PhD candidates Stephanie Keehan and Anthony Ziem at RMIT are working with industry to create real impact.
This year more than 128,000 Australians will be diagnosed with cancer, and the Cancer Council predicts that figure will rise to 150,000 by 2020.
But the good news is that medical advances are improving every year. Thanks to new therapies and early detection methods, the survival rate for many common cancers has increased by 30 per cent in the past two decades.
Physicist Stephanie Keehan is among Australia’s scientists researching new techniques to reduce the risk of secondary cancers. She is investigating radiotherapy techniques to ensure cancer patients receive the best treatment available.
“My research looks at high-energy treatments that might have some contaminant particles which would produce more radiation than expected,” she says.
Thousands of cancer patients rely on the latest in radiotherapy technology to help them fight the disease and to relieve pain and discomfort. However, some radiotherapy devices need fine-tuning to ensure optimal levels of radiation are being administered to patients.
“Contaminant particles in high-energy treatments means patients would be exposed to radiation in their healthy tissues, which may result in complications in recovery later on,” she says.
Keehan has partnered with the prestigious Melbourne cancer hospital, the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, to study radiation machines and radiation delivery.
She works side-by-side with the centre’s physicists and much of her study must be done after-hours when patients are not using the machines.
“Patients get first priority, so I spend a lot of time after-hours setting up and testing the machines,” she says.
Findings from Keehan’s research will be used by Peter MacCallum staff to evaluate whether the benefits of certain advanced high-energy radiation treatments outweigh the risks.
Style was at the heart of sixties and seventies architecture. Now Anthony Ziem’s challenge is to add sustainability to that heart.
He works with the City of Kingston in Melbourne’s south-east to retrofit old council buildings – from libraries to public toilet blocks – to improve sustainability and energy efficiency.
“I manage just over 200 buildings with an average age of 50 years, which were built in an era when sustainability wasn’t important,” Ziem says.
Ziem has undertaken his research while continuing in his role as Team Leader Facilities Maintenance at the City of Kingston.
His work has found that older buildings are costing councils vast amounts in energy bills. Combined with maintenance expenses, these ageing facilities can become money pits.
To modernise these buildings, councils hire consultants to design environmentally friendly additions, but the consultants will specify only technologies they are comfortable with. In extreme cases, some buildings are simply demolished to make way for contemporary constructions.
Through his research, Ziem aims to help the City of Kingston and other councils to reduce their carbon footprint by identifying the best technology for green retrofitting.
“The ultimate objective is to help councils that are in the same situation as we are at the City of Kingston,” he says.
The challenge for Ziem is to find the right technology to bring older buildings up to speed with current sustainable standards. To make the biggest eco-friendly impact, this technology must be retrofitted strategically, he says.
“It’s about finding the correct technology and how to implement that in the right sequence,” he says. “It’s also about finding a balance between being green and saving money.”
Story: Kate Jones
Photo: Vicki Jones
This story was first published in RMIT's Making Connections magazine.