National Transport Research Organisation hosts inaugural awards night

The National Transport Research Organisation’s inaugural awards night and gala dinner celebrated innovation and future thinking in the road research sector.

Dancers adorned with silver face paint, resembling both space-age warriors and prehistoric birds, welcomed attendees to the National Transport Research Organisation’s inaugural awards night and gala dinner. Both graceful and alien, the dancers symbolised the theme of the evening – stellar.

By exploring the horizon of research and road technology, Niva Thongkham, ARRB Knowledge Hub Professional and Event Organiser, says the night was an exploration of Australia’s collective transport future.   

“As Australia’s National Transport Research Organisation, we are in a unique position to provide a platform to recognise the brightest stars in our roads and transport industry and to celebrate road research excellence at its best. That’s what this night is all about,” Ms. Thongkham says.

At 6:30 on a Friday night in November, a crowd of researchers, government representatives and engineers converged on South Wharf’s Cargo Hall in Melbourne. Attendees were heard commenting on the unique nature of the styling, with one calling the blue-lit event unusually “cool” for a roads research function.

Michael Caltabiano, ARRB CEO, welcomed guests including Collette Burke, Victoria’s Chief Engineer, Roma Britnell, Rural Roads, Ports & Freight Shadow Minister and Michael Kilgariff, CEO of Roads Australia. Mr. Caltabiano then outlined ARRB’s innovative approach to research and development over the past 12 months.

Mr. Caltabiano specifically highlighted the National Transport Performance Centre, Australian Driver Frustration Index and multiple sustainable road design and asphalt production trials.

“A wonderful night celebrating the great talent and diversity in the transport infrastructure research environment for Australia can best describe the National Transport Research Awards and ARRB Gala Dinner,” Mr. Caltabiano said.

He then introduced the night’s guest speaker Elizabeth Finkel AM.

Before inviting Dr. Finkel to the stage, Mr. Caltabiano noted that in addition to receiving an Order of Australia in 2016, the science writer and one-time biochemist was awarded the Australian Society for Medical Research Medal earlier this year.

Dr. Finkel, who co-founded Cosmos Magazine, told the crowd that she was initially confused by the invitation to speak at a road research event. She added that upon further reflection, it made total sense, noting links to experimentation, boundary pushing and systems thinking.

Her speech, From Roads Research to General Relativity, explored the present-day relevance of Einstein’s theory of general relativity and scientific developments post-gravitational wave detection.

Despite the complex nature of her content, Dr. Finkel kept the audience engaged with a mix of humour and localised history. Detailing astronomer William Wallace’s 1922 expedition from California to Wallal Western Australia, Dr. Finkel explained Australia’s role in the history of relativity.

“Mr. Wallace travelled to remote Western Australia to observe a solar eclipse under perfect conditions and examine whether light from distant stars would bend around the sun, and it did,” Dr. Finkel said.

She then linked Einstein’s theory to engineering and road construction and stressed the importance of widespread scientific understanding.

Following Dr. Finkel’s presentation, MC’s Brittany Croft, ARRB Senior Professional Engineer Data Collection & Analysis, and Luke Warren, ARRB Victoria State Technical Leader, interacted with the audience, including Dr. Finkel’s husband and Australian Chief Scientist Alan Finkel AO.

“The awards night might well be best remembered by the double act of two doctors, Dr. Finkel AM and Dr. Finkel AO,” Mr. Caltabiano says.

With the first course over and dinner on its way, Mike Shackleton, ARRB Chief Research Officer, presented Geoff Rose with a 50-year acknowledgement from Monash’s Institute of Transport Studies.

As director of the institute, Prof. Rose’s research has historically examined transport planning and policy, traffic flow and bicycle accessibility. His present-day focus is enhancing usage patterns and policy issues associated with motorised mobility scooters, electric bicycles and motorcycles.

From there, the official awards portion of the evening began, with a judging panel comprising Julia Page, Endowment for Science, Knowledge and Innovation CEO, Mary Lydon, past Centre for Automotive Safety Research Director, Gary Dolman, Bureau of Infrastructure Head and awards convenor Dr. Shackleton, awarding individuals and organisations in five separate categories.

Brody Clark, an WSP Pavement Engineer and Queensland University of Technology PhD graduate, took out the Research Rising Star Award.

The category aims to celebrate an individual under the age of 35 that has shown significant problem-solving progress over the last 12 months.

To date, Dr. Clark’s research has focused on fatigue performance of multigrade bitumen asphalt blended with recycled asphalt pavement. Sporting a yellow road safety ribbon and a Movember moustache, Dr. Clark used his stage time to bring attention to men’s mental and physical health.

Jayantha Kodikara and Monash University were presented with the Research Impact Award for their pipe fracture prediction project.

The project aims to help water utilities manage critical waste pipe assets through pipe deterioration, failure predication and knowledge management research.

Prof. Kodikara told attendees that given his project’s focus on water rather than road transport, he was surprised by the recognition. He added that the fact that he did win highlights ARRB’s tendency to think outside the box. Prof. Kodikara then thanked his research team of “infrastructure doctors”.

The third and fourth awards both went to sustainability research, with Lendlease taking out the Road Construction Innovation Award for its Recycled Crushed Glass in Pavements: A New Material for Infrastructure Projects.

Lendlease representative Jamie Egan, National Pavements Manager, highlighted the environmental outcomes associated with higher recycled content in road construction, notably suggesting that quarries may become a thing of the past. Before leaving the stage, Mr. Egan joked that over 10 million stubbies had been used to realise the project thus far.

Downer and the City of Adelaide took to the stage next, winning the Research into Reality Award for their 100-per-cent-recycled asphalt pavement. In April of this year, they delivered Australia’s first road made entirely from recycled material, including reclaimed asphalt pavement and recycled vegetable oil.

To wrap up the evening, Neil Scales OBE, Department of Transport and Main Roads QLD Director-General, presented Professor Emeritus Raphael Grzebieta with the National Transport Research Organisation’s Lifetime Research Award.

Mr. Scales said Prof. Grzebieta was selected due to his extensive contribution to road safety research and awareness, notably road safety barrier and tactile line-marking advocacy.

Accepting the award, Prof. Grzebieta stressed how significant a nation-wide 40-kilometre-an-hour speed limit in suburban streets would be for road safety.

Mr. Caltabiano says Prof. Grzebieta was a worthy awardee for the highest honour of the night.

“Prof. Grzebieta brings a lifetime of work serving the Australian community in the pursuit of reducing road trauma,” Mr. Caltabiano says.

“As he said in his closing remarks, saving lives – it’s what it’s all about.”

You can read the full article in the December edition of Roads & Infrastructure.

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