-term research strategy is to : (i) develop modelling techniques for simulating extreme events to assist in emergency responses and to identify conditions that are at high risk, (ii) develop technologies for retrofitting existing infrastructure in mitigating potential disasters (iii) develop new guidelines in planning, design and construction for improving the protection of our future infrastructure from extreme events, and (iv) develop effective logistic planning techniques to aid in the recovery process.

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Simulation of episodic rainwater infiltration into fractured aquifers

Team: Stephan Matthai, Giorgio Urso, Andrew Western

Although one can readily observe infiltration of rainwater into rocks fractured by natural processes, getting a quantitative understanding of this process is challenging: observations made in physical experiments are rich and to date, have not been reproduced by numerical simulations. Even infiltration into single vertical fractures is intricate and non-linear unstable flow regimes have been documented (Nicholl and Glass, 2005). In porous fractured rocks, some of the infiltrating water spontaneously imbibes into the adjacent rock. How much, depends on time. It is therefore, difficult to assess the seepage fraction that reaches the groundwater table.

Fracture seepage is important because it controls aquifer recharge and groundwater contamination from the earth's surface by agents like fertilizer, pesticides or bacteria. Understanding this process also matters because it underpins the natural and engineered barrier concept that underpins the design of the high-level nuclear waste repository planned at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, USA. Consequently, fracture infiltration has been the subject of much research, but system simulation has largely been restricted to dual continuum models, which are not predictive (see Long and Ewing, 2004).

In this project, an alternative simulation approach will be used to simulate and better constrain fracture infiltration and its dynamics. We will use discrete representations of fractures and the rock matrix in a DFM approach (Matthai and Bazrafkan, 2013, Bazrafkan  et al., 2014), and a hybrid finite-element,  finite volume method to carry out the simulations. The aim is to quantify fracture seepage in idealised and realistic models, highlighting implications for the aforementioned processes and related engineering measures.

Cited References

S. Bazrafkan, S.K. Matthai and J.E. Mindel, The Finite-element-centered Finite-Volume Discretization Method (FECFVM) for Multiphase Transport in Porous Media with Sharp Material Discontinuities. (EAGE) ECMOR XIV - 14th European Conference on the Mathematics of Oil Recovery. DOI: 10.3997/2214-4609.20141841, 17 p. (Sept. 2014).

Long, J. C. S. and Ewing, R. C., “Yucca Mountain: earth-science issues at a geologic repository for high-level nuclear waste.”Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Science 32, 263-401, doi: 10.1146/annurev.earth.32.092203.122444 (2004).

Nicholl, M. J. and Glass, R. J., “Infiltration into an Analog Fracture: Experimental Observations of Gravity-Driven Fingering.”Vadose Zone Journal 4, 1123-51 (2005).

Matthai, S. K., Bazr-Afkan, S., “Simulation of gas-oil-gravity drainage: comparison of the dual continuum with the discrete fracture and matrix approach.”  2nd EAGE Workshop on Naturally Fractured Reservoirs, Muscat, Oman, 8-12 December 2013.

 

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Sustainable use of stabilised biosolids as an engineering fill in embankments

Team: Guillermo Narsilio

This project will study the use of biosolids as an engineering fill for embankments, using extensive experimental and numerical modelling techniques. Biosolids are by-products of the wastewater treatment processes and are treated as a waste that currently has no engineering applications. This project will develop theories for this new geomaterial and numerical models for the prediction of settlement, biodegradation and consolidation of biosolids when stabilised with additives and recycled materials, and thus set the basis to allow the use of this otherwise waste material. Extension of soil mechanics theories to develop new knowledge in Biosolid Geomechanics will enhance the ability to work with biosolids in a more rational way.

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Understanding urban subsurface flow pathways from stormwater infiltration

Team: Meenakshi Arora, Tim Fletcher, Andrew Western, Stephan Matthai

Stormwater infiltration basins are among the most widely applied stormwater control measures worldwide, in part for their ability to intercept stormwater runoff and allow it to infiltrate into the ground, with the assumption that this will recharge groundwater and help restore clean, filtered baseflows to urban streams. Stormwater infiltration basins provide substantial localised (point-source) additions to the subsurface water store, with the potential to generate major contributions to groundwater and/or lateral seepage to streams.

There is increasing concern however, that infiltration basins may, in some situations, fail to restore stream baseflows (in terms of both flow regime and water quality), due to the gross disturbance of subsurface flow paths caused by urban underground infrastructure (e.g. water, sewer and gas pipes, communications conduits) and their associated gravel-filled trenches (collectively referred to as the ‘urban karst’). These highly-permeable trenches potentially lead to ‘short-circuits’ that could rapidly transmit water and pollutants to streams, undermining the objectives of infiltration systems. Therefore, it is important to understand the potential for infiltrated stormwater to mobilise pollutants in urban soils and subsurface flows to surface waters such as streams.

This PhD project aims to understand the fate and pathways of infiltrated urban stormwater and associated pollutants, and the implications for the flow regime and water quality of urban streams, by developing a very detailed physically based model of a selected site. The student will develop advanced subsurface flow and transport simulations to represent both the field study site and a range of typical generalised situations. This will contribute to a better understanding of the spatial design of infiltration systems (i.e. improved siting of such facilities). The ideal PhD candidate will enjoy numerical analysis and problems, have experience with CAD, an understanding of groundwater hydrology and transport simulation as well as some programming or data analysis experience.   

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